Red carpet movie premieres, chic reception parties, and lots of high-quality films... That's what Film Fest Ghent is all about. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to spend four days at the festival. Here's a little overview of my time there.
My first day at Film Fest Ghent started with four press screenings. The first one was Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner. In Leigh's biopic on J.M. William Turner (Britain's most famous 19th century landscape painter), he focuses on all hinge moments from the last 25 years from Turner's life and zooms in on the importance of certain people such as his father, his housekeeper, his ex, his lover, and some colleagues from the Royal Academy of Arts, which at the same time admired and loathed him. Leigh has eye for historical detail and includes many famous anecdotes including Turner who wants to be tied up to the mast of a ship so he'll better paint a snow storm. The scoop compositions of cameraman Dick Pope often remind us of Turner's paintings. But what makes Mr Turner really worthwhile is Timothy Spall's performance for which he received an award for best actor at the Cannes Film Festival. He portrays J.M. William Turner as a grumpy, sarcastic man who barely shows his emotions in everyday life, but when he does, you know that the pain is deep, and it's in these scenes that Timothy Spall's performance touches to the core.
Next came Eau Zoo, an observation of adolescents who are legally required to marry someone from within the community. Wanting to be free to make their own decisions, they look for a way out.
Director Emilie Verhamme is said to be one of the upcoming talents in Belgium, but her story lacks pacing, structure, and character development, and is ultimately more boring than anything else. Good concept, though.
The third press screening was for Love Is Strange, the follow-up to Ira Sachs' Keep The Lights On. After a relationship of 39 years, Ben (John Litgow) and George (Alfred Molina) marry and buy an apartment together. Now that their relationship is official, one of them loses his job and the couple can no longer pay for their apartment. They are pulled in by friends and family, but living apart and adapting themselves to others isn't as easy as they thought it would be.
Love Is Strange is made with care and has some realistic, fleshed-out characters, but I would have preferred a tougher, more rational approach to the subject. Instead, Ira Sachs' focuses on being cute and funny and, because of that, the film loses much of its impact.
I ended my first day at Film Fest Ghent with These Final Hours. The movie opens with a radio announcement that there's only twelve hours to go before an impact event will destroy Australia. In the streets, anarchy reigns. People plunder and murder to their heart's content. Headliner James leaves his pregnant girlfriend behind to do drugs and alcohol. On his way to the party, he takes a child under his care that is looking for her father.
I generally love movies about the end of the world, because they capture so well the fear of dying. These Final Hours is no exception. The tension surrounding the impending end is omnipresent and the movie's themes make us reflect on how we would react ourselves in this situation.
On Monday, I attended the red carpet premiere of the new Belgian crime movie Waste Land by Pieter Van Hees (Dirty Mind, Left Bank). It seemed as if everyone from the Belgian movie and TV business was present at the premiere, and the reception was accordingly chic, with lots of good wine and culinary delights. But despite all the glamour of the evening, the best part remained the movie itself. For Waste Land, Pieter Van Hees crept into the head of an unstable police officer who neglects his pregnant girlfriend in favor of a bizarre murder investigation. A dark tale of crime, adultery, and drugs set in the heart of Brussels.
Four days later, on Friday, I attended another movie premiere: Follow Ghent II. In this Belgian anthology made specifically for the film festival, ten shorts are presented that all take place in Ghent. Apart from the recurring location, the stories are all diverse, both in subject and quality. Only three really stood out. The first was a hilarious short film about the awkwardness of a first date (I loved the pacing and humor), the second was about a girl looking for her lost father (I bet you can't see the twist coming), and the third a story about the romantic rivalry between two girls (a bit flat in terms of story, but with great locations and good chemistry between the girls). Overall, Follow Ghent II was an interesting but imperfect film.
On Saturday, I concluded the festival with the World Soundtrack Awards which included a philharmonic interpretation of several soundtrack scores by Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives, Contagion, Wicker Park, Solaris, Kafka, A l'origine, Espion). Given the many celebrities that attended the awards (Brett Easton Ellis, Gabriel Yared, Jef Neve, Prince Laurent from Belgium, etc) I expected something exceptional from Cliff Martinez' concert, but the end result was lifeless and too short. Also, though Cliff Martinez was present at the award ceremony, he didn't play or conduct himself.
Any movie you'd like to see from this list? I'd love to know.