October 14, 2019
The BFI London Film Festival is one of the annual highlights of the UK film calendar that brings together the talent of the silverscreen alongside their latest films. Not only does it bring films feted for an awards run in a few months’ time, but it also supplies a litany of movies from countries across the globe whom are only too happy to have their films screening in such a prestigious location.
As ever, the BFI London Film Festival was open to the public though most tickets get snapped up during the members’ presale. For the most part eschewing many of the films that will be screening in your multiplex by the start of 2020, we opted to seek out the tales that spoke to us through the film festival’s brochure, somehow managing to see one film each from the debate, cult, laugh and love strands alongside one ‘official competition’ entrant, one film that is sure to be on the awards circuit come February and one that delighted the jury at Sundance earlier this year. Without further ado then, let’s go through the films we opted to see and how the event played out!
On the opening night of the festival, we were excited to pop along to Moroccan film The Unknown Saint, which featured a criminal burying a treasure before being caught by police and coming back four years later to discover his makeshift fake grave is now a shrine and a whole town has sprung up surrounding the so-called ‘unknown saint’. Just how can he get his prize back? A charming comedy that makes fine use of a static camera and more than a little silliness was a fine way to kick off the LFF and the Q&A featuring the director and cinematographer provided a few interesting details about the film’s inspiration. Surprisingly there was no mention of Blue Streak despite the film’s similar opening scenes.
Skipping forward a few days and we were excited to be in the company of Lucas Hedges and Shia Labeouf for the latter’s writing debut Honey Boy, which was written by Shia during rehab as a way to reconcile the relationship he had with his father when growing up. Primarily evoking his thoughts during his child star status with Even Stevens through to his time on Transformers, this was a movie filled with emotion. Will it gain awards recognition? Who knows but it was certainly an interesting spectacle that packed a lot of punch into less than ninety minutes and the Q&A afterwards was tremendously revealing as to just how personal the experience was to Shia Labeouf.
Made in Bangladesh was our next film, a story about a group of women attempting to unionist their sewing factory in Bangladesh. Although the lack of budget showed at times, it was still a terrifically acted film that benefited from a superb turn from lead actress Rikita Nandini Shimu as she attempted to break down the male dominance in her life. Highly recommended, hopefully this one will be screened in Bangladesh and galvanise a female workforce into rising up against horrendous industry practices.
Friday was perhaps our most interesting tonal shift as we embarked on watching two films across a four hour period. The first featured Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) as a man obsessed with his jacket in Deerskin. Utterly absurd, the film got progressively more ridiculous as it wore on with Dujardin eventually becoming obsessed with ridding the world of any other jackets because only his should be worn. It was certainly unique and was definitely one of the highlights of the festival. Following this French oddity was Clemency, a film that won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Focusing on a warden at a US prison it features a wondrous performance from lead actress Alfre Woodard as she grapples with the death penalty hanging over an inmate who may or may not be guilty. Quite the turnaround from Deerskin, this was a slow but powerful film that is sure to kick start more conversations on capital punishment.
The final day of our festival was also the final day of the London Film Festival itself. With both of our screenings taking place at the gorgeous BFI Southbank, we were in for a treat as we sat down to critical darling The Lighthouse, a film that already has numerous five star reviews from its appearances at many other festivals previously. A black-and-white horror that for the most part features Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson descending into drunken madness amidst their claustrophobic existence, it won’t be for everybody but certainly delivers on its uncomfortable premise.
Our final film was the delightful French romantic comedy drama La belle époque, which brilliantly blended The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Midnight in Paris as a man is given a personalised theatrical trip back in time. In an attempt to recapture the love in his marriage, he chooses his experience to be his first meeting with his now-wife at a café that no longer exists. Setting to work, a director recreates the experience with a complete set and numerous actors and the result is a comedic, nostalgic joy that many will appreciate.
As an event, the London Film Festival continues to excel. Taking in numerous venues and even creating one from scratch – the Embankment Garden Cinema – that is deconstructed immediately after the LFF ends, we had a great time watching wonderful films, hearing some fascinating speakers and taking in the joy of the event. Do attend next year if you get the chance!
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By Henry Fosdike