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London 2012 Olympic Shorts: Running Jump, What If, Swimmer, The Odyssey: Film Review

Olympics Film - H 2012

The Bottom Line

British film-makers deliver mixed messages about London Olympics.

Directors

Mike Leigh, Max and Dania, Lynne Ramsay, Asif Kapadia

Directors Mike Leigh, Max and Dania, Lynne Ramsay and Asif Kapadia helmed four short films loosely inspired by the Olympics that just made their U.K. television debuts.

Cinema is playing a key role in the avalanche of flag-waving cultural activity around the 2012 Olympics, which have just opened to great fanfare in London. Danny Boyle directed the spectacular opening ceremony, which featured a host of screen stars including Daniel Craig, Kenneth Branagh and Rowan Atkinson. Director Stephen Daldry is also serving as artistic supervisor for all the city’s Olympic ceremonies.

PHOTOS: London 2012: Inside the Olympics Opening Ceremonies

Meanwhile, four specially commissioned short films loosely inspired by the Olympics have just made their UK television debuts following a short theatrical run in portmanteau form. Showcasing several generations of British film-making talent, they are a mixed bunch, mostly love letters to London itself rather than to sporting excellence. Besides specialist festival programs, the small screen seems the most likely platform for them outside Britain.

The elder statesman of the group, Mike Leigh directs the longest of the four films, the lightweight domestic comedy A Running Jump. Leigh regular Eddie Marsan plays Perry, a fast-talking London car salesman forever striding through the city’s streets in a breathless hurry, making deals and hustling for business. His bubbly wife is a fitness instructor, his twin daughters are involved in swimming and martial arts, and his father is a cheerfully garrulous cockney cab driver obsessed with sports trivia. Taking the sporting theme lightly, Leigh’s sunny snapshot of contemporary working-class family life is warm-hearted and fitfully amusing, but disappointingly slight. Too many broadly sketched characters, too little plot.

Sport is only a minor background presence in What If, a stylish urban fairy tale directed by Max Gwia and Dania Pasquini, the duo behind the StreetDance movies. Shot in eye-catching monochrome, with just a few striking flashes of colour, it stars George Sergeant as Joe, a neglected young teenager growing up in a rough housing project ruled by bullies and street gangs. Joe is a lost soul until a mysterious guardian angel figure, played by Noel Clarke, arrives to boost his confidence by reciting Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated poem about courage and self-belief, If... Drawing on their long track record in music videos, Gwia and Pasquini pepper this inner-city fantasy with dynamic scenes of rap, skateboarding and free running. Bold, slick visuals almost make up for stiff performances and a trite, sentimental story.

The Scottish director Lynne Ramsay provides the shortest film of the Olympic quartet, Swimmer. Shot in exquisite black and white by cinematographer Natasha Braier, it is also the most arty and abstract of the group, recalling the poetic feel of Ramsay’s feature debut Ratcatcher much more than her recent drama, We Need To Talk About Kevin. The 19-year-old Tom Litten plays the title character, swimming gracefully through a series of rural and urban vistas interwoven with stirring music and dialogue clips from classic British films. Essentially a dreamy mood piece, Swimmer is light on narrative, but it has a ravishing style that could serve Ramsay well in a more dramatically substantial format.

STORY: Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics: Review

The sole documentary of the group, only The Odyssey by Asif Kapadia addresses the Olympics directly. Largely composed of elegant aerial shots of London laced with the disembodied voices of its citizens, it retraces the city’s bumpy seven-year ride since successfully bidding to host the games in 2005, from bomb attacks and financial slumps to all-out street riots just a year ago. Best known for his masterful Formula One documentary Senna, native Londoner Kapadia includes some harsh truths about a capital notorious for extremes of wealth and inequality: “It’s a wonderful city for rich people,” one of his unnamed interviewees remarks. There is a much longer, deeper film to be made about the political and financial backdrop to the London Olympics, but at least The Odyssey strikes a careful balance between anodyne promotional boosterism and healthy scepticism. (END)

A Running Jump
Cast: Eddie Marsan, Samantha Spiro, Sam Kelly, Danielle Bird, Nicole Bird
Director: Mike Leigh
Producer: Georgina Lowe
Writer: Mike Leigh
Editor: Jon Gregory
Cinematographer: Dick Pope
Music: Gary Yershon
Rating TBC, 34 Minutes

What If
Cast: Noel Clarke, George Sargeant, Alexis Simone
Directors: Max And Dania
Producer: Allan Niblo, James Richardson, Huberta Von Liel
Writers: Joshua St Johnston, Dania Pasquini
Editor: Peter Christelis
Cinematographer: Philipp Blaubach
Music: Pete Tong and Paul Rogers
Rating TBC, 24 Minutes

Swimmer
Cast: Tom Litten, Sophie McKeeman, Carolina Main
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Producer: Peter Carlton, Diarmid Scrimshaw
Editor: Adam Biskupski
Cinematographer: Natasha Braier
Rating TBC, 17 Minutes

The Odyssey
Director: Asif Kapadia
Producers: Hannah Ireland, Asif Kapadia, Betrand Faivre
Writers: Asif Kapadia, Simon Robinson
Editor: Nicolas Chauderge
Music: Antonio Pinto
Cinematographer: Adam Dale
Rating TBC, 29 Minutes.