Other Unexpected Variations in the
Quality of International Sex
Shadows Film Festival Report 2003
B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
london film fest The major film festival season begins with Sundance in January and ends with Toronto in September, by way of Berlin, Cannes, Edinburgh and Venice. But no one pays me to attend any of those! So since I live in London, the official Shadows Festival stretches from the press launch of the London Film Festival, this year on 17th September, until the festival’s closing night, 6th November. London is well-placed to wrap up the season, as it combines the best films from all those festivals, plus a lot of new year-end things, British premieres and obscure films from all over the world. Arrange the words however you like, it's a cinematic feast...


QUANTITY NOT QUALITY. During these seven weeks this year, I managed to see 106 films, interview 36 cast and crew members ... and attend 12 parties! Sounds rather enviable, I admit, but it’s been a long, exhausting road and I’m glad to be back to normal again. Despite working 15-hour days I don’t make any extra money during this period each year, but I stack up film screenings so I get nights off over the coming months. And hopefully I collect material I can sell over the next year as the films finally hit local screens. (I should also note that not all of the films I saw during this period were festival films; many were the same old things I watch all the time, because my regular work doesn’t stop at all during the festival season.)

INTERNATIONAL VELVET. Several films blurred national boundaries, making it difficult to categorise them. Danish directors led this charge! Lars Von Trier’s star-studded and offbeat DOGVILLE, my favourite film of the festival, was made in Sweden with stars from Australia, Britain, America and Scandinavia. Lone Sherfig’s superb drama WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF was made in Glasgow. And Thomas Vinterberg’s emotionally satisfying yet somewhat baffling IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE was a New York story filmed abroad. John Sayles took the cast and crew of the intriguing CASA DE LOS BABYS to Mexico. While Iran’s gifted Makhmalbaf sisters Samira and Hana made their superb and very different films AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON and JOY OF MADNESS in Afghanistan. Spain’s Isabel Coixet shot the lovely MY LIFE WITHOUT ME in Vancouver. And France’s Bruno Dumont traveled to the California desert for the controversial TWENTYNINE PALMS.

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED. As always, the festival was full of surprise gems such as Ferzan Ozpetek’s gorgeous and askance Hitchcock homage FACING WINDOW, Korea’s outrageous SAVE THE GREEN PLANET, startlingly enjoyable remake in Mark Waters’ FREAKY FRIDAY, and David Caffrey’s engaging adventure GRAND THEFT PARSONS, starring a surprisingly good Johnny Knoxville. Not-so-pleasant surprises included Robert Benton’s hugely disappointing and badly miscast THE HUMAN STAIN, Tsai Ming-Liang’s ponderous and impenetrable GOOD BYE DRAGON INN, the contrived and derivative Canadian comedy MAMBO ITALIANO, Neil LaBute’s THE SHAPE OF THINGS, the Polish Brothers’ just too-strange NORTHFORK, Khyentse Norbu’s lacklustre followup to The Cup TRAVELLERS & MAGICIANS, and a few less-than-thrilling small British films, including Karl Golden’s contrived THE HONEYMOONERS, Penny Woolcock’s alienating THE PRINCIPLES OF LUST and Tony Fisher’s clumsy THE TROUBLE WITH MEN & WOMEN.

IT’S ALL ABOUT SEX. There seemed to be unusual attention drawn to films that dealt frankly with sex and nudity, not that this had anything to do with quality! The most notorious was Bernardo Bertolucci’s gorgeous but uninvolving THE DREAMERS, which brought out comparisons to his far sexier and equally uninvolving Last Tango in Paris (1962). We also had Meg Ryan getting down and dirty in Jane Campion’s intriguing IN THE CUT, teenage girls in Catherine Hardwicke’s searing THIRTEEN, a British orgy in the uneven THE PRINCIPLES OF LUST, two sex-in-the-desert dramas (Australia’s excellent JAPANESE STORY and the French-American TWENTYNINE PALMS), and a double dose of Daniel Craig, bedding 60-something Anne Reid in Roger Michell’s excellent THE MOTHER and the superb Gwyneth Paltrow in SYLVIA.

STILL MORE DOCUMENTARY VARIATIONS. Filmmakers keep reinventing the doc, with gripping results. Britain’s Nick Broomfield made the haunting AILEEN: LIFE & DEATH OF A SERIAL KILLER, about how one of his earlier films was used in the appeal process of convicted-then-executed murderer Aileen Wuornos. Spain’s Julio Medem beautifully directs an exhaustive (and exhausting) look at the Basque situation in THE BASQUE BALL. Errol Morris wows us with THE FOG OF WAR, this year’s Bowling for Columbine gut punch. George Hickenlooper travels into the captivating world of music guru Rodney Bingenheimer, also known as MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP. Oliver Stone gets to grips with the Israel-Palestine situation in the gripping PERSONA NON GRATA. Hana Makhmalbaf, age 14, follows her sister as she casts a film on the streets of Kabul in the extremely accomplished JOY OF MADNESS. Argentina’s Daniel Rosenfeld blurs the lines between doc and feature with his football-coach film THE CHIMERA OF HEROES. And Britain’s Kevin Macdonald takes this one step further with TOUCHING THE VOID, expertly combining firsthand narration with epic dramatization. But it’s Christopher Guest and crew who steal the show with their brilliant mock-doc about folk music, A MIGHTY WIND.

OTHER FAVOURITES. There are a lot of others that deserve mention (or obscurity). A trio of big award winners: Canada’s THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS, Turkey’s DISTANT and Afghanistan’s OSAMA. A trio of American independent masterpieces: Sofia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION, Thomas McCarty’s THE STATION AGENT and Peter Hedges’ PIECES OF APRIL. Three brilliant examples of world cinema: Thailand’s LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, Iceland’s NOI THE ALBINO and Argentina’s VALENTIN. And three high profile gems based on true stories: Ian Hart and Linus Roache in the Beiruit hostage drama BLIND FLIGHT, Hector Babenco’s astonishing CARANDIRU, and the hugely enjoyable Hollywood epic SEABISCUIT.

So that’s it for another year! There are still a few festivals rolling out here and there this month, but then we anxiously await whatever Sundance discovers in January. And we wonder how long it will take for those films to trickle down to us!


47th London Film Festival
22 Oct -
6 Nov 03

© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall