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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 24.Jan.24

High and Low: John Galliano  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Eternal Memory
dir Kevin Macdonald
prd Kevin Macdonald, Chloe Mamelok
with John Galliano, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Anna Wintour, Sidney Toledano, Bernard Arnault, Jonathan Newhouse, Abraham Foxman, Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, Alexis Roche, Amanda Harlech
release UK 8.Mar.24
23/UK Emperor 1h56

london film fest

Now streaming...

galliano and wintour
Centring around cancel culture and forgiveness, this is much more than simply a documentary about disgraced fashion high-flier John Galliano. Filmmaker Kevin Macdonald recounts the story with a variety of layers, balancing Galliano's artistic genius with his dramatic fall into alcoholism, which culminated in a series of vile racist outbursts. The film grapples with the big questions without offering glib answers. The important thing is facing the complex truth.
Born in Gibraltar, John grew up in South London and caught the attention of the fashion world while studying at art college. His raw talent made him a fresh-faced star, and he moved to Paris in 1989, where his designs reinvigorated Givenchy before he moved on to Dior. But he turned to alcohol and prescription drugs to deal with the heavy pressure of his workload, and in 2011 was sacked after videos surfaced of two incidents in which he hurled antisemitic hate-speech at strangers. After rehab and anti-defamation education, he is still seeking forgiveness.
Because Galliano's early work was inspired by the French Revolution after watching Abel Gance's 1927 masterpiece Napoleon, Macdonald weaves scenes from that classic throughout this documentary, cleverly adding artful commentary alongside clips from The Red Shoes and other knowing references. Anchored by an extensive, confessional interview with Galliano, the film also features a wide range of archival clips from his fashion shows and interviews from the height of his diva behaviour, plus present-day comments from friends that put events into knowing context.

What emerges strongly in Galliano's own words is a sense that he is still struggling to forgive himself for these incidents, which he can't remember due to alcohol blackouts. The film goes out of its way to acknowledge his unusual gifts in the fashion world, noting his genuinely astonishing achievements, critical success and strong support within the industry. But it also traces his fall from grace in detail, and in his face it's easy to see the pain he still feels when the topic is raised. Importantly, Macdonald resists a triumphant or hopeful conclusion, instead challenging the viewer to think about the nature of fallen heroes and rehabilitation. And the most powerful point is that everyone can do the work to make themselves a better person.

cert 15 themes, language, imagery 27.Nov.23

This Blessed Plot  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
This Blessed Plot
dir Marc Isaacs
scr Adam Ganz
prd Lydia Kivenen
with Yingge Lori Yang, Keith Martin, Margaret Catterall, Paul Bettie, Susan Mallendine, Norman Cullis, Johnny Lyons, Anna Marie Johnson, Janice Cullis, Jed Isaacs, Bradley Bush, Ross Nicol
release UK 26.Jan.24
23/UK 1h15

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martin and yang
Labelled a "documentary fiction pageant", this soft-spoken and sometimes rather sleepy film combines real people and a witty narrative to explore connections across generations. While the dialog is clearly unscripted, Adam Ganz's screenplay cleverly explores deeper issues through an offbeat cultural prism. And Marc Isaacs' direction maintains a breezy pace, letting ideas emerge through casual interaction. It's an odd little film, but there's a lot going on in here.
In the historical market town of Thaxted in Essex, Chinese filmmaker Lori is strolling around with her camera, exploring the connections between the past and the present, and specifically the variety of ways in which the dead surround the living. Her host is Maggie, who introduces her to the village church across the road, and Lori becomes particularly intrigued by long-dead vicar Conrad Noel's Christian socialist views. Then his ghost speaks to her, as do a few others. She also meets widower Keith, asking if his sporting memorabilia collection is a way of stopping time.
Interspersed with vintage film footage, there's a terrific sense of the way people have lived and worked in Thaxted over the centuries, and even made movies here. Adding a bit of a plot, Keith's dead wife confesses her infidelity to Lori, which ends up sparking a conflict that is depicted in a witty black and white re-enactment. Even if the filmmaking sometimes feels a bit rough around the edges, these kinds of witty situations explore how the links between the living and the dead can spark emotion in unexpected ways. And these themes help the film to gently provoke the audience to find personal connections.

There are several lovely sequences that capture various slices of life in this village, including a terrific Morris dancing festival that echoes hundreds of years of history. Keith's journey is genuinely emotional. And Conrad's ghost is horrified that the UK treated China in such an unchristian way, but he is happy that Lori is from a now-socialist country. He also points out the importance of music to bring people together, connecting past with the present. And he reminds us that colour, raucousness and joy are more important than order and efficiency.

cert 15 themes, language 21.Jan.24

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer
dir-scr Thomas von Steinaecker
prd Andre Singer, Bernhard Von Hulsen, Maria Willer
with Werner Herzog, Lena Herzog, Tilbert Herzog, Lucki Stipetic, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlondorff, Chloe Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer, Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Patti Smith
release Ger 27.Oct.22,
US Feb.23 sbiff, UK 19.Jan.24
22/Germany 1h42

Now streaming...

It seems strange to make such a straightforward documentary about a filmmaker who has never made anything remotely straightforward. But fans will love how Thomas von Steinaecker gets under Werner Herzog's skin to trace his amazing career in a linear style. Stylistic flourishes keep things interesting, but this is mainly because Herzog is such a relentlessly entertaining and even mesmerising figure. We'd happily watch him talk about life for hours.
After growing up as a war refugee, Herzog began making movies in Munich with a group of young filmmakers (including Schlondorff) who were bristling with ideas. While Herzog's 1960s films gained a following, he broke through with the astonishing 16th century conquistador adventure Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), then cemented his status with his masterwork Fitzcarraldo (1982), both starring the clearly unstable Klaus Kinski. Later documentaries like Grizzly Man (2005) and Encounters at the End of the World (2007) brought him a new generation of American fans. And he's still pushing his own boundaries.
Using a fairly standard mix of talking heads, the film starts with Herzog himself then expands to include his wife, brothers, fellow filmmakers and actors he has worked with. The narrative structure hinges around Herzog's fabulous philosophical musings about the human need to dream about the future and find inventive ways through extraordinary situations, like the characters in his movies. Most important is the way this doc thematically connects his earlier films with his later documentaries. They often seem oddly unrelated, but actually continue to explore related ideas.

Herzog's singular way of looking at the world is beautifully captured on-screen, as he reminisces about his life and career with his distinct brand of insight. This makes the film well worth watching for fans, and it will help introduce newcomers to his extraordinary cinematic voice, especially those who may not know about his still-groundbreaking early work. But you might be disappointed if you're looking for a documentary that matches Herzog's originality and curiosity, and most importantly his willingness to follow a stray thread to see where it goes. For example, if you want to dig deeper into Herzog's messy relationship with Kinski, his riotous 1999 doc My Best Fiend is a must-see.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 9.Jan.24

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