It’s that groovy time of the year again (no, I’m not talking about Christmas just yet). For all of us in London who couldn’t afford to sail to Cannes or go back-packing en-route to Venice, October is a super special time for self-confessed cineastes with a shoestring budget like me so I could go film-whoring along both sides of the Southbank in the 56th London Film Festival. If you’re baffled by what ‘film-whoring’ entails, it looks a bit like this. And make sure you watch the video for proper demonstration. It basically involves asking anybody with a spare dolla to contribute so I can go see some films during the festival run and do my film critic thing, leaving whatever shred of dignity and shame under my carpet. Because I’m the only critic without the Mastercard Sponsor template conveniently hooked under my name, y’all.
Anyway, far from digressing, there’s an electric programme of films in this year’s festival – the Hanekes, Kiarostamis, Audiards and Dolans (yes, count Xavier Dolan as a master in the making) are all descending to the Big Smoke, and some middlebrow Afflecks and Hoffmans. There’s even Tim Burton’s reinvigoration of personal style in Frankenweenie and Mike Newell’s revamping of a Dickens’ classic Great Expectations, both bookending the festival as opening and closing films, respectively. But I couldn’t care less about these two (frankly) mainstream offers.
Here are the top 10 films a reasonably perceptive human being should look forward to in the 56th London Film Festival:
It’s been 6 long years already since the brilliant Slovenian philosopher-cum-megalomaniac Slavoj Žižek ranted his best film culture theories in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, and without any sign of pretentious chin-brushing, his return to the cockpit is warmly welcomed. Expect plenty of mindfuck, psychoanalysis, witticisms, lots of sagely nodding and film loving. If you haven’t heard of Žižek before, you’re a monster.
Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s first entry in his Paradise Trilogy is Love, a film that perhaps only a bold talent can lens, capturing the explicit tale of middle-aged, romantically unsuccessful Austrian women travelling to Kenya to have sex with young Kenyan men. Just when you thought tourism had a good name. Seidl thinks otherwise, and that’s coming from the declared cynic, misanthrope, voyeur and provocateur. Plus, his sequel Paradise: Faith already nabbed the Special Jury Prize in Venice this year. I’m sold.
Abbas Kiarostami seems to be having a ‘romantic period’, following the wonderful Certified Copy (which was my third best film of 2011) with another love story but this time set in Tokyo. If that all sounds mushy to you, this Iranian director serves cinematic dishes with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Just have a look at Wikipedia’s plot summary: “a story of a young Japanese woman who finances her studies through prostitution“. Lovely, isn’t it.
Let’s face it – Sally Potter’s last good film was Orlando with film deity Tilda Swinton swapping trousers with frocks, and that was a decade ago, people. With Ginger and Rosa, she’s returned to form, apparently. Obviously she learned her lesson from Rage. But this coming-of-age tale set in the swinging sixties London has it all going – sex, politics, art, Cold War, youthful rebellion and two praised central performances of Elle Fanning and Alice Englert (Jane Campion’s daughter).
Recently resurrected Thomas Vinterberg (has everyone forgotten he was Lars von Trier’s contemporary?) stormed Cannes earlier this year with this blistering social drama/exposé about a teacher accused of child sex abuse. That teacher is played by Mads Mikkelsen, who came out of Cannes as the most lauded actor. Does anybody remember Festen? You better do now.
This could potentially be the festival’s most socially astute film. Or perhaps the most snored at. Romanian auteur Christian Mungui has literally left me scarred for life with his devastating illegal abortion drama 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days, and it’s hard to ignore his follow-up, this time about women in an orthodox convent. In Mungiu tradition, this film has already collected Best Screenplay in Cannes and steered his two leads to share the Best Actress award. Word of warning – do not take this lightly.
Look at the picture above – this is the look of an Oscar contender. Marion Cotillard is not doing some kung-fu, but rather emotively training those bloody whales that left both of her legs amputated due to a terrible accident. That’s why they’re called killer whales! But Jacques Audiard (who made perhaps one of best films in the gangster genre, A Prophet) takes this all seriously and as those bastards who’ve seen it in Cannes claim, it’s an explosive melodrama as explosive melodramas can be. Well, anything with Cotillard properly emoting is a sure fire. Let her read your journal and she’ll turn it into a masterclass performance.
Arthouse wunderkind Xavier Dolan (also irritatingly talented son-of-a-bitch) is now on his third feature and he’s only 23. See what I’m getting at? Word has it, he’s made a masterpiece in Laurence Anyways – a film which is practically not a film for everyone. It clocks up at 159 minutes with a narrative circling around the tumultuous relationship between a man and woman, where the man decides to swap genders. Not for those who grew up in convents, I suppose. But with Dolan’s artistic sensibilities and fuck-all ambition, this could emerge as the festival’s most hip, daring, dazzling event.
Unless you’ve been buried in a grave or snuck out into oblivion, you must have heard of this little indie-that-could-make-it-big, Benh Zeitlin’s first feature, the Southern Gothic drama about a six year-old girl who had to battle the nature of the universe – floods, hunger, illness and search for her lost mother – has all the material of a cathartic loss-0f-innocence cinematic viewing experience. There’s also a central performance by the six-year old Quvenzhané Wallis, now being appraised as better than all Hollywood talents combined. Okay, that’s a hyperbole. But goddammit, I’m entitled to my emotions.
Of all the filmmakers working today, Michael Haneke is perhaps the very last one you’d expect to serve up a straightforward love story. This is quite uncharacteristic from the man who crafted cold, calculated moral cinematic indictments The White Ribbon, Cache, Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, but then from the premise of tantalisingly titled Amour, it portrays the ravages of age, love, life and subsequently, mortality. It also features two veterans of French cinema Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanneulle Riva as the devoted octogenerian couple, in a film that was heralded to be so soul-crunchingly good it seized the Palme D’Or. If this doesn’t make me weep buckets – I’ll be the enemy of humanity.
Booking for tickets have already opened to those BFI members (read: middle-class shitbags who can afford middle-class classy film memberships) and we, proletariats, will have to wait for 24 September to get our hands on some hot tickets. I won’t sleep until you get yours booked just after the clocks strikes after midnight. For booking, head over the BFI 56th London Film Festival.