Friday, 9 September 2011

Preview : 55th BFI London Film Festival

This week saw the launch of the programme for the 55th BFI London Film Festival at the Odeon Leicester Square. After a brilliantly strong selection last year, a quick flick through the new programme suggests a similarly diverse and enticing prospect this time round as well, especially given some of the reviews coming out of Venice this week, and those from Cannes screenings back in May.

As usual, the most high profile releases can largely be found in the Galas & Special Screenings strand, with fourteen red carpet events nestled in between the Opening and Closing Night films, Fernando Meirelles’ 360 and Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea respectively. George Clooney is once again twice represented, both as an actor and director, with Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, his long-awaited follow up to Sideways (2004), as well as his own fourth feature on both sides of the lens, The Ides of March. Continuing the trend of actor/director Galas, Ralph Fiennes’ debut Coriolanus and Nanni Moretti’s We Have a Pope both continue their tours of the festival circuits, alongside the excellently received new features from Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Steve McQueen (Shame) and the Dardennes Brothers (The Kid With A Bike). Perhaps somewhat further down the anticipatory scale, there’s Madonna’s take on the life of Wallis Simpson, W.E. and Roland Emmerich’s on the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, Anonymous. Michael Winterbottom returns with his modern Hardy adaptation, Trishna, and Michel Ocelot provides a third dimension for the Family Gala, Tales of the Night, with the Archive Gala this year (after last year’s wonderful The Great White Silence) being Miles Mander’s The First Born (1928), from a script by Alma Reville, wife of Alfred Hitchcock, a short clip of which played on Wednesday and had me tingling with anticipation. The two films receiving Galas this year, however, which I’m perhaps most excited about, have to be the new features from David Cronenberg (always a cause for celebration), A Dangerous Method, and Michel Hazanvicius, whose love letter to old Hollywood, The Artist, garnered rave reviews upon its Cannes debut earlier this year.

The ‘Film on the Square’ strand sees new films from heavyweights such as Roman Polanski (Carnage), Alexsandr Sokurov (Faust),Bruno Dumont (Hors Satan), Takashi Miike (Hara-Kiri : Death of a Samurai), Hirokazu Kore-eda (I Wish), Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights)and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia), as well as high profile documentaries from the likes of Frederick Wiseman (Crazy Horse),Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss), Jonas Mekas (Sleepless Nights Stories),Jonathan Demme (I’m Carolyn Parker) and Nick Broomfield (Sarah Palin– You Betcha!). Add to these the eagerly anticipated new works from Yorgos Lanthimos (Alps), Todd Solondz (Dark Horse), Gerardo Naranjo (Miss Bala), Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st), Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be The Place) and Oren Moverman (Rampart), as well as a few first features competing for the Sutherland Award, such as Markus Schleinzer’s Michael and Australian Justin Kurzel’s vicious and disturbing Snowtown.

As usual, the ‘New British Cinema’ section offers twelve new features from both established and up-and-coming filmmakers, with Richard Jobson’s experimental documentary on Iraq, The Somnambulists and Simon Pummell’s Shock Head Soul (dealing with mental illness) playing opposite the directorial debut of actor Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill) and Paul Kelly’s film on the Felt and Go Kart Mozart frontman in Lawrence of Belgravia. It’s a pattern repeated in the ‘French Revolutions’ strand, similarly showcasing 15 films from across the channel. Matthieu's Kassovitz and Almaric return with Rebellion and  The Screen Illusion respectively, alongside a third feature from brilliantly zany French trio Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy who bring The Fairy to the Cine Lumiere for a couple of performances. We’ll also have the chance to catch the directorial debut of Mathieu Demy (son of Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy), who’ll be in town with Americano, aa well as the new feature from Laurent Achard, whose Last Screening is said to be a suitably nasty play on De Palma, with nods to Powell’s Peeping Tom.

The ‘Cinema Europa’ and ‘World Cinema’ strands are this year made up of almost a hundred features between them, and represent perhaps the best chance to play a cinematic lottery over the course of the fortnight. They include many of the other first films vying for the Sutherland Prize, as well as new films from more established directors such as Joe Swanberg (here with both Uncle Kent and Silver Bullets), Yuya Ishii (Mitsuko Delivers), Ulrich Kohler (Sleeping Sickness) and Jafar Panahi, whose This Is Not A Film was shot whilst under house arrest and subsequently smuggled out of Iran. These are the strands where a triumvirate of German films all based on a single incident (Dreileben 1, 2 & 3) can be viewed alongside China’s highest grossing film (Let the Bullets Fly, starring Chow Yun-Fat), or a monochrome Filipino indie movie (The Natural Phenomenon of Madness) can be found listed next to an award winning US indie (Natural Selection, SXSW Film Festival).

The ‘Experimenta’ strand returns for those more demanding Festival adventurists, with the likes of Pip Chodorov’s documentary Free Radicals : A History of Experimental Film and Ben Rivers’ well-received Two Years at Sea playing alongside a selection of shorter offerings of a nature less suited to the ‘Short Cuts & Animation’ sections, already bursting with future feature filmmaking talents.

Always a treasure trove of old favourites and new discoveries, the ‘Treasures from the Archives’ strand this year contains restorations of films by the likes of Elia Kazan (America, America), Edward Dmytryk (The Caine Mutiny), Marcel Carne (Les Enfants du Paradis), Roberto Rossellini (The Machine that Kills Bad People), Kenji Mizoguchi (Shin-Heike Monogatari), Nicholas Ray (We Can’t Go Home Again) and Barbara Loden (Wanda), as well as the just announced restoration of George Melies  A Journey to the Moon and the latest from Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, the Turkish 1966 feature by Omer Lufti Akad, Law of the Border.

It’s hard to do justice to the 300 films playing, especially with so little knowledge beyond the big premieres of quite what to expect. Suffice to say that for the London cinephile, October is always the most exciting month of the year, and I simply can’t wait to get stuck in to what will hopefully be as rich a programme as it is diverse, with a few diamonds waiting to be unearthed.

Here’s a few I’m especially looking forward to, in no particular order…

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, France)

Following a rapturous reception in Cannes earlier this year, the fantastic team of director Hazanavicius and actor Jean Dujardin return after their wonderful OSS 117 spy spoofs with this homage to silent cinema and 1920s Hollywood. I must have watched the trailer ten times so far, and this is a top priority.

Shame (Steve McQueen, UK)

Hunger showcased the formal cinematic pedigree of its director Steve McQueen and made a star of his now ubiquitous leading man Michael Fassbender. Here they re-team for the story of a sex addict trawling the New York night, and advance word out of Venice this week suggests a second home run could well be on the cards.

Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)

Lanthimos’ previous feature Dogtooth was a surprise but well-deserved inclusion on the Oscar Foreign Picture shortlist, and Alps looks set to continue his provocative explorations of language and human behaviour. Expect formal rigour coupled with a dark, piercing wit.

Hara-Kiri : Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike, Japan)

Miike’s second remake of a classic Japanese cinematic text in as many years, his 13 Assassins proved one of the highlights of last year’s LFF. This is said to be a more muted affair, more in line with Masaki Kobayashi’s 1961 original (recently released on blu ray by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label), but if any filmmaker is likely to surprise in his delivery, it’s Miike.

Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, Australia)

I know little about this beyond the blurb in the programme, but Twitter has been alight in recent weeks with some rave reviews from those that have caught this at previews. Up for the Sutherland award, the short clip that played in the Festival promo reel promises something truly dark, dangerous and disturbing.

Last Screening (Laurent Achard, France)

De Palma? Peeping Tom? Truffaut? Chabrol? The programme promises a lot from Achard’s follow-up to 2006’s Demented, a cinephile mash-up of genre touchstones. Count me in.

Into the Abyss : A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Werner Herzog, USA)

It’s the new film from Werner Herzog. That’s enough for me.

Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico-USA)

Advance word on this is really strong, an action-packed thriller set against the backdrop of the Mexican drugs war. Featuring a reportedly stunning central performance from newcomer Stephanie Sigman, from what I hear this is one not to miss.

I Wish (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan)

Kore-eda is a master filmmaker, releasing film after film of breathtaking poise and beauty. I know little about his latest feature, but his name alone at the helm demands attention. He certainly has mine.

W.E. (Madonna, UK)

Because we all need to laugh more.

The 55th BFI London Film Festival runs from 12th - 27th October 2011 at venues across London.

BFI members can book tickets by post from 14th September and online from 19th September.

Public booking by phone, online or in person opens on 26th September.

Further information can be found at

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