Film Reviews

Leeds International Film Festival 2019 – Week 2

Welcome to the second and final week of coverage of the Leeds International Film Festival 2019. With a fine selection of films to cover, here are some of the highlights of the festival’s second and final week.

The Wolf’s Call (Le Chant Du Loup) (2019)

One of the best, tautest thrillers to emerge from the international circuit, The Wolf’s Call tells the tense tale of a submarine seemingly under fire… or perhaps not. This quandary hits home at the conceit of writer-director Antonin Baudry’s film which sees a French submarine dispatched to Syria to rescue a stranded Special Ops unit, only to find themselves embroiled in a world of trouble and the potential for kickstarting an armageddon.

There are a few familiar faces amongst the cast, most notably Omar Sy as a member of the crew and Matthieu Kassovitz as the admiral in command who is forced into a terse dilemma; however, the film truly belongs to Francois Civil who plays Socks, a young member of the crew famed for his exceptional auditory abilities and therefore in prime position to help provoke or prevent an international incident, thanks to a mysterious sonar disturbance. Civil brings both a youthful naivete and a depths-deep intelligence to Socks, allowing him to be a relatable protagonist and unlikely hero, even with his listening superpowers.

Baudry’s direction is nothing revelatory – after all, there is only so much you can do when the majority of your film is set in an enclosed space – but it’s solid and suitably nerve-shredding, particularly as the film’s doomsday clock ticks closer and closer towards destruction. A spiritual successor to films such as The Hunt for Red October and K-19: The Widowmaker, there’s a lot to enjoy about this French thriller, a remarkable exercise in smart, well-executed tension.

Monsoon (2019)

The sophomore drama from Hong Khaou steps away from Lilting, his impressive debut about grief and loss, and instead takes a look at the experience of the emigrant of a country, focusing on one, then two different experiences of returning to a place that is almost, but not quite, like home.

Henry Golding shines as the lead, a young man named Kit who has returned to Vietnam in order to seek out his parents’ history there, them having fled when Kit was a young child to avoid the country’s troubled history, and to scatter their ashes. It’s wonderful to see the normally composed Golding, who has come to represent a successor to Cary Grant’s own sophisticated, easy charm, present a truly vulnerable performance as a young gay man who is searching for a purpose and a meaning.

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Golding is ably supported by Parker Sawyers as Lewis, another man seeking his place in the world (Lewis’ father being a Vietnam vet) while living in the country; the ensuing romance that blossoms between Lewis and Kit is organic and messy, sexual and romantic in equal measure, satisfying to watch even as they brush against uncomfortable truths in each others’ narratives and the places that their parents respectively occupied in the country’s history.

The film is gorgeously shot and beautifully envisioned, managing to blend the rich cultural history of Vietnam with its bustling, metropolitan future in striking ways, framing Kit’s own journey and arc in dim lights and luminous shadows. Khaou himself emigrated to the UK from Cambodia and Vietnam as a child and it’s not hard to see this effort as at least a semi-autobiographical one. Fortunately, this also makes Monsoon a contemplative and beautiful drama rooted in the discomfiting experience of returning home to a home you’ve never really known.

Go Home (A Casa Loro) (2018)

This slice of bleak horror-drama hails from Italy and the twisted, political vision of director Luna Gualano and writer Emiliano Rubbi, who use the horror as an effective vehicle to tell a dark, yet sadly relevant fable, about the rise of right-wing politics and the current refugee crisis in Europe.

In Go Home, tensions are running high in Rome as a fascist group runs riot, inciting hatred when a support centre for asylum seekers is opened. However, this proves to be the least of anyone’s worries when a group of zombies suddenly enter the scene, snacking on fascist and innocent alike, forcing our right-wing protestor Enrico to take shelter in the center as the bloodbath continues outside.

What follows is a quietly human drama as Enrico struggles to hide his political inclinations, all while making unlikely friendships and bonds with his fellow survivors = people he despised days earlier. Sweetest of all is his relationship with Ali, a young boy staying with his mother at the centre, and a rare point of light in the darkness of Go Home. Actors Antonio Banno and Pape Momar Diop sell this friendship with impeccable ease, giving a real backbone to the story where it otherwise would have fallen apart.

The film, being a zombie feature, is naturally awash with gore, but even by the genre’s standards, Go Home is especially dark and gruesome, often to the genuine discomfort of the viewer (no spoilers, of course, but there are several scenes that are amongst the year’s bleakest). The story confirms its status as a twisted parable by journey’s end and the final scene is haunting and effective in equal measure. My recommendation? See this one only with a strong stomach and with a hand to hold.

I Lost My Body (J’ai Perdu Mon Corps) (2019)

One of the biggest highlights of the film festival and a deserved winner of the Nespresso Grand Prize at Cannes (the first animated picture to win), I Lost My Body is a wildly imaginative and surreal tale from Jeremy Claplin that marries together cartoonish absurdism with a big heart and a compassionate spirit, as well as a simply gorgeous animation style.

The main narrative is split, appropriately, between a sentient hand escaping its prison and making its way through Paris to reunite with its owner, and the owner himself, Naoufel, who is more concerned with wooing the potential love of his life Gabrielle, after his job as a pizza delivery boy leaves a less-than-cool impression. The hand is more Cousin IT than Oliver Stone’s The Hand, and it proves to be a remarkable expressive protagonist, particularly during the film’s fun and vibrant action sequences, such as when the hand must battle the threat of rats in the Parisian subway.

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The film is based on Oscar nominee Guillaume Laurant’s book Happy Hand, the author having written the 2001 French classic Amelie and it’s easy to see the similarities here; the whimsicality of the premise, the romanticism of the characters, who are seeking connection and reunification (both literally and figuratively), as well as the hints of heartbreak and tragedy which cast shadows over the light-heartedness of the piece. It’s no spoiler to say that the film’s final act pulls the curtain back on Naoufel and his family, and tells a story about the pain of loss and the struggle to move on, and that it does so in a beautifully poetic way.

I Lost My Body is a perfect example of a high-concept conceit that lends itself to telling a bittersweet and entirely human story on fantastical terms. The main takeaway message from I Lost My Body is about the importance of seeking out those connections and holding on tight; after all, the film reminds us, everyone needs a hand to hold in the dark.

You can catch up on our coverage of the Leeds International Film Festival here.

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