London Film Festival 2018: Beautiful Boy, Roma, Mirai


Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy starts in the middle, circles back to the start, meets itself back where it began, then extends out from there for what feels like an eternal slog through increasingly ugly stuff. Why does it do this? This was my first question when watching this movie, and it was a question I found applicable too frequently throughout - in the end, I concluded that Beautiful Boy's reasoning behind its any and every choice was simply never going to satisfy me. This is a movie made for its own sake, an actors' vehicle driving ahead for no better purpose than just to drive; the story, which is based on real events, is adapted from a book; its progression indicates to me that this book exists for a rather similar purpose, and while I feel a degree of admiration for this exercise in meaningless detachment in the face of such distressing material, it doesn't exactly make for great cinema.


Director Felix van Groeningen tries the odd thing here and there, some of it odd indeed, to give shape and spirit to Luke Davies' screenplay; as richly-appreciated as those mannerisms are at times, they're mostly loathsome, only compounding the sense of pretentiousness that often overwhelms the whole movie. It's pretentiousness or nothing, though; van Groeningen removes himself from most of Beautiful Boy's most harrowing details, either cutting away or just looking away in the first place, glossing over this tale of teenage crystal meth addiction with strange indifference. It's only when he - all too rarely - joins his star Timothee Chalamet in digging into the dirty stuff that it comes to life and becomes as expressive and as affecting as one feels it ought to from opening frame to closing. Why does it do any of this? Maybe they just want Oscars. They're not getting any.


Yalitza Aparicio and Marco Graf in Roma

Meanwhile, there will be Oscars for Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, and I say that with utmost certainty, and I do mean to use that term in its plural form. There will be Oscars, there will be many more awards too, and it will deserve every last one of them. This is me indicating to you that I adored this movie, more than I quite know how to describe, because I also don't quite know how to describe what Cuaron achieves in this movie. It is a profoundly humanistic expression, yet seemingly achieved through exclusively technical means. Cuaron uses lines and shapes, light and dark, movement and stillness, sound and silence, cuts and compositions and startling little cinematic devices dotted around with astonishing assurance, and weaves out of all of these elements a tapestry of life that seems to chronicle not the technical achievements abounding herein, but the every micro-motion of the human heart. I haven't witnessed a filmmaker deploy such a thorough, all-encompassing command of their craft in a very long time.


Cuaron's camera glides from image to image, perspective to perspective, capturing every detail with perfect intimacy, every perfectly-gauged interaction, every line of dialogue moulded so neatly to every character you'd sometimes swear you were watching a documentary, albeit one with aesthetic qualities akin to those of a most wondrous, splendiferous, monochromatic dream. The opening shot of driveway tiles being washed clean, the water reflecting the sight of a plane flying overhead, is magnificent. A scene featuring a car attempting to squeeze into said driveway, cut rapidly in a manner unlike Cuaron's typical style but demonstrating his practically-preternatural sensitivity for film construction, is a stylistic and sensory joy (it's set to Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, natch). The film's dramatic apex is reached in a scene set, of all places, in a furniture store - it's purely breathtaking, and I tear up even recalling this sequence. A later scene set on a beach and captured in a single shot contains some of the most impressive cinematography I can remember, literally in any film - this is the finest moment among an endless stream of finery. There's even a nude scene - a very nude scene, unlike any other nude scene you've seen before, and what a nude scene!


There's a nude scene in Hosoda Mamoru's Mirai too, and I bet you weren't expecting to read that! It's just one among many gently adult qualities to this peculiar animation, though none of them ever strong enough to preclude the movie's key audience, kids, from watching (the nude scene, fyi, is a fleeting glimpse of a young family during bath time, and it's side nudity only - fret not, prudish parents!). Four-year-old Kun struggles to cope with the entrance of a new figure into his home - a baby sister, Mirai, hogging all of his parents' time and attention; Kun, however, will learn the lessons he needs in order to adapt to these permanent changes to the only life he's yet known, as he journeys through time and space within the confines of the family garden, meeting familiar figures from both past and future, and discovering the reasons behind his discontent.


Hosoda executes this relatively comprehensively fantasy concept with sly innovation, making of Mirai an endlessly surprising experience. It's less palatable than most anime features, possessing as it does at least one feature at every juncture that defies expectations. Hosoda pushes everything to an exaggerated expression, including some of the movie's darker themes and ideas, and also including certain details that most similar titles would gladly overlook. I especially liked the aerial views of the city, and the strong spatial awareness - animation is an ideal vehicle for this kind of dimensional exploration, yet so few animated movies even bother to try. There's also a suspenseful sequence part-way through that's a real winner. For all that it gets very right, however, Mirai is also burdened with some utterly befuddling attributes that blight its success. In spite of how it may sound, it's a relatively styleless affair - the animation rudimentary, the narrative ordinary and predictable. And is it too late to petition US distributors GKids for an American re-dubbing that actually casts a child in the part of Kun? No wonder the poor kid's acting out, given that he sounds older than his own mother...


Beautiful Boy, Roma and Mirai are all screening as galas at the BFI London Film Festival, which is currently taking place in the British capital, due to conclude this Sunday, the 21st of October.

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