From stories of South Korean factory workers to Scots vacationing in Turkey, the London Film Festival is back for another year. Our first dispatch covers a military coup and, perhaps, one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. Read on to find out more…

After Sun (Charlotte Wells)

Aftersun (2022) – source – London Film Festival

You always dreamed of seeing Paul Mescal like dad? (Stable now). Well, screenwriter-director Charlotte Wells’ feature debut gives it to you, in her hugely impressive and moving feature debut. After Sun takes place during a vacation in Turkey between Calum de Mescal and his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio), as the elder Frankie looks back on the trip, looking for clues.

A film about memory and the unreliable and misunderstood meaning we find in it, Wells – to stay on topic – pay attention to the information it gives us. Details on Calum are sketchy, as scattered as the strobe lighting that smashes through the film and culminates in a crescendo like no other (more in an instant). And Mescal skipping not only the years before we’d expect him to take on the dad roles, but also the obligatory years in which he’s supposed to build his repertoire so that we feel comfortable proclaiming him as the one of today’s best actors delivers the performance to match. Much like Connell from his breakout role in normal people, Mescal conveys an inscrutability that pulls you in rather than pulling you away, full of little inflections that suggest deeper demons are momentarily surfacing. But if Mescal’s performance seems beyond his years, his co-star, 11-year-old Corio, matches him, with a performance as natural as you’ll see this side of a home video.

You have to dig a little. Calum’s problems are there, but we don’t know exactly what they are. The nature of his relationship with Sophie’s mother and the backstory of his relationship with Sophie remain hidden. Clues are provided, but the detective work is yours. Ever since I saw it, specific moments have been etched in my mind like the sunburn Calum is trying to save Sophie from. There’s the sheer creativity of framing a conversation between Calum and Sophie with them both reflected in the TV screen, while Calum is reflected again in the mirror next to it, between which his holiday reading sits for you offer more clues. Or a camera pan that transports you from one time and place to another, decades apart, seamlessly. fill the present pain with the old memories from which it arises.

You have time to unpack it all at your leisure during the 98 minute runtime. The pacing is slow, with Wells dwelling on seemingly insignificant moments that a less confident first director would have bottled up and shaved off in the cutting room. But the rhythm allows his emotion to slowly wash over you, and before you know it, you’re completely in his grip.

It culminates and I type this thoughtful, with the menace of hyperbole staring down at me in perhaps the most purely cinematic scene I have ever seen. You will know it when you see it. The Under pressure moment merges memory and time and swells the heart in a way only film can. Guillermo del Toro This film is so difficult to understand in words because “what makes it work lies beyond the words and beyond the story, the plot and the characters. It’s purely a moment where the light hits, the camera moves and something magically moves.

You can read a book at your own pace. You can take your time to analyze each section of a table. But a movie is paced for you. You have no control. It’s like riding whitewater rapids; you just have to hang on. And like After Sun reaches its crescendo, make sure your grip is firm.

Jeong-sun (Jinhye Jeong)

London Film Festival 2022: AFTER SUN, JEONG-SUN AND ARGENTINA 1985
Jeong-Sun (2022) – source: London Film Festival

Did you accidentally send a video to someone you weren’t meant for? Or, worse, has someone else shared something private about you without your consent? Jeong Sun explores this topic, following a South Korean factory worker whose life is turned upside down after a private video is shared. It’s an interesting and uniquely modern premise, but the writer-director Jihye Jeong squanders it by throwing himself headlong into melodrama.

When the story begins and that inciting plot point arrives, Jihye first brings up the resulting feeling of embarrassment well. This is aided by a savvy script decision in the type of video that is shared: it’s private but not obscene. It’s intimate but there’s no wrongdoing. This makes the aftermath primarily social, leaving Jihye room to explore the titular Jeong-Sun’s feelings, rather than delve into a contentious or procedural story. But while this room is being created, it is not properly explored.

This feeling of embarrassment, at the heart of the film, is slow to come. Jihye pitches the axiom of storytelling that your “prompting incident” is near the beginning of the story. Instead, she takes her time building her characters and the relationships between them. Which would be nice, if Jeong-Su’s life wasn’t deliberately mundane. And once the video is shared and the story really begins, the movie turns into melodrama.

South Korea’s work culture can be intense (and exploitative), as its LFF film colleagues did Next Sohee depicts. This partly justifies Jeong-Sun’s hyperbolic reaction to the shared video. Status and hierarchy are important social structures, the transgression of which can have enormous consequences. But maybe that’s unique to South Korean culture (eyes open as I’m potentially exposing my cultural ignorance) because, to me, Jeong-Sun’s reaction to the leaked video seems wildly over the top. If you walk into this movie halfway through, you’d think tragedy struck, on par with the death of a child. – not that your colleagues have seen an embarrassing video.

You’ll find a more embarrassing clip on every third Instagram thumbscroll than this video. That it’s seemingly shared on every corner — and people would be interested in the first place — doesn’t add up or, at least, feels dated.

Blame cannot be placed on Geum-Soon Kim‘s door, who plays Jeong-Sun. She puts on a solid performance, bringing an endearing quality to the silent factory worker until the script demands she go too far, and we reach a crescendo of screaming. You can make out Jihye’s target. The film tries to stay something about a stuffy, lonely life that needs a change and, taken perhaps too literally in the film, a reader. But these dots aren’t connected – maybe because they weren’t drawn clearly enough in the first place.

Argentina 1985 (Santiago Mitre)

London Film Festival 2022: AFTER SUN, JEONG-SUN AND ARGENTINA 1985
Argentina, 1985 (2022) – source: London Film Festival

Dramatizations of real-life court dramas rarely find the space as funny and full of flair as Santiago Mitre’s. Argentina, 1985. Led by a rousing performance by the Argentina’s leading man Ricardo Darín as lead prosecutor Julio Strassera, Argentina, 1985 is a dramatization of the trial that put nine of the highest-ranking officers of the Argentine dictatorship on trial – otherwise known as the trial of the juntas.

It begins as it means to continue: by skillfully bringing humor into a story of real and recent crimes against humanity. In a blackish car driving through the rain, close-ups of Julio show him keeping an eye out for someone, while on-screen typewriter text explains the time and location. But Julio does keep an eye on his younger daughter – and enlists his precocious son, Javi (Santiago Armas Estevarena) to help – because he fears the boyfriend is a fascist spy. The shifts from humor to historical grief intensify throughout the film, and director Miter handles them with ease.

Darín’s performance as Strassera is central to the film. It’s all about brawny charm in public and vulnerable charm in private, as the prosecutor wonders if he’s up to it and what it will mean not only for his family, but also for the country, if he fails. The litmus test of any historical drama is whether the stakes still engage you when you know the outcome.

The film feels light on its feet, gliding along at a playful pace with a contemporary pop soundtrack, as if the tone itself is infused with the feistiness of enthusiastic young lawyers Strassera and assistant district attorney Moreno Ocampo (Pierre Lanzani) recruit into their pursuit team. But when it comes to the big moments, he doesn’t skimp on the details, told by witnesses during the trial, of the crimes and inhumanity of the fascists.

Skillful direction, a solid central performance, and a well-trodden tightrope transform this potentially weighty historical drama into a fun and thrilling legal drama – while honoring the victims whose fight for justice continues.

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