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  • Writer's pictureLeeds Student Television

LSTV takes LIFF '23 - Part 1

Our members headed to Leeds International Film Festival this month, scroll to read our first half of reviews!

Photo: MUBI

How to Have Sex (dir. Molly Manning-Walker)

By Willow Arlett

Set against the backdrop of the Malia party scene, Molly Manning Walker’s directorial debut How to Have Sex is a stunning, raw exploration of consent.

Following a group of teenage girls embarking on their first ‘girls holiday’ awaiting their GCSE results, the audience are taking on a journey of drinking, partying and hooking up which quickly turns sour. When a brilliant clubbing soundtrack and vibrant visuals are juxtaposed with silence and empty streets, a sense of what I can only describe as sheer terror is created. The fragmented storytelling, allowing the viewer to put the pieces together before the final blow - the timeline of one night resetting and being told in the correct order - is masterful. Molly Manning Walker is able to present an intensely candid lens which challenges the female coming of age experience, with incredible nuance.

Mia McKenna-Bruce is a standout performance and deserves all the awards she’s being nominated for. As someone who grew up watching her on ‘Tracy Beaker Returns’, I felt such a strong attachment to her character in this film, which made her delivery of Tara’s story arc all the more gut wrenching. Tara anchors the story perfectly and Mia McKenna Bruce makes sure to demand your attention, even in the quieter, more heartbreaking moments. I was a complete mess by the end.

Without spoiling too much, I absolutely adore the final scene of this film. The image and words spoken are so rooted in the female experience that all it took to wreck me were the words: “It’s fine” and “No it’s not”. This film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it doesn’t create an entirely new conversation, but it truly is a must-watch. All of us have been Tara at some point, all of us have known an Em at some point, far too many of us have experienced a Paddy. If you haven’t seen this incredible depiction of the joy and pain of girlhood, do so at your earliest convenience.

Photo: IMDB

All of Us Strangers (dir. Andrew Haigh)

By Saskia Damiao

All of Us Strangers debut at the Leeds International Film Festival 2023 was spectacular. The film focuses on a screenwriter, Adam, who revisits his childhood home and reminisces on the memory of his parents, who have passed 30 years before. While he keeps going to visit the parents in the childhood home, when he returns back to his flat, he has a relationship with his only neighbour, Harry. While I won’t spoil the ending, Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott create a beautiful budding relationship and both did a great job at portraying the emotional edge to their characters. The clubbing and final scene where phenomenal emotionally and really embodied the personas of these gay men.   

The film is curated so carefully, it has you constantly hooked listening to their intimate conversations, laughing to the ideas of homosexuality that the mother stuck in the 80s believes – like gays going to WHSmith and announcing their gayness all the time. You can’t quite ever look away. The director Andrew Haigh had written a small speech to say to the audience before they watched, a beautiful moment where in summary he wanted to explore homosexuality and the idea of memory. My ONE issue with the movie, and most indie movies do this is the amount of silence within the movie, I can only imagine how easy it was for the actors to remember their lines as all the conversations lasted maybe a minute or so each. That’s not to say they didn’t do a great job but the emotion in the movie is portrayed by their actions and physicality rather than any emotional speech – which is refreshing from if we had a cringy long emotional speech for the ending. I feel like it’s two sides of the same coin, while I don’t like silence within films, the ending scene needed it. Not only to reflect on the chaotic minutes that had just occurred but to embody the ideology of memory that Haigh portrays.  

ALSO, leave off is a massive apartment complex in London that is brand new and decorated that beautifully only has 2 residents, one on the 6th floor and the other on the 10th floor. In the end, my Letterbox’d review (follow me @saskiadamiao), is 4.5 out of 5 – which to me, equates to 9 out of 10. My review stated “I’m not gay, a man or an orphan but jesus fucking lord give me strength the tears I shed were stronger than Ms Storm Debi”.  

Photo: Variety

#Manhole (dir. Kazuyoshi Kumakiri)

By Edmund Wu

A successful guy got a surprise party from his colleagues, and after getting a bit too tipsy, accidentally falls into a #Manhole. With the GPS jammed, everyone asleep aside than his ex on the phone and the police unable to locate him, he sets up a 'Pecker' account "Manhole Girl" and asks the Japanese netizens for help. 

The true difficulty in pulling this film off is the art of silence and pacing, as well as telling a compelling story in a place as stuck in as a manhole. The pacing of it was well thought out, with each call and escape attempt providing good ambience and build-up for an otherwise dead silent manhole. Audio edits enhancing camera angles, as well as the attempts one by one revealing firstly despair then disturbing oddities then clues and dangers, freshen up a very restrictive set for visual dynamic and intrigue. It makes you wait - and keeps you waiting - with him. 

The camera work and edits remain faithful to the smartphone-oriented Internet, with vertical video shoots, smartphone camera holding, and edits of texts of tweets into the manhole. The impact of modern social media technology and its spatial integration into film will only continue, as filmmakers and animators attempt to make text boxes more dynamic and in-scene across both Spiderverse films, and for many more to come. 

Spoilers ahead, but for those who have watched the film in full, another difficulty is arguably a story development one: how can I trust that he's the bad guy after all that we experienced down here for two thirds of the film? He doesn't seem like one, he's too handsome to be one, and it's kinda out of the blank. Flashbacks (though I still don't quite understand the motive) and a crazed scene of tweets of blatant accusations and getting the internet to kill someone brings his moral ratings down, but how do we go from here? How will the lady who came to save - or harvest - him be safe? Will his plead get her to not go on with a face for a face? Will she get out of the strangle or will she die in the manhole? The timing of it all coming together, completely unanticipated for my story dev mind and very much necessary to align with the moral compass that good will prevail typical in Japan and far East, was a twister to behold. 

As a man falls into an uncovered manhole, the manhole uncovers the man. An interesting setup for a deep discussion, slightly revealed from unassuming simplicities like the face he peeled off and replaced. Theatrically and morally challenging, the film is worth a watch, and a while for it to sink in afterwards. 

Photo: Cineworld

The Boy and The Heron (dir. Haiyo Miazakai)

By Eden Marsh Shoffren

The Boy and the Heron felt like an instant Ghibli classic from it’s dramatic opening. Set in the midst of world war two in Japan, the lead recounts as the hospital his mother is at burns down, having been bombed. A fluidly animated sequence of his desperate running sets the tone, this film is grim and about real people and loss. Mahito, the lead, and his father move to a countryside town, with marrying Mahito’s aunt, his mother’s younger sister. The house is haunting, beautifully animated with Ghibli’s iconic style. The house felt reminiscent of Arrietty or My Neighbour Totoro, cementing it’s classic atmosphere. Mahito’s aunt is pregnant and soon falls ill and becomes bed bound. Having been bothered by a heron for much of the film, Mahito is pulled into an absurdist fantasy when searching for his aunt, the heron being revealed to be a troll figure. The fantasy world is brought to life with detailed and textured animation. From the grass flowing in the wind, the heron’s swoops and bows and even the night’s sky - this world even with it’s absurdism feels real and lived in, a credit to the animation team and, of course, Haiyo Miazakai. Mahito finds a young girl, Himi, who is capable of fire magic and a young man who is a boat rower. With an assembled team, they search for his aunt, finding her in a birthing suite of magic. Himi helps Mahito to escape when all goes wrong and between battling anthropomorphic pelicans, running through glowing rock tunnels and helping to end a reign of terror, this film’s action kick’s into gear. With the continued tradition of mouthwatering Ghibli foods, this film has bread topped with butter and fresh jam that drips and splatters perfectly. Mahito is able to save his aunt and Himi reveals her nature to him, his future mother, doomed to die but happy to live her life knowing she can care for him. The film concludes with Mahito apart of a happy family post war. Ghibli’s exquisite character design doesn’t go to waste with emotive facial expressions, well built characters and incredibly displays of magic on - screen. Unfortunately I wished for a little more breathing room and slower scenes as the end felt slightly rushed. Nevertheless I deeply enjoyed this film with it’s gorgeous creativity, style, animation and emotive story of loss, legacy and the power of love above all else. 8 out of 10.

Leeds International Film Festival 2023 ran from 3rd - 19th November, organised by Leeds Film

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