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Three to see at LFF if you like... American indie films

Trica Tuttle recommends three hot tickets at this year’s BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a breakthrough and a wild card.

Tricia Tuttle

11 September 2017

The new film from an established director...

Golden Exits

What’s it about?

Chloe Sevigny, Adam Horovitz, Mary-Louise Parker and Jason Schwartzman play middle-class discontents with barely functional relationships that are disrupted when a beautiful young Australian (Emily Browning) comes into their NYC lives. A battle of the sexes ensues in which the weapons of choice are endless suspicion and insinuation rather than head-on confrontation.

Who made it?

Still only 33, Alex Ross Perry delivers this fourth feature (he also wrote Disney’s upcoming Christopher Robin). It’s his third at LFF since 2014, after the brilliantly acerbic Listen Up Philip and 2015’s barbed and compulsive psychological drama Queen of Earth. Despite his films’  ultra-low budgets, high-profile actors flock to Ross Perry’s projects – a testament to his skill as a writer and his unique voice in American cinema.

What’s special about it?

Ross Perry’s films are notoriously talkie and intelligent, a fact that often sees him compared to Woody Allen. But he’s also a forensic, artful chronicler of human behaviour – he knows our darkest weaknesses and what makes us tick.

Shot on super 16mm, with a dusty city-in-springtime palette, Golden Exits is a sneakily profound film in which nothing much happens, yet it gets to the heart of a particular type of dysfunction in male and female relationships. Where Queen of Earth was about female psychology, this goes in for a close-up on the fragile psyches of ageing men. Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz plays an archivist in an unhappy marriage, without the self-awareness to understand his role in his discontent. But it’s Mary-Louise Parker who steals the show, with a riveting turn as brittle, bitter Gwendolyn, spreading rotten seeds of weary misanthropy.

See this if you like...

Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, the films of Eric Rohmer (especially Claire’s Knee)


The breakthrough...

The Rider

What’s it about?

Talented teenaged cowboy Brady’s rodeo career abruptly ends when a head injury means he can never ride again. While recovering, he grapples to find new purpose in his life, without the thing he loves and knows best.

Who made it?

Chloe Zhao’s debut was the critically successful Songs My Brothers Taught Me (LFF 2015), an elegiac coming-of-age film set on a Native American reservation in South Dakota. With this second feature, which won the big prize in Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, Zhao has confirmed herself a major writing and directing talent. 

What’s special about it?

Tense with heart-bruising emotion and drama, The Rider uses non-actors, with real cowboy Brady Jandreau playing a version of himself. He has the intensity and charisma of a young Joe Gordon Levitt, as a man whose whole life – from friendships to professional aspirations – has been spent nurturing a natural talent with horses, now rendered cruelly useless.

God’s Own Country director of photography Joshua James Richards’ superb, moody cinematography lends huge poignancy to Brady’s struggle, as Chinese-born Zhao brings a compassionate eye to this study of masculinity on America’s wide Dakotan plains.

See this if you like...

Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country


The wild card...

Lucky

What’s it about?

Lucky is a warmly funny and touching examination of ageing and small-town community life. The brilliant character-driven script was written for Harry Dean Stanton, who gives his best performance in a decade as an ornery old coot defying death on several packets of cigarettes a day in a desert town in New Mexico.

Who made it?

Several of the film’s creators have worked as actors, which may explain why the film is so exquisitely attuned to the details of human behaviour. John Carroll Lynch (Zodiac, Fargo) directs with a real sensitivity to performances from the whole cast (including a cameo from David Lynch, bereft after his ancient tortoise goes missing). The stirring screenplay comes courtesy of Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks (who have numerous film and TV roles between them).

What’s special about it?

Harry Dean Stanton was 89 years old at the time of the shoot, and he’s in nearly every scene, as delightfully grizzled and commanding a presence as ever. Working with a script form-fitted to his hang-dog and soulful persona, he brings a truthful poignancy and gentle humour to this sunset tale of a 90-year-old atheist and loner. Lucky has become a critical darling after SXSW and Locarno, with Variety raving: “everything Harry Dean Stanton has done in his career, and his life, has brought him to his moment of triumph in Lucky, an unassumingly wonderful little film about nothing in particular and everything that’s important.”

See this if you like...

Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, David Lynch’s The Straight Story


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