BFI London Film Festival 2022 Part 2 by Helen M Jerome

BFI London Film Festival 2022 Part 2 BFI London Film Festival 2022 Part 2 by Helen M Jerome: Here we go! It’s time to survey all the outstanding, highly promising directorial debuts – and documentaries. This is the follow-up to the first part of our extensive overview of LFF 2022, with much to savour. Plus a controversial couple of choices to probably avoid! Then scroll on down to see the winners of our much-coveted and entirely virtual DVDfever Awards.


The debut film that’s been getting all the plaudits and attention, and deservedly so, is Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun. Starring Normal People’s Paul Mescal as a loving, but struggling father, along with shockingly talented child actor Frankie Corio as his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, it focuses on their seemingly mundane package holiday in Turkey. They convey a real tenderness in their relationship, as he teaches her self-defence and she records their vacation on her camcorder – a neat narrative device. Set in the 1990s, before the prevalence of mobiles, and showing Sophie poised between childhood and adulthood, it feels like the kind of movie the French have always done well, but now have some competition. Mescal’s career is already on a sharp, upward trajectory, and fully expect big things of Wells and Corio too.

The festival’s First Feature Competition – aka the Sutherland Award – also had some astonishing debuts this year. The eventual prize-winner was Manuela Martelli’s 1976, an excellent, tense political thriller from Chile, starring Alice Küppenheim as brave Carmen. In the midst of the oppressive Pinochet regime, she’s right there at the heart of the action, combatting the state, as curfews, subterfuge, murders and religion threaten to overwhelm and crush its citizens. A must-see.   

The star of Georgia Oakley’s Blue Jean, Rosy McEwen, is having a bit of a moment, also playing Desdemona in Othello at the National Theatre. And McEwen really makes this film work, as closeted PE teacher, Jean, back in the eighties, putting up with local bigotry plus national oppression from the Thatcher government’s introduction of Clause 28. “Not everything is political,” says one character, with the retort: “of course it is!” The atmosphere is given extra weight by everyone apparently smoking 24/7, the 1980s colour palette, and the choice of hugely evocative music, including New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. Jean walks a tightrope in her parallel personal and work lives, where she is respectively viewed as conventional (having previously been married) and an outlier. She can’t win whatever she does, and though some of the drama feels a bit soapy, this is almost certainly deliberate, perhaps to convey her normal yet heightened experience of being ensnared.

Another powerful and dark debut that resonates is Korean drama Jeong-Sun from Jeong Ji-hye, and starring Kim Kum-soon in the title role. Based on a real case, this takes us into the world of a happy-go-lucky woman who is loving life – and her love life – which is turned upside down when her private “sex tape” is circulated amongst her weak partner’s co-workers, then spreads exponentially around the internet. Jeong-sun is soon trapped by a toxic mix of misogyny and moralising, as she finds out who her real comrades are.

Joyland is Saim Sadiq’s bold drama about a young and sensitive married man who falls instantly and hopelessly in love with a stunning trans woman. Set in Sadiq’s native Pakistan, and starring Ali Junejo and Alina Khan as the protagonists, it’s attracted an inevitable swirl of controversy, while in parallel it’s the country’s first film to be shortlisted for the Academy Awards. Ensnared by lust and love, but pushed back by family expectations and the all-powerful patriarchy, the lovers’ situation gets very complicated. But in between there are little shafts of light and hope, including one scene reminiscent of Wong Kar-Wai in its fabulous, romantic lighting. Worth also noting that one of its exec producers is none other than Malala Yousafzai herself.

Robe of Gems is a highly impressive and gripping debut from Mexico’s Natalia López Gallardo (incidentally married to fellow director, Carlos Reygadas). Its immersive soundscape gives it an enveloping mood of disquiet, including hearing the voices of those who the camera is not focused on as the plot unfurls. Set dressing with skateboards, bikes, drugs and swimming pools adds to the atmosphere. You feel the local gang’s constant presence, their tentacles everywhere, with missing persons, familial rivalries and in-fighting, so you just don’t know who to trust. There’s a huge class divide, violence, money and guns rule, it still feels feudal with cops and criminals interconnected, even related. It also neatly uses the beautiful 1973 Eurovision song ‘Eres Tu’ by Mocedades to join a crucial part of the plot, which gets plus points from me. Feels like the start of a brilliant career.

Angolan film Our Lady of the Chinese Shop, from Ery Claver, is another atmospheric debut, permeated by a sense of foreboding, but also poetic. One that may get a wider, European release is Lola Quivoron’s Rodeo. Its star, Julie Ledru, carries us with her as she starts her career as a motorbike rider by sneakily getting hold of a bike, which leads her towards potential escape from a pretty grim home existence. But gang life – even with fast, shiny bikes – comes with criminal behaviour, an excess of misogyny, and non-stop tension. So what looks like escape for our empathetic heroine could, in fact, lead to a dead end. Shot mainly with handheld cameras, this conveys instant grittiness and realism. La Haine on motorbikes, basically. And who would argue with that.

BFI London Film Festival 2022 Part 2

Set in the crucial years of 1968 to 1973, Call Jane is screenwriter Phyllis Nagy’s first time in the director’s chair, and she takes on the hot-button issue of abortion – pre Roe v Wade – when women had to “call Jane” to get backstreet/ illegal terminations. At the beginning, the star, Elizabeth Banks, is a conventional housewife on the periphery, who finds herself plunged into the midst of the story when she can’t get an abortion herself, even though her life is at risk. The Amazonian powerhouse of a woman running the clandestine organisation she goes to, is played by Sigourney Weaver, on her very best comic-dramatic form. As the narrative progresses, it’s accompanied by the most glorious soundtrack including the Velvet Underground and Janis Ian plus Sandy Nelson’s ‘Let There Be Drums’. Nagy didn’t want to fetishise the sixties, but says she had the opportunity to make a film about this collective – with a light touch – which addresses the problem-solving aspect of it rather than the ‘misery’ of the literature. Shot over just 25 days on film on a single camera, in the midst of Covid, it’s a bit of a miracle. 

Another miraculous film that documents a crucial part of women’s history while making a political point is Marta Savina’s The Girl from Tomorrow (above), starring the remarkable debutante Claudia Gusmano. Set in Sicily in the mid-sixties, it initially feels like it’s going to be a sweet, superficial romance across a Romeo and Juliet type divide, with the stunning, rural landscape a huge presence throughout. But when Lia (Gusmano) turns down her suitor, Lorenzo, the son of a local mafia boss, it turns nasty. He is arrogant, possessive and controlling, and his family also ‘own’ the local priest, who is complicit in their exploits as they abduct Lia, threaten a witness, and destroy her father’s crops. No plot spoilers, but suffice to say that even though a favourable court ruling happened, the law they challenged wasn’t changed for another 15 years.

Expanded from Jamie Dack’s short film, Sundance winner Palm Trees and Power Lines is a portrait of how a bored teen girl (Lily McInerny) becomes easy prey for a guy literally twice her age. She lacks a father figure and thinks his attention is romance, but she is actually being groomed to be passed around – and even when you think reality must bite, she is still in denial. Made by a totally female crew, it’s another remarkable feature debut. 

Makbul Mubarak’s Autobiography is a portrait of how power can corrupt at every level. Young Rakib is a chess nerd who is helped by an older, father figure Purna, who desires power over everything and everyone, and will crush anyone who gets in his way, punishing dissenters. Purna wants the young man to do his dirty work as another henchman, as he spreads fear, but Rakib is troubled, trapped, compromised and eventually feels forced to take action against his mentor. Lots to admire in this debut Indonesian thriller, with one highlight a dreamy, misty scene among the crops.  

I do love a good, twisty Korean thriller, and Christine Ko’s debut, The Woman in the White Car is exactly that. Starring Jung-eun Lee (from Parasite) as a long-suffering, dead-pan cop, and Ryeowon Jung as a young woman who arrives at hospital with another badly injured woman she says is her sister. Drifting into the plot comes the abusive fiancé of one of them, who might be the perp… and his behaviour brings back terrible memories for the cop, who herself was a victim of abuse. Nothing, however, adds up. Are the women even related? Layers of deceit and secrets pile up, and you’ll find joy hacking through the mist and McGuffins to find the truth.

Road movie Maya Nilo (Laura) is Lovisa Sirén’s story of a close, but resentful and dysfunctional family, through an episode that sums them up. Two Swedish sisters, who are chalk and cheese, learn that their mother is dying of cancer in Portugal, and determine to drive there – via Hamburg – in an old Volvo. Their different, conflicting values could make this a painful, jangling watch, but the unbreakable bond between them and their respective offspring, and various events on their journey thankfully contrive to make this an empathetic tale.    

It doesn’t totally work, but Fridtjof Ryder’s rural film Inland, starring theatre royalty Mark Rylance and Kathryn Hunter, along with Rory Alexander, has much promise. Set in Gloucestershire, it’s more of a mood than a movie, feral, wild and untethered, as it tries to solve the mystery of a missing person.

Pitch-black, yet snow-bound Finnish film The Woodcutter Story from Mikko Myllylahti boasts the excellent Jarkko Lahti (from The Happiest Day in the Life of Oli Maki) as its central figure, Pepe. It looks gorgeous as the characters discuss the philosophy of existence, and play cards. This is a dark, dark comedy of dysfunction, destruction and despair, and just when you think it can’t get any darker, it does. Perhaps best watched with a drink in hand.  

BFI London Film Festival 2022 Part 2


Quite a feast of excellent documentaries at the festival this time, with a worthy winner of the Documentary Competition – aka the Grierson Award – in Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes. A couple of bird-rescuing brothers in Delhi study kites and their decline, but this is only the vehicle to deliver their thoughts on the bigger issues causing this. Migration, pollution, nuclear war, water levels and politics are at the forefront – and the importance of kites and vultures in “eating away our filth” and managing the levels of garbage around cities. In fact, they believe that such birds should be reappraised, and no longer thought of as vermin or termites, so that language cannot be weaponised against them as a danger to public health. Terrific work by the filmmakers and the brothers in drawing attention to the tiniest details in order to tell a broader, global story.

Another praise-worthy doc – and one that could be consumed along with Patrick Radden Keefe’s book, Empire of Pain, or in conjunction with the TV series Dopesick – is All the Beauty and the Bloodshed from director Laura Poitras. Co-produced by and focusing on activist and artist Nan Goldin, it starts at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Here Goldin and her fellow protesters make a statement about Big Pharma in general, and the Sackler family specifically, by chucking pill bottles into the Met’s water pool. In parallel with the fight back against the over-prescription of highly addictive pain medication, we get her own family story, of growing up with ill-prepared parents, and challenges from mental illness, sexuality, suicide, and the later deaths of friends from AIDS. Goldin got hooked on meds herself, but survived and became a groundbreaking artist, and the two stories entwine as the protests themselves escalate to become a kind of art, for instance, dropping prescription slips from the top of the Guggenheim galleries. Much to chew on here, from the creative act itself to the utilisation of creatives and appropriation of their work for art-washing by donors and sponsors.

Being filmmaker and subject is also key to the poignant Irish documentary The Future Tense, from Christine Malloy and Joe Lawlor, who previously brought Rose Plays Julie to the festival. It’s very meta, by definition, as they play actors playing themselves, due to the constraints of the pandemic. Underneath are uncomfortable truths about the famine, migration, colonisation and oppression, almost an essay or meditation about identity, the Irish language, and mental illness – and always musing on the eternal idea of leaving.  

Also in competition were Lynch/Oz from Alexandre O Philippe, plus the episodic Haitian doc Kanaval from Leah Gordon and Eddie Hutton Mills, and Trinh Minh-ha’s What About China? Philippe’s documentary makes his film’s thesis about the influence of Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz on pretty much everything since – using a split screen to prove this. Yet it feels like he could have made this from any starting point in movie history, or even the history of art or religious iconography, and managed to make his thesis stand up. Perhaps the doc itself is setting out to prove exactly this point? Very clever if so! Kanaval is a people’s history of Haiti in six chapters, examining carnivals in depth to see what each means, with distinct troupes and artists. Every masquerade is a history – but not the authorised version – and explores how they were enslaved, with the carnivals revisiting and re-enacting much of this history. Finally, with its quiet voiceover reminiscent of Mark Cousins, What About China? is an epic, gradually unfolding doc, and very elegiac on the country’s growing urbanisation and modernisation.


Outside the competition, many brilliant documentaries bubbled up to the surface, some giving real insight into neglected tales and characters, and some telling bigger, universal stories by focusing on very personal subjects. End of life is something we all have to address at some point, and in Last Flight Home the filmmaker Ondi Timoner covers her beloved father Eli’s last days quite beautifully and poetically. Would need a heart of stone not to be moved while witnessing a family gradually losing their patriarch to physical illness – and we meanwhile learn about his humanity and philanthropy across his full life. It’s structured as a countdown to his planned death, day by day, and raises many questions about end of life and being in control of this – also revealing that it may in fact be harder for those left behind.

Blue Bag Life shows another side to facing mortality, with the team of Rebecca Hirsch Lloyd-Evans, Alex Fry and particularly Lisa Selby – who is also a central character – taking us on a journey through addiction and the possibility of recovery, through one very personal, family story.

I approached Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp’s film, Bobi Wine: Ghetto President with almost no knowledge of the characters. But this didn’t matter one jot, as the totally gripping and sometimes shocking story is crystal clear about the plight of Robert Museveni aka Bobi. For Bobi is a pop star leading an uprising – influenced and “redefined” by his wife. He wants to push back against the Ugandan president, who is aiming to rule for life. He campaigns from within, as an elected MP, and without, as a musician. It becomes a tale of the unstoppable force against the immoveable object. Then Bobi is snatched, beaten up and thrown in the barracks – and as one of his supporters says: “it’s a military regime that you cannot vote out”. A sobering look at a dictator in a ‘democracy’. 

Music and musicians are also important in three further docs. Meet Me in the Bathroom, by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, tells the story of the alternative rock scene that emerged from NYC at the end of the nineties. We see the Moldy Peaches trying to break through against the odds, misfits amidst arty folk, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Karen O also “skulking” around the music scene. She says: “I wanted something explosive to happen,” and five years later it all comes together with the Strokes and their story of meeting at boarding school en route to success, including great footage of their first UK tour. One for their many fans. Whereas Tim Mackenzie-Smith’s Getting it Back: Story of Cymande is not so much a documentary about an unknown, but brilliant, black Brixton band, but a picture of a grim, unwelcoming, intolerant Britain, decades before Brexit. The plus side is how their tunes, licks and beats live on now, leading to hip-hop and house via their breaks. This would make a great double bill with God Said Give Em Drum Machines from Kristian R Hill, which focuses on the music pioneers who emerged from the Detroit scene, building the foundations of techno.

After Sherman is Jon-Sesrie Goff’s deep dive into a Deep South community, looking at systematic removal of land and huge, spreading development. Their message is: “never sell the land; that’s your inheritance.” Bags of historical context underpins the documentary, referencing a time when 85 per cent of the inhabitants here were black, before being displaced, and revealing that racism is still evident in pay and hiring policy. Geographies of Solitude by Jacquelyn Mills is equally steeped in place. It’s a beautiful and sobering warning of what’s happening to the world through the prism of environmentalist Zoe Lyons’ important work on Sable Island, Canada.

Following on from She Said, Call Jane, Women Talking and The Girl from Tomorrow, we get another welcome feminist film in the blistering documentary Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power by Nina Menkes. Based on her lecture, it reveals that a staggering 94 per cent of women in Hollywood have been victims of sexual harassment or assault, while also giving us a close-up study of the male gaze and showing movies as propaganda for the patriarchy.

As if to prove how a documentary can cover anything, Chan Tze-woon’s crowd-funded Blue Island is about the plight of those who remain in Hong Kong now democracy is a distant memory. It cleverly recreates scenes from the not-too-distant past and stops time to question those who were originally there – fleeing the cultural revolution – about what they thought. We sense history repeating itself, we see the umbrella protests, and it’s hard to emerge with much optimism, except for the strength of the people in adversity. By contrast, Fast & Feel Love is a light-hearted comedy doc by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, about a record-breaking, speed-stacking champion from Thailand. Tonally sweet and quaint, it feels almost like the Rocky version of a classic chess film. 

So Yun Um’s film Liquor Store Dreams is about her family’s unique yet universal immigrant experience, and focuses on her workaholic father. Influenced by Spike Lee’s movies, she examines the community, their resilience, and simmering racial conflicts, all seen through the lens of two “stereotypical” Korean liquor store owning families and the next generation. Fascinating.


I know that Joanna Hogg and her muse, Tilda Swinton had to make The Eternal Daughter in difficult, mid-Covid, lockdown conditions. But I rather wish they hadn’t. Much hyped as the third and final piece of Hogg’s Souvenir mini-series, the action (of which there is virtually none) takes place in a remote, country hotel. Swinton plays the mother, and she plays the daughter. The only other characters are a couple of hotel staff, one of whom is fine actor Joseph Mydell. Is it a ghost story? Is anything really happening (no, would be my answer)? Apparently about memory and grief, the only word that came to me was “slight”, and it felt like a short film idea that had been somehow allowed to go the whole hog and spread across more than 90 minutes. Perhaps for Souvenir completists only.

Equally hyped, but not up my street for so many reasons, Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider is remarkable for having been made in Iran, and the main female journalist character is well played by Zar Amir-Ebrahimi. But I would honestly rather I hadn’t seen it. Based on the true story of a serial killer – nicknamed the Holy Spider – this is meant to be showing us misogyny, but ends up presenting the killer’s slaying of women as his just, moral choice, approved of by many. Which I’m sure it was. And it’s all shown in great detail, with the killer even viewed as a sympathetic hero who is “cleaning up the streets” for the police by removing “criminals” aka sex workers. There’s a fine line between just showing violent, misogynistic crime and lingering over it and its perpetrator in voyeuristic detail. I loved Abbasi’s previous film, Border, but found this entirely grim.


20 Best Feature Films (in alphabetical order):

    Argentina 1985
    Banshees of Inisherin
    The Blaze
    Boy From Heaven
    Decision To Leave
    Empire of Light
    Girl from Tomorrow
    One Fine Morning
    L’Origine du Mal
    She Said
    The Son
    Triangle of Sadness
    Women Talking
    The Wonder
    The Woman in the White Car

Rising Talent:

    Manuela Martelli, debut director of 1976
    Charlotte Wells, debut director of Aftersun
    Frankie Corio, young star of Aftersun
    Natalia López, debut director of Robe of Gems
    Saim Sadiq, debut director of Joyland
    Rosy McEwan, star of Blue Jean
    Marta Savina, debut director of Girl from Tomorrow
    Claudia Gusmano, in Girl from Tomorrow
    Christine Ko, debut director of Woman in the White Car.

Best Drama:

    Runners-up: The Wonder, Saint Omer

Best Romance:

    Empire of Light and Joyland

Best Comedy:

    l’Origine du Mal
    Runner-up: Banshees of Inisherin, Triangle of Sadness, BROS

Best Thriller:

    Decision to Leave
    Runners-up: Woman in the White Car, Boy From Heaven, Subtraction

Best Political Thriller:

    1976 and Argentina 1985

Best Director:Marie Kreutzer, Corsage, and Park Chan Wook, Decision to Leave
Runner-up: Charlotte Wells, Aftersun

Best Actress:

    Vicky Krieps, Corsage
    Runners-up: Florence Pugh, The Wonder; Laure Calamy, l’Origine du Mal; Aline Küppenheim, 1976

Best Actor:

    Park Hae-il, Decision to Leave
    Runners-up: Paul Mescal, Aftersun; Jeremy Pope, The Inspection

Best Ensembles:

    Banshees of Inisherin, Triangle of Sadness, Women Talking

Best Duo:

    Park Hae-il and Tang Wei in Decision to Leave (above)
    Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio in Aftersun
    Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in She Said
    Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in Banshees of Inisherin
    Nathalie and Manal Issa in The Swimmers

Most Haunting:

    Woman in the White Car, Aftersun

Best Ending:

    Triangle of Sadness

Best Costumes:

    Corsage, obviously.

Annual Festival Ubiquity Award (aka the Kristin Scott Thomas Award):

    Outright winner: Vicky Krieps, tremendous in Corsage and More Than Ever
    Runner up: David Bradley onscreen in Allelujah, and vocal work in Pinocchio.

Most Disappointing:

    Holy Spider, Eternal Daughter

Best Documentaries:

    Bobi Wine: Ghetto President
    Getting it Back: Story of Cymande
    All That Breathes
    All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
    Last Flight Home

That’s everything from BFI London Film Festival 2022 Part 2. Check out the Part 1 review here, as well as the London Film Festival website.