BFI London Film Festival Preview

This last week the British Film Institute announced the line-up for the 58th London Film Festival.  I love this time of year, for a movie buff, this is when we wish we didn’t have to work for ten days.  There are 248 film showing at this year’s LFF and that would equate seeing 25 films a day…  Good thing I narrowed that list down to 33, only four films a day.  Shame I have to work to pay for my BFI membership and the tickets!  Anyways, Film Festivals are funny things.  There are a couple different types of Film Festivals; the big ones: Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance and London.  The fan’s ones: Fantastic Fest and FrightFest and the other ones that just popped into my head: SXSW and Tribeca.  As you can see, the festival circuit is a serious bit globe-trotting.  The rewards for nabbing one of the top prizes are rather immense, especially in free advertising.  Just looking at films that have won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, it is a veritable list of cinema greats: Rossellini’s Rome Open City, Reed’s The Third Man and personal favourites of mine, Coppola’s The Conversation and Wender’s incredible Paris, Texas.  At Venice in 1951, Kurosawa sprung his oft copied and never bettered Rashomon on an unsuspecting world, taking the Golden Lion home to Tokyo.  In 1957, Sidney Lumet took home Berlin’s Golden Bear for the near perfect 12 Angry Men.  But for every Pulp Fiction or Blue is the Warmest Colour, there are duds a plenty like The White Ribbon or Dancer In The Dark.  So be warned, just because it is an official selection doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good.  This is important when selecting your films, you’re paying a premium for the privilege of seeing these films on the big screen, some of which will never get a release in the UK.  So tips for festival newbies, remember: 1 - most films will have “The” in the title.  This, I think, is a requirement on the entry form, a pre-filled in element.  2 – Around half (or some years more) will be subtitled, don’t be scared off, this usually are where the gems are.  3 – Never forget about the documentaries.  The best film I saw in the whole of last year, Jodorowsky’s Dune, screened in the Documentary Competition at last year’s LFF.  4 – Festival crowds are, for the most part either retirees, film geeks, retired film geeks or worst of all fashion film geeks.  These are the ones who sit behind you, talking loudly about sourcing Carey Mulligan’s shoes for the Inside Llewyn Davis premier that we just so happen to be in.  Ignore them, Tweet mocking tweets about them and, final bit of premier/gala advice, if you bump into the director in the loo, just nod, maybe add a “hey” in there, but no one wants to see someone geeking out or taking a selfie in a bog.  So with that in mind, here is the link to the Festival program, its rather impressive this year.  Also good to remember, you can get discounted BFI membership during the festival.  Membership entitles you to special screenings, free members events and discounted ticket prices throughout the year.  It is very worth it if you enjoy going to a decent cinema,  which the BFI Southbank and BFI IMAX certainly are, and seeing great films.  So, of the 248 films that are screening this year, I’ve narrowed that down to 33.  From that, I’m going to pick 6 that I think could be rather special.  Two are Gala Premiers, 3 are screening here in the UK for the first time and one is 70 years in the making.  Clicking the titles will link to the BFI LFF page for that film that will have the screening times and prices.  If there is a Trailer, I'll pop a link in as well.

The Galas

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightly and Matthew Goode with an Enigma Machine in The Imitation Game

Trailer Link

This one you've probably heard of, if only because it’s staring Benedict Cumberbatch (of, well, everything at the moment fame) and Keira Knightly (of… no need to explain either).  The Imitation Game tells the story of the men and women who cracked the German cypher machine Enigma.  Led by Alan Turing, the code breakers at Bletchley Park probably saved more lives and shortened the war more than any other unit on the Allied side.  If you were in the Kriegsmarine, almost every signal you sent was broken in Buckinghamshire almost as fast as it was read in Germany.  Turing though, was a troubled genius.  Even though he would effectively invent software programmable computers and the test that bears his name to see if a computer is sentient (ironically, it would be difficult for a human to pass the Turing Test), he was Gay in a world where this was beyond taboo, it was illegal.  The film interposes three periods in Turings life, the Bletchley period, his interrogation after his arrest in 1952 for indecency and his school days.  Directed by Morten Tyldum (of rather enjoyable Jo Nesbo adaptation Headhunters fame), it looks like the fitting tribute Turing has been denied all these years.  Personally I think there should be a satute of him on The Fourth Plinth.  Word out of the Telluride Festival in Colorado is that it is incredible and Cumberbatch is leading the Oscar race.  Personally I reckon he’ll be fighting a ghost, difficult to see past Phillip Seymour Hoffman for this year’s gong.  The Imitation Game is the opening Gala of this year’s London Film Festival, my ballot for tickets is in!

Mr Turner

Timothy Spall as Mr Turner

Trailer Link

Another Film Festival fact I skipped above was it isn’t really a Film Festival without a new Mike Leigh film.  Wonderfully constructed, yet with a minimal script and actors encouraged to become their parts so that the dialogue is more real, Mike Leigh films are usually remarkable.  You can delete “usually” if Timothy Spall is staring.  Spall plays great English painter J.W.M. Turner in the last 25 years of his life when he moved into the impressionistic style that transformed British Art forever.  Interestingly, word for Mr Turner is rather mixed.  Spall took home the Best Actor award at Cannes, but the film does seem to be polarising, much like Turner’s work itself.  But, as a huge Turner fan, I’m really looking forward to seeing the great man’s story on the screen.

Honorable other Gala mentions go to Jon Stewart’s (him off The Daily Show) directorial début Rosewater.  The Closing Gala Fury, commonly known as “The Brad Pitt in a Tank Movie” or, for us tank geeks, a chance to see the Bovington Tank Museum’s Tiger 131 in proper action.  Also Kristian Leving’s The Salvation with Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green in a revenge Western looks pretty good too.

In Competition

The President

Dachi Orvelashvili as The Grandson to Misha Gomiashvili's The President

The films In Competition this year look very strong.  Peter Strickland’s follow up to the incredible Beberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy, looks interesting.  Strong mentions go out to The Falling and The Keeping Room.  In the First Feature Competition, you can’t look past Yann Demange’s 71.  Starring Jack O’Connell (of Starred Up fame and Angelina Jolie's upcoming Unbroken.  Trust me, this guy is going to be huge) it tells the story of a squaddie on his first op during The Troubles that gets cut off from his unit is looking impressive.  In the Documentary Competition, The Green Prince and Maidan seem the stand outs.  But my overall pick is Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The President.  This film tells the story of an ageing dictator of an unnamed country who, to show his power, has the power switched on and off to entertain his grandson and thus causes a revelation.  Fleeing with the boy, he has to distract his Grandson from the reality of life on the run and confront the realisation of what his rule has done to his country.  Shot in Georgia by an Iranian director, this looks terribly timely and informed by the events tearing the world apart at the moment.

Out Of Competition

The films screening Out of Competition are grouped by the BFI in different categories to help you figure out what kind of film it will be.  So you have:

Love

Debate

Dare

Laugh

Thrill

Cult

Journey

Sonic

Family

Treasures and Shorts

Experimenta

Click on the title above to be taken to the BFI page with all the films.  The Out of Competition films are very strong this year.  Here are three very different films that jumped out at me.

Debate – German Concentration Camp Factual Survey

The Hollywood Reporter's Berinale 2014 Review

I add this film because the preservation and, in this case, completion of historic film is what the BFI is all about.  In 1944 and 1945, camera crews were embedded with the spearheads of the Allied advance through France, the Low Countries and into Germany herself.  They were with the British troops when they discovered Bergen-Belsen.  Some of the footage they record has been released in the past.  That Belsen footage is some of the most disturbing footage of the Second World War.  So damming was the footage, the Ministry of Information commissioned a team of filmmakers that included Alfred Hitchcock to make a documentary for the purpose of “De-Nazification”.  Footage was assembled from all the Allied nations and included, along with Bergen-Belsen, footage of the camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz.  The film was never completed.  It was shelved in September 1945 when the priority for the Allies switched to rebuilding Germany rather than reminding her of her crimes.  It is believed Hitch worked on this film between Spellbound and Notorious, which certainly would explain the tone of the latter.  The film has been completed using Hitchcock’s original notes and using the original narrative, the factual inaccuracies and bias has been kept to show the film in its original historical context.  It premièred at Berinale back in February; it is not an easy 72 minute watch.  If I’m honest, I'm not sure I can watch it, but given the continued rise of denial of the holocaust (which interestingly the film itself address in its final minutes) in the world at the moment, it means that this is as important a film as it was when it was shelved in 1945. 

Laugh – The Mule

Hugo Weaving saying Hello in The Mule

Switching tones completely, we have the Aussie gross out comedy, The Mule.  Ray Jenkins (played by co-writer and co-director Angus Sampson, of no fame of which I’m aware) agrees to mule back 20 condoms of heroin from Bangkok when he gets nobbled by customs.  Knowing they can only hold him for seven days, Ray decides to fight nature and not poo until he’s released.  I think you get the picture.  Enter the mob, corrupt cops and Hugo Weaving (of… come on! If you don’t know who Hugo Weaving is there is no hope for you) it looks like a riot.  The LFF guide calls it “gutsy stuff”, which just about seals the deal for me.  I’m in. 

Debate – The Face of An Angel

Cara Delevingne and Daniel Bruhl in The Face Of An Angel

Trailer Link

Like Mike Leigh, a film festival is not a film festival without Michael Winterbottom.  Winterbottom is the director of films such as the incredible Welcome to Sarajevo (with a pre-Game of Thrones Stephen Dillane), the Factory Records film 24 Hour Party People (get some friends and some beers in, you’ll love it), The Trip and The Trip to Italy (with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) among many others.  The Face of An Angel is a rather controversial piece.  It is about a journalist and filmmaker (played by Kate Beckinsale of slowly throwing a promising career down the pan fame and Daniel Bruhl of Goodbye Lenin!, Inglorious Basterds and Rush fame) who travel to Italy to cover the murder trial of an American student accused of killing her British roommate.  The film is based on the murder of Meredith Kercher and the media storm around Amanda Knox, the accused.  I say accused as her conviction has been upheld and overturned by the Italian Courts so many times, I’m not sure even they know where they are any more.  I'm not going to pop any links about the background to this case on here as this is an Internet cause celebre, just pop Amanda Knox into Google and you'll see what I mean.  Very few people seem to care about Meredith or her family.  The film itself has courted controversy in the US already.  It is, apparently, not kind on the Knox character.  In the States, they see a beautiful, All-American Girl wrongly accused by a vindictive European court that’s out to get any old poor American.  Here, we just want to know what happened to Meredith.  Winterbottom has carefully framed the film so that Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are not named, but the so far un-named actors playing the roles do bear more than a passing resemblance to them.  The Daniel Bruhl character gets drawn into the web of conspiracy theories and along the way somehow manages to pick up Cara Delevingne (of walking down catwalks looking rather ethereal and generally bored fame).  Given the fact I think Knox is as guilty as a puppy sat next to a pile a poo, this does intrigue me and I hope I get tickets.  There are stories about at the moment that people connected to Amanda Knox are suing Winterbottom and his producers over the film, I think they touched a nerve.  For the record, I don’t just want to see this film because I hope to bump into Cara at the screening.  Nope, it’s all about the film you know.

So there you have my picks.  I have a list of 27 others I could go on about but I've bored you enough.  Head over to the BFI LFF site and get rooting though the guide to see what you think or please get in touch to debate my picks.

Matthew BoneComment