Monday, October 24, 2011

Lotus Eaters (London Film Festival review)

I've seen four films so far at the London Film Festival (in order, I've seen Weekend, Restless, Lotus Eaters and The Future) and am planning to see another two (Faust and Like Crazy) this week. I thought Weekend was amazing and I'm already planning to see The Future a second time when it opens in cinemas, but it was Lotus Eaters that I really loved and that's been occupying my thoughts all weekend.

In addition to being a beautiful, wonderful film, Lotus Eaters feels suitable for this blog in how the film captures life in London; at one point Alice, the central figure, walks across London Fields and runs into Orna on Broadway Market, who asks "do you live around here?" and Alice's reply that she's just moved there makes absolute sense for the character, as does the meeting between the two on the street and the later shot of Orna on her mobile at a Serpentine Gallery opening. Alice is the sort of person who would move to London Fields and Orna is exactly the sort of person you'd find on Broadway Market or at a Serpentine Opening. I felt, These locations add a sort of depth and wider context to the characters that's entirely in tune with what's shown and suggested in the film and, perhaps, for those who aren't familiar with the areas in question, the film might be insight into the personalities of these locales, and so, in keeping with this blog's focus on enhancing experiences of London, I'd recommend this film to those wanting insight into London itself.

The film, though, is incredible in so many more ways than this, and I'm anxious to see what the director, Alexandra McGuinness, does in the future; it's a really impressive debut feature and I was a bit shaken to discover she was born in 1987, the same year as me. Lotus Eaters centers upon Alice, a young girl seemingly positioned on the edge of her social group, more observer than participant, trying to make sense of her feelings toward ex-boyfriend Charlie, attempting to move from modeling into acting, confused about her relationship to the world more generally. The film is about the dynamics of the group surrounding Alice, a world in which nobody seems to work and everybody goes from party to party, bathing in vodka and exchanging gossip about the ever-shifting relationships between others. Lotus Eaters has the subtle shifts in character of Henry James, the whirling portrait of society in turmoil of Evelyn Waugh and the nuanced capturing of mood and place of Sofia Coppola and yet it both updates these reference points and makes them timeless.

McGuinness's youth might contribute to her ability to capture what it is to be in one's twenties in London today, though really it impresses me that somebody around my age can succeed in creating a clear picture of youth out of the confusion that most people (based on my experience) seem to feel. Lotus Eaters illustrates the chaos of all the possibilities that surround one, the seductive appeal of music and people and parties and the way in which a culture with such weighty surface can make one feel alien, both enchanted and tired, lost and yet reluctant to be elsewhere, always playing a part in something which could be made beautiful if it could be distilled, articulated, made sense of... and Lotus Eaters manages to distill this essence, capture it and take it to its conclusion, explore it and visually document it.

Lotus Eaters did more than capture this feeling, though: the story had an epic quality, was tragic without dwelling on it, without too much sentiment, and the visuals were beautiful without stripping the film of its weight. Dialogue was witty, real and psychologically incisive from the opening scene, where a group are gathered at a cafe in conversation, Alice's feeling of alienation captured in her responses, slower and more studied than her friends' sentences; while she takes their questions seriously, they move quickly on to the next remark and assume, when she mentions going to Heidelberg, that it is for an event, failing to realise it's where she's from or to engage with their friend's confusion. The clothing was beautiful, suiting personalities and occasions, building to mark crescendos; humour was present but not too overt; and the music was beyond compare (mentioned in every review, but still worth mentioning), always bringing out the mood of particular sequences, introducing me to songs I hadn't heard before and stunning me with the use of those songs I did know, as in the use of Fever Ray's 'If I Had a Heart' to follow the film through the final hours of a party to the conclusion of the relationships that shift through the film.

I've used a lot of superlatives in writing this, but I loved Lotus Eaters. The film is beautiful without sacrificing grit or scathing glances, ultimately grand in scale but still relatable and intimate, poetic and simultaneously real. It focuses on surface, is wonderfully shot, outfitted and soundtracked, and yet isn't superficial.

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