61st BFI London Film Festival Review
By Dr Ricky Ghosh Dastidar
The BFI London Film Festival took place recently, showcasing a total of 242 feature films from 67 different countries. Many of the screenings were international premieres and as ever, it was a star-studded affair featuring some of the world’s leading filmmakers and actors. Festival Director; Clare Stewart stressed the importance of the festival by stating ‘in these tumultuous times, filmmakers have increasingly urgent stories to tell and our programme offers the opportunity to stay informed, be challenged, feel the pleasure of escape and see the world differently’. Set over 12 days, a total of 14 cinemas were used across the capital and covered wider areas such as Kensington and Hackney, in addition to the West-End.
Andrew Garfield and Andy Serkis promoting Breathe
This year’s festival began with a gala presentation of new British film; Breathe. Directed by Andy Serkis, it stars Andrew Garfield as real-life polio sufferer Robin Cavendish, who at the age of 28 became paralysed from the neck down. With the help of his wife Diana, he not only defied the odds to survive, but helped pave the way for change in the treatment of the disease. The powerful biopic is also an inspiring love-story and features strong performances from Andrew Garfield as Cavendish, Claire Foy as is devoted wife, Hugh Bonneville and Tom Hollander.
The festival ended with a closing night screening of the new film by Martin McDonagh; Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missourri. In the same vein as his previous work; In Bruges, the film is a pitch-black comedic crime drama and definitely one to seek out in the future. The talented cast of the film includes Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and John Hawkes.
The London Film Festival is also a competitive festival and several of the films were placed in various categories to win prizes such as Best Film, Best First-Feature Film and Best Documentary.
This year’s Best Film prize was awarded to Andrey Zvyagintsev for Loveless; a powerful Russian drama about a divorcing couple whose son disappears. This is the second time Andrey Zvyagintsev has won the Best Film award here, having previously won for Leviathan in 2014, which subsequently went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
After announcing the winner, American Honey director and official jury member Andrea Arnold had this to say; although the film concentrated on the intimate story of one family in Russia, it felt like a universal tragedy and one that we recognized as one of the world¹s great sadnesses. Arnold’s fellow jurors included actor Eric Bana, whose latest film, The Forgiven also premiered at the festival.
The Best Documentary prize, alternatively known as the Grierson Award went to Lucy Cohen for The Kingdom of us. Lucy Cohen’s documentary feature is an exploration of grief and one of the jury members noted the following; in a strong and diverse documentary selection, Lucy Cohen’s impressive debut equally fascinated and moved us all. It captures an extraordinary level of family intimacy in its delicate exploration of grief and memory.
The Best First Feature-Film prize, also known The Sutherland Award went to John Trengove for The Wound. This film was described by jury members as ‘a powerful exploration of masculinity and unspoken gay desire, set in the remote mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape’.
Paul Greengrass accepting his BFI fellowship Award
The BFI Fellowship, presented for outstanding achievement in film and television was awarded this year to the director, producer and screenwriter, Paul Greengrass. Best known to audiences for the Jason Bourne series of films and Captain Phillips, the award was presented to him by his long-term collaborator Tim Bevan
Below are some of my personal highlights from this year’s festival.
Charlie Plummer and Steve Buscemi in Lean on Pete
Lean On Pete
Directed by Andrew Haigh (45 Years), this coming-of-age drama focuses on a lonely teenage boy travelling across North-West America in search of his estranged aunt. Along the way, he meets a cantankerous horse-trainer played by Steve Buscemi, who offers him a job. However, the closest bond he forms is not with any of the adults he encounters but with the trainer’s oldest horse; Lean on Pete. The film is elevated by Charlie Plummer’s performance in the central role and although heartbreaking in places, it is never less than entertaining.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Noah Baumbach’s latest film is about a delightfully dysfunctional New York family with Dustin Hoffman’s sculptor at the helm, Emma Thompson as his alcoholic fourth wife and their two sons and daughter, played respectively by Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel. As with his previous work (The Squid and the Whale), Baumbach manages to get right to the heart of his characters and presents them warts and all. Although none of the characters or their interactions with each other can be described as perfect, it is precisely this which makes them all the more real, and helps us to examine our own imperfections within ourselves. This is filmmaking of the highest order and Adam Sandler delivers a career-best performance as the struggling eldest son.
This Jersey-set psychological thriller is full of twists and turns right up until the very end. Directed by Michael Pearce in his debut feature, Beast boasts two great performances by Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn as the damaged souls who meet unexpectedly one morning and fall in love. However, the local inhabitants become increasingly suspicious of their relationship and it is not long before they’re linked to a series of brutal murders taking place across the island. Tense and edgy, the characters never make the viewer feel at ease. However, the pace of the film rarely flags and Pearce makes great use of the sparse landscapes.
Paddy Considine in The Journeyman
Paddy Considine stars in and directs this powerful drama about a veteran boxer reaching the end of his career. Just a few hours after his final fight, the boxer collapses and falls into a coma. Once he regains consciousness, his memory is lost, his personality dramatically altered and his physical movements impaired. Paddy Considine has already proven himself as a capable director with impressive debut feature (Tyrranosaur) and here, his acting takes centre stage as he plays a broken man trying to rebuild his life with the help of those around him.
Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
This surrealist horror film is director Jorgos Lanthimos’ follow up to The Lobster, which also starred Colin Farrell. Here, he plays a successful cardio-thoracic surgeon named Steven, with Nicole Kidman as his supportive opthalmologist wife. Their idyllic home life is threatened once Steven decides to introduce a troubled teenage boy with ties to a previous patient to his family, which includes two young children. Although, not a conventional horror film, there are thrills aplenty here and the bleak and unnerving world Lanthimos creates is simply unique. Together with regular collaborator, Efthimis Filippou, Lanthimos won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival this year for the film. Unlike anything else you have experienced before, the memory of The Killing of a Sacred Deer is guaranteed to stay with you long after the final credits have rolled.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger
Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an acting master-class in this real-life drama about a survivor of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings. He plays Boston resident Jeff Bauman, who was lauded by the media as a hero for his fight to survive, despite losing both his legs in the attack. After regaining consciousness, he was able to provide police with vital information regarding the identity of one of the terrorists and soon became a figure of hope for the community at-large. Stronger explores the challenges that came with this, as well as detailing the long and painful recovery process he had to endure. Based on Bauman’s own memoir, this powerful drama is an exhilarating, and at-times devastating account of what he faced, both physically and emotionally.