The View From Here

London Film Festival blog

Michael Bonner

Nick Hasted's been out and about at this year's London Film Festival. Here's his first report.

The London Film Festival has just reached its half-way point. As ever, it’s an opportunity chance to see brilliant films from every genre in just 13 days – the cinematic equivalent of the rock festivals I’ve spent the summer attending. Minus the mud, and with slightly less alcohol.

Inevitably, there’s a number of big Hollywood movies showing, ostensibly a way of generating news publicity to promote the festival – and, of course, also to show that the studios are still capable of making great movies. So we get Michael Moore's Sicko and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises along with the Robert Redford/ Tom Cruise/Meryl Streep Afghanistan expose Lions For Lambs, boosted by all three stars turning up on the red carpet. London’s Leicester Square is actually almost impassable in the early evenings at the moment, with the likes of Halle Berry (here for Things We Lost In The Fire, which may restore a rep in post-Oscar freefall), Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts parading for the cameras.

One Hollywood film I do want to give an early word on is Sean Penn’s Into The Wild, out here November 9. This true story of Christopher McCandles (Emile Hirsch), a comfortable college grad who unwisely tried to go back to nature in ‘90s America, shows the pockets of counter-culture and natural beauty which still exist in America, despite Bush. With career-best support from Hal Holbrook and Vince Vaughn, it’s uneven but honourable.

The real joy of the LFF, though, is films you’d never see anywhere else. The obscure John Ford Western Drums Along The Mohawk (1939) turned up in a gorgeous colour print - the long, silent scene of Henry Fonda running for days from three pursuing Indians, framed by glowing red sunsets in the American wilderness, looked extraordinary on the big screen.

Then there was the great, near-three hour Romanian film, California Dreamin’ (Endless), the incredible debut of director Cristian Nemescu, who tragically died in a car crash before it was finished. It’s about a US troop train stalled for days in a Romanian village, and the human stories that result. At the end I felt exhilarated. It brought home how little we settle for from Hollywood these days.

I’m off to see John Cusack introduce his home-front Iraq film Grace Is Gone now, followed by the Werner Herzog/ Christian Bale Vietnam pic Rescue Dawn. I’ll give a full run-down of the festival’s highlights once it finishes on November 1.

NICK HASTED


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