An exquisite torture when attending the London Film Festival is working out how many movies can be viewed over the twelve days before physical shut down occurs. Two or three a day seems reasonable. But, with 225 feature films showing (plus a further 160 shorts), 24 or 36 movies begins to seem like small beer indeed.
A first amongst first world problems, we know, but there is so much to feast upon and so little time. And sleep tends to encroach at some point (typically around day 4).
What is genuinely good fun is seeing how the disparate films can be bunched together. What themes emerge across the movies? Below are our observations of this year’s London Film Festival at the midway point.
Sure, it is arbitrary as all hell – key films we were unable to attend include Vox Lux, Beautiful Boy and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. But, you may still find insights within, and if there are films we’ve missed from the groupings, please comment below.
The first point we noticed was:
TRUMPLAND IS A FREQUENT DESTINATION POINT
Michael Moore’s incendiary, essential Fahrenheit 11/9 is the most obvious example of a film in the festival targeting the shocking situation in The Oval Office. But other movies have something to say on the Divided States of Trump.
Opening film Widows delivers suspense and excitement alongside a first-rate cast including Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki. But, director Steve McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn also include a harsh indictment of a political class interested only in profit. In this world, no one comes to the rescue; change must be fought for.
Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner is based on the true story of Gary Hart, a Democrat tipped to beat George Bush, Snr in 1988. Until the press got wind of Hart’s marital indiscretions and sunk his campaign. The tabloid press transforming political debate into a cheap soap opera is presented as paving the road to Trumpland.
Even Carol Morley’s indigestible Out of Blue features a suspicious family comprised of an overbearing father, a largely absent mother, two untrustworthy sons and a beautiful blonde daughter. Okay, Trump’s family has more members, but his media family matches the above, and in this age that is what is most important.
All of which leads onto…
With numerous Trump associates under indictment, crime may not pay. But, at the London Film Festival this year, crime cinema reaps rewards.
Widows got proceedings off to a thrilling start. Robert Redford’s starring vehicle The Old Man and the Gun proves they can make them like they used to, down to the fact they now even look like they used to.
Destroyer sees Nicole Kidman on extraordinary form as a haunted cop traversing a criminal landscape that makes James Ellroy look like Hot Fuzz. S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete may not have matched the grisly heights of Brawl in Cell Block 99, but it remains a witty, assured, compelling cops n’ robbers yarn with a great pairing of Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson.
Out of Blue however should be sent to jail without passing Go. The only misfire of our festival viewing so far, it’s a hotchpotch of neo-noir trappings crudely spliced with ruminations on quantum physics. The false notes echo across the multiverse.
Speaking of Trump and multiverses…
REALITY IS MELTING
The London Film Festival’s Cult, Dare and Thrill strands always boast must-see horror and fantasy fare. 2018 is no exception and its common theme reality twisting and contorting liked melted plastic.
Prime amongst these is Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror masterpiece. Guadagnino retains the central plot of a young American student, played by Dakota Johnson on career-best form, attending a German dance academy run by witches. What seemed like a fool’s errand actually complements the original. A deliciously dank atmosphere of sickness and dread permeates the epic 152-minute run time, and one character’s reality does twist and contort in ways far too close to home.
Another atmosphere movie to champion is Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, featuring Nic Cage and Andrea Riseborough. Cult murder, revenge rampaging, prog rock artwork and the existential hole at the centre of the universe coalesce to create cinematic LSD. The feminine first half is more impressive than the phallic second, but Cosmatos announces himself as a fantasy filmmaker of genuine ambition. Cage and Riseborough deserve another pairing based on the evidence here.
Riseborough also appears in Nancy, an intriguing movie about a woman convinced she is the daughter of a couple who was kidnapped years previously. Uneven, but again, Riseborough’s performance should be celebrated.
In Fabric is another slice of 70s-inspired fevered eroticism from Peter Strickland, the mind behind The Duke of Burgundy. Set in a well-realised 1980s, this takes reality slightly to the left as it mashes up Hammer House of Horror, Tales of the Unexpected and Kay’s catalogue with the films of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. A laugh-out-loud take on consumerism, it’s Strickland’s most playful film to date.
Reality melted in the most outlandish ways in Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You. What begins as an Office Space style comedy quickly spins into Brazil and Being John Malkovich territory. Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield proves he can head a movie as a telemarketer trying to stay sane in an insane world (so back to Trump then). See this without knowing too much about its surprises…
Know what is surprising? Real life…
REEL LIFE WONDERS
46 feature documentaries are playing this year’s London Film Festival. So far, we have seen three. But, it is enough to know that the form can still match its fictional counterparts for intrigue, emotion and excitement.
We’ve already mentioned Fahrenheit 11/9, so we’ll simply say go and see it when it opens on Friday 19th October. Another must-see documentary is Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old.
Jackson attempts to bring World War I to full colour, stereoscopic life for a generation who have consigned 1914-18 to ancient history. He succeeds in his ambitions. The restored footage is breathtakingly clear, the 3D immersive in ways it usually is not, and the voiceover testimony of dozens of British soldiers who fought are an invaluable collection of memories and insights for a mass audience. Silent London makes an interesting case for why Jackson’s digital intervention may not be reason to cheer, but come the film’s close we were genuinely moved.
Lighter fare comes from the Mr Rogers film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? An American legend of children’s programming, Fred Rogers’ show Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood ran for 35 years on PBS. Morgan Neville’s documentary on Rogers is a paean to the man’s decency, celebrating his belief that television could educate and improve as well as entertain children. And to be honest, it’s just refreshing to watch something about a children’s TV star of yesteryear that doesn’t turn nightmarishly dark at any point.
All this proves it’s a funny old world. And speaking of world…
READ A GOOD FILM
The final tortuous segue (thanks for bearing with) lands us in World Cinema territory. The London Film Festival was designed to be the Festival of Festivals, meaning World Cinema must be represented.
The astounding based-on-true events drama Shock Waves – Diary of My Mind is a fiercely intelligent examination of responsibility and culpability after a high school student kills both his parents. French legend Fanny Ardant is magnificent as the student’s teacher, as is Kacey Mottet-Klein as the troubled young man.
Staying on the darker track (literally) Ognjen Glavonic’s Serbian drama The Load mixes the 1999 conflict with The Wages of Fear for a low-key, but haunting tale of a man implicated in his country’s wrongdoing when driving mysterious cargo to Belgrade.
On a lighter note, Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai is a delightful anime about a young lad having difficulty accepting his new baby sister. Through flights of fancy that take him into his family’s past (possibly for real) he begins to learn what makes a family work and what his responsibilities should be.
Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is a strange mongrel indeed. Marcello Fonte plays a character named Marcello who owns a kennel in a rundown coastal town in Southern Italy. Diminutive and good-hearted, he cannot stop himself being whipping boy to local thug Simone, imposingly played by Edoardo Pesce. Garrone establishes a wonderful sense of character and place, but Marcello’s Job like absorption of punishment will ultimately bemuse many audiences.
That’s our mid-festival run down completed. The LFF runs until Sunday 21st October, so still time to check out more delights on offer.