Words by Jimmy Dougan
On 8 October, the week Birmingham cinephiles had been counting down to finally got underway at the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC). For the first time, the British Film Institute has gone national with the London Film Festival, screening films in several partner venues across the UK – including Birmingham.
Seeing as tickets for the London screenings were gold dust, I’d pounced at the chance to catch new films from some of the world’s best directors, weeks, even months, before general release. As I hurried downhill from Moseley towards MAC, I felt like a child on Christmas morning.
Over the next week I would be seeing five critically acclaimed, provocative works that promised to be anything but boring. It was raining over MAC so the stars weren’t exactly out, but the excitement in the air was palpable for Noah Baumbach’s long awaited White Noise.
White Noise is an absurd, blackly funny film. As a fan of Don DeLillo’s famously weird 1985 novel, rightly seen as unfilmable, I’d worried that director Noah Baumbach may have bitten off more than he could chew. My apprehension was dispelled immediately – this is a hilarious and deeply frightening film. Baumbach’s editorial flourishes are small but impactful; we trust him, and the unwieldy source material never feels beyond his control.
It is a stellar pick to kick off the week, and I loved it. Next up? Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, one of the hottest tickets of the festival.
I was immediately struck by just how young the crowd was, with only a scattering of free seats and a buzzing energy in the cinema. While MAC generally attracts a more reserved clientele, this crowd was much more Custard Factory via Hurst Street, if you catch my drift.
With the opening moments of the film drily lambasting Balenciaga before blasting M.I.A’s ‘Born Free’, we settled in for a wild ride. And, Östlund certainly gave us one. The film is a brutal takedown of post #MeToo gender roles, and a savage critique of the uber-rich, holidaying aboard a luxurious yacht.
A centrepiece dinner scene shows one of the most shocking sequences from any film in my recent memory.
As the guests gorge themselves on caviar, the ship itself goes haywire, buckling under the weight of the gluttons aboard. It’s a shit-soaked, vomit-drenched farce; excrement explodes from toilets, half-digested oysters coat the walls. I’ve never heard an audience react so viscerally, so vocally, to a film before – they applaud, then wretch, then cheer.
Shit flowed as bodies tumbled down marble staircases. This is hell as rendered by Picasso, a headlong stumble into a Buñuelian abyss. Subtle? No. Some of the most fun you’ll have in a cinema this year? Absolutely.
13 October saw a sell-out screening of Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin – a tale of a friendship abruptly halted. To give any more away would do this film a disservice. McDonagh is a master, and he mines a rich vein of distinctly Irish strangeness here, one that Beckett exposed but has since gone untouched.
There were plenty of Irish accents in the crowd – as a proud member of Brum’s Irish community, I found it moving to watch the new film from one of Ireland’s biggest Hollywood exports surrounded by its diaspora.
We were also treated to a short film from Midlands-based director Theo James Krekis, called Pram Snatcher. The crowd clearly enjoyed it, and whilst Krekis has only done short films before, describing Pram Snatcher as a proof of concept for a full feature length film, he also lectures in directing at the Screen and Film School Birmingham.
I hope the wait isn’t too long for Kerkis’ next because Pram Snatcher establishes him as a director to watch.
Over the final weekend, we were shown two films which subverted the detective genre in canny and ingenious ways. An acolyte of South Korean cinema, my friend Mat was giddy with excitement before Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, a film about a detective becoming dangerously entangled with a woman accused of killing her husband. It’s a sleek Hitchcockian thriller that’s also, oddly, one of the most romantic films of the year.
It is gorgeously composed and framed, with a puzzle box complexity. Watch this one twice to catch all the clues.
Puzzle boxes also feature in Glass Onion, the bigger but not necessarily better follow-up to 2019’s hit Knives Out. Before the sold-out screening, a pre-recorded intro from director Rian Johnson begged us not to share any spoilers whatsoever before the film’s Christmas release, and I have no desire to incur the wrath of Netflix so I’m remaining tight-lipped.
I will say that Daniel Craig is on great form as detective Benoit Blanc. But the film is Janelle Monáe’s; a performance of quiet fury, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The crowd went wild for this one – what an end to a brilliant week.
Covid-19 had a catastrophic effect on the UK cinema industry. If the multiplexes were limping, the indies were practically crawling. According to David Baldwin – MAC’s cinema and screen producer – September 2022 was their busiest month since reopening post-pandemic. There is clearly still work to be done in rebuilding audiences, but hopefully this heralds better days ahead.
MAC had the most consistently busy cinema I’ve seen in a very long time, and I feel truly lucky to have been given the opportunity to preview, and write about these films.
See them, love them, even hate them. Just don’t watch them on a laptop, because every single film screened made an urgent and powerful case for the vitality and importance of the collective, cinematic experience.
You can watch White Noise on Netflix on the 30 December. You can also see Triangle of Sadness released in UK cinemas on the 28 October, and The Banshees of Inisherin is in UK cinemas now – so is Decision To Leave. Glass Onion releases on Netflix on the 23 December, with screenings in selected cinemas from the 23 November.
Pram Snatcher – official trailer
For more from London Film Festival go to: www.whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff
For more from the Midlands Art Centre go to: www.macbirmingham.co.uk
For more from Birmingham based writer and filmmaker Theo James Krekis go to: www.theojameskrekis.com