London’s Treasures

Stefan and Franciszka Themerson’s Europa (1931)

The sixty-fifth BFI London Film Festival opens tonight with the world premiere of The Harder They Fall, the debut feature from British musician and filmmaker Jeymes Samuel, who records and performs as The Bullitts. He’s also Seal’s brother, by the way. The Harder They Fall, which will land on Netflix on November 3, is a western with a killer cast: Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, and LaKeith Stanfield. The film’s “radical gambit lies in reminding us there were Black outlaws and lawmen, even if they’ve often been given short shrift by the genre,” writes Chris Vognar in the New York Times. “But their skin color has nothing to do with the story,” Samuel tells Vognar. “Which is what we’ve been waiting for, right?”

160 features, seventy-five short films, eight episodic stories, and eighteen immersive experiences in the LFF Expanded strand will be presented before this year’s edition closes on October 17 with Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. For the overwhelmed, the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw has picked out ten not-to-be-missed titles. Londoners will want to be sure not to overlook Treasures, the festival’s strand of restorations and revivals.

The strand opens tonight with another world premiere. Europa (1931), a twelve-minute anti-fascist experimental film, was seized by the Nazis sometime after 1938 and was believed to have been lost forever until it was rediscovered in Germany’s Bundesfilmarchiv in 2019. Polish artists Stefan and Franciszka Themerson—the former was a writer and photographer; the latter was a painter, designer, and illustrator—borrowed a camera to shoot their adaptation of Anatol Stern’s 1925 futurist poem in the room they shared in Warsaw. Stern himself approved.

Telling the story behind the film’s making, loss, rediscovery, and restoration in the Independent, Pamela Hutchinson notes that Europa “uses graphic imagery to convey the horror of creeping fascism across the continent: a suited man gorging on rare meat, another swallowing newsprint. There are extreme, polarized closeups, screams of terror, photographic collages, a beating heart shown in X-ray, a crucifixion, and a First World War trench, punches and gunshots. Film threads through a camera, while fast edits evoke the tension of living in a climate of fear and hatred.” The Themersons’ niece, critic and curator Jasia Reichardt, will give a talk in London tonight and sums up the film succinctly: “Europe eats itself.”

The Treasures program will also present a newly remastered 4K restoration of Naked (1993), which kicks off a month-long Mike Leigh season at BFI Southbank. In the run-up to tonight’s presentation of the new restoration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going (1945), Sight & Sound has republished Kevin Gough-Yates’s December 1995 profile of Pressburger, the too-often-overlooked Archers partner. Other highlights include screenings of Sarah Maldoror’s Sambizanga (1972) and Carol Reed’s Oliver! (1968). There will also be a presentation of The Outsiders: The Complete Novel featuring a live Zoom Q&A with Francis Ford Coppola, who will talk about what was cut from his original 1983 adaptation of S. E. Hinton’s beloved novel—and is now back in.

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