The BFI London Film Festival proved once again that it’s one of the best by showing eclectic, important and interesting films during its ten-day run. Live film screenings, events, talks and glamorous star-studded film premieres made it the talk of the town. Here are some of the film highlights:
The Tragedy of Macbeth
There are no words to describe this film. Sure, this film stars multiple Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, is directed by Joel Cohen (MacDormand’s long term husband and brother of Ethan – who together made The Big Lewbowski, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, and more), and is based on Shakespeare’s iconic and much adapted work of art. But The Tragedy of Macbeth is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s indescribably stunning and powerful, and filmed in black & white which gives it an eerie tone, and was by far the best film of the festival, and is perhaps the best film of the year. All the performances stand out (including Kathryn Hunter’s witch), and The Tragedy of Macbeth will be remembered many many years from now.
A very quiet film that made a big impact when it was shown. The world of wealth and privilege interspersed with the less so has Josh O’Connor having an affair with a maid (played by Chelsea Young) in 1920’s England. Directed by Eva Hudson, every shot, every scene, every moment is captured slowly, succinctly and lovingly. It is a beautiful film on every level.
Sean Baker, the director who gave us the wonderful mobile phone film ’Tangerine’ (2015) returns with a quirky and funny film about a broke former porn star (Simon Rex – an actual former porn star), who goes to Texas to live with his ex-wife (Bree Elrod) and her mother in the shadow of a local power plant. He slowly starts falling for a young girl (a fantastic Suzanna Son) who works at the local donut shop. Funny and tender, with a slice of mischief (thanks to Rex’s charm and aloofness) made Red Rocket one of the favourites of the festival.
Munich – Edge of War
This WWI film tells a bit of the story of the Munich Agreement with a young civil servant (George MacKay) who gets reconnected with an estranged college friend to overturn Hitler before it is too late. A great turn by Jeremy Irons as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain makes this film taut and nail-biting, and the period details are superb.
Last Night in Soho
Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy star in this film that is so unlike what you would expect it to be. Young woman Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) arrives in London to start college, fresh and innocent, and is taken in by an elderly women (the late Diana Rigg in her last screen role) who harbours very dark secrets. Horror, fantasy and mystery are blended in together for a scary and bumpy ride. Directed by Edgar Wright (Ant-Man, Hot Fuzz).
A great Jack Lowden plays an WWI army deserter who is sent to a mental hospital to get treatment for an illness he doesn’t have. He’s gay, and falls into a series of affairs, some serious and some not. Actual scenes of WWI are interspersed throughout the film hitting home the hard facts that millions of soldiers died during the war. Based on the life of poet Siegfried Sassoon, directed by Terence Davies. Peter Capaldi plays the unhappy, bitter Sassoon late in his life who ended up marrying a woman and having a child together.
Kenneth Branagh’s ode to his own childhood living in Belfast in the 1960’s is stolen by the delicate performance of 5-year old Jude Hill who is in practically in every scene of the film. He is the son to Caitronia Balfe and Jamie Dornan where they struggle to survive in a city that is constantly in conflict between the catholics and the protestants. At only 98 minutes, this film is marred by Irish accents so thick subtitles are needed, and the riot scenes look staged. Balfe is terrific as the tormented wife, and Judi Dench delicately plays little Hill’s grandmother.
If you plan to watch any nun lesbian film this year, this is the one to watch. Directed by the controversial Paul Verhoeven (Robocop and Basic Instinct), it is based on a true story about Sister Benedetta Carlini. It’s early1600’s Florence when sister Benedetta arrives at a convent, and then enters into a powerplay with the head sister (a great Charlotte Rampling), while an alluring sexy local woman (Daphne Patakia) is taken in who then seduces Benedetta, but with devastating results that turns the convent, and the city, into a tizzy. Funny and surreal.
Ali & Ava
British made film that charts an unlikely romance between two people from different walks of like – a romance where society tells them that it is not ok. Claire Rushbrook is a middle-aged Irish teaching assistant and newcomer Adeel Akhtar is newly-single British Pakistani landlord who are both totally believable as the couple who meet and gradually fall in love in a romance that slowly blossoms over time. Clio Barnard delicately wrote and directed this film.
Excellent documentary of the fashion designer Mary Quant directed by actress Sadie Frost who shows us the importance of Quant’s influence in fashion as a female business pioneer and her influence on the fashion scene back in the 1960’s when Chelsea was the place to be for fashion. Quant is still alive today – a vibrant 92 year-old.
Powerful performances make True Things on the must watch list. Ruth Wilson (as Kate) works in a job centre mechanically doing her job when one day she has a client who more than takes her fancy – an ex-prisoner – Blond (Tom Burke). They start dating, against the rules of her job, and it’s a volatile relationship. Her friends and family are very protective of her, yet Kate keeps falling deeper and deeper for Blond.
Great performances by child actors (and brothers) Asik Shaikh and Arik Shaikh who play neighbors in a remote village in West Bengal. They are close friends, share a tutor, and can see into each others yards in between the bamboo fence that separates their homes. At close to two hours, the film never drags, thanks to the authentic performances and beautiful direction by Prasun Chatterjee. Two Friends is a simple moving tale of what it means to have a best friend when you are young. Highly recommended.
This animated film/documentay tells about the struggles of Afghani Amin, who is about to marry a Danish man, while he struggles with the life he left behind back home – the struggles he endured growing up gay in a volatile and unaccepting society. The animation is amazing, and the story even more so. Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
By Tim Baros