Matt Mueller reports from the opening night of the London Film Festival, which ended too early for his taste
The BFI London Film Festival got off to a smooth if uneventful start with chocolate in the seats, Jude Law on the red carpet (a strip of rouge that must be Opening Night’s skinniest gauntlet ever thanks to Leicester Square’s middle being walled off for a pre-Olympics overhaul) and Fernando Meirelles’ 360 on the screen. Climbing on stage to introduce his multinational cast, Meirelles professed to being “quite shocked” that 360 had been selected to open the festival’s 55th edition: “I always imagine that films that open festivals should be bombastic or controversial but this film is more a delicacy than a strong dish…”
You could sense by the lukewarm reception that greeted the film as the credits rolled that it wasn’t a delicacy that was much adored, and than many in the audience felt inclined to agree with Meirelles’ ‘shock’ assessment. Opinions at the Saatchi Gallery after-party were varied, but predominantly thumbs-down. Given the pedigree of talent involved (Meirelles directing a Peter Morgan script and a cavalcade of actors from around the globe, many of them huge stars in their own countries), 360 was classed as a bland, disappointing rendition of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde with an unenlightening take on 21st-century interconnectivity.
“I couldn’t believe how banal it was,” said one high-profile figure, while another wag dubbed it “Love Actually… without the laughs”. On the plus side, Ben Foster’s turn as a just-released sex offender came in for praise, as did Anthony Hopkins for his role as a father flying to the US to find his missing daughter – in particular for a lengthy monologue where he addresses an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that’s clearly filled with stories from his own life.
With the warning bells having already sounded in Toronto, 360 still finds itself without a UK distributor, although any film that features Law, Hopkins and Rachel Weisz won’t stay homeless for long – especially now that Magnolia is about to strike a deal for the US rights.
We wisely avoided the post-screening scrum to climb on buses for the after-party in favour of trusty old London Underground, and therefore beat the biggest wave of penguin-suited-and-gowned arrivals at the Saatchi Gallery, where revellers were greeted in one room by black-coated plaster figures of what appeared to be Spanish conquistadors (only with wooden stumps instead of arms) and, in another, what looked like several year’s worth of the contents of my shower drain crafted into the shape of a headless hobby horse. If Saatchi has decreed it, it’s gotta be Art (and worth silly amounts of money). We waited in anticipation for someone to accidentally knock the head off a conquistador… Hundreds of party guests slamming back free champagne in the proximity of large artworks just doesn’t pass as a good combination, even if LFF’s opening night bash isn’t renowned for its wildness. Bar staff put the stoppers in the bottles at 11.20pm on the dot, some cruel gallery employee cranked up the lights bright enough to frighten off anyone old enough to know better, and grumbling partiers were swept unceremoniously into the night.
It leaves you wondering why, in a thriving metropolis like London, the festival doesn’t try to find a cool venue that would let the party go on past the witching hour. Incoming artistic director Clare Stewart – previous overseer of the Sydney Film Festival – could be thinking along the same lines. Reputedly, upon hearing at a meeting about opening night’s early-bird timings, she barked, “11.20!? Are you kidding?” Look for a change next year. This year, though, revellers were left to fade into the night, looking to carry on the party elsewhere or just go home. Few if any were still talking about 360.