The 61st BFI London Film Festival was a mix of wonder and whaaaat? I managed to see the good, the awful and the ‘I can’t look’, from the opening night film Breathe to the closing night film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. As pleased as I was to experience the ‘full monty’, I did miss the Hamburg Filmfest which managed to line up for the same days, 4-15 October, schade. Next year I hope I can keep a foot in both camps.
Looking at the numbers, there were 243 features from 67 countries at 15 cinemas over 12 days. Overall, London and UK-wide audience attendance reached 208,900, an 8% increase from 193,000 in 2016. The increase was up mainly due to the live UK wide film screening events.
The Festival welcomed over 900 international and British directors, producers, writers and actors who, in most instances, stayed for the audience Q&As after the public screenings. This is always a highpoint for me when I can attend a public screening. The unique insight given by the cast, directors or writers I find provides a different element to the experience.
From the 1,020 accredited media delegates, this delegate managed to screen 31 films, plus a couple short films. I only walked out of one, Rift an Icelandic horror movie, way too much ‘scare factor’ for me.
BFI London Film Festival Award winners were:
BEST FILM - Loveless- Andrey Zvyagintsev
An emotional film about a divorcing Russian couple whose son disappears. The jury commented: “We felt that Loveless was a very poetic and beautiful film, dark and told with a fierce passion. Although the film concentrated on the intimate story of one family in Russia, it felt like a universal tragedy; one that we recognized as one of the world’s great sadnesses. The filmmaker elevated the personal to a social and political statement. A critique of our current psychological and political moment. Some of us felt the film a cautionary tale. An angry warning. And some of us saw it as a rallying call for the opposite of what the film is called. We also commend Wajib. We found this to be a very honest, tender and beautifully acted story about a father and son delivering wedding invitations to their relatives. Sometimes funny and often sad, we loved the glimpse into the lives of ordinary Christian Arabs in Nazareth. And through the intimacy between father and son, the film explored the clash of old and new in a fast-changing world. A call for patience, respect and understanding”.
This is the second time that Andrey Zvyagintsev has won the Best Film at BFI London Film Festival having previously received the award for Leviathan in 2014 which subsequently went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film and was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA in the same category.
BEST FIRST FEATURE - The Wound – John Trengove
An exploration of forbidden, unspoken desire set in the remote mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape. What the jury said: “Among a strong field of debut features, we found ourselves enamoured by the urgency, vitality and originality of The Wound. Director John Trengove and his terrific cast have created a dynamic and inimitable coming-of-age story that takes a heart-breaking look at masculinity and sexuality. We would also like to give a special mention to the dreamlike Summer1993, a beautiful and personal film, impressively and sensitively crafted. Its director and screenwriter Carla Simón is an exciting emerging filmmaker to watch”.
BEST DOCUMENTARY - Kingdom of Us – Lucy Cohen
This documentary feature debut is an observation of grief, family bonds and emotional recovery. On behalf of the jury, John Battsek said: “In a strong and diverse documentary selection, Lucy Cohen’s impressive debut Kingdom of Us equally fascinated and moved us all. It captures an extraordinary level of family intimacy in its delicate exploration of grief and memory. We would like to specially commend the poignant yet beautiful Makala, which examines third world poverty in simple and unflinching way, and also the thoroughly enjoyable, charming, inventive hybrid Before Summer Ends – this French road trip with three expat Iranians really touched and delighted the jury”.
THE BEST SHORT FILM - The Rabbit Hunt, Patrick Bresnan
Follows a family out hunting rabbits in the Florida Everglades. The jury commented: “We were unanimously impressed by Patrick Bresnan's verité documentary The Rabbit Hunt. The film is a thrilling look at one family's otherwise everyday hustle, and is proof that farm-to-table eating doesn't have to be a bourgeoisie exercise. We admired its agility, its confidence and its refusal to judge its enterprising subjects, and are excited to see what Bresnan does next. We are also giving a special mention to Scaffold, for its assured simplicity and economy of storytelling; Martin Cries (Martin Pleure), for its inventiveness in transforming the ultraviolent video game Grand Theft Auto V into a tone poem about loneliness; and to Deborah Zebeda, for her magnetic performance in Laws Of The Game”.
The My-Screened-List Best Films:
WEIRDEST- The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos
A psychological thriller/horror that has a soundtrack full of foreboding and doom.
Steven (Colin Farrell) a surgeon and family man who seems to have the perfect, if rather boring, life in the suburbs with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two kids. That is until the menacing Martin (Barry Keoghan) shares his plan for the family. Unfortunately, for Steven his past has come back to deliver vengeance.
Actors Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic all deliver such a calm, matter-of-fact performance that it is slightly surprising how odd they all are. Oddly brilliant performances that will stick with you and weird you out.
This film is by the same director who delivered The Lobster in 2015. That was an odd one too! But also one to see.
BEST Q&A - The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Noah Baumbach
Dad, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), doesn’t hide his disappointment with his three children; Danny (Adam Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and their favoured half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller). All three bear the scars of their perceived failures.
What they haven’t failed at is this film. All the actors give great performances, Adam Sandler in particular delivers an emotional portrayal of a doting father. A performance which has moved him up, in my opinion, in his acting credibility outside the goofball comedian. See it on Netflix.
Question: The title is not terribly attractive and is also very long, who chose the title and why?
Answer: Dustin Hoffman “The best question we’ve had so far.”, Adam Sandler “Original was Yentl 2.”, Noah Baumbach “You don’t like my title.”
BEST FUN FACT - Promised Land, Eugene Jarecki.
In this film Jarecki uses Elvis as a metaphor for the slow-motion train wreck that brought the U.S. Trump.
As I watched the decline, the addiction, the bloat of something that was once unique and special, I thought of the glory that was 'the' democracy that has crumbled into capitalism.
The only question now is, has it reached bottom or will this collective find its way back.
Who can stage an intervention? The answer should be all of us, in our own way standing up, walking or maybe taking a knee.
Also by Jarecki - The House I Live In. A 2012 documentary about the USA’s war on drugs, worth watching particularly in view of the current epidemic.
The fun fact - as I settled into my double seater, pleased with myself to get a little space, a late audience member sits next to me. Okay, not the end of the world but as he fidgets and proceeds to manspread, kick me and generally get in my space, the end of the world is nigh. After a number of ‘please, do you mind’ during the film, and as the lights come up, I begin a final ‘please…..’ as the director is introduced. As my seat companion rises, to theatre-wide applause, Eugene Jarecki apologises as he takes the stage.