Yesterday was the last day of the BFI London Film Festival 2017, which ran between 4-15 October 2017, and I thought I would comment on the Best Film Award winner, on some other nominees, as well as on some of the films that took part in various special galas. The films of the Festival reflected today’s global challenges, while also emphasising various nations’ peculiar traditions and highlighting truly personal stories behind broader themes.
I. Official Competition – Best Film Award:
Winner – “Loveless“ (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Coming from Andrey Zvyagintsev, the man behind such critically-acclaimed films as “Leviathan” (2014) and “The Return” (2003), “Loveless” is another well-made film about a couple who lose their son during difficult time of divorce. “Loveless” has already made commotion (in a very positive sense) at the Cannes Film Festival, and all points to a drama which as emotionally devastating as it is thought-provoking.
“The Breadwinner” (Nora Twomey)
This animation tells of Parvana, an 11 year-old girl who takes a drastic action of passing herself as a boy so that her family could stay together. Parvana’s father is taken by Taliban, and, because in Afghanistan men/boys have much more freedom and can wonder unaccompanied, Parvana braves the decision to turn herself a boy. For me, this film reminds of both “Mulan” (1998), because the girl here passes herself as a boy to solve problems, and “Persepolis” (2007), because it is set in a war/conflict-torn area. Here, the the creators are those who were behind “The Secret of Kells” (2010) and “Song of the Sea” (2014), meaning that the animation will not only be hugely inspirational, but also pleasing to see.
“120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (Robin Campillo)
This film is about an AIDS activist group ACT UP-Paris in the 1990s that are determined to fight indifference towards AIDS. At the centre of the story is two men, Sean and Nathan, who are part of that group. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 (where it won the Grand Prix), the film has enough emotion to justify its cerebral topic.
Other nominees included: “Angels Wear White” (Vivian Qu), “The Lovers” (Azazel Jacobs), “Good Manners” (Juliana Rojas), “The Guardians” (Xavier Beauvois), “Wajib“ (Annemarie Jacir), “Lean on Pete” (Andrew Haigh), “Thoroughbred” (Cory Finley), “Beyond the Clouds” (Majid Majidi) and “Sweet Country” (Warwick Thornton).
II. Special Galas:
“Breathe” (Andy Serkis) opened the Festival effectively, telling the true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), a bright young man who became paralysed from the neck down after contracting polio. His wife Diana (Claire Foy) is determined that he leads as normal a life as possible, even when all the odds are against him. This picture is a very inspirational account of the human spirit winning when faced with insurmountable challenges, although some critics do point out that the film over-sentimentalises what is, in reality, a very difficult situation.
“Call Me By Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino) sent many critics “to heaven and back” and it is not difficult to see why. The director behind “I Am Love” (2009) and “A Bigger Spash” (2015) knows a thing or two about how to create a powerful and evocative love story set in beautiful Italy. The result of his work is a film which is aesthetically beautiful, sublime and unforgettable as it tells of an American professor whose attachment to a graduate student grows out of all proportion.
“The Shape of Water“ (Guillermo del Toro) is currently my favourite contender for the forthcoming Academy Awards. Del Toro here masterfully combines science-fiction, horror and romance to tell the story of a mute woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who becomes attached to an aquatic creature held in a research facility. Some of the appeals for me here is the original love story, the mystery of an aquatic creature and the US facility, as well as the supporting cast: Octavia Spencer/Michael Shannon, the cinematography by Dan Laustsen and the score by Alexandre Desplat.
“The Florida Project” (Sean Baker) is gaining ravishing reviews very rapidly, and the film does appear to have the proportion of a little masterpiece at the very least. Told through the eyes of a six-year old girl who lives in the shadow of the Disneyland resort in Orlando, the film also has this adult-content theme since the innocent childhood is played out in the background of bigger socio-economic problems. Willem Dafoe is already rumoured to be an Academy Awards’ Best Actor nominee.
“Zama” (Lucrecia Martel) (Special Presentation) is an adaptation of the novel by Antonio di Benedetto of the same name. The Spanish-language film focuses on Don Diego de Zama, an official of the colonial Spanish Empire in remote Paraguay during the 18th century. The official tries to gain approval to travel and work in Buenos Aires, but it is not forthcoming. As the director, Lucrecia Martel creates the existential world successfully. The film is atmospheric, and the narrative is intriguing. The subject (of a painful wait for news) itself reminds of that famous short story by Gabriel García Márquez “No One Writes to the Colonel” (1961).
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri“ (Martin McDonagh) closed the Festival, and on a high note too. The tale of a woman who puts up controversial billboards in a small town to draw attention to no arrests following her daughter’s murder is intriguing. It will be funny, it will be sombre, it will electrifying. A dark comedy is notoriously difficult to pull off successfully, but the good news is that the film is in good hands. The director is the man behind “Bruges” (2008) and “Seven Psychopaths” (2012), and Frances McDormand in the lead role is already looking for her second Oscar. Moreover, the supporting cast, such as Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, are bound to be good.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos) proved to be very divisive at the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered, but it did win there the Best Screenplay Award. Here, the director of ingenious “The Lobster” (2015) seemingly plays with the same absurdist concepts, and the result looks impressive. The casting could not have been more appealing too. Colin Farrell plays a surgeon who strikes up friendship with a fatherless boy. Nicole Kidman plays the surgeon’s wife, and she is too in the medical profession. Apparently combining Greek tragedy and surrealism, this latest film from Lanthimos may require even more faith and patience from its audience than his previous one.
“The Party” (Sally Potter) (Special Presentation) is “a comedy wrapped around a tragedy” (IMDb). It recounts an evening of celebration (a friends’ gathering party) at a house in London. Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has been appointed the Shadow Minister for Health, inviting some friends to celebrate. What ensues is an evening not unfamiliar with internal conflicts and petty grievances. The films features marvellous performances, including those by Cillian Murphy and Emily Mortimer.
“Downsizing” (Alexander Payne) has the ingenuity of its concept at its forefront as it explores the themes of mobility and immigration. The themes could not be more relevant than now given the current political worldwide climate. Matt Damon here plays a guy who considers sizing down (to be shrunk to pocket size) as the way out of his problems. Laid-back and full of humour, the film also features the performances by Christoph Waltz and Kristen Wiig.