From elemental concerts to Ethiopian sci-fi, we reel out our final bitesized batch of reviews of the lesser known from this year’s BFI London Film Festival.
Dir: Alvaro Brechner
Our cantankerous eponymous hero, 76-year old Jacob Kaplan (Hector Noguera) is ready for a new adventure, any escape from the boredoms of sitting at home listening to his nagging family. A Jew forced out of his Europe by World War II to start a new life in Uruguay, Jacob finds his thoughts moving towards those of the heritage of his people and the need for us to always remember our origins.
Placating his family’s wishes for him to get a driver after an ill-fated journey, Jacob finds himself with an unlikely new companion, the affable ex-cop, Contreras (Nestor Guzzini). Driving him to the beach one day, Jacob spots an elderly German beach bar owner from afar and suspicions rise that this could be an escaped Nazi war criminal. What follows is a hilariously dark to pitch-black caper, as the two men investigate their suspicions and seek their vengeance, executing a plan to kidnap him and take him back to Israel to find justice. His despairing family can only look on as Jacob undertakes his mission in secret.
The chemistry between our crime-fighting duo is infectious, with Noguera’s deadpan gruffness meeting its match with the bumbling and brash Guzzini. But between the comedy, Brechner cleverly intertwines the serious issues that lie behind Kaplan’s intentions – heritage is unforgivably being forgotten. The latter part of the film stacks up with the drama with a distinct change in tone as their investigation amps up and the confrontation between the aging Jew and Nazi approaches. Told with heart throughout, Alvaro Brechner delivers a hugely entertaining narrative alongside a take-home thought of how far we’d go to honour our heritage.
Beti and Amare
Dir: Andy Siege
The desolate Ethiopian desert is saturated, by corruption, danger and the lurid colours that blur the distinctions between life and nightmares. Andy Siege’s debut feature, the vivid ‘historical sci-fi’, Beti and Amare is a peculiar yet powerful beast, set in a 1936 Ethiopia under attack from Mussolini’s troops. Emerging from the desert, a young woman, Beti (Hiwot Asres), seeks refuge with her elderly grandfather but when he has to travel to replace their livestock, she finds herself alone, fending off unwanted advances from the local militia and the strange creatures that haunt her dreams. But before long, the strange, otherworldly being she sees when she sleeps arrives at her watering hole and could be her only hope of protection.
Crashing down from the skies, Beti finds a new friend in the shape of a fanged boy, Amare, is he animal or human or something else? Is he real or a figure her thirst and fear has dreamed into life? Beti braves the consequences and the two find solace in their peaceful solitude together. Beautifully edited to almost synaesthetic proportions, we switch from vibrant colours of the desert to bleak black and white, to night vision with disorientating effect, mimicking that of desert life itself.
Filmed on a micro-budget of $7,000 and the first science fiction film to be set in Ethiopia, the barren landscape and sense of suffocating solitude permeates throughout this rare gem of a film. Unlike anything you are likely to have seen before, Beti and Amare, speaks its own language of the surreal and the strange.
Margarita, With a Straw
Dir: Shonali Bose
Feisty and forthright, Laila isn’t going to let her wheelchair get in her way; playing in a band, applying for university, kissing boys in libraries – she is determined to live the life of a ‘normal’ teenager. And so with that word, ‘normal’, reverberating throughout, Margarita, With A Straw, shares the story of our young rebel as she tries to overcome the challenges posed by her cerebral palsy and fulfil ambitions to experience life, and of course love, like everyone else.
Played by Kalki Koechlin, Laila is a happy, beautiful young woman, smart and ahead of class but in her eyes, behind in one aspect – sex. Like many before, she falls for the boy in the band, who leaves her heart bruised when her bold declaration is not reciprocated. And similarly like many before, she moves on by moving away to New York University. Chaperoned by her protective but loving mother, Laila finds herself surrounded by people of all kinds, a world away from her traditional Indian upbringing.
In New York, she meets Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a visually impaired girl who welcomes her into her liberated way of life and introduces her to the sexuality she once feared wouldn’t be available to her. Laila is able to express herself as never before, going to clubs, trying her first alcoholic drink – margarita, with a staw, and embarking on a journey of sexual discovery.
Margarita, With A Straw is a lovingly composed film and a rarely seen emotional exploration of disability and sexuality. The question of how it will be received in its home country of India is of course another matter entirely…
Björk: Biophilia Live
Dir: Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland
Opening with a stunning monologue from David Attenborough himself, the inspirations behind Björk’s Biophilia are introduced. We tiny humans are placed amongst the vastness of the great earth, at its mercy, governed by its all encompassing nature. It is this idea of nature’s sublime, in the Romantic sense of the word, that fuels this truly elemental performance as Björk unites musical innovation with the tremendous innovations taking place around us with every breath in the natural world.
Filmed at London’s Alexandra Palace as the final performance of the Biophilia tour which saw the Icelandic wonder innovate with every chord, inventing new instruments, new ways of creating sound and new sources of inspiration from the crystal structures of rocks to the movement of tectonic plates. The result is a live concert film, nay, experience, like no other; lightning bolts flash, pendulums swing, choirs erupt with unending energy of sound and dance, projections of cellular formations and volcanic eruptions receive as much of a riotous applause as the songs themselves. Accompanied by a supremely talented band, playing many entirely unclassifiable instruments created by Björk to realise her Biophilia vision, and a 24-piece Icelandic choir, Biophilia comes to life, bringing with it epic performances of all ten Biophilia tracks, highlights being ‘Crystalline’, ‘Moon’ and ‘Mutual Core’, alongside reworked classics such as Hidden Place. Prepare to be left breathless.
Attenborough’s opener, reminding us that nature, music and technology are about to collide in the most profound way, perfectly encompasses the ideology behind this truly innovative album – ‘there one daily phenomenon that is said to move us more than any other – sound’.
And as Björk curtseys and shyly utters her ‘thankyou’, I can’t help but echo what must have been the overwhelming sentiment of the audience – no, Björk, thank you.
Björk: Biophilia Live is now showing in cinemas and is available to pre-order on DVD and BluRay now (on sale 24 November).