London Film Festival 2015 – Preview

It’s that time of year again. We’ll be bringing you regular reviews throughout the festival as usual. Indy Datta kicks us off with a look at some of his most anticipated films.

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Galas

This is where you’ll find the Oscar-bait, and the movie stars. What you won’t find is many world premieres, as most of what’s here has already played at places like Cannes, Venice or Toronto. What’s pleasing about the selection this year is that, alongside the likes of Brit-prestigers like Sarah Gavron and Abi Morgan’s Sufragette (the opening night film, pictured above) and The Lady in the Van (Nicholas Hytner and Alan Bennett looking to reprise the success of The Madness of King George) and assured awards-season juggernauts like Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs and Todd Haynes’s Carol (adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel by Phyllis Nagy), festival director Clare Stewart is giving each of her themed festival strands its own gala – so the full red carpet treatment will be accorded to the less mainstream-friendly likes of Hou Hsao-Hsien’s The Assassin, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, and even avant-garde king Guy Maddin’s endlessly bonkers The Forbidden Room (at the IMAX, yet). But possibly the most intriguing of all the galas is S. Craig Zahler’s horror western Bone Tomawhawk. which premiered days ago at Fantastic Fest to some decent reviews.

Official Competition

The LFF has been giving a best film award since 2009, in which time the prize has largely gone to films that have had their share of acclaim elsewhere. Jacques Audiard has won twice for A Prophet and Rust and Bone (yes, really!) but his 2015 Palme d’Or winner Dheepan is, while at the festival, not on the shortlist. If this year’s jury is in a me-too mood they might decide to give the prize to the Cannes runner-up, László Nemes’s Son of Saul, Sean Baker’s iPhone-shot, Sundance sensation Tangerine, or Lenny Abrahamson’s Toronto audience prize-winning adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room; but  if they decide to go off on a tangent, as they did in 2010, when they gave the prize to Alexei Popogrebsky’s How I Ended This Summer (incidentally my personal pick of the winners so far, in a walk), they will be spoilt for left-field options, such as Evolution, Lucille Hadzhihalilovic’s long-awaited follow-up to Innocence,  or Johnnie To’s Office, in which he strikes out from his usual crime-flick territory to deliver a 3D pop musical that looks like some kind of nutsoid offspring of Jacques Tati and Busby Berkeley.

First Feature Competition

Two films stand out here, from what is inherently a lower-profile field than the previous categories. The first is Light Years, the debut of UK director Esther May Campbell who won a BAFTA award for her 2007 short September. The second is Robert Eggers’ The Witch, which scared the shit out of Sundance audiences earlier this year.

Documentary Competition

A big-hitting lineup, with new films from the likes of Frederick Wiseman (In Jackson Heights), Alexander Sokurov (Francofonia, the spiritual successor to Russian Ark) and Patricio Guzmán (The Pearl Button, a sequel to Nostalgia for the Light). But our pre-race pick is the local underdog, Sarah Turner’s Public House, the story of the community effort to save the Ivy House pub in Peckham from developers, a story that should be timely and resonant. No trailer, unfortunately.

Main festival strands

The festival programme is loosely stranded according to theme. Festival veterans have been known to complain that this makes it unnecessarily hard to find interesting films. So here’s one to watch out for from each strand.

Love

We’re big fans of Hirokazu Kore-Eda at MostlyFilm, so there’s probably not much we’re collectively looking forward to more than his Our Little Sister over the next two weeks.

Debate

Pablo Larrain gets a lifetime pass for No, his wildly entertaining film about the 1988 Chilean plebiscite that removed Pinochet from power. So The Club, his black comedy about defrocked priests in exile in contemporary Chile, is a must-see.

Dare

It’s all about The Lobster, baby. I’m not lying, I’d rather watch any new Yorgos Lanthimos film 3 times in a row than sit through Miguel Gomes’ 6-hour long Arabian Nights.  Look at that fucking cast, man.

Laugh

Let’s be honest,  you don’t go to film festivals looking for anything other than gentle humour, of the kind supplied in plenitude by the likes of the Larrieu Brothers’ 21 Nights With Pattie, but Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men and Chicken (Google plot summary: “Mads Mikkelsen, a chronic masturbator with a hair-trigger temper, desperately searches for his true identity.”) could be a Farrelly Bros film.

Thrill

Stephen Fingleton’s debut feature The Survivalist has already won him an award at the Tribeca Film Festival. I couldn’t find a trailer, but here’s a short film prequel.

Cult

I haven’t really drunk the Takashi Miike Kool-Aid myself, so muh, but come on, what says “cult” more than a Miike film called Yakuza Apocalypse?

Journey

This year’s “journey”, right, is about the temporal voyage, it says here. Which presumably accounts for the inclusion of both Jia Zhang-Ke’s decades-spanning Mountains May Depart, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, which will merely make the half-hour of it that I see before I have to leave for the sake of my own sanity feel like decades amirite?

But I’m going to leave you with a whole film instead of a trailer, Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl, originally from 1966.

So, being serious for a moment, another thing that festival veterans complain about is that the long-running Treasures from the Archive strand no longer exists in its own right: instead, you have to hunt through the whole programme for the old films, although the website is more helpful. Ken Russell! Mira Nair! Visconti! Laurel! Hardy! This phantom strand is like a festival in itself, and doesn’t deserve to be half-buried.

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