BFI 62nd London Film Festival Part 2: Having delivered our verdict on the biggest, splashiest releases from the 2018 London Film Festival in Part 1 of our annual round-up, in Part 2 we now turn your attention to the very best of the rest. These other runners and riders might get less attention from the rest of the media, but rest assured, we’ll point you towards those you should not miss – from the ones you might need to hunt down with deerstalker, clues and compass, to those that’ll pop up on Netflix or iPlayer.
START ME UP
Everyone likes to encourage new talent, and the London Film Festival is no exception. The First Feature Competition is your annual chance to get in early and remember where you saw them first… so what rose to the top this time? First off, there’s huge promise in every single one of these, not just the main prize winner. Hard to believe a couple of these are debuts, and when you see what they’ve achieved on the first rung, you’d be made not to mark them down as ones-to-watch on their inevitable journey up the ladder.
Ta-dah! The winner of Best First Feature was Girl (above), from Lukas Dhont, which might tick all sorts of boxes, tackling body dysmorphia, peer pressure, and bullying in a topical tale of a transgender, would-be ballet dancer, but rises above any perceived agenda with its cool, empathetic narrative. The penultimate scene is unexpectedly shocking, though, so be prepared. Apart from Dhont’s superb directorial debut, Girl is also remarkable for the extraordinary central performance of Victor Polster as Lara, who wants to be her true self, and become a ballerina. “I don’t want to be an example,” says Lara. “I just want to be a girl.”
Among the other contenders were semi-autobiographical, unsentimental Ray & Liz from Brit-artist Richard Billingham, who might just follow Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor Wood in changing medium. You can almost smell the lack of hope among the home brew in this tale of everyday neglect, where people take more care of their pets than their kids.
You must catch the wonderful Wildlife (above), directed by actor Paul Dano, which is based on lesser-known Richard Ford novel, boasts Dano’s old chums Carey Mulligan (completely fabulous) and Jake Gyllenhaal as buttoned-down, stubborn spouses. Their teenage son, who turns out to be more of a grown-up than either of them, is played by the excellent Ed Oxenbould. On this evidence, both Dano the director and Oxenbould the actor will go far. For Mulligan, as we already know, the sky is the limit.
Not quite there yet, but promising is Brit-pic Only You (Harry Wootliff) with Josh O’Connor and Laia Costa who fall in love pretty much at first sight – despite their 10-year age gap, then get to know each other (in a plot that treads similar ground to Private Life). Then there’s gangster thriller Holiday (from Denmark’s Isabella Eklöf), set on the Turkish Riviera and portraying an innocent abroad among a group of entirely unsympathetic characters who treat everyone appallingly.
Debuts like The Chambermaid (Lila Avilés) about a Mexico City hotel-worker trying to better herself, but trapped by lack of money and prospects, and Dead Pigs (Cathy Yan) are much closer to the finished article, with the latter already winning a Sundance Special Jury Prize and presenting an fantastical characters on an unpredictable trajectory where nothing is quite what it seems. Aviles and Yan, and even Eklöf are female filmmakers to watch. With a bigger budget and the right project, they should soon be established.
The festival always boasts documentary treats from all over the world. I didn’t catch the main prize winner (What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire?), but it must have been remarkable to beat the likes of Bisbee ’17 from Robert Greene, which parallels the lives of immigrants now and then by taking placing the story of an old mining town on the Arizona-Mexico border, (Bisbee) at its heart, and restaging a heart-breaking event using its current population. This is an extraordinary, matter-of-fact retelling of the deportation of workers in a small Arizona town in 1917, when hundreds of mainly immigrant mineworkers were gathered up at gunpoint, and taken away to New Mexico to basically die, and never seen again. Was it ethnic cleansing… a cover-up? It wasn’t talked about; just brushed under the carpet, and even today people are still taking sides.
Another lump in the throat bit of filmmaking came from Virunga director Orlando von Einsiedel in Evelyn, which looks at grief in his own family as they finally confront the reality of their brother’s suicide a decade earlier, while walking together along favourite, remote paths. Multiple perspectives, memories and unpicking a life, death and the effect it’s had on all of them brings back their raw loss, almost like opening a fresh wound.
There’s something mesmerising in John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection from Julien Farau, based around footage from the French Open in the mid-1980s, when the tennis icon was at his most brilliant, unpredictable and mercurial, and “hostility was his drug”. In the same vein as the Zidane doc, but not as dreamy and arty, this is essential for serious sports devotees, and particularly Mac fans.
And it’s hard to look away from Dreamaway (above), a doc where Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke revisit Sharm El Sheikh, the now-deserted holiday resort that used to be crammed with tourists before the Arab Spring of 2011 and subsequent terrorist attack. Everyone still turns up for work and carries out their daily duties, but there’s literally no-one to serve or cater for, giving a surreal feel to the film.
Outside the competition, there were several memorable docs, including Yours In Sisterhood from writer, director, producer Irene Lustig, which chooses a different method to present ideas around feminism. Lustig has today’s women of all ages, races and backgrounds read direct to camera from a vast number of unpublished 1970s letters to Ms magazine. Many of them give their own comments afterwards, as one says “hopefully things have changed.” Some notably lived through that time, and one actually reads from her own letters and Ms magazine’s replies to her – and the film is never remotely preachy or judgemental.
Ordinary Time is a Portuguese part-doc, part-drama from writer director Susanna Nobre set in Lisbon, and examining the bonds and strains of the first stages of motherhood. The film’s very personal view has a measured pace, and again shows huge potential.
Morgan Neville’s documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is a patchwork film about Orson Welles’ famous lost feature The Other Side of The Wind (which you can also catch on Netflix), with glimpses into Welles’ genius and working methods, compiled from bits and pieces, and best watched as a companion piece.
Comic doc, Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man (above), shows director Tommy Avalone’s unabashed affection for the Ghostbusters star, and reveals the truth behind rumours of Murray turning up to help tend bar, gate crashing college parties, getting strangers into sports arenas and being an all-round legend. Seems it’s all true!
As a die-hard fan of Korean film, I try to see everything that cinematic powerhouse of a country shows at the festival. And apart from the stunning thriller Burning (reviewed in Part 1), I can heartily recommend several others. If you like your dramas colourful, with edge-of-the-seat thrills, an explosive beginning, debauchery, glamour, and a flipping clever plot, then Lee Hae-young’s Believer, which revisits and remakes Johnnie To’s Drug War will get your head spinning.
On a more serious note, true story The Spy Gone North, dramatises the tale of a South Korean spy, who worked with the DPRK, right up to the dear leader, Kim Jong-il, and it constantly feels like he could cross over to the other side at any minute. As the terrific, labyrinthine, multi-layered Cold War story uncovers secrets and truths, uncomfortable, harsh discoveries come to light about the treatment of North Korean citizens. Almost le Carré-esque.
Best of the lot is family drama Last Child, a superb, dark debut from Shin Dong-seok, which is about grieving for a dead son, and focusing on keeping busy while the rest of your life is put on hold. It touches on forgiveness and bullying, and all three main actors are tremendous… but will they ever get closure, and is there more to the story?
Go to Page 2 for more from my look at the BFI 62nd London Film Festival…