London Film Festival 2010 – Chapter 9

Well, here we are in the final flourishes of what has so far been a hugely enjoyable London Film Festival.

After the fantastic films of the previous day, my hopes were high that things could continue in the same impressive vein.

Although no masterpiece, The Kids Are All Right didn’t let me down, delivering as it did a smart and sassy comedy that is sure to get noticed come awards time.

The Kids Are All Right

Teenagers Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) were conceived as a result of an anonymous sperm donor and have been raised by long-term couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore).

Joni is just about to head off to college and is convinced by Laser that they should seek out their biological father, who turns out to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), owner of an organic farm and restaurant.

Paul is the kind of guy who takes each day as it comes and the trio hit it off enough to decide to keep seeing each other. When Laser accidentally lets slip what he and Joni have been up to, his moms decide the time has come for the whole ‘family’ to finally meet.

While hippy chick Jules takes to Paul, the uptight and worrisome Nic is more resistant, concerned at the effect he may have on their lives. When Paul becomes the first client of Jules’ new landscape gardening business and the kids start spending even more time with Paul, it seems his influence has been for the best. But as time goes by, the life that they all knew slowly starts to change, not necessarily for the better.

Homosexuality is still something of a rarity in Hollywood and in the past has been treated in a crude, heavy-handed fashion. But in The Kids Are All Right director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko gives us in Nic and Jules two people who are a couple first and lesbians second.

Credit for this must first be given to the polished and intelligent script, which is full of spot-on observations about married life and the trials of parenting. Secondly Moore and Bening, especially, must be congratulated on delivering totally believable performances. You genuinely think these are two people who have lived together for many years, with all the bad habits and shorthand that go with it.

Likewise, Ruffalo does a sterling job as Paul. Despite some unwise life choices, it’s almost impossible to dislike the character. He’s such a cool guy you could forgive him almost anything.

The story itself may be pretty slight, but the fact the film navigates its way through a labyrinth of cheese and melodrama relatively unscathed is a hugely impressive achievement and makes for a great way to spend 106 minutes.

Rachid Bouchareb’s 2006 film Days Of Glory remains one of the most original and enlightening of the present batch of World War Two films which have cropped up since Saving Private Ryan back in 1998.

Hugely controversial on its release, Days Of Glory sought to give proper dues to the thousands of Algerian soldiers who fought to free France from the grip of Nazi occupation. In spite of the countless men who gave their lives, they were sidelined by Charles de Gaulle when it came to recognising the sacrifice made.

It was only after the film’s release that the French government changed its policy to bring foreign combatant pensions in line with what French veterans have been paid.

Bouchareb goes even further in his equally absorbing follow-up Outside The Law.

Outside The Law

On the same day citizens of Paris were celebrating the surrender of Nazi Germany, a parade by about 5,000 Muslims in the Algerian province of Setif culminated in violent clashes between demonstrators and French troops which left more than 100 dead.

Bouchareb points the finger of blame firmly at the French gendarmerie and it is this event that helps to spawn the formation of the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria, a movement instrumental to the lives of three brothers, ex-soldier Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), the scholarly Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) and criminal and boxing promoter Said (Jamel Debbouze) who chooses to stay out of it.

As Messaoud and Abdelkader become more embroiled in the fight for Algerian independence in 1950s Paris, their morals get ever muddier and soon they both have blood on their hands.

Their actions soon get the attention of the French authorities and lead to the formation of the Red Hand, a covert armed squadron charged with using whatever means necessary to destroy the FLN. The Red Hand is led by Colonel Faivre (Bernard Blancan), a former senior member of the French resistance who understands what the FLN is fighting for but now wears the shoe on the other foot, labeling them “terrorists”.

It’s not hard to see the ties that Outside The Law is striving to make between 50 years ago and today, but the film is directed with such a passion by Bouchareb that it is very much its own animal and, as well as being purposefully provocative and political is also a thrill ride from start to finish.

Although not a sequel to Days Of Glory, the fact that its three main leads have been reassembled for this film means comparisons are inevitable. Outside The Law has a harder, darker edge than its predecessor, which is hardly surprising given the highly charged subject matter.

It will be fascinating to see what Bouchareb comes up with next, but he’ll have to go some to improve on this fascinating polemic.

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