Day 3 – and I attend the press screening of British 3D animation LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE UNTRUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON’S GRAHAM CHAPMAN. With contributions from 14 animation companies, it’s an informative and witty account of Chapman’s life and struggles. Japanese press members are not quite sure where to put their eyes what with giant phalluses wizzing across the screen and comedy sex scenes, and I’m one of very few people in the audience laughing out loud throughout. You can read my interview with BEN TIMLETT, one of the film’s three directors, HERE >>
I then head to the public screening of French film FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (“Les adieux à la reine”), attended by visiting director BENOIT JACQUOT and actress LEA SEYDOUX who plays Sidonie a young woman who serves as the personal reader of the arrogant yet vulnerable Marie Antoinette played by German actress DIANE KRUGER who provides suitable charisma and intensity to the role.
A fictional account of the last days of the soon-to-be-guillotined queen in July 1789, the film has since been positively compared against Coppola’s lavish yet pithy interpretation of the queen, and praised for its careful art and costume design, solid storytelling, and attention to the more intimate aspects of Marie Antoinette’s life as well as providing possible explanations for her popularity and lack thereof among her servants and subjects. Kruger’s queen is a sympathetic stripped-down human character, depressed and bored in her daily existence, obsessed with La Duchesse Gabrielle de Polignac (adequately played by VIRGINIE LEDOYEN), and balanced with appropriate self-centred and callous elements.
Seydoux is spot on as Sidonie, suitably entranced by the hypnotic Kruger, playing the role with such subtlety while successfully holding our attention as the lead through whose eyes we witness this dramatic period of French history.
Shot on location at Versailles, refreshingly with minimal screen time granted to male figures, the movie successfully refrains from imposing judgment on either side of the class equation with a confident focus on the principal characters rather than tackling the historical and moral implications. In this sense, it’s a highly comfortable and entertaining watch.
Seydoux, displaying a stunning short haircut rendering her unrecognisable against Sidonie, talks about her enjoyment at freely wandering the corridors and rooms of Versailles during the shoot, and how she similarly loves to get lost in the streets of Tokyo. She goes on to expresses her appreciation of taking part in a costume drama about an important era in French history. She comes across as humble and down-to-earth, with director Jacquot not missing an opportunity to compliment her natural beauty.
I am really looking forward to Chinese competition entry FENG SHUI, the new film from director WANG JING, starring actress YAN BINGYAN. The film has sadly fallen victim to the row between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands, with China suddenly ordering withdrawal of the movie just before the festival and attendance by the director and cast were cancelled. Thankfully, the film is still being screened to the public, TIFF claiming that the withdrawal had not been correctly processed, and it turns out to be one of my favourite films of the festival and one of the best performances by an actress I have seen. Had the controversy not leaked into the festival, the film would have undoubtedly swept up awards – the film ends up being completely overlooked. But, that has not stopped the film from being nominated several times at the 2013 Chinese Film Media Awards, where Yan Bingyan later goes on to win for Best Actress.
The story tracks woman Li Baoli whose seemingly ideal married life falls apart as she discovers her husband’s affair, compounded by the emotional malaise of her son and strained relationship with her mother-in-law. Finding herself increasingly isolated in a family, a born fighter and woman of integrity, she struggles to make ends meet, never giving up on the dream of giving her son the comforts he has become accustomed to. Not an entirely lovable protagonist, Yan lends the role such depth and realism that we’re drawn to her and her plight. The writing is brilliant, the cinematography sharp, vividly recreating Beijing in the 1990s as it faces economic upturn and increasing desperation among the populace to socially climb within an evolving and brutal society.
Some of the scenes are utterly heartbreaking and a great deal of the swings and turns in the story are about luck rather than design. It’s a rattling film, but we’re all better for having witnessed the experiences of this strong and determined woman. The acting from all cast members is superlative and squarely puts into perspective how skilful and committed filmmaking in Asia can be.
I’m saddened that cast and crew are not here to talk to their public, and this is deepened when I hear the cinema theatre filled with mutterings of emotion and praise as the lights go up at the end of the credits. Their absence is gravely missed and the audience are reluctant to move from their seats, seemingly shellshocked by the quality and power of what they have just seen.