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THIS year’s BFI London Film Festival celebrated female film-makers, with half the films in the official competition being directed or co-directed by women and Sudabeh Mortezai’s hugely affecting drama Joy (right) won the Best Film award.
For the first time the LFF staged a special presentation outside London with Mike Leigh’s stirring Peterloo screened in Manchester where the 1819 massacre took place.
Though apt, let’s hope this is a one-off because, if it isn’t, they will need to rethink the name of the festival and possibly drop London.
Equally we might ask if a film festival is the right place to showcase a new television drama series? Last year it was Mindhunter, this year it was The Little Drummer Girl (the first two episodes) from the makers of The Night Manager.
Back to the films front — Steve McQueen’s (12 Years a Slave) Widows a powerful and contemporary adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s 1980s television series opened the festival.
Featuring a standout performance by Viola Davies and a chilling turn by Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther and Get Out), the action of this female-driven heist thriller has been relocated to the US with a background of a local election, political corruption and race and class conflict.
One of the most striking and surreal films has to be Ali Abassi’s Border, based on a novel by the writer of Let the Right One In, and it takes Scandi noir to a whole new and unsettling level. Centred on a Swedish customs guard (an extraordinary Eva Melander) who can, literally, sniff out trouble, fear and guilt but whose world is upended when she meets a strange traveller (Eero Milonoff).
Frankly, the less you know beforehand about this fantasy romantic thriller the better as the fun might be easily spoilt.
Equally quirky is Matteo Garrone’s (Gomorrah) Dogman about a gentle expert dog groomer and single father (Marcello Fonte) who begins to be bossed around by the bullying and violent local thug and criminal Simone (Edoardo Pesce) in a seedy seaside town near Rome. It is a terribly dark but surprisingly humorous drama carried brilliantly by Fonte’s cracking portrayal which won him the Best Actor award at Cannes.
Luca Guadagnino’s reworking of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria is not for the faint hearted — and certainly not a film to be viewed at 8.30am as I did — with its brutal visuals and graphic violence.
Set in Berlin — in the same year as Argento’s original — it pays homage to it. Featuring an almost all female cast led by Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson who are truly magnificent in this disturbing tale of witchcraft and the power of dance.
Singer and actress Jessie Buckley (below) is a revelation as a Glaswegian single mum fresh out of jail who is determined to pursue her dream of becoming a Nashville country music singing star in Wild Rose. Buckley is a knockout singer while Julie Walters plays a blinder in one of her best roles to date as her long-suffering mum.
It is wonderfully witty and funny while poignant and uplifting. It is one of the gems of this LFF.
Director of The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos returns with The Favourite a riotous period drama set in 18th century England about the ailing and unpredictable Queen Anne (a magnificent Olivia Colman) and the two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) competing for her affections.
With powerhouse performances from all three actresses — it is hard to chose between them — this is a very stylish and accomplished razor-sharp drama. Disappointingly, Lanthimos spoils it by adding some odd and perplexing imagery towards the end.
Based on a “mostly true” story The Old Man and the Gun is a gentle and sweet comedy drama about the later years of a gentleman bank robber (Robert Redford) who was also a self-styled Houdini at breaking out of jail and carried out his last job at the age of 79.
It is the perfect swansong for 82-year-old Redford, who recently announced he was retiring, as the suave and charming and perfect gent Forrest Tucker.
His scenes with Sissy Spacek, who plays his love interest, are a sheer delight. It is a wonderfully fun and entertaining crime caper.
And finally this year’s LFF was brought to a fitting close by Jon S Baird’s captivating Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as the comedy giants. The film follows the comic duo, whose fame is on the wane, as they embark on a gig tour of Britain in 1953.
Coogan and Reilly capture perfectly the look, the mannerisms, the polished routines and the soul of Laurel and Hardy in a drama that explores without sentimentality the pressures of a lifelong friendship/comedy partnership, dwindling fame and growing old.
It is a fitting tribute to these two legendary comics.
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