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LSTV takes LIFF '23 - Part 2

Our members headed to Leeds International Film Festival last month, scroll to read the second half of our reviews!

Photo: New Statesman

Anatomy of a Fall (dir. Justine Triet)

By Patrick Burton

I’ve always loved courtroom dramas. Anatomy of a Fall is more character driven than classics like A Few Good Men. It is undeniably one of the best films of 2023. After the sudden death of her husband, Sandra (played by Sandra Hüller) must defend herself in the line of questioning. Through the investigation we uncover more about the characters and their marriage. The screenplay is masterfully written; I was hanging on every line of dialogue. For a 2hr 30min drama that is mostly talking, my patience was never tested. This was such an engaging and thrilling cinema experience. Justine Triet writes and directs with nuance and subtlety, letting the viewer come to their own conclusions. Hüller is an incredible lead in what is a very demanding performance. We need to empathise with Sandra but also see a hint of anger and resentment. Did she kill her husband? There is no definitive answer. 9/10

Photo: Screen Space

Hundreds of Beavers (dir. Mike Cheslik)

By Patrick Burton

The most obscure movie I saw at the festival. A surreal silent comedy about a fur trapper trying to survive in the winter wilderness. How best to describe this? A mix between an indie videogame and a Looney Tunes cartoon? It took me a while to get into it because the humour and style are so unique. Stick with it and you will be rewarded. The absurdity escalates and escalates until it reaches a batshit crazy ending! It’s a real serotonin booster; an absolute riot that was clearly made with love and passion. Hopefully this little film will get seen and become a new cult classic. 8/10

Photo: The New Yorker

The Holdovers (dir. Alexander Payne)

By Patrick Burton

Alexander Payne understands how to craft an emotionally resonant story centred on outcasts and losers. Sideways and Nebraska are both films I enjoy due to their dry humour and character writing. The Holdovers is pretty much what I expected. Payne made his movie again. Paul Giamatti plays a grumpy schoolteacher at a boarding school who must babysit a handful of students who cannot return for Christmas. He slowly forms a friendship with troublemaker student, Angus, (played by Dominic Sessa) and head cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). The definition of a crowd-pleaser. Predictably, the whole audience erupted in applause as the film ended. I can’t imagine many not enjoying this. It’s warm and heartfelt, has plenty of Payne’s dry humour, and the performances are unanimously excellent. Unfortunately, I could see the story beats from a mile off. Of course, these sad, lonely characters will eventually get along! I prefer my movies with sharper edges. 7/10

Photo: NPR

Poor Things (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

By Charlie Ashton

One of the big-ticket items at Leeds International Film Festival was Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest outing – and you’d better believe this is an outing from wayyy out – Poor Things. The film revels in artifice and strange creative decisions which may provoke responses from audiences as dichotomous as the goose-dog and chicken-pig creations Willem Dafoe’s “Godwin Baxter” character manifests.  

Characters played almost exclusively by American actors speak with often comically unconvincing British accents, with perhaps the most ridiculous performance of all being that of Mark Ruffalo, and yet, having now been nominated for an Academy Award, it is clear that such branded weirdness and dismissal of convention is no mere laughing matter nor the least bit unintentional. The backgrounds consistently reek of the uncanniness of the studio soundstage and set extension in a manner which I can only describe as resembling the perverse offspring of Roy Andersson and Powell and Pressburger, and the original score too is not one to simply meld into the back of one’s mind in service of the plot, but both of these elements frequently howl and scream for your attention producing a moviegoing experience that can at times feel like the equivalent of attempting to babysit twelve children at once.  

It is, however, a fine film, exploring sexual liberation and societal expectations in relation to one’s often muddled sense of identity, while inviting us to ask questions about how our relationship to sex changes or becomes more or less taboo depending on our life experience, perhaps arbitrarily, in a way which few films of this scale are brave enough to. This might be more so an achievement of the original novel Poor Things was based on than the film adaptation itself, however, it is nonetheless hard to think of a draughtsman more apt and capable than Lanthimos to adapt a story of this kin. 

You can expect to feel a great deal of new sensations in figuratively disrobing yourself to this film in the theatre, though it may take several expeditions to more intuitively understand which aspects of the film you experience on a more conscious level, and which are merely muscle memory. Whatever your perception, Poor Things is a psycho-somatic study in comedy, tragedy and romance quite like no other you’ll see this year. 

Photo: The Fader

Mutt (dir. Vuk Lungulov-Klotz)

By Micah Santos

Mutt (2023) is the directorial debut of Vuk Lungulov-Klotz. We follow Fena, a young trans man who is forced to navigate three different relationships with people from his past: his father, his straight ex-boyfriend, and his teenage half-sister, whilst also dealing with a hectic day in New York City. This chaotic drama gives the audience a glimpse into the day-to-day challenges that come being a trans person in modern day society.  

The audience are first introduced to his ex-boyfriend (John played by Cole Doman). While his character did not lack depth, their scenes together didn’t feel as impactful or enjoyable to watch as the others. The start of the film’s script felt slightly stilted; Doman’s performance in particular felt a little rough in the first half of the film – a lot of his lines felt flat and emotionless despite the tension which is meant to be present in these opening scenes. However, by the latter half of the film he finds his footing, delivering an emotive final scene alongside Lio Mehiel (Fena).  

Feña’s relationship with his father and sister were the strongest points of Mutt for me. While the middle of the film is incredibly anxiety inducing, it still finds time for moments of bonding or banter between the half siblings. I loved the way Feña’s father’s presence looms over everything that’s happening until he’s finally on screen; initially it’s a slightly anticlimactic meeting, but then we get their argument in the car and Feña telling his father that being trans isn’t something someone chooses, it’s who he is and either his father accepts it or doesn’t get to be in his life. It is such a powerful scene, and it makes their resolution at the end of the film even more emotional thanks to the strong performances from Lio Mehiel and Alejandro Goic.  

The closing shot of the film (Fena staring at himself in the mirror) also felt particularly impactful. While it is a shot which is perhaps overdone, here it works. This idea of perception is an important theme throughout – Fena wishes to be perceived a certain way by others, however, how he is seen and addressed is shown to vary from person to person throughout, creating this jarring cognitive dissonance. In the film’s conclusion, there are things left unresolved, and there might still be people do not or refuse to see him for who he is, but as long as he has his own reflection and is able to see himself and be seen by those who matter the most, maybe that’s enough for now.  

This is a film I implore everyone to watch, as trans men’s stories are rarely told on screen, and Mutt navigates this feat beautifully with such an honest portrayal of existing as a trans person in a world that seemingly feels against you, and how that permeates into your personal relationships. My rating: 4/5 

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


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