With a selection more than twice the size of New York’s and nearly as expansive as Toronto’s, the BFI London Film Festival is another one of autumn’s “festival of festivals,” a curated showcase of many of the best films of the year so far topped off with a good handful of world premieres. From today through October 16, London will present more than 160 features, six programs of short films, eight television series, and a wide range of immersive art and extended reality experiences.
On Monday, Tricia Tuttle, who for the past five years has overseen the LFF and BFI Flare, the city’s LGBTQIA+ film festival, announced that she’ll be stepping down. On Tuttle’s watch, LFF audiences have grown by 76 percent, the festival has extended beyond the capital to ten further cities throughout the UK, and a greater emphasis has been placed on programming films made by women and people of color. This year’s sixty-sixth edition will be Tuttle’s last, and a scan of the highlights confirms her justifiably proud claim that she’s leaving the festival “on a high.”
London 2022 will open with the world premiere of Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, directed by Matthew Warchus (Pride) and starring Emma Thompson. Another world-premiering headliner will be Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, a stop-motion animated musical featuring a score and songs by Alexandre Desplat and the voices of Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, and Cate Blanchett. Further red-carpet events include Decision to Leave, for which Park Chan-wook won the Best Director award in Cannes; Oliver Hermanus’s Living, a loose adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) starring Bill Nighy and one of Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw’s top twelve picks from the entire lineup; and the Closing Night gala, Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency (2019) won a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and with her follow-up, Till, Chukwu tells the story of Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler), whose pursuit of justice for her son, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till—lynched in Mississippi in 1955—led to her becoming a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement. “For much of the film, the director’s more subtle, graceful impulses help to tamper, though never completely extinguish, the schmaltzy flourishes and narrative clichés that frequently weigh down modern Hollywood biopics,” writes Derek Smith at Slant. For the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney,Till is “more effective as an intimate portrait of devastating loss than a chronicle of the making of an activist. But the film has a powerful weapon in its arsenal in Danielle Deadwyler’s transfixing performance as a broken woman who finds formidable strength within herself.”
Immediately after it closes out this year’s New York Film Festival, The Inspection, the first narrative feature from Elegance Bratton—you can watch his 2016 short Walk for Me and his 2019 documentary Pier Kids on the Criterion Channel—will screen as one of London’s fifteen special presentations. Bratton draws on his own experiences as a gay man in Marine Corps basic training during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” years. The Inspection is “mostly more sensitive than its marketeers would like to have you think,” writes the Guardian’s Benjamin Lee. “It’s a film light on big moments and big speeches, interested more in the difficulty of the everyday, how a queer man navigates a world of aggressive chest-puffing masculinity when his need to be held might outweigh his need to be accepted.”
Londoners will naturally be eager to catch up with such high-profile award-winners as Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness (the Palme d’Or in Cannes) and Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny (a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), but artist Ann Oren’s debut feature, Piaffe, a critical favorite in Locarno, should not be overlooked. As Sophie Monks Kaufman explains at IndieWire, Simone Bucio plays “a meek introvert in Berlin who grows a horse’s tail and has a sexual awakening. Oren’s teasing style is the perfect route into the story. Shooting on 16 mm, she mounts every scene by slowly, surely feeding in key details. In other words: she has a gift for both horseplay and foreplay.”
The LFF will present a new 4K remaster of Gary Oldman’s debut as a writer and director, Nil by Mouth (1997), the winner of two BAFTAs and three British Independent Film Awards. Kathy Burke won the Best Actress award in Cannes for her portrayal of Valerie, the wife of a working-class alcoholic (Ray Winstone). Roger Ebert noted that Nil by Mouth “takes place in the pubs and streets of South London, where [Oldman] grew up, and is dedicated enigmatically, ‘In memory of my father.’ We want to stand back out of the way: Something primal, needful and anguished is going on here.” Yet the film is “not an unrelieved shriek of pain. There is humor in it, and tender insight.”
Of the eight films in the running for the Best Film Award, two will screen this weekend in New York. Set in 1973 on a rocky island off the coast of Cornwall, Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men stars Mary Woodvine as a lone ecologist who begins to detect fissures in her perceptions. “Pegging it as a folk horror feels both apt and somewhat restrictive,” writes Leonardo Goi at the Film Stage. Enys Men is a “chest stashed with stories in turns seductive and chilling, woven into a tale that will keep on unfurling, in an endless and confounding maze.” Drawing from transcripts of the 2016 trial of a Senegal-born Frenchwoman who drowned her fifteen-month-old daughter, Alice Diop’s Saint Omer “introduces the chimera of subjectivity to destabilize clearly structured and neatly theorized questions of status, identification, and genre,” writes Mark Asch at Screen Slate.
Janus Films has just picked up the North American rights to Lynch/Oz,Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary on the influence of The Wizard of Oz (1939) on the work of David Lynch, and one of eight films competing for the Grierson Award. Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, this year’s winner of the Golden Lion in Venice, screens as New York’s Centerpiece Selection on Friday, and next week, the NYFF will present Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes, the winner of top awards at Sundance and Cannes. David Katz, writing for Cineuropa, calls it “a gripping film about virtue and good deeds.”
Ten years ago, Tricia Tuttle’s predecessor, Clare Stewart, introduced thematic strands such as Love, Debate, Dare, and Cult to serve as guiding signposts for attendees overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of the lineup. The defining parameters can be a little fuzzy. You’ll find, for example, romantic comedies and dramas in the Love strand, but also stories of generational bonds in two films screening this weekend in New York, Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun and Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning.
Debate offers Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka’s Stonewalling, another NYFF Main Slate selection. Writing for Cinema Scope,Winnie Wang calls this story of a young pregnant woman working a series of dead-end jobs “a brutal, unsettling depiction of the Chinese gig economy.” The Dare strand features Jafar Panahi’s No Bears, Albert Serra’s Pacifiction, Cyril Schäublin’s Unrest, and Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO—a reimagining of Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), a film that “has a controlled, tamped-down beauty that builds to an ending of profound catharsis,” as Chuck Bowen writes at Slant. EO is “lurid and overheated with emotion, before gradually cooling off to arrive at the tough matter-of-factness that informs Bresson’s film from the outset. It’s as if Skolimowski is offering a primer on how one evolves into a transcendentalist.”
Cult’s main attraction will be The Kingdom Exodus, the third season of the Danish miniseries created by Lars von Trier and set in a haunted hospital in Copenhagen. London will screen just the first two episodes, but New Yorkers will be treated to all five on Saturday. “The concept of a state-of-the-art socialized medical center as a crucible of human foibles—and a subterranean locus of demonic supernatural activity—remains funny, trenchant, and bizarrely sociologically apt thirty years after the fact,” writes Adam Nayman in Cinema Scope.The Kingdom’s “return to the primal prime-time scene after several decades works simultaneously as fan service, brand extension, genre satire, and annotated auteurist victory lap—not to mention as a cudgel in the ongoing battle between Denmark and Sweden for intra-Scandinavian cultural supremacy.”
Further strands include Experimenta, offering new work by James Benning and Lewis Klahr; Expanded, featuring Guy Maddin’s Haunted Hotel: A Melodrama in Augmented Reality; and Treasures, a program of eight revivals ranging from Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922) to Juliet Bashore’s queer docufiction, Kamikaze Hearts(1986).
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