Friday 18 November 2011

On DVD: "Love Live Long"

Mike Figgis has been busying himself with various educational, experimental and publishing ventures over the past decade; his return to feature production, 2008's Love Live Long, was sponsored by, of all institutions, the Gumball Rally, that annual blight on the planet that sees posh twits like Jamiroquai roaring around Europe in a variety of souped-up penis substitutes. The idea was to take two actors to Istanbul, where the Rally was due to stop over, and film them interacting with the cars and drivers - only the Rally in its usual form failed to show up (German police had shut it down for speeding offences), and so Figgis, cast and crew had to improvise their way around its absence.

What we get is the story of one of the drivers (Daniel Lapaine), cocky, gum-chewing heir to a hotel fortune, who "parties for a living" despite a wife and kid back home in the UK. Cut to: a troubled young woman (Sophie Winkleman, Claudia's sister), who hides behind sunglasses and stages "suicide diaries" - easy prey, in other words, for a reckless charmer such events as the Gumball only encourage. Quickly, you grasp that Figgis didn't need the cars: what we're watching has the look of a collision, an emotional pile-up, in itself. And yet slowly, just as you've settled into rubbernecking the results, it dawns the tables, as per the title, are set for turning, both before and behind the camera.

The Rally gained its biggest press to date in this particular year, when two British participants killed an elderly man and injured his wife - an incident that gets folded into the drama here, as Lapaine attends the real-life press conference set up to "deal with" this tragedy. I got the impression that the Henrys and Henriettas behind the Gumball didn't entirely realise what they were letting themselves in for allowing Figgis to shoot around them, or that, with money to burn, they didn't really care. Either way, Love Live Long is not the best advert the Gumball Rally will ever received; it's as though Shane Meadows had finished his Eurostar-sponsored Somers Town by having all the characters perishing in a Chunnel fire.

That sense of subversive mischief afoot is almost enough in itself to keep this particular experiment bubbling away, but the film also functions as a useful digest of Figgis themes and motifs. As in Miss Julie, we see the collateral damage left behind in the wake of privilege (Figgis has a way of shooting hotel rooms without ever becoming seduced by them); we have a damaged protagonist akin to the leads in Leaving Las Vegas, only - in this, a more affirmative piece - the heroine emerges with renewed reason to live; there's the weird sex, with the driver ignoring his latest conquest, writhing semi-clad in front of him, to instead engage his wife in telephonic foreplay.

There's also the supreme attention to actors. Lapaine can't, surely, be this much of a slimeball in real life, while Winkleman goes some way beyond her previous incarnation as a pin-up girl for socially awkward comedians (Peep Show, Harry and Paul). The director's filmography is becoming riddled with oddities and curios like this, but Love Live Long is one of the better ones - taut, tense and narratively satisfying - and Figgis's investment in digital technology is really starting to pay off: the flexibility of lightweight cameras and skeleton crews allows him to go wherever he likes, while the colours - particularly in the Istanbul scenes - fizz and pop off the screen.

Love Live Long is available to rent and buy from Monday.

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