Sunday, 17 March 2013

Animals

***
My first-time foray into the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival starts with this peculiar flight of fantasy from writer/director Marçal Forés.

Pol (Oriol Pla) is a disaffected 17-year-old living with older, police officer brother, Llorenç (Javiér Beltran). Regularly withdrawing from the world, Pol has a (possibly) imaginary friend to keep him company: a walking, talking teddy bear called Deerhoof. Conflicted by desires he begins romances with his friend Laia (Roser Tapias) and also new classmate Ikari (Augustus Prew) who is prone to self-harming. A local girl goes missing and this creates a sinister mood in and around the school.

It’s a bizarre film, often as ‘funny ha-ha’ as ‘funny peculiar’ but without any uncomfortable tonal shifts. It seamlessly switches from the silly to the downright nasty and the director displays a talent for both. The film is set against a beautiful backdrop of Barcelona’s rural surroundings, and beautifully shot by Eduard Grau (Buried, A Single Man) who raises the game of this modestly-budgeted feature.

Deerhoof speaks in English. (And that’s fine - he’s a talking teddy bear. If he spoke Urdu it wouldn’t exactly affect the realism.) The majority of the cast speak Catalan but there are a handful of British actors (including Martin Freeman) and when they are in a scene everyone speaks in English. Very odd and incredibly jarring. Sadly, as soon as this occurred it brought me out of the film.

It’s a little ragged in terms of narrative. The script could have done with some polish. There are times when, logistically, the action is a little confused. So this debut does feel like a first film. But hey, you have to start somewhere and what it lacks in script it makes up for in visuals and mood. Forés has conjured a very haunting atmosphere and shown real imaginative flair. The central conceit of Deerhoof is a big, bold idea and am a little surprised he managed to get funding. The director really embraces the magical realism and makes these scenes work. He also displays an anarchic streak, which is fun to watch. In the Q&A that followed, the director proved to be very charming and self-effacing, and I look forward to seeing him grow as a film-maker.


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