Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Exploding Controversy

Now that the London Film Festival has closed its doors for its 2009 edition, I thought I'd comment briefly on one of the things I found most surprising about my first stint as an accredited member of the press. Based on the post-screening conversations I had, the most critically controversial film of the festival was not any of the obvious choices; say, for instance, the new films from 'provocatrice' Catherine Breillat, or 'provocateur par excellence' Gaspar Noé, or even Bruno Dumont who 'has a way of dividing audiences like few other directors' (all quotes from the LFF brochure). No, this year's greatest divider was none other than Bradley Rust Gray, with his film The Exploding Girl, about an epileptic girl who returns home for spring vacation and finds herself getting close to a long-term friend as her college relationship crumbles around her.

So why exactly has this charming, tender film proved so controversial? Well, it's a good question – I was initially surprised to find that anyone had found such a seemingly innocuous film offensive in any way. However, after a little thought it wasn't so hard to see what people disliked about it: it's quiet, it's unfussy, it's slow, it's subtle – all attributes which many people dislike in films, even though they might claim otherwise. To compound matters further, it's also incredibly simple – a fact that even admirers such as myself have to concede. As beautiful and as likeable as the film is, there's no denying that there's not a huge amount of depth to it, playing as it does as an extended will-they-won't-they scenario. In short, it's a one note film. For its detractors, it didn't matter how well acted it was or how striking the cinematography looked – it just wasn't interesting enough to sustain its slender 79 minute run time. For the people who champion the film (amongst whom I class myself), it was one note played so well that the lack of variation to its melody wasn't a problem.

What I find so interesting, therefore, about the whole debate that blew up about this film is a) that out of all the films this was the one which split people so passionately, and b) that there seems to be a certain level of agreement between the people on each side of the argument. So, regardless of whether what I've said here makes the film appeal to you, I'd urge you to see it when you get a chance, so that at the least you'll know which side of the fence you fall on....

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