The Blog

Under The Skin and BFI LFF Round-up

Director Jonathan Glazer is a man responsible for some of the greatest music videos of all time and his two features to date, Sexy Beast and Birth demonstrate that his formidable talent extends to longer narratives too. With his latest film, Under The Skin, he has undertaken something else entirely. It's less a narrative and more a sensory experience that contains a barrage of imagery that won't be forgotten any time soon.

What narrative there is follows a mysterious alien, played by Scarlett Johansson with dyed hair and fur coat, who has found herself in Glasgow (of all the places to land). The film follows her as she experiences the world and interacts with humans for the first time. She drives around in a transit van, visits shopping centres and nightclubs and does scenic coastal and forest walks. For reasons that aren't explained, or if they were I missed it, she also leads unsuspecting and rather aroused males to their death in a mysterious black liquid that reduces its victims to a chilling husk. There's also a man on a motorcycle who drives around Scotland cleaning up locations that she has come into contact with. His purpose isn't clear but it adds to the unsettling and discordant feel of proceedings. From first to last minute, the film successfully conjures through oppressive sound design, off-kilter visuals and Glazer's decision to use apparently unaware members of the public in scenes with Johansson, an other-worldly and yes, alien atmosphere. I'd say it's most relatable to the ambience Glazer created in his stunning video for UNKLE's Rabbit In Your Headlights.

As for Johansson, you know when people say an actor has put in a brave performance because they've made themselves look 'ugly' or they're pretending to be an amputee? Well Johansson's performance in this genuinely feels like a brave one and not just because she had to walk through Glasgow interacting with the public. It's quite extraordinary that an A-list Hollywood star has undertaken a role such as this and it's testament to Johansson and Glazer that she's delivered such a striking performance. Under The Skin is a genuinely challenging film that will undoubtedly divide audiences but for people willing to go to places that cinema doesn't often visit, it's a remarkable experience.

Aside from Under The Skin, French director, Francois Ozon returned to the festival with his latest film, Jeune Et Jolie (Young And Beautiful). Ozon's previous film, In The House played at last year's LFF and became an art-house hit when it went on general release in March. His follow up is a slight but provocative tale of a young French girl, Isabelle (Marina Vacth) who despite a solid family base, nonchalantly experiments with being a high class escort. Anyone who has stayed up late watching subtitled films on BBC2 may think they've seen this before but Ozon is a slyly gifted craftsman and just when you think you know where it's going, it takes a different path.

One of my favourite films of last year was the raw and brutal romance, Rust and Bone, with which Grand Central shares many stylistic and tonal similarities. Tahar Rahim (AProphet) and Lea Seydoux (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) play two employees at a nuclear power station who embark on a clandestine affair. Whilst not quite in Rust and Bone's league, the power station provides a unique backdrop and the occupational hazards it presents help heighten the tension. Rahim and Seydoux are two of France's most talented actors and their performances here are terrific.

Finally, ultra-low budget American romantic comedy The Bounceback has a lot going for it, not least a witty script and some winning performances. The plot could be tighter and the backdrop of an Air Sex championship (think air guitar but sex - apparently it really does exist) grows tiresome very quickly but this is a likeable film.