• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (7/10/2022)

(An overview of the pictures on show at the 66th BFI London Film Festival)


The 66th BFI London Film Festival is showing at various venues across the capital. A selection of reviews will follow in due course. In the meantime, here's a quick look at the programme highlights, organised by strand. One can only presume that the scarcity of pictures from Africa, Asia and Latin America is down to the difficulties film-makers continue to experience on these continents in the wake of Covid-19.


CREATE.


Having adapted Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000), François Ozon returns to the German's oeuvre for Peter von Kant, which reworks the classic kammerspielfilm, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972). Dennis Ménochet takes the title role as the film-maker whose life is upended by his new protégé, Khalil Gharbia, while Hanna Schygulla and Isabelle Adjani take supporting roles.


Echoes of the past also reverberate through Paolo Taviani's Leonora Addio, which is his first solo film since the death of his brother and film-making partner, Vittorio. Set in 1947, the action follows the progress of Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello's ashes from their original burial place in Fascist Rome to his home island of Sicily. The journey is interspersed with newsreel footage and clips from the Taviani archive.


Also showing under the Create banner are Martine Syms's The African Desperate; Asif Kapadia's Creature (which chronicles a collaboration between the English National Ballet and choreographer Akram Khan); KD Davison's Jonas Mekas homage, Fragments of Paradise; Jacquelyn Mills's Geographies of Solitude; Tim Mackenzie-Smith's Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande; Kristian R Hill's God Said Give 'Em Drum Machines; Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern's Meet Me in the Bathroom; William Kentridge's lockdown anthology, Self-Potrait As a Coffee Pot; and João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata's Where Is This Street? or With No Before and After (a journey of rediscovery around Lisbon that echoes Pedro Rocha's 1963 Cinema Novo classic, The Green Years); and Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret's The Worst Ones.


CULT.


Almost three decades after the launch of the original series, Lars von Trier returns with The Kingdom Exodus. The series will eventually be shown on MUBI, but the first two episodes form part of the Cult strand. Another TV show previewing at LFF 66 is The English, a Western mini-series co-produced by the BBC that stars Emily Blunt as a grieving mother tracking down her son's killers with the help of Pawnee ex-cavalry scout Chaske Spencer. Completing the small-screen trilogy is Lucía Puenzo's Señorita 89, a Mexican series about a finishing school for beauty pageant contestants.


Among the other Cult offerings are Gabriel Bier Gislason's Attachment; Colin West's Linoleum; Jeong Beom-sik's New Normal; Kjersti Helen Rasmussen's NightMare; Andrew Cumming's The Origin; Alberto Vázquez's Unicorn Wars; and Goran Stolevski's You Won't Be Alone.


DARE.


One of the grand old men of European cinema made a remarkable comeback in taking a share of the Cannes Jury Prize back in the spring. Reworking Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthasar (1966), Jerzy Skolimowski's EO stars Sandra Drzymalska, Isabelle Huppert and a donkey with sad eyes and a taste for carrots. A very different portrait of juvenile existence is presented in Coma, a Covid study that completes the `youth trilogy' that Betrand Bonello started with Nocturama (2017) and Zombi Child (2019).


Things also get out of hand during the Christmas holidays, as boundaries are tested in Horseplay, Argentinian director Marco Berger's exploration of sexual consent and toxic masculinity. Enclosure also proves key to No Bears, Jafar Panahi's latest act of defiance against the Iranian regime that sentenced him to six years' imprisonment, as he plays a director who finds himself in a tricky situation when he tries to direct a film about escape from the other side of the Turkish border.


Thankfully, this has been picked up for distribution, as has Slow Cinema maestro Albert Serra's 163-minute Pacification. Benoît Magimel stars as the High Commissioner on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, whose sense of colonialist entitlement is shaken by rumours of a nuclear submarine being seen in the Pacific Ocean.


Completing this high-quality selection are Maksym Nakonechnyi's Butterfly Vision; Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's De Humani Corporis Fabrica; Fridtjof Ryder's Inland; Lars Ostenfeld's Into the Ice; Carlos Vermut's Manticore; Ady Walter's SHTTL; Mani Haghighi's Subtraction; Cyril Schäublin's Unrest; Mikko Myllylahti's The Woodcutter Story; and Moussa Sene Absa's Xalé.


DEBATE.


Legendary Italian director Marco Bellocchio has already examined the impact of the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro in Good Morning, Night (2003). He returns to 1978 to make his tele-series debut with Exterior Night, which recalls events in six-part detail, as he seeks to understand the motives of the Red Brigade terrorist group.


Also provoking Debate are Del Kathryn Barton's Blaze; Tze Woon Chan's Blue Island; Moses Bwayo's Bobi Wine: The People's President; Nina Menkes's Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power; Phyllis Nagy's Call Jane; Mahesh Narayanan's Declaration; Violet Du Feng and Qing Zhao's Hidden Letters; Alice Russell's If the Streets Were on Fire; Maryna Er Gorbach's Klondike; July Jung's Next Sohee; Jamie Dack's Palm Trees and Power Lines; Huang Ji and Ryûji Otsuka's Stonewalling; and Ami-Ro Sköld's The Store.


DOCUMENTARY.


The Grierson Award marks its 50th anniversary at LFF 2022 and the jury will have its work cut out deciding between the contenders.


A clear favourite will be Oscar winner Laura Poitra's All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, an account of artist Nan Goldin's battle with Big Pharma and the Sackler family that has already won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.


Don't discount Alexandre O Philippe's Lynch/Oz, however, which examines how MGM's Technicolor fantasy has impacted upon the films of David Lynch. Also keep an eye open for Sébastien Lifshitz's Casa Susanna, which recalls the Catskills house that harboured a network of cross-dressers in the 1950s and 60s, or Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy's The Future Tense, in which the acclaimed film-making couple reflect on being Irish in Britain and raising their daughter in post-Brexit exile.


Completing the slate are Shaunak Sen's All That Breathes (about protecting a black kite form the air pollution in New Delhi); Leah Gordon and Eddie Hutton Mills's self-explanatory Kanaval: A People's History of Haiti in Six Chapters; Edward Lovelace's Name Me Lawand (about a five year-old Kurdish boy's time at the Royal School For the Deaf in Derby); and Trinh Minh-ha's What About China?, which provides a cultural critique of the Communist superpower and its complex political and cultural history.


EXPERIMENTA.


For some this is the most exciting strand of any London Film Festival. Others consider it the most daunting. A good way into this selection of avant-garde offerings is James Benning's The United States of America, which expands a 1975 16mm short of the same name to present static high-definition shots of all 50 States, as well as Washington, DC and Puerto Rico.


Proving a tad more challenging are Lewis Klahr's The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness; Grace Ndiritu's Becoming Plant; Leandro Listorti's Herbaria; and Amber Bay Bemak's 100 Ways to Cross the Border.


FAMILY.


Younger viewers are in for a treat with Michel Ocelot's The Black Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princess, an animated triptych that contains enchanting tales from Ancient Sudan, Medieval France and 18th-century Turkey. It's to be hoped that someone picks this up for UK screening, as Netflix has scooped Nora Twomey's animation, My Father's Dragon, which sees young Elmer discover the endangered animals on Wild Island.


The live-action trio is comprised of three stories of young girls acclimatising to new situations. Oumy Bruni Garrel has to cope with being the only Black dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet School in Ramzi Ben Sliman's Neneh Superstar, while Selma Iljazovski has to deal with her emotions after she is give a new android companion in Frederik Nørgaard's My Robot Brother. Meanwhile, Agnes Colliander has to find a way of getting rid of favourite uncle Simon J. Berger's new boyfriend (Tibor Lukács), so she can have him all to herself in Christian Lo's Mini-Zlatan and Uncle Darling.


FIRST FEATURE COMPETITION.


The great thing about a prize for debuting film-makers is that you genuinely don't know what to expect. A number of the titles below have already landed UK distributors. Good luck to everyone on the list, now and in the future.


The nominees are Manuela Martelli's 1976 (about one woman's paranoia in Pinochet's Chile); Georgia Oakley's Blue Jean (about a teacher with a secret life in Thatcher's Britain); Jeong Jih-ye's Jeong-Sun (in which a South Korean factory worker is bullied online); Saim Sadiq's Joyland (which centres on a Pakistani man who falls for a trans woman); Thomas Hardiman's Medusa Deluxe (a comedy whodunit set against the backdrop of a hairdressing competition); Ery Claver's Our Lady of the Chinese Shop (in which a plastic statue changes lives in the Angolan capital, Luanda); Natalia López's Robe of Gems (in which a Mexican woman reunites with the family's faithful maid at the country villa bequeathed by her mother); and Lola Quivoron's Rodeo, which stars newcomer Julie Ledru as a banelieue teenager who joins an underground motocross team.


GALAS.


Designed to bring in the stars and have them papped on the red carpet, the LFF's Gala screenings are all about raising the events profile and filling its coffers through sponsorship deals. None of the titles on the 2022 roster need any help from a backstreet blog, so we shall whisk through them here and linger over the more interesting ones when they hit the weekly release schedule.


Bookending LFF 66 are the equally cumbersomely titled Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which have been respectively directed by Matthew Warchus and Rian Johnson. And speaking of titles to give cinema marquee letter arrangers sleepless nights, there the Mexican duo of Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio and BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, which has been directed by two-time Oscar winner, Alejandro González Iñárritu.


Last time out, Martin McDonagh gave us Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). But he's settled for The Banshees of Inisherin for his tale of an abruptly ended friendship. Staying in Ireland, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio harks back to the Midlands in the 1860s for The Wonder, which chronicles the miracle of an 11 year-old girl who survives for months without eating. Time is short, however, for Bill Nighy's 1950s civil servant in Oliver Hermanus's Living, which has been adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro from Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952).


Food poses a problem of a different sort for Brendan Fraser's obese English teacher in Darren Aronofsky's The Whale. While he tries to connect with his estranged teenage daughter, however, Hugh Jackman is dismayed to be confronted with his adolescent heir when his ex-wife turns up out of the blue in The Son, which Christopher Hampton has adapted from a play by director Florian Zeller.


A Don DeLillo novel provides the inspiration for Noah Baumbach's family saga, White Noise, while a New York Times investigation into sexual harassment in Hollywood informs Maria Schrader's She Said, which has been adapted by the estimable Rebecca Lenkiewicz from a book about the Harvey Weinstein scandal by Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan).


A light gets shone on another bleak page of American history in Chinonye Chukwu's Till, which chronicles how the white establishment in 1950s Mississippi rallied around Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett) after she had refused to name those responsible for lynching 14 year-old Emmett Till (who had been wrongfully accused of harassing her), after his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler), had vowed to bring the killers to justice.


An investigation into a death in the mountains leads Busan detective Park Hae-il to form a dangerous fixation on the deceased's young widow, Tang Wei, in Park Chan-wook's Hitchcockian thriller, Decision to Leave. And there are also echoes of British cinema's glorious past in Sam Mendes's Ealingesque Empire of Light, which follows the efforts of owner Olivia Colman, manager Colin Firth, projectionist Toby Jones and ticket-seller Micheal Ward to keep a sea-front cinema open in 1980s Margate.


JOURNEY.


Although the word `journey' has been tarnished by reality show mawkishness, it still proves useful for the title of the most nebulous of the LFF strands. There may not be as many big names on show, but there are plenty of intriguing themes and moving stories.


The cinema of Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette is celebrated in Mikhaël Hers's The Passengers of the Night, which follows Charlotte Gainsbourg as she embarks upon a new career with late-night radio host Emmanuelle Béart during the run-up to the 1981 presidential election. Gainsbourg has just been abandoned by her husband, but Claudia Gusmano is held captive by hers after the elders of her 1960s Sicilian town turn a blind eye to her coercive marriage in the debuting Marta Savina's fact-inspired drama, The Girl From Tomorrow.


A sense of despair also threatens to engulf Nigerian asylum seeker Letitia Wright, as she seeks to negotiate the intricacies of the Irish bureaucratic system in Frank Berry's Aisha, while a Catalonian clan struggles to come to terms with the news that their landlords plan to turf them off their peach farm in order to build a solar power plant in Alcarràs, Carla Simón's sophomore feature (after 2017's exquisite Summer 1993), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.


Also on the slate are Jon Sesrie Goff's After Sherman; Makbul Mubarak's Autobiography; Ahsen Nadeem's Crows Are White; Zia Mohajerjasbi's Know Your Place; So Yun Um's Liquor Store Dreams; José Miguel Ribeiro's Nayola; Shamira Raphaela's Shabu; Shô Miyake's Small, Slow But Steady; Sadaf Foroughi's Summer With Hope; Yemi Bamiro's Super Eagles '96; Erige Sehiri's Under the Fig Trees; and Alejandro Loayza Grisi's Utama.


LAUGH.


There isn't much to laugh about at the moment and the dearth of titles in this strand is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that Rimini has been directed by Ulrich Seidl, the Austrian provocateur whose companion piece, Sparta, has been mired in what Variety call `allegations of impropriety and child exploitation'. Set on the Italian coast out of season, Rimini centres on washed-up crooner Richie Bravo (Michael Thomas), who is forced to work as a gigolo to make ends meet before his estranged daughter (Tessa Göttlicher) turns up demanding the child support he never paid her mother.


Grasping relatives also gather in Dean Craig's The Estate, as sisters Anna Faris and Toni Collette resort to underhand tactics to inherit cranky and terminally ill aunt Kathleen Turner's fortune. A remote Belgian cottage provides the setting for Neil Maskell's directorial debut, Klokkenluider, as government whistleblower Amit Shah and Flemish wife Jenna Coleman lay low with a couple of bodyguards while awaiting a journalist.


Rounding off this chucklesome selection is Damian Marcano's Chee$e; Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Fast & Feel Love; James Morosini's I Love My Dad; Luciana Acuña's The Middle Ages; and Kristoffer Borgli's Sick of Myself.


LOVE.


This strand might have been named `L'Amour' for the 2022 edition, as there are so many Francophonic films on offer. Chief among them is Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Tori and Lokita, which received a special 75th anniversary award at Cannes. Mbundu Joely and Pablo Schils play the youngsters from Benin who have to try and persuade the Belgian authorities that they are siblings, while also dealing drugs to pay off their traffickers.


Compatriot Lukas Dhont took the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes for Close, which charts how the bond between 13 year-olds Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele comes under pressure when they start a new school. Only four years older, Paul Kircher has to deal with the car-crash death of his father and the realisation he's gay in Christophe Honoré's Winter Boy, which co-stars Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lacoste as Kircher's mother and Paris-based brother.


Grief and love also mingle in Mia Hansen-Løve's One Fine Morning, as single mum Léa Seydoux finds release from raising her daughter, working as a translator and caring for her dying father (Pascal Greggory) in an unexpected romance with old friend, Melvil Poupaud. Illness also proves central to Emily Atef's More Than Ever, as Vicky Krieps becomes increasingly detached from husband Gaspard Ulliel and drawn towards Norwegian blogger Bjørn Floberg after she is diagnosed with a rare lung disorder. This picture has been made all the more poignant by Ulliel's death in a skiing accident.


Ninety years have passed since the authorised publication of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and there have been 10 screen adaptations. Coming just six years after a second BBC version, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's interpretation teams Emma Corrin and Jack O'Connell as Constance and Mellors, while Joely Richardson (who starred with Sean Bean in Ken Russell's 1993 BBC adaptation) plays miner's widow, Mrs Bolton.


Completing the love parade are Charlotte Wells's Aftersun; Lisa Selby, Rebecca Hirsch Lloyd-Evans and Alex Fry's Blue Bag Life; Maryam Touzani's The Blue Caftan; Nicholas Stoller's Bros; Rahat Mahajan's The Cloud Messenger; Ondi Timoner's Last Flight Home; Kôji Fukada's Love Life; Eugenio and Maria Polgovsky's Malintzin 17; Lovisa Sirén Maya Nilo (Laura); Dionne Edwards's Pretty Red Dress; and Ioseb 'Soso' Bliadze's A Room of My Own.


Also showing is Jamie Adams's She Is Love, which stars Haley Bennett and Sam Riley as old flames meeting a decade after their break-up, and the first three episodes of Mammals, a Jez Butterworth-scripted series, in which the marriage of James Corden and Melia Kreiling is compared to that of his sister and brother-in-law, Sally Hawkins and Colin Morgan.


OFFICIAL COMPETITION.


Established in 2009, the Best Film Award is still relatively new to the London Film Festival. Although it doesn't generate much hullabaloo, it has a reputation for thoughtful shortlists and astute choices. Seeking to join the roll of honour this time are Santiago Mitre's Argentina, 1985; Clement Virgo's Brother; Fyzal Boulifa's The Damned Don't Cry; Soudade Kaadan's Nezouh; and Alice Diop's Saint Omer.

Among the fancied contenders is Mark Jenkin's Enys Men, a 16mm psychological chiller that centres on ecologist Mary Woodvine and the increasingly troubling visions she experiences while keeping vigil over a rare flower growing on a Cornish island clifftop in the early 1970s. An equally remote part of Iceland provides the setting for Hlynur Pálmason's Godland, which accompanies Danish priest Elliot Crosset Hove on a photographic expedition to a mid-19th-century church that takes an unexpectedly sinister turn.


The same period saw the young Austrian emperor, Franz Josef, marry Bavarian princess, Elisabeth von Wittelsbach. She was famously played by Romy Schneider in the `Sissi' trilogy (1955-57) that was directed by Ernst Marischka. More recently, Devrim Lingnau took the role in the 2022 Netflix series, The Empress, and she is followed by Vicky Krieps in Marie Kreutzer's Corsage, which turns around her 40th birthday celebrations. Maybe next year, we'll get to see Sandra Hüller in Frauke Finsterwalder's Sisi & I?


SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS.


This is essentially a raft of pictures that are deemed too good to be buried in the strands and insufficiently clickbaity to merit a Gala. The majority will find their way on to the UK release schedule, but this may be the best time to see Ann Oren's debut feature, Piaffe, in which foley artist Simone Bucio starts to grow a horse's tail.


Buildings that have seen better days provide the backdrop for The Eternal Daughter and Allelujah. Made in secret by Joanna Hogg during lockdown, the former is a supernatural surprise that brings Tilda Swinton and ageing mother Carly-Sophia Davies to the family home that has become a neglected hotel. Adapted by Richard Eyre from an Alan Bennett play, the latter sees sister Jennifer Saunders presiding over Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, and David Bradley on a Yorkshire geriatric that is facing closure.


Remastered to mark its 25th anniversary, Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth (1997) shows how little the country has changed, as Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke excel as the violent working-class husband and the wife who tries to start a new life without him. There's more domestic discord in Michael Grandage's My Policeman, which opens in Brighton during the same period before harking back four decades to show how the triangle formed between copper Tom (Linus Roche/Harry Styles), teacher Marion (Gina McKee/Emma Corrin) and their art dealer friend, Patrick (Rupert Everett/David Dawson).


A New York household is disrupted by unearthly powers as undocumented Senegalese child-minder Alice Diop awaits the arrival of her son in Nikyatu Jusu's feature bow, Nanny. Taylor Russell goes in search of her estranged mother in Luca Guadagnino's Bones and All. However, she's a cannibal, who is taught to fend for herself by the nurturing Timothée Chalamet. Mechanic Brian Tyree Henry similarly steps up to help Jennifer Lawrence, as she struggles to come to terms with the traumatic brain injury she suffered while serving in Afghanistan in Lila Neugebauer's Causeway.


The military is also to the fore in The Inspection, which stars Jeremy Pope and draws on director Elegance Bratton's experience of being a gay man in the US Marines. Another enclosed community is faced with some harsh choices in Sarah Polley's adaptation of Miriam Toews's novel, Women Talking, after Mennonites Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Rooney Mara discover the truth about the nocturnal crimes of the men from a nearby colony.


Faith also plays a pivotal part in Ali Abbasi's Holy Spider, which revisits the 2001 case of a Shia Muslim and family man who sets out to rid the sacred Iranian city of Mashhad of sex workers. On a more positive note, sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini (Nathalie and Manal Issa) escape from war-torn Syria in order to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics in Sally El Hosaini's The Swimmers.


Getting out of the water is the aim for the passengers and crew of a superyacht that sinks in Ruben Östlund's second Palme d'or winner, Triangle of Sadness. Among those washed up on a small desert island are skipper Woody Harrelson, models Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean and a mix of oligarchs, arms dealers and disgruntled servants. The class war is addressed in a more direct manner by Chilean documentarist Patricio Guzmán, as he chronicles the 2019 protests that rocked Santiago in My Imaginary Country.


THRILL.


Hints of Highsmith, with traces of Rendell and a soupçon of Chabrol. That's the best way to describe the standout in the Thrill section. Starring the ever-watchable Laure Calamy, Sébastien Marnier's The Origin of Evil follows the efforts of a fish cannery worker to reinvent herself so that she fits in with her new family, after she discovers she is the daughter of wealthy businessman, Jacques Weber.


Appearances are also deceptive in Tobias Lindholm's fact-based The Good Nurse, as Jessica Chastain begins to suspect that new colleague Eddie Redmayne is too good to be true. Another deception occurs in Thomas M Wright's The Stranger, as ex-con man Sean Harris befriends Joel Edgerton in the belief he's a small-time gangster. In fact, he's a cop trying to crack a cold case. And art school dropout Aubrey Plaza is also lured off the straight and narrow by debt. But she soon finds that being a dummy shopper for a Los Angeles credit card gang is not without its perils in John Patton Ford's debut, Emily the Criminal.


Also on offer are Youssef Chebbi's Ashkal; Quentin Reynaud's The Blaze; Tarik Saleh's Boy From Heaven; Hansal Mehta's Faraaz; and Christine Ko's The Woman in the White Car.


TREASURES.


The annual raid on the world's film archives is always a treat. One complain, however, would be how few of the gems selected get seen outside LFF itself. At least the BFI Player is showing Mikko Niskanen's Eight Deadly Shots (1972), which is often regarded as the finest Finnish film ever made. The director himself plays an alcoholic farmer who is driven to killing four policemen by poverty and domestic stress. The great Jörn Donner supervised the editing of a 145-minute version. But this true-life tragedy is being shown in its 316-minute mini-series format.


Also long overdue another moment in the spotlight are Erich von Stroheim's Foolish Wives (1922); William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (aka All That Money Can Buy, 1941); Thorold Dickinson's The Queen of Spades (1949); Djibril Diop Mambéty's Contras' City (1969) and Badou Boy (1970); Govindan Aravindan's The Circus Tent (1978); Juliet Bashore's Kamikaze Hearts (1986); and Maureen Blackwood and Isaac Julien's The Passion of Remembrance (1986), a snapshot of what it meant to be Black in Britain that was produced by the radical and pioneering gay and feminist Sankofa Film and Video Collective.



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