London Film FestivalPosted on: 06 October 2016 by 50connect editorial
Showcasing over 240 films from around the world, Laurence Green picks his best bits from the 2016 London Film Festival.
Over 240 films from countries all over the world feature in the 60th BFI London Film Festival, which runs 5-16 October 2016. This annual 12-day celluloid jamboree will again champion exceptional filmmakers with movies that inspire, challenge and entertain audiences, as well as providing a launch pad for new and innovative talent.
The festival opens with Belle director Amma Asante’s, A United Kingdom, a true story about a couple (David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike) who fall head-over-heels in love in a post-war London, in which their inter-racial marriage creates fierce opposition from their families and the government of the time, and ends with Ben Wheatley’s ballsy, high-octane thriller Free Fire, about guns, gangsters and action packed shootouts, which is said to be dripping with blood, sweat and irony.
It is not often that a film comes along which is both funny and poignant and manages to pack a strongly emotional punch, but this is indeed the case with brothers Darren and Colin Thornton’s A Date For Mad Mary, which could be described as an ‘Irish feel-good movie with guts’. ‘Mad’ Mary McArdle returns home after serving a six-month prison sentence and tries to readjust to normal life. Her best friends Charlene is engaged to be married and has moved on from her rebellious youth with Mary. As the wedding draws near, Mary decides she must find a date to take to the ceremony, but her misfit status has isolated her. However, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Jess, the gorgeous wedding videographer and the film shifts gear quite quickly.
This is a finely crafted film with authenticity and heart at its core, while its use of biting humour and wit is sharply and economically used. But it is the marvelous performance by Seana Kerslake as the messy, infuriating but totally engaging Mary which really lifts this movie. There is strong support from Charleigh Bailey and Tara Lee as Charlene and Jess respectively. As a coming-of-age film, it manages to avoid all the usual clichés, offering a refreshing new perspective on the genre.
Another impressive performance comes from British actress Rebecca Hall who gives Antonio Campos’ underpowered and overlong real life drama Christine a necessary shot in the arm. Christine Chubbuck was a committed television journalist who worked hard to be taken seriously, tackling issues of interest and concern to her local community. However, Chubbuck was dead at 29 after killing herself during a live broadcast of a morning magazine show. Although it deals with issues of voyeurism and prurience in our mass-media age, the film treats its subject in an intelligent and realistic way, serving as a valediction for a career that never was.
Fancy a North African odyssey with a difference? Then try Oliver Laxe’s slow burning Mimosas, an enigmatic quest story influenced by the traditions of Sufi narrative. It opens in a Moroccan city, where a strange young man, named Shakib, is given the job of ensuring that a dying sheikh reaches his destination on a perilous journey through the Atlas Mountains. This is a visually eye-opening adventure that certainly doesn’t end where you might expect and combines elements of mysticism, ethnographic documentary, drama and the pleasures of elliptical storytelling. A true original!
A clever twist on a familiar premise is provided by Michael Dudok de Wit’s debut feature The Red Turtle, an absorbing dialogue-free animated film that marks a unique co-production between Japan’s studio Ghibli and London-based filmmaker de Wit. A man is shipwrecked on a beautiful island devoid of humans and has to do all he can survive. Watched on a by a group of sand crabs, he attempts to escape on a raft but is thwarted by the weather and a red turtle with a vendetta. Then an unexpected visitor turns up who will alter the man’s fate for all time. This is a film that both surprises and delights with stunning animation and inventive storytelling. A truly exquisite treat!
I was bowled over by Edoardo De Angelis’ Neapolitan neo-gothic fairytale, Indivisible. Two conjoined teenage sisters exist as the centre of a bizarre family business, where they are star singing performers. They’re valued for their uniqueness, appearing at weddings christenings and religious celebrations. Everything is fine until one of the twins learns that they can be safely separated and starts to demand an operation. With echoes of Fellini, the film has a distinctly satirical tragic-comic tone but retains an emotional empathy and warmth for the plight of the sisters and their life, surrounded by adults who exploit them. The movie is imbued with a rich visual style and memorable images and features naturalistic and winning performances from the two real-life sisters, Angela and Marianna Fontana. It was a worthy winner of the Pasinetti Award for Best Film at this year’s Venice International Film Festival.
An elegant but fragmented adaptation of an 1883 Guy de Maupassant novel is provided by Stéphane Brizé’s spare, no-frills drama, A Woman’s Life. The doomed heroine of the title is Jeanne, daughter of a country baron and educated in a convent, whose blissful bourgeois existence is rocked when she marries Julien, Scion of a destitute but noble family. Julien, however, is a hard-hearted young man who lies, cheats and has affairs, including one with a married noblewoman, and has no qualms about squandering his wife’s money. But this is not the end of the misfortunes that befall Jeanne throughout most of her life. Brizé remains faithful to the novel but adapts a kind of shorthand language featuring the most relevant highlights, giving the movie a rather uneven tone. The film, however, is blessed with a striking performance by Judith Chemla as the ill-fated protagonist.
Subtly shifting alliances, intimacies, tensions and resentments bubble to the surface in Cristi Puiu’s darkly comic, Sieranevada. The story is set three days after the terrorist attack on the offices of the Parisian weekly Charlie Hebdo and 40 days after the death of his father, as Lary is about to spend the Saturday at a family gathering to commemorate the deceased. But the occasion doesn’t go according to expectations. There are arguments, both personal and political, about Romania’s past and more recent troubles as Lary is forced to confront his fears and his past and rethink the place he holds within the family. Although overlong at just under three hours and somewhat overwritten, the film nevertheless offers fascinating insights into human nature, identity and foibles, with an undercurrent of black humour, providing a perception and honest portrait of an extended family.
A gangster thriller is combined with a female buddy movie in Houda Benyamina’s stunning directorial debut Divines which justifiably won the Camera d'Or prize at Cannes this year for Best First Feature. Set in a run-down, crime-fuelled Paris suburb where drug trafficking and religion exist side-by-side, the story centres on Dounia, a tough but naïve teenager who sees getting rich or dying as her most viable option. Along with her best friend Maimouna, the budding entrepreneur vies for the attention of a local drug dealer Rebecca, whilst simultaneously embarking on a fraught emotional relationship with a handsome male dancer who has caught her eye. But as Dounia’s work and personal lives rapidly escalate, her control begins to slip and she soon finds herself dangerously out of her depth. This punchy, pacy movie manages to be funny, suspenseful and emotionally involving, aided by a knockout central performance by Oulaya Amamra and an equally impressive one by Deborah Lukumuena as Maimouna.
But the best film screened so far has been Barry Jenkins’s brilliantly accomplished and constantly surprising Moonlight, based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. This is an engrossing portrait of an African-American growing up in the shadow of a crack epidemic, who struggles to come to terms with his sexuality in a culture that idealises hyper-masculinity.
This film is divided into three sections, each tracing a part of the main character, Chiron’s life, with the first charting his life as a child in Miami during the nineties when he was repeatedly bullied at school but was taken under the wing of a local drugs kingpin who offers the kind of leadership and emotional support that he sorely needs, through adolescence to eventual adulthood as a drug dealer in Atlanta.
The cast is uniformly excellent with Chiron played at three stages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and the hulking Trevante Rhodes, while conviction is heightened by the fact that all three actors bear an uncanny resemblance. There is also a career – best performance from a virtually unrecognisable, Naomie Harris, as Chiron’s junkie mum who ironically gets her supply of crack from the very drugs kingpin who is proving to be such an ideal father figure to her son!
This, in short, is a tour de force of filmmaking that addresses such issues as identity, race, gender, drugs and sexuality with restraint and genuine emotional power. I expect it to be among the Oscar contenders in 2017!
The London Film Festival
Running from the 5-16 October 2016
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