Posts Tagged ‘Bfi Flare Film Festival’

Unicorns (2023) Bfi Flare 2024

Dir: Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd | Cast: Ben Hardy, Hannah Onslow, Madelyn Smedley, Nisha Nayar | UK Drama 119’

A unicorn is not only a mythical creature but also acts as a metaphor for strength and resilience. These are qualities at the heart of a new British film made by the director team of Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd. Their latest collaboration neatly fits into a genre of feel-good social comment comic dramas, often successes of the more modest budgeted British film industry.

Unicorns centres around an unlikely queer romance between a young white English Essex working class mechanic and an Asian Muslim drag queen. The film has a ring of truth linked to true-life source material of Asifa Lahore who was Britain’s first Muslim drag queen. Where it transcends this material is an awareness of how opposites with split divided lives in real life often attract each other as a way of breaking out of traditional thoughts and manners of behaviour. As Unicorns reveals, the journey to fulfilment is not always an easy one but there is warmth and humour along the way with moments of heartbreak which the film sensitively blends together.

The film begins with a young man’s casual and lusty sexual encounter with a woman on scrubland followed by a purely accidental, serendipitous foray into London’s legendary Club Kali for queer Asians and friends. It is here that the young man Luke (Ben Hardy) locks eyes with a beautiful drag queen dancer Ashiq/ Aysha (Jason Patel).  

After this uneasy but engaging chance meeting the film charts a ‘will they or won’t they get it together’ relationship linked to pressures of Luke being a single dad of a 5-year-old son with an absent partner and the recent death of his mother, while also discovering that he may not be as entirely heterosexual as he imagines. Ashiq also has a secret life as a drag queen dancer in queer clubs and private parties which is totally hidden from the day-to-day reality of his life as a dutiful son of an Asian Muslim family. For a queer Asian man there is sometimes a choice in life of an arranged marriage or – as described at one point – jumping off a bridge.

Key scenes take place in a car at night which the film uses as a form of road journey with an enclosed private space in which both characters grow and change during the course of the film. For Luke there is the way he discovers love and sexually connecting with another man. For Aysha there are rivalries with other drag queens and pimps as well as pressure from a brother to conform and stop the double life. All the performances linked to a wide range of friends and family for both characters are astutely well observed, performed and directed by filmmakers who previously made My Brother the Devil (Best British Newcomer 2013) and The Swimmers 2022.

Unicorns reveals how Britain has embraced enlightened and progressive attitudes towards diverse mixes of ethnic and gender cultures and fits well within a tradition of social realist comic dramas such as the queer English romances of My Beautiful Launderette 1985 and Beautiful Thing 1996. Unicorns may appear slight at times and wear its heart on its sleeve in places although audiences are likely to enjoy the film’s resilience, as much as two lovers do while learning lessons in the power of love. @PeterHerbert 


Prison in the Andes (2023) BFI London Film Festival 2023

Dir/Wri: Felipe Carmona | Chile, Brazil | 2023 | Spanish | 95′

On 11 September 1973 the Chilean Air Force bombed the Presidential Palace of La Moneda in Santiago de Chile overthrowing the Allende government and ushering in Augusto Pinochet’s brutal regime of torture and mass murder.

With innovative angles on the tragedy a slew of new films – 1976 and El Conde. commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pinochet’s reign of terror that continues to capture the imagination of filmmakers all over the world – from Costa Gavras’ Missing (1982), Marcela Said’s 2001 documentary I Love Pinochet to Pablo Larain’s The Club.

Felipe Carmona reflects on the surviving perpetrators of the regime in his first feature Penal Cordillera (Prison in the Andres). Premiering at this year’s BFI London Film Festival, the film explores the aftermath of evil, based on real events: what happens when instigators are on the receiving end of the cosh they themselves once wielded?

Not surprisingly, the perps are a remorseless bunch of baddies who utterly refuse to accept responsibility for their crimes on humanity in the post-Pinochet era. Prison in the Andes, a slow-burn often gruelling thriller despite its lush locations, centres on five military officers serving out their sentence in a luxury prison in the Andes mountains. Taking his inspiration from Pablo Larrain’s recent vampire reverie El Conde, that won Best Script at Venice Film Festival, Carmona plays fast and loose with his timeline, imagining this period of incarceration will go on for many of years, rather than months’, or even decades. And we certainly feel the weight of time.

The luxurious mountainside setting (in Chile and Brazil) enables Carmona to offer up a rather smouldering scenario, with his DoP Mauro Veloso certainly giving us a cinematic eye-full despite the glowering subject matter: the right-hand henchmen have their own pool and gardens and seem to hold sway over their captors in this false paradise. But a surprise change in circumstances, resulting from a prison interrogation, demonstrates their total lack of remorse. And the ensuing mayhem provides for some florid scenes of violence.

Once again themes of Nazism and the inherent nature of evil creep into Carmona’s rather flawed script although his film certainly makes for a muscular debate: are oppressors intrinsically immoral; or are they just otherwise decent people corrupted by blindly obeying orders? The Chilean filmmaker weighs in with a promising debut that reworks solid, evergreen themes, but his script lets him down in this potent study of evil. MT



The Divide | La Fracture (2021) Bfi Flare 2022

Dir: Catherine Corsini | Cast: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Marina Foïs, Pio Marmaï, Aissatou Diallo Sagna, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h | France, Drama 98′

Corsini’s Parisian dramady unfolds over 24 hours reflecting the political conflicts dividing France through a disintegrating romantic relationship between two women. Raf (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Julie (Marina Foïs) have been together for ten years but the arguments are getting worse. After a night of angry texting distraught Raf begs Julie to stay chasing after her into the street and ending up in hospital with a broken elbow. The two are briefly united in a ward fraught with hysterical patients, Raf knocking back the tramadol to quell her physical and emotional pain. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi gives another of her signature melodramatic performances full of vulnerability and mischievous tongue in cheek humour.

Meanwhile outside the famous ‘gilets-jaunes’ are staging yet another rally against president Macron. One of the protestors is truck driver Yann (Pio Marmaï) who takes a bullet from the police and ends up in the same ward as Raf. ‘Casualty’ fills up with a constant stream of sick and injured while the staff do their best – led by real-life caregiver Aïssatou Diallo Sagna – in a microcosm of French society ‘du jour’ raging with anger, fear and disenchantment at the government and the world at large. Joined by her co-writers Agnes Feuvre and Laurette Polmanss Corsini directs a whip smart script laced with satire and acute observations. MT





Making Montgomery Clift (2018) **** BFI Flare 2019

Dir: Robert Anderson Clift, Hillary Demmon | With Montgomery Clift, Brooks Clift, Ethel “Sunny” Clift, Patricia Bosworth, Jack Larson, Judy Balaban, Robert Osborne, Eleanor Clift, Lorenzo James; Joel Schumacher, Tucker Tooley, Vincent Newman, Michael Easton, Mollie Gregory, Woody Clift, Eddie Clift | US Doc, 88′

Montgomery Clift’s nephew sets out to debunk the theory that the Hollywood actor’s life was a conflicted tragedy. Apparently, it was quite the opposite. As you may have guessed from the title, this is not a chronicle of his film career but an exploration of his personality and the rumours that haunted his starry life.

Co-directing and narrating this eye-opening documentary, Robert Clift (who never knew Monty) digs into a treasure trove of family archives and memorabilia (Brooks recorded everything) to reveal an affectionate, fun-loving talent who loved men and dated and lived with women, according to close friends. Monty chose his roles carefully during the ’40s and ’50s, declining to sign a contract to retain complete artistic independence from the studio system with the ability to pick and chose, and re-write his dialogue. This freedom also enabled him to keep much of his private life out of the headlines, although his memory was eventually sullied by tabloid melodrama with his untimely death at only 45. His acting ability and dazzling looks certainly gained him a place in the Hollywood firmament with a select filmography of just 20 features, four of them Oscar-nominated.

Edward Montgomery Clift was born on 17th October 1920 in Omaha Nebraska, with a twin sister Roberta, and older brother Brooks. Privately educated, his wealthy parents struggled during the Depression years and he travelled with his mother extensively in Europe and grew extremely close to his brother. An early role as a teenager on Broadway saw him spending over a decade on the New York stage before Hollywood beckoned, due in part to his friendship with the older and fluidly sexual star Libby Holman, who was apparently instrumental in his decision to decline roles in Sunset Boulevard (1950) and High Noon (1952). His film debut was Red River (1948) alongside John Wayne. This was followed by The Search (1948), The Heiress (1949); the Wartime epic The Big Lift (1950); A Place in the Sun (1951) with his great friend Elizabeth Taylor (who helped him from the scene of his accident); his only Hitchcock collaboration I Confess (1953); Vittorio De Sica’s Indiscretion (1953); From Here to Eternity (1953), Raintree County (1956). Post accident: The Young Lions (1958) alongside Dean Martin and Marlon Brando; Lonely Hearts (1958) alongside Myrna Loy; Wild River (1960); The Misfits (1961) alongside Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961).

Particularly interesting are Brooks’ conversations with Patricia Bosworth, one of the film’s talking heads and the author of a 1978 biography of Clift that inspired later biographies, but has so far become the accepted version of events, although she apparently got many details wrong and certainly lost out to Jenny Balaban in the Monty relationship stakes, when Barney Balaban (President of Paramount) invited the young actor to join them on a family holiday. He is seen messing around on the beach where he cuts a dash with his good looks and exuberance.

Two men who enjoyed significant relationships with Monty have since died but they recorded for posterity on the film: they are Jack Larson who remembers a full-on and unexpected French kiss from Monty, the night they were introduced. And Lorenzo James, who was living with Monty when he died. James sounds a reasonable and honest character on audio tapes and Robert Clift confirms the family’s acceptance of him in the words “my uncle through Monty.”

Clearly Monty resorted to painkillers after his tragic car accident on his way home from a night out in 1956, during the filming of Raintree County. But the directors play this down and downsize the rumours that he became unreliable, a sort of ‘male version’ of Marilyn Monroe. Yet many claim his post accident performance in Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) to be his finest hour. Others state that Nuremberg was actually a “nervous breakdown caught on film”. Instead they claim his mental anguish at the time was the result of a lawsuit by John Huston relating to the film Freud, suspending his from working for four years, and naturally leaving him distraught, as any working person would be. Others state that his disfigurement actually made him a better actor.

Brooks is now dead, but his ex-wife, a prominent Washington journalist Eleanor Clift, states that he was on a mission to correct subsequent editions of Patty Bosworth’s biography using the phrase “Sisyphus battling the myth-making apparatus.” And although Brooks more or less failed in his mission, Robert and his wife have made a decent and worthwhile documentary that aims to reveal the brighter Montgomery Clift. Clearly he will always remain an enigma paving the way for many more insightful biopics.


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