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last update 21.Oct.12
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The Comedian
dir-scr Tom Shkolnik
prd Bertrand Faivre, Dan McCulloch
with Edward Hogg, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Elisa Lasowski, Steven Robertson, Gerard Murphy, Nyasha Hatendi, Kate Rutter, Edyta Budnik, Caolan Byrne, Jamie Baughan, Brett Goldstein, Barnaby Slater
hogg and stewart-jarrett and friend
release UK Oct.12 lff
12/UK 1h20

london film fest
the comedian This low-key improvised drama has a rather misleading title. Writer-director Shkolnik astutely explores the bleak aimlessness of his central character, drawing knowing performances from the cast. But it's so gloomy that it's difficult to connect emotionally.

Ed (Hogg) works in insurance sales while trying to get his stand-up career going. But his abrasive comedy leaves audiences flat. One of his fans is Nathan (Stewart-Jarrett), and they start a gentle romance that's complicated by Ed's flatmate Elisa (Lasowski), to whom Ed is also attracted. Or maybe it's just that he's craving attention and love in a harsh world. But as his life takes a few difficult turns, Ed continually opts to go it alone, rejecting assistance from those who care about him.

The real surprise is that anyone bothers to try to help Ed, since he's such a moody jerk. One moment he's the likeable life of the party, but the next he's insulting and aggressive, wallowing in self-pity. It's another marvellously performance from Hogg, who fearlessly gets deep under the skin of abrasive characters, showing us the frightened man inside. By contrast, Stewart-Jarrett is sweet and endearing, while Lasowski's edgy concern is surprisingly tender. And both are equally complex in the way they react to Ed.

But they're not in the spotlight, and we are asked to take this journey with Ed, which isn't very pleasant. It's not easy to see what keeps him going. His problems are largely self-inflicted as he alienates those around him. His few moments of warmth, including some flirty sexuality and tentative passion, are short-lived. His one honest conversation is with a random taxi driver. An escalating confrontation on a night bus involving racial and homophobic rants is genuinely chilling.

All of this makes the film feel meandering and dull. There's a strong sense of tension, but it's vague and undefined. Shkolnik indulges in extended sequences in which the characters are chatting amiably but we can't hear a word they say, which pushes us further outside the story. And there's also the nagging absence of mobile phones. But along the way, the actors create realistic people in superbly raw moments. But watching Ed wallow through everything begins to feel a bit pointless.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
8.Oct.12 lff
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Every Day
dir Michael Winterbottom
prd Melissa Parmenter
scr Laurence Coriat, Michael Winterbottom
with Shirley Henderson, John Simm, Robert Kirk, Stephanie Kirk, Sean Kirk, Sofia Kirk, Laurence Richardson, Andy Callaghan, Wilson Deuxrod, Johnny Lynch, Nick Shaw, Thomas Winn
henderson and simm release UK Oct.12 lff
12/UK FilmFour 1h34

london film fest
Every Day In the style of a fly-on-the-wall doc, this movie traces fictional events over a five-year period. And since Winterbottom actually filmed over five years, it's a significant cinematic experiment. There are moving situations and very strong performances, although the film is limited by the underdeveloped narrative.

In rural Norfolk, Karen (Henderson) struggles to take care of her four young children - Stephanie, Robert, Sofia and Sean - while her husband Ian (Simm) serves a prison sentence. She takes the kids to visit him, and they talk on the phone, and things get easier when he's transferred to a less-secure facility and is given a few day and weekend passes to see his family. But it's still hard work. So she quietly befriends a local guy and patiently awaits Ian's release.

Shot in grainy, hand-held video, the film looks like a TV documentary but feels like a kitchen-sink drama thanks to Michael Nyman's surging score. As it uneventfully traces the passage of years, we watch the children growing up on screen. And the affection between Ian and his family is vividly depicted; they try to carry on their lives while involving him however they can. Simm plays Ian's loneliness with wrenching resignation.There's also a glimpse of the horror of prison life in his conversations with Henderson, who beautifully underplays Karen's frazzled life.

Since the film is so casually shot, the dialog is sometimes mumbled and inaudible, and our perspective on events feels restricted. We have no idea why Ian has been imprisoned or why Karen seems to have no friends or family to help her. She just gets on with it, making the most of things while trying to give her kids a decent childhood. And sometimes small pleasures are played as gigantic epiphanies, such as a couple of trips to nearby beaches.

The point seems to be that daily life goes on no matter what your circumstances, which isn't hugely revelatory. But Winterbottom's technical achievement, shooting the film over such a long time scale, pays dividends in the children's evolving performances, which are earthy and compelling. They also indicate that Karen did rather an amazing job raising them on her own.

15 themes, language
16.Oct.12 lff
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Kelly + Victor
dir-scr Kieran Evans
prd Janine Marmot
with Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Morris, William Ruane, Stephen Walters, Claire Keelan, Michael Ryan, Shaun Mason, Gabrielle Reidy, Mark Womack, Lisa Millett, Johann Myers, Emma Bispham
campbell-hughes and morris release UK Oct.12 lff
12/UK 1h35

london film fest
kelly + victor Based on Niall Griffiths' 2002 novel, this story of violent sexual obsession is too deliberately dark for us to sympathise with the central couple. But it's well-shot and nicely played by both actors. And its cautionary message, while rather heavy-handed, does leave us thinking.

Kelly (Campbell-Hughes) meets Victor (Morris) in a Liverpool nightclub. They spark together instantly, although her intense approach to sex leaves him bruised in the morning. Unable to get her out of his mind, Victor's pals (Ruane and Walters) can't figure out what's got into him. And Kelly's outings with her dominatrix buddy (Keelan) give her some new ideas. Their second date is more relaxed, visiting parkland and a museum before the bondage and asphyxiation. But it's Kelly's handiwork with broken glass that scares Victor off this time.

Both characters have dark sides that flare up unexpectedly, which makes them difficult to believe and impossible to understand. Since Kelly is mumbling and ordinary, while Victor is a genuinely nice guy with a promising future, we never know why he's so instantly taken with her. Their obsession is all-consuming, so early on we suspect this won't end happily. Add the fact that Kelly has a violent past with her ex (Ryan), who's just out of prison (she put him there).

The film is beautifully shot and edited, often in close-up. Writer-director Evans has a strong sense of the Liverpool locations, and lets the actors develop their roles in a realistic, improvisational style. When Kelly and Victor are together, their interaction is mostly mumbly and cute until things turn scary. Campbell-Hughes and Morris do what they can to bring out their characters' inner lives.

We genuinely like Victor and yearn for him to get away from her, but the film continually tells us that this won't be possible. They are destined to be together. Indeed, the script is packed with overstated touches that try to get us to feel a certain way, always hinting at some underlying moralising about both drugs and sadomasochism. In other words, this is never a film about two people who decide to spice up their sex lives for whatever reason. No, it's a film about the dangers of doing so.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
9.Oct.12 lff
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dir-scr Scott Graham
prd Margaret Matheson, David Smith
with Chloe Pirrie, Joseph Mawle, Iain De Caestecker, Michael Smiley, Kate Dickie, Paul Thomas Hickey, Morven Christie, Milla Gibson, Tam Dean Burn, Brian McCardie, Cameron McQuade
pirrie release UK Oct.12 lff
12/UK 1h30

london film fest
Shell An impressive feature debut for writer-director Graham, this contained drama creates a vivid sense of time and space in a bleak corner of the Scottish Highlands. And with minimal dialog, he explores hugely involving characters facing their own unexpected internal crises.

Shell (Pirrie) is a 17-year-old living with her single dad Pete (Mawle) at a roadside petrol garage in the middle of nowhere. She knows the customers, including the slightly too-friendly Hugh (Smiley), who travels through here to visit his son, and nice local guy Adam (De Caestecker), who longs to take her away from here. She's devoted to her dad, who suffers epilepsy but still takes the tow-truck to rescue a couple (Dickie and Hickey) that crashes into a deer. And Pete's starting to worry that Shell is a bit too affectionate with him.

Living in this kind of isolation means that these characters don't need to talk much in order to communicate, and Graham captures the tiniest details of their interaction: a shadow of a smile, a tentative touch, a grimace of discomfort. We instantly understand that Shell and Pete are so removed from any normal human interaction that they're almost a danger to each other. Indeed, after a trip into town, Shell sniffs him like a jealous wife.

These are raw, internalised performances that chill us to the bone. The impressive Pirrie is on screen for virtually the entire running time, as we see everything through her confused, hopeful eyes. With a haunted weariness, Mawle remains a shadowy figure who has perhaps been too reliable. And there are terrific moments with Smiley, De Caestecker and Dickie that are tender, unsettling and downright terrifying.

All of this is photographed by Yoliswa Gartig with remarkable artistry that captures both extreme close-ups of faces and the expansive Highlands landscape, but never even a glimpse of blue sky. As cars and lorries race down the road, everyone seems on their way to or from somewhere important, only stopping here if they absolutely must. And yet, this is the only life Shell has ever known. And now that there are chinks in the armour, as it were, she is clearly starting to think about travelling down the road herself.

15 themes, language, grisliness, sexuality
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