London Film Festival coverage
Friday was a star-studded day at the LFF. Not only did Steve Buscemi attend a screening of his new film 'Lonesome Jim', but Claire Danes was also in town to present 'Shopgirl', while director James Marsh was on hand to answer questions at the screening of his forthcoming flick 'The King'. Time Out attended the latter, a beautifully crafted thriller that follows the mysterious Elvis Sandow (Gael García Bernal) on his journey home following an honourable discharge from the navy. The trouble is, 'home' for Sandow is Corpus Christi, Texas, where his long lost father is a happily married Pastor (William Hurt) who wants nothing to do with his son - a reminder of his sinful past. As Elvis's true intentions are slowly revealed, 'The King' contrasts stunning scenes of Texas beauty with heart-stopping moments of violence and brutality, producing a spellbinding pot-boiler in the great American gothic tradition. And while at times it feels a little like a David Gordon Green version of 'Cape Fear', the result is nevertheless a fine feature debut from British documentary maker Marsh. The director and his co-writer Milo Addica then gave a hugely entertaining Q&A in which they revealed that the project started with the location, long before a single word of the script was written. They also discussed their efforts to avoid racial stereotyping in the film, and their apprehension at how Middle America will receive a feature that deals with themes of faith, religion and redemption in such controversial and provocative ways. Sunday then saw Gael García Bernal giving his two cents at the Times Screen Talk, an event that featured a disproportionately high number of young girls in the audience (though we can't imagine why). As likeable a presence in the flesh as he is on the screen, Bernal discussed his career from its early beginnings (playing baby Jesus when he was three), through sstage and TV work in Mexico (much of which he did to meet girls) and then onto his amazing performances in the likes of 'Amores Perros', 'Bad Education' and 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. He also spoke briefly of his work in Michel Gondry's forthcoming 'The Science of Sleep', a film about a man who confuses his dreams for reality, that Bernal claims will be an 'Apocalypse Now' of the mind. And for his grand finale he told several graphic stories about the sex scenes in 'Y tu mamá también', all of which were extremely amusing but unfortunately unprintable on a family site like this.
Put Valentine's Day and the January sales in a cocktail shaker and you might get an idea of the atmosphere at the Odeon West End tonight. Sadly, the stampede wasn't towards Empire, but Mexican hot-stuff Gael Garcia Bernal, at the screening for The King. Leading the way on the red carpet were the film's screenwriter, Milo Addica, and director, James Marsh, still joined at the hip after months holed up in spooky-sounding Corpus Christi, Texas.
"This sort of thing can't be created by email, we needed personal contact," explained Addica. "We'd get into some serious fights at the end of the day - especially when the Ashes were on. I come from an acting background so would often improv and that would put me into a very heated, angry, vicious state and James would often be the victim." "Method acting," chips in Marsh, dryly. Gael Garcia Bernal, sadly a good foot shorter than Empire and thus unstealable, enjoyed getting his teeth into a violent role. "It’s one of the reasons everyone does movies, to get a glimpse into the mystery of the human condition. You relate it to your own experience, own journey. It was a challenge to do it in English and to work with an accent; I’m always reluctant to say it was a United States accent because that doesn’t really exist, people speak in so many different ways!" When asked how to describe the accent, a po-faced: "It's, you know, a mix between blue..." And laughing, walks off into the cinema.
If you weren't convinced by Monster's Ball you'll find this follow-up from writer/producer Milo Addica just as baffling, with its stark melodrama and tense open spaces. Gael Bernal Garcia stars a Ripley-esque former marine who inveigles himself into the life of the father who abandoned him, now a born-again Christian evangelist. The ensuing drama is dark and sometimes grotesque in its absurdity but haunting nevertheless.
By Wendy Ide
One final treat for festival audiences is the Times Screen Talk with the Mexican actor Gael García Bernal. He’ll be discussing his role in The King, a piece of Southern Gothic that uses Bernal’s charisma to chilling effect. It promises to be an interesting event — Bernal is an engaging and funny interviewee — although, to be honest, he could talk about loft insulation and we’d still hang on his every word.
"Pure evil has never looked so good" is what the festival programme has to say about The King, a first outing in fiction for the British documentary director James Marsh. With Gael Garcia Bernal in the lead role, few among the Leicester Square crowds would dispute the aesthetics of the claim, but the ethics of it provoked a notable objection. "I don’t like to use the word evil," said the director. "I think there’s more ambiguity than that."
It’s a film of many silences in which much of the ambiguity breeds within the space between the actors’ lines. It’s up to the audience to ascribe motive or motivelessness to Bernal’s young ex-serviceman who, while looking for the man he believes to be his father, stumbles into a kind of oedipal tragedy.
This is Bernal’s first English-language film, and the Mexican star said that making the switch was both a blessing and a curse. "Speaking another language is a nice asset to have, because when you speak another language you become another character," he told Times Online. "You do have to work a thousand times harder, though, just to avoid falling down."
Bernal said that he had made use of a voice coach in order to master the American vowels he needed for this film, but he also let slip that there are other, less onerous, ways of getting it right. "In bed you can learn accents really quickly," he said.
BBC (review excerpts):
An impressive debut... A piece of restrained Southern gothic horror, it benefits from sumptuous visuals, an intelligent and literate script and tremendous performances all round.
It’s a brave film, with important central questions asked of, and by, its characters. As much as Bernal dominates the film, special praise must go to Pell James, who is simply extraordinary as the sixteen year-old girl at the heart of the film. She brings to mind a young Scarlett Johansson, sharing an innate stillness with the better known actress. The fact that she is 28 years old makes it even more impressive.
VIEW LONDON (review excerpts):
Impressively directed, frequently shocking drama, featuring stunning performances from both William Hurt and Gael Garcia Bernal... a controversial drama with future cult movie written all over it.
There’s a distinct air of The Talented Mr Ripley about the morally complex Elvis and Bernal perfectly captures his charismatic yet sinister qualities. It’s an astonishing performance – chilling, and yet likeable at the same time. In addition, William Hurt delivers one of his best performances.
Marsh creates an impressive level of authenticity through some extraordinary location work. On top of that, there’s an evocative score by Max Avery Lichtenstein that adds considerably to the intensity of the film’s atmosphere.
A controversial, frequently horrific but hypnotically compelling film that is guaranteed to have you hiding behind your hands on at least three occasions. Highly recommended.
FILM FOCUS (review excerpts):
James Marsh takes a clever approach to a controversial idea... he paints a bracingly authentic picture of conservative America, with its desperate need for everything to be orderly.
Hurt immerses himself in David, a man trying to do the right thing by everyone, even though he knows he's made--and he's making--some bad decisions. James is wonderfully inquisitive, indulging in things she knows she shouldn't be even thinking about. Dano's superbly upstanding young man and Harring's steely mom add subtext. And Bernal revisits his charismatic but subtly sinister stalker from Bad Education, but with a very different layer of moral complexity. It's like he's in denial just as much as the family.
There are overtones of American Beauty and A History of Violence, as Marsh and Milo Addica slice through the veneer of a "wholesome" society... played out with black twists and surprising inventiveness... subtle, inventive filmmaking... a haunting film that really gets under your skin.
LONDON NET (review excerpts):
This is truly one of this year's most interesting films.
Veteran indie-actor William Hurst is broadly convincing as a conservative Texan pastor, and newcomer Pell James is remarkable as Malerie, with her shy aloofness proof that we will likely see her again. Still, Bernal's performance is the highling of this film. Dark and stunning, he converts seamlessly to a Mexican-American West Texas drawl, and portrays a sense of isolation that elevates the film from merely uncomfortable to mystically tragic.