Previewing the best of the London fest

Posted by · 6:16 pm · October 11th, 2011

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my final date in the 2012 festival calendar — and for a change, I don’t have to spend the night before hunting for my passport. As both my hometown festival and the first one to grant me press accreditation, the BFI London Film Festival is obviously close to my heart. For several years before I gained the absurd privilege of access to Cannes, Venice and Berlin, the LFF was where, for two happy weeks, I’d annually gorge on the arthouse fare I’d frustratedly only read about for months.

Combining thorough cherry-picking of previous festival hits with less exposed pockets of world and British cinema into a broad programme of over 300 shorts and features, with a handful of world premieres and archive gems to make up the balance, it’s as comprehensively curated a public-oriented festival as exists on the circuit — even critics who have already seen many of the programme highlights at other festivals have ample room to make fresh discoveries.

This, I suspect, will prove the case this year for me: between my other European festival jaunts this year and two weeks of advance LFF screenings, my tally of already-seen titles hit a nice round 60 this afternoon — and yet there’s plenty I’m still keen to see for the first time over the next two weeks. These range from big-league fall festival hits like “The Descendants” to smaller international curios like the French animation “A Cat in Paris” to the high-profile question mark of this year’s Surprise Film. (As I wrote before, my money’s on “The Adventures of Tintin.”)

I’ll be getting up bright and early tomorrow for the press screening of the festival’s curtain-raiser, Fernando Meirelles’s “La Ronde” reworking, “360,” and reviewing it shortly afterwards. The film arrives somewhat dampened by cool Toronto reviews; should it live down to the hype, however, the swanky opening party (a black-tie function at Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery) should make up for it. (Happily, I’ve already seen the closing film, Terrence Davies’s “The Deep Blue Sea,” so no risk of disappointment there.) 

From tomorrow until the 27th, then, expect frequent LFF updates, including reviews of freshly seen films (plus a few I never got around to writing about at other fests) and an interview or two. To warm up, however, I thought I’d begin with a quick roundup of the top 15 of the 60 titles I’ve already seen — a quarter, for no other reason than that it sounds so mathematically tidy.

Some I saw as long ago as February; one I only saw this afternoon. Some I’ve already reviewed (links where applicable); others I’ll write about in due course. For now, however, I’ll stick to my initial tweet-length reactions:

“Alps” (Giorgos Lanthimos, Greece) – Dazzling formal freakout on nervy theme of ‘substitution’ expands on the absurdist comedy and compositional elegance of “Dogtooth.” (review)

“The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius, France) – A joy: lush, infectiously affectionate tribute to lost art, avoids exercise status with Dujardin’s quicksilver performance. (review)

“Beauty” (Oliver Hermanus, South Africa) – Terrors of living closeted in Afrikaner society, inscribed with exemplary compassion and control; Deon Lotz is breathtaking.

“Corpo Celeste” (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy) – Not quite “Love Like Poison,” but warmly assured child-versus-church study gets more focused and penetrating as it goes.

“Elena” (Andrei Zyvagintsev, Russia) – A mordant dinner-party anecdote becomes an exacting study of the Russian class ladder. Immaculate control, chablis-dry wit.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” (Sean Durkin, US) – Forces rethink of what we call horror: searching, driftwood-shaped film settles upon you like a slow strangle. (review)

“Miss Bala” (Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico) – Blistering dry-mouth thriller has photojournalist’s eye for environmental detail; makes most ‘kinetic’ cinema look choppy.

“Oslo, August 31st” (Joachim Trier, Norway) – Re-entering real life and seeking the exit: nimbly constructed lyricism, a shade too clean, but burns where it counts.

“Shame” (Steve McQueen, UK) – Script a mite tidy for all the mess it deals with, but McQueen’s breathtaking discipline gives it beef and sway. Cast immaculate. (review)

“Sleeping Sickness” (Ulrich Kohler, Germany) – Okay, my tweet for this one seems to have evaporated, but my review will fill you in. (review)

“Snowtown” (Justin Kurzel, Australia) – Staggering waking nightmare under low grey skies. True-crime history a mere front for vicious essay on mishandled masculinity.

“Weekend” (Andrew Haigh, UK) – Shimmery head-and-heart romance moving on any terms, but a humble landmark in the delineation of everyday homosexuality.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Lynne Ramsay, UK) – An epistolary novel ingeniously hollowed out into spiny memory collage; I want to throw up, in a good way. (review)

“Without” (Mark Jackson, US) – Twitchily riveting solitude study seems exercise-y before expert wrongfooting reveals scale of protag’s emotional rupture.

“Wuthering Heights” (Andrea Arnold, UK) – Thrillingly terse deconstruction, Robbie Ryan’s lensing is witchcraft. I only question its depth of feeling. (review)

Should you be in London for the festival, I’d encourage you to stick those on your viewing list. With any luck, my list of festival highlights will look a little different in two weeks’ time. Enjoy the coverage.

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