Sunday, 8 September 2013

My Picks For The London Film Festival 2013

Under The Skin


The London Film Festival line-up has been revealed earlier in the week, and it's a cornucopia of riches, a smorgasbord of delights, and one of the strongest, most inventive selection in years. While not up there in the big league alongside Cannes, Venice & Toronto, the LFF has grown in popularity over the last decade, offering a selection that offers a catch-up from the other film festivals in the calendar year, as well as unearthing some true treasures of its own. Indeed my favourite thing every year is to flick through the programme and discover all these new films I knew nothing about yet I am dying to see.


The key is to find a balance between big titles and unknown ones. I often hear some who say, and rightly so, that it might not be worth seeing those films with a guaranteed release date at the festival. I agree to an extent, but the atmosphere at the festival is so much more enjoyable, in a packed screen full of real film fans.

So in no particular order, I shall try to entice you with my tantalising lists of picks. It is heavy on cult films, since the introduction of the cult strand last year. As we suspected, a few big horror titles were not in FrightFest as they have ended at the LFF.


Adore By Anne Fontaine

I once inadvertently sat on Anne Fontaine's coat as the Institut Du Monde Arabe's tearoom in Paris in the mid 90's. She was not impressed and gave me a trademark Parisian icy look. The incident might explain why her cinema has since become one of suffering and forbidden desires, with Nettoyage A Sec and Nathalie being the highlights. Her new film, uncharitably called MILF: The Film on an IMDB board, has Robin Wright and Naomi Watts as two friends falling for each other's son. Frankly I don't need to say anything more to sell it.


Mystery Road by Ivan Sen




I have a soft spot for Australian cinema. Its directors always seem to make the most of its breathtaking scenery, but never in a postcard kind of way, more in a brooding fashion, which makes sense since, as beautiful as nature is down under, it's all out to kill you. I'm thinking Picnic On Hanging Rock, Razorback, The Proposition, Red Hill... Mystery Road is presented as a slow-burning thriller set in the outback, so expect gorgeous cinematography and evocative sunsets with outbursts of violence. Oh and Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas).


Nobody's Daughter Haewom & Our Sunhi by Hang Sang Soo

Ah, Hang Sang Soo. I got introduced to his work with my favourite film of LFF2011, The Day He Arrives. You might say he always braces the same themes, but then again, most great directors always do. So expect melancholic, booze-filled musings about love, relationships, the failings of men, and at least one character being a film director, with a potentially fractured narrative. And as a treat, not just one but two films from the South Korean master are in the line-up this year.


Sx_tape By Bernard Rose

British director Bernard Rose has never been more interesting than when he makes scary/horror films. Watch his arthouse surreal Nightmare On Elm Street called Paperhouse, or his horror classic Candyman, that is as much about a boogeyman with bees coming out of his mouth as it is about the social underclass. Here he is back with his take on the found footage subgenre (or a sly subversion of it apparently), whose story about a couple stuch in a spooky abandoned hospital sounds straightforward, but I have a feeling it will not be!


Story Of My Death by Albert Serra




Winner of the top prize at Locarno, this unashamedly arthouse offering sees the fictional (well doh!) meeting of Casanova and Dracula, with the esthetic of old paintings. It looks like part arid academical exercise/part parody. My kind of film then.


Norte, The End Of History by Lav Diaz

Want to earn your arthouse stripes at LFF this year? Then you will have to sit through the 250 minutes running time of this film, in the tiniest screens of the BFI (either the terrifying NFT3, or the "smaller than most living room" Studio. It garnered considerable acclaim in Cannes, this films sounds rather epic, with a Dostoievskian vibe.


The Strange Colour Of Your Body Tears by Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani

We expected it at a midnight screening in Cannes, then in FrightFest, yet it has ended at LFF. I have adored the director's previous film, Amer, a stunning and stunningly experimental neo-giallo, which takes the genre esthetical traits to its most experimental extreme, in a films almost entirely devoid of conventional storytelling. And they seem to have followed the same path, with a film which should earn a prize for best title of the selection. Here we follow a man who investigates the disappearance of his wife. And for what I have read, this is the most story you will get out of this film. Expect extreme close-ups and colour filters galore, with a solid dose of fetichism.


Grand Piano by Adrián Guerra

Last year he was the psycho-killer in Maniac, this time, he is the potential victim. Elijah Wood stars in yet another giallo-inspired thrilled (although this looks rather more straight-forward!), where he plays a pianist who must play the best concert ever or a madman will murder him and his family. Promises of plenty of dark humour and Dario Argento inspired visual trickeries makes this a must see.


Abuse Of Weakness by Catherine Breillat

Before the LFF line-up is unveiled every year, I always ask myself the same question: how many films will Isabelle Huppert have this year? 2? 3? 17? Well the answer is a disappointing 1 for 2013. It is a tasty one though. Here she plays Catherine Breillat herself, boldly retelling the rather sinister episode of her life where, following a stroke, she got swindled by a younger lover. But I'm pretty sure this will be a tad more complicated than that, exploring issues of dependance and domination in a relationship.


The Surprise Film

A timeless LFF tradition and the hottest ticket in town. Or Fools Rush In as I like to call it. No, not the Matthew Perry vehicle, but because of the immense expectations placed upon it, and the need to please the wildly different tastes of festival goers, the choice always ends up being a consensual one. Over the last four years, I have been subjected to Capitalism: A Love Story, Brighton Rocks, Damsels In Distress and Silver Linings Playbook, 3 terrible films out of 4 (I'll let you guess which ones!). At least we got to see Bradley Cooper in the flesh last year. I just wish the pick was a bit more adventurous but I hear some people would complain it if has subtitles, call yourselves films lovers?! So the choice is limited. This year, rumour has it that it might be She by Spike Jonze with Joaquin Phoenix, or The Immigrant by James Gray with Joaquin Phoenix again.

Personally, as much as I'd love She, I'm banking on the Oldboy remake by Spike Lee. Why? All of us, film lovers, were against the remake of the fantastic South Korean film by Park Chan-Wook. Yet having it as the Surprise film might entice a whole audience who would have refused to see it to actually sit through it. And spread the buzz if it turns out to be a surprisingly good film, a smart move to get some exposure.


Michael Nyman

The British composer is better known for the score of most of Peter Greenaway's early work, whose almost mathematical approach to his soundtracks matched the director's style. But he has a wildly varied body of work behind him, having composed for such unexpected directors as Jean-Paul Mocky, Patrice Leconte, and Antonia Bird (one of his most inspired work for the truly underrated period cannibalism drama Ravenous). Here he will play a selection of pieces from his work, an event not to be missed. Except that I shall probably miss it, or half of it, since I will have to hike across London from the BFI to Hackney to see some cheerleaders die...


All Cheerleaders Die by Lucky McKee & Chris Sivertson




I boldly had Lucky McKee as one of the best directors in my top 10 recently, and he has not a single misfire in his illustrious career, with a unique style which blends a keen eye for women's psychology (indeed he always seems more interested in women's characters), a solid dose of dark humour and a wonderfully indie soundtrack. He punched me in the face repeatedly with The Woman, which I saw at FrightFest 2011, and I have been coming back for more ever since. His latest film, which he co-directed, sounds like a fluffier piece of dark fun, about some cheerleaders enacting theirs revenge from beyond the grave. But the completist in me will not miss a single one of his films.


Gloria by Sebastian Lelio




This has been lazily called this year's Tabu, because of its hispanic origins and its critical acclaim in Berlin earlier in the year. We follow the sentimental trials of a middle-aged woman called Gloria, described as a disco-loving mother. It is says to handle ageing with respect, and if ageing involves disco then I'm all for it.


The Ravine Of Goodbye by Tatsushi Omori




My favourite pleasure of the LFF is to pick some of the films solely based on a title and a picture sometimes, and let myself be be guided by the randomness of my curiosity. And it often pays off big time. I'm thinking Air Doll in 2009, or the still unreleased The Temptations Of St Tony in 2010, an Estonian mix of Lynch, Kaurismaki and Tarr. This year, it has been harder as the line-up is so strong with big films, it leaves less time for discoveries. But this is one of them. I won't look too much into the story, the title and picture alone are good enough for me.


Under The Skin by Jonathan Glazer

What to say that has not been said already. This is my most anticipated film of the festival. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, who did the moving and beautiful Birth with Nicole Kidman a decade ago, this looks much more experimental and unashamedly arty. In it, Scarlett Johansson plays an alien on the prowl for hapless hitchhikers in the Scottish Highlands. Watch the teaser and you'll understand my excitement...



And then there is the films I saw in Cannes. Did I tell you I went to Cannes this year? Cannes, Cannes, Cannes. You just need to go back to my Cannes diaries for more details, but among the big titles: Palme d'Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Colour (and it is very sad how the director and the actresses are tearing each other apart during the autumn festival circuit) , Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmush (which I described as a witty and languid rock poem in Cannes) and Inside Llewyn Davis (which features the best acting cat ever, whose screen time is ten fold the one of Justin Timberlake in this).

The London Film Festival runs from the 9th to the 20th of October. You can find the full line up here.


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