London Picks Ten to Compete

Sudabeh Mortezai’s Joy (2018)

Hours before the opening of this year’s Venice Film Festival launches the fall season, the BFI London Film Festival’s new programming team has announced its selection of ten titles for the Official Competition. The sixty-second of the LFF will run from October 10 through 21, and Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room), whose adaptation of Sarah Waters’s gothic novel The Little Stranger will open next month, will chair the jury.

Along with the selections from Cannes, Locarno, Venice, and Toronto, the LFF competition will launch one world premiere, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, the latest from Kill List and Free Fire director Ben Wheatley. The set-up: Colin (actor, writer, and director Neil Maskell) rents a lavish country manor to throw a party that, naturally, goes awry. The LFF is promising a “poignantly funny and razor-sharp observation of English family dysfunction.”

Cristina Gallego, who’s codirected Birds of Passage with Ciro Guerra, is one of five women directors with films in the lineup. When Birds, the followup to the filmmakers’ award-winning Embrace of the Serpent, opened this year’s Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, most critics found this decades-spanning saga of the Colombian drug trade to be an almost overwhelming sensual experience. The other entry from Cannes is Happy as Lazzaro, a blend of magic realism and social drama from Alice Rohrwacher, who shared the best screenplay award with Nader Saeivar (3 Faces).

Dominga Sotomayor won the award for best direction in Locarno a few weeks ago for Too Late to Die Young, which is now also heading to Toronto and New York. The film focuses on a cluster of families in an isolated village at the foot of the Andes in the summer of 1990. Writing for Filmmaker, Daniel Witkin finds that “the subject matter fits well with the expressive release of Sotomayor’s style, which overtly aestheticizes the material, using canted angles and dynamic figure movement to amplify emotional moments, occasionally moving into unapologetic virtuosity.”

Three of the LFF competition titles will see their premieres in Venice over the next few days. László Nemes’s Sunset, in which a young hat maker returns to Budapest on the eve of the First World War, will compete for Venice’s Golden Lion, while Zhang Yimou’s Shadow, an epic tale of a king who aims to retake his people’s homeland, will screen out of competition. Sudabeh Mortezai’s Joy, a Venice Days selection, focuses on a young Nigerian woman being exploited by sex traffickers.

Slated for premieres in Toronto are Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, with Nicole Kidman as a police detective struggling to cope with a traumatic incident in her past; David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun, with Robert Redford delivering what he says will be his last on-screen performance, as a bank robber who’s most effective weapon appears to be his charm; and Peter Strickland’s In Fabric, a ghost story about a cursed dress.

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