It’s almost Valentine’s Day again and if my social media feed is to be believed, everyone hates it.
Of all the dates in the calendar, Valentine’s Day is the one event that seems to have the biggest target painted on its back, with a wave of clickbait articles each year telling me all the reasons why it sucks. You know the kind of thing – if you’re in a romantic relationship, then it’s a grossly commercial venture geared towards depriving you of your hard-earned cash, as you’re ruthlessly browbeaten into splashing out on your loved one. If you’re single, however, then Valentine’s Day arrives once a year to make you feel like a weirdo or a social outcast for not having a significant other.
Me? I used to enjoy it when I had the time and money to treat my girlfriend to a night out. We used to do it all the time anyway, but the date gave us a little extra incentive to make it special. Nowadays, with two very young children and no time, it’s just another date to slip my mind…
Kino Art celebrates this ambivalent mood with their second Valentine’s themed short festival, this time focusing on films featuring a diverse range of relationships, loves and circumstances.
Under the Silver Lake
First up is Under the Silver Lake, a slacker neo-noir from David Robert Mitchell, who made a big splash a few years ago with his creepy It Follows. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spiderman) stars as Sam, a terminally unemployed sad sack hanging around his apartment in Los Angeles. He doesn’t have much going for him, but then one night he spies his blonde bombshell neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough) frolicking around in their communal swimming pool, and is smitten.
In typical Noir fashion, Sarah goes missing, and Sam embarks on an oddball journey across LA to find out what happened to her. This looks like a mashup of Mulholland Drive, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice– good company, but critics were largely unconvinced about whether it lived up to its exalted influences.
God’s Own Country
Next up is God’s Own Country, a well-received but little seen British drama about a taciturn farmer, Johnny (Josh O’Connor), who falls into a sexual relationship with Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a smouldering Romanian chap hired to help rebuild a stone wall. Some critics have drawn comparisons with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, and praised first time director Francis Lee’s unsentimental approach to the tale. Set in the Yorkshire Dales, there’s also sure to be a bit of the old British kitchen sink drama thrown in, which can only be a good thing in my book.
There’s a totally different style of filmmaking next with Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, one of the most important and influential screenwriters of the past twenty years. He has a downbeat sensibility, but when his writing is leavened by a visionary director, the results can be extraordinary – see: Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, when he is left to his own devices his work can be a bummer, like Synechdoche, New York, which despite its fantastical premise veered towards the despairing.
Kaufman directs Anomalisa, a stop motion feature using 3D printed puppets. It stars David Thewlis as Michael Stone, a downcast customer service expert with a rare condition – he perceives everyone around him to have the same face and voice. Doubles and identity are a recurring theme in Kaufman’s work, as in the outrageously funny scene in Being John Malkovich where everyone in a bustling restaurant looks identical to the eponymous actor. The spell is broken when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an insecure woman who has her own features and voice. This material sounds like Kaufman squared, and from what I’ve seen the stop motion animation is a marvel.
Call Me By Your Name
Lastly in their English language selection is Call Me By Your Name, which was up for Best Picture at last year’s Oscars. Timothée Chalamet, arguably the breakout star of 2017, was also nominated for Best Actor for his performance as Elio, an introspective teenaged lad knocking around his family’s gorgeous Italian cottage. His comfortable ennui is broken by the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), a hunky and self-assured student invited to stay over the summer by Elio’s academic father. Elio’s not too happy about it at first, but he soon finds himself sexually attracted to the handsome older man, and the two’s tentative friendship develops into a romance.
Personally, the film left me cold, but I’m always a fan of Armie Hammer’s awesome smarminess, and the scene of him dancing unabashedly to ’80s hits while rocking a pair of vintage Converse trainers is a winner.
Cold War – CZ subtitles
If you’re able to read Czech subtitles, I would also like to mention Cold War, the latest from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski. I’ve been intrigued by his work since the sumptuous lesbian romance My Summer of Love, which captured the ambience of a British summer perhaps better than any director I’ve seen, and also introduced us to Emily Blunt. I also loved Ida, his stark yet tender black and white portrait of a young nun on a road trip to discover the fate of her Jewish family in a wintry ’60s era Poland.
Again set in Communist Poland, Cold War tells the tale of a tempestuous relationship between two musicians who dream of escaping to the west. Pawlikowski’s up for Best Director at this year’s Oscars, and the film will also compete in Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film categories, where it will almost certainly lose out to Alfonso Cuaron’s critical behemoth Roma for both.
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So, happy Valentine’s Day – if you’re in a relationship, you might as well go with the flow and celebrate it, because why not grab every opportunity to make a big deal about being in love? And if you’re on your own this time, buy yourself a takeaway and a bottle of tequila, then put on some favourite tunes and dance around your apartment like you’re Armie Hammer.
See the festival’s programme and buy tickets at Kino Art’s website.