BFI Flare Lights Up London

Bilal Hasna in Amrou Al-Kadhi’s Layla (2024)

“The world’s a bit miserable right now, politics are all over the place, everyone’s broke, and it’s all a bit shit,” Amrou Al-Kadhi told Lou Thomas back in January. The occasion for the Sight and Sound interview was the world premiere at Sundance of Layla, the first feature to be directed by the accomplished actor and filmmaker. “Ultimately,” said Al-Kadhi, “it’s a really joyous, uplifting film, and I want people to feel the joy.”

“For cynics with a wary brow toward being uplifted, your mileage may vary,” suggested IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio. “But even the most callous of hearts—though anyone not already cosigned to the movie’s sensibilities is unlikely to see this film—will find it hard to skirt the charms of this sensitive, well-acted, and confidently shot feature about a nonbinary Arab drag queen who gets lost in love but finds themselves at the other side of its failure.”

On Wednesday evening, Layla will open the thirty-eighth BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, which will present fifty-seven features and eighty-one short films through March 24. For its Closing Night Gala, the festival will premiere Lady Like, Luke Willis’s documentary portrait of Rex Wheeler, a ballet dancer who became Lady Camden, a drag performer and a runner-up in the fourteenth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Writing for AnOther Magazine, Nick Levine recommends ten features, including Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel’s Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero, which he finds “exciting and inspiring in equal measure,” and Fawzia Mirza’s The Queen of My Dreams, “a charming comedy-drama shot with bright, Bollywood-style visuals” that zeroes in on the fraught relationship between a queer Pakistani Canadian and her mother. Ben Walters’s preview of this year’s BFI Flare for Sight and Sound focuses on the two Special Presentations, Dominic Savage’s Close to You and Levan Akin’s Crossing.

Elliot Page, who will be on hand for a special Screen Talk on Friday afternoon, stars in Close to You as Sam, a trans man finally making the trip back home that he’s been putting off for several years. “At first,” writes Walters, “the film seems to present a familiar scenario: a queer character’s uncertain return to their family of origin after a long absence. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Sam’s family are supportive of his transition and hold him dear—or at least this is the story they tell themselves and each other. Rather than the explicit conflicts and tensions of traumatic rejection and overt bigotry, this is a dynamic of more subtle misapprehension, avoidance, and self-centeredness.”

In Crossing, Lia (Mzia Arabuli), a retired history teacher, and twenty-five-year-old Achi (Lukas Kankava) set out from the Georgian port city of Batumi for Istanbul in search of Tekla, Lia’s niece and an ostracized sex worker. “Observed with granular detail and imbued with a pulsing sense of place,” wrote the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney when Crossing premiered in Berlin, “this novelistic drama takes time to connect its central triangle but does so with a suppleness and restraint that amplify the emotional rewards of its lovely open-ended conclusion.”

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