The Tom Hanks Sandwich edition of the BFI London Film Festival opens tonight with Captain Phillips and closes on October 20 with Saving Mr. Banks. As reviews and other items of particular interest appear over the coming days, we’ll be making note of them here. Meantime, even before a festival opens, critics will be asked to spot a trend or some overriding something, and Catherine Shoard‘s got one for the Guardian:
The biggest films of the year so far unfold on shrunken canvases, their casts compressed, their plots distilled. Story, space, timespan are all stripped down to essentials.
Sometimes, the template is squeezed especially tight: Gravity has two astronauts (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney) trapped in real time on a space shuttle. Sometimes, things are sexed up: Labor Day puts Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in a house for the bank holiday (they don’t leave because she’s agoraphobic, he’s an escaped convict, and all they really want to do is make love and bake pies anyway). Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s latest, is pretty much father and son in a motor, for a fortnight…. Before Midnight is a 12-hour back and forth between husband and wife; Le Week-End repeats the trick, over two days.
Compare these bonsai productions to those that vied for our attention last year. Lincoln heaved with narrative and cameos, herding 1,000 mutton chops and stampeding horses from one grand tableau to the next. Silver Linings Playbook had a timeline that jogged all over the shop, and a supporting cast allowed so much breathing room it was Oscar nominations all round. Argo spoke in many tongues and hopped over many continents, multi-strand, many-layered. Likewise Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained: plots unspooling over years and across locations, in traditional big-screen style.
But now the extras have been sent packing, the walls have closed in, and radiators turned on full blast.
“With a packed program of hot festival hits,” writes Adam Dawtrey in Variety, “the challenge for artistic director Clare Stewart in her sophomore year is to ensure that the rest of the fest’s 234 features get a fair share of the spotlight…. Stewart shrank the festival from 16 days to 12 to concentrate press and public attention, but raised the capacity 27% by expanding to more venues across London. She launched an official competition, and grouped films by thematic pathways—Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, and Family—each with its own gala screening. The result was a 13% leap in ticket sales to 151,000. Most gratifyingly for Stewart and her bosses at the British Film Institute, 33% of tickets were sold to first-timers.”
Dawtrey notes that, of the 13 films in competition, four are British: Richard Ayoade’s The Double, Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and David Mackenzie’s Starred Up. The other nine: Peter Landesman’s Parkland, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, John Curran’s Tracks, Ahmad Abdalla’s Rags and Tatters, Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness, Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s Of Good Report, Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm, and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son.
Of all the preview packages, Time Out‘s is the biggest and boldest. Besides the picks and FAQs, the reviews are already coming in: Kathryn Bromwich on Nigerian director Chika Anadu’s B for Boy (three stars out of five), Tom Huddleston on Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson’s high school horror comedy All Cheerleaders Die (3/5), Ifa Isfansyah’s Indonesian horror comedy One Day When the Rain Falls (3/5), and Of Good Report (2/5)—and more.
Little White Lies has been taking them in batches, with Sophie Monks Kaufman concentrating on women filmmakers, Anton Bitel on genre movies, Adam Woodward on music-themed titles, Nikki Bonnett on the Dare strand, Matt Thrift on the Treasures from the Archive program.
Then, of course, there’s the BFI itself and its magazine, Sight & Sound, whose contributors have posted an annotated list of 30 recommendations. With both The Double and Kelly Reichardt‘s Night Moves set to screen, Geoffrey Macnab profiles Jesse Eisenberg. Samuel Wigley previews seafaring adventures and road movies, there’s a video interview with Tracy O’Riordan, producer of The Selfish Giant, and Natalie Ralph‘s put together a LFF mixtape.
Updates, 10/11: The BFI’s got a live blog going on.
One of the films Antonia Quirke strongly recommends in her overview of the festival for the Financial Times is The Epic of Everest: “Newly restored by the British Film Institute, it’s the official record of the legendary 1924 Everest expedition, filmed by Captain John Noel, who accompanied the doomed mountaineers George Mallory, aged 37, and Andrew Irvine, 22, on the trip…. It feels unutterably lonely. The freakish, almost alien, textures of the snow and layered ancient ice. Mallory and Irvine standing in modest tweeds among gigantic yaks, smiling the polite smile of infinitely diligent men. How silly and vulnerable human tents look, how amusing the moment a climber breaks off a stalactite and waves it about like a lightsaber, how appalling when three Sherpas appear in the distance to lay six blankets in a black cross on the snow to let those waiting anxiously below know that it is all, all over.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Leslie Felperin reviews the “dense, intimate documentary” Bertolucci on Bertolucci: “Co-directed by Walter Fasano (best known as an editor) and Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), the duo have compiled their tribute almost entirely from rare archive clips and interviews from the 1950s to the present. The result is a rich, thematically structured essay film covering both the highlights of Bernardo Bertolucci’s venerable career (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor) and the less celebrated works with equal seriousness.”
It’s one of the films Oliver Lyttelton reviews in his first LFF diary entry at the Playlist, where he gives it a B-.
Updates, 10/13: Sean O’Hagan has a good long talk with Clio Barnard about The Selfish Giant for the Guardian.
“Critic, author, filmmaker, dancer Mark Cousins jets off to tourism no-man’s-land Albania,” writes David Jenkins in Little White Lies. “He takes with him a dinky toy camera that captures retro-shitty digital images, a mode which dovetails cosily with the (largely) tattered landscapes he’s photographing. Festival jury duty is footing the bill for his plane ticket and accommodation, but Here Be Dragons is an inquisitive chronicle of Cousins’ psychogeorgrapic peregrinations outside the screening rooms, deliberation suites and glossy TV studios.”
Update, 10/14: The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw on Qubeka’s Of Good Report: “Watching this brazenly shocking and gripping film, I remembered the feeling I had on seeing Christopher Nolan’s low-budget black-and-white debut, Following. Here is a director who is going places.”
Updates, 10/15: The Notebook has posted the first of four dispatches from the Experimenta program. Michael Pattison writes about films by Pedro Lino, Corin Sworn, Mike Hoolboom, and the Otolith Group. In his LFF diary at the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton covers All Is Lost, Mistaken for Strangers, Jodorowsky’s Dune, and Hello Carter. And at In Review Online, Calum Reed writes up Gloria, Of Good Report, Ida, and Walesa: Man of Hope.
Update, 10/16: At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton takes on The Double (B-), Lukas Moodysson’s “terrific return to form” We Are The Best! (B+), Hong Sang-soo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (B+), Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said (B), and Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight (D+).
For Little White Lies, Tom Seymour talks with director Manjinder Virk about Out of Darkness, “an expression of an aid worker struggling with the aftermath of a war zone. Yet it is delivered through the stark testimony of nine separate actors (including Tom Hiddleston, Riz Ahmed and Virk herself), each of whom repeats a series of lines like a mantra, or join one thought together, as if trying to recall a fragmented memory or understand a half-caught dream.”
Currently, in Spanish cinema, “alternative ways of producing and distributing films, brought into being by the crisis, have united an otherwise eclectic group of filmmakers,” writes Mar Diestro-Dópido for Sight & Sound. The focus of the piece is on a trio of “great films by LFF first-timers: The Plague (La Plaga); The Wishful Thinkers (Los ilusos); and Wounded (La Herrida) by Fernando Franco (better known as the editor of the mould-breaking Blancanieves).”
Update, 10/20: The BFI‘s announced the winners of this year’s Official Competition, and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida has won Best Film. Jury President Philip French: “The jury greatly admired Ida, the first film made in his native Poland by a director who came to prominence while living in Britain. We were deeply moved by a courageous film that handles, with subtlety and insight, a painfully controversial historical situation—the German occupation and the Holocaust—which continues to resonate. Special praise went to his use of immersive visual language to create a lasting emotional impact.”
Best British Newcomer: Jonathan Asser, who’s written the screenplay for David MacKenzie’s Starred Up. Jury President Amanda Posey: “Starred Up is an original story told with an individual and authentic voice, at once moving, provocative and always gripping. The material, even from a new screenwriter, was intelligent and distinctive enough to attract very high quality filmmaking talent and actors, and to help illicit extraordinary work from all involved. The whole jury felt Jonathan Asser brought a fresh, resonant and surprising perspective to a classic conflict.”
In the First Feature Competition, the Sutherland Award goes to Anthony Chen, director of Ilo Ilo. Jury President Elizabeth Karlsen: “The startlingly assured direction and screenwriting of the winning film surprised us all. Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo also chose a domestic canvas, but the imaginative and innovative voice of this filmmaker elevated the film technically and narratively, and made us wonder at the fragile nature of family life in this modern Singapore tale.”
Jury President Kate Ogborn announced the winner of the Griersons Award in the Documentary Competition: “[W]e would like to recognise the bravery of Paul-Julien Robert for taking us on such a personal journey with My Fathers, My Mother and Me. It is a thought-provoking and disturbing film, intimate whilst also raising larger questions of power, parental responsibility and abuse. The incredible archive footage combined with the personal journey of a mother and son left us disturbed, angry and feeling that this is a film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.”
Update, 10/21: The reviews of Saving Mr. Banks, which closed this year’s LFF, are in.