Tag Archives: Raindance Film Festival

How 12 days in a cell gave Grace Vallorani The Power

28 Sep
cover_the_power

Grace Vallorani (behind bars) with her captor, played by Constance Carter, in The Power

One of the joys of a film festival like London’s Raindance is you don’t know what you’re going to get: films often arrive with no reviews or advance buzz, which makes any happy discoveries seem the more exciting. I went to the UK Premiere of The Power after a chance conversation with the lead actress, Grace Vallorani, at the poker table (where you meet all the most interesting people!). It was a revelation. Vallorani gives a performance of astonishing power, bravery and openness, completely lacking in actorly vanity, that richly deserves a wider audience.

The film itself is not without flaws: primarily from its mismatch of genres. For the most part, it’s a very successful psychological thriller in which a woman is kidnapped and held prisoner to nefarious ends. Vallorani’s distress is grippingly, viscerally real: as she screams and batters the iron bars of her cell, you genuinely fear she’s done herself an injury.

In fact, Vallorani revealed at the Q&A interview session after the film, she had: “All the bruises, the blood on my head, they were all real. I hit my head on the bars.” Afterwards, she demonstrated how the little finger on her right hand is crooked – she cracked that on the bars, too, without realising it at the time.

The cell scenes were shot over the course of 12 days, with the barest of scripts – most of the dialogue was improvised to seem more naturalistic, which works well. For that whole time, while the rest of the cast were resting in their dressing rooms or tucked up in hotel beds, Vallorani actually lived in the cell: nights included. Her character spends her days trying to scrape out the concrete housing around the metal bars with a single nail in order to escape. That, too, the actress did for real.

It’s an extraordinary level of commitment to bring to a part, which shows in the integrity of her performance. What stops these scenes – the bulk of the movie – becoming samey is her character’s developing relationship with the girl who brings her food. Constance Carter, in her film debut, is excellent as the daughter of a cult leader: initially impervious to argument and parroting the mantras she has been taught, her façade begins to crumble as Vallorani alternately shouts, pleads, flatters, threatens, cajoles, reasons and, finally, befriends her.

The scenes between them are genuinely touching, as Vallorani comes to realise that both women are equally captives: it’s just that for Carter’s character, the bars are in her mind.

If writer/director Paul Hills had fully trusted in his cast, and the strength of the material he had here, he might have bequeathed an intelligent and sensitive psychological thriller. However, it also lurches uneasily into horror territory, with a baby-sacrificing, heart-eating, Baphomet-worshipping cult thrown in. This part is, for me, logistically implausible and psychologically risible, despite the extensive research Hills apparently did into the subject, while the ending contradicts the terrific character work built up over the course of the film.

Even so: perhaps all that will be more to someone else’s taste than mine; and the bits that are good in the film – the vast majority, in fact – are very good indeed.

Luna: the UK premiere of Dave McKean’s new film

2 Oct

Luna

Finally, illustrator turned film-maker Dave McKean has unveiled his long-awaited Luna, which had its UK premiere last night as part of the Raindance Film Festival. I caught it with my son Sam, who loved it. The last time we saw a Dave McKean film together, which was the Neil Gaiman-scripted fantasy Mirrormask, Sam was a wide-eyed kid of nine. Now he’s 18 years old and making films himself. I say this by way of illustrating what a long and tortuous road it is to make an indie film in the UK: Luna was actually shot seven years ago, but it’s taken this long to raise the funding for special effects and post-production.

So – what of the film? I don’t want to say too much, as Luna is still on the festival circuit and not yet on general release (there will be screenings in Picturehouse cinemas across the UK). Let’s just say that it’s a The Big Chill type of scenario, where old friends meet after a long gap in a big old house with a dark past by the sea, and gradually buried secrets and long-held grievances are teased out. But, this being Dave McKean, you can also throw in fawn-antlered wood-children, origami crabs springing to life, and a naked eagle-man of the rocks.

At the Q&A afterwards, Sam asked Dave about a key dinner-table monologue in the film, concerning the blurring of fantasy and reality: how there’s no such thing as an objective, absolute reality when reality is only what we perceive it to be, and when the way our brains process information (particularly when under stress, or grieving) will be very individual.

“That’s my own manifesto,” Dave agreed. “I’m an absolute realist, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but the way our brains interpret the world and deal with it is where all my stories come from.

“You see, this is real, right here, right now,” he continued, gesturing at the cinema. “But there’s a great, swirling wall of our imagination surrounding this little piece of reality in the centre. In an hour, we’ll all be elsewhere, and doing other things, and you’ll each have a different memory of what I said here, or your own different interpretation of what the film was about.”

Dave is a prodigious talent. He’s designed over 100 album covers; illustrated numerous children’s books as well as, in the last year alone, fat coffee-table books for Richard Dawkins and Heston Blumenthal; he’s written and drawn graphic novels and the covers for all the Sandman comics; he designed the British Library’s recent Comics Unmasked exhibition and the poster for their forthcoming Gothic exhibition; he’s made stamps, and adverts, and worked on Harry Potter films, and held art exhibitions. Oh, and he plays jazz piano and composes songs, including for Luna (though don’t think I didn’t notice the Douglas Adams steal/homage in the song Words!).

In film terms, he is perhaps best described as the UK’s answer to Guillermo Del Toro, though he is also very different. This is what Neil Gaiman has to say about him.

And still he has trouble getting his movies funded and distributed? Sometimes one despairs of the British film “industry”.