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FILM FESTIVAL Reel-world reminders

MARIA DUARTE samples some hard-hitting offerings at this year's 64th BFI London Film Festival

THIS year’s BFI London Film Festival has not been immune to the effects of the coronavirus, holding virtual screenings for the first time.

Blurring the line between cinema and television, its opening film Mangrove (pictured) is one of five original films in the Small Axe stable, created by award-winning director Steve McQueen for the BBC.

They are based on the real-life experiences of London’s West Indian community and Mangrove follows the true story of Frank Crichlow (a superlative Shaun Parkes), the owner of the Mangrove Restaurant in Notting Hill, who became the target of police harassment.

They staged endless raids of his premises which had become the go-to place for black people in the area in the late 1960s, not only for something to eat but to get help and advice.

During a vocal but mainly peaceful demonstration in 1970, in protest at the police’s racial vendetta against the Mangrove, Crichlow and eight other local activists — including the leader of the British Black Panther movement Altheia Jones-Lecointe (Letitia Wright) and author and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) — were arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray in brutal scenes.

McQueen’s rousing and moving depiction of the 55-day-long trial of the Mangrove Nine that followed at the Old Bailey, usually reserved for treason and high-profile murder cases, is chilling. With his stunning cast, he brings into sharp focus this pivotal moment in British history when, in an unprecedented move, the judge declared that there was evidence of racial hatred within the Met police.

Fifty years on, the issues around the Mangrove trail haven't gone away and McQueen duly pays homage to black resilience and the unwavering fight against injustice.

Ameen Nayfeh’s impressive debut feature 200 Metres portrays the emotional hardship of the day- to-day life of a Palestinian father of three who is separated from his family by the Israeli wall.

There are 200 metres between Mustafa’s (Ali Suliman) home in the West Bank and the flat where his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik) and three children live and each evening he says goodnight to his kids by flashlight.

The toll the separation is having on he and his family is heartbreaking. Salwa is exhausted at holding down two jobs and raising their children single-handed and she blames Mustafa for refusing to apply for an Israeli ID which would resolve their problems.

Suliman, who carries the film effortlessly, gives a captivating and stoic performance as the proud Mustafa who is gripped with guilt when he learns his son has been taken to hospital following a road accident.

With no legal entry papers and desperate to see his son, he opts to pay smugglers to get him into Israel. A journey fraught with tension and danger ensues.

An eye-opening drama which provides a different perspective on daily life in the West Bank.

In 180 Degree Rule Iranian film-maker Farnoosh Samadi paints an intricate and agonising picture of a tragedy set against the backdrop of Iran’s controlling and violent patriarchal society.

When school teacher Sara’s (Sahar Dolatshahi) husband suddenly refuses to give her permission to travel north to attend a family wedding, she secretly defies him, taking their young and excited daughter along.

But tragedy strikes and, gripped by shock and grief, Sara decides to keep the truth from her husband and forces her devastated relatives to follow suit.

Samadi delivers a compelling debut feature, driven by an extraordinary and profound performance by Dolatshahi. Her character’s continued silence throughout her harrowing ordeal is deafening and speaks volumes.

She shows how women are vilified, beaten and controlled by men with the blessing of the law. Men, who hold all the power, are protected so keeping quiet is the only option.

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