The London Film Festival 2012: Yep, it’s that time again – and there’s a brand new sheriff in charge of the UK’s biggest film festival, says Helen M Jerome.
The first thing you notice is the programme itself: 106 glossy pages packed with films from all over the world, but this time they’re not divided by their country or region of origin. The new festival director, Clare Stewart, has made her mark by grouping them thematically: ‘Laugh’, ‘Love’, ‘Debate’, ‘Dare’, ‘Thrill’, ‘Cult’, ‘Journey’, ‘Sonic’ etc. And it’s the same online. It’s initially quite unsettling, a bit like walking into your favourite supermarket to find that everything has been moved. But I’m guessing that just as Waitrose and Lidl like to keep their customers on their toes and encourage them to discover new products by shifting their goods around, so Stewart hopes that we will happen upon films we might not have noticed and not just head for the safe bets.
Cynics might also say this makes it easier to avoid, say, horror and fantasy altogether (grouped in the ‘Cult’ section). And if you’re a lover of ‘French’ or ‘European’ or even ‘British’ films, you won’t immediately embrace the new system. But if you’re a ‘Thrill’-seeker, you’ll love it. Plus you can see – at-a-glance – which films are in the running for three top awards: Official Competition, First Feature, and Documentary.
Anyway, it’s my job to sort the wheat from the chaff (not that there’s much chaff) so you don’t have to. Which means I’m going to give you the low-down on what you absolutely must see, and the stuff you can wait for. This year’s London Film Festival lasts a week and a half and takes in venues across the capital. So get online and get booking…
1. The Tent Poles
You’d have to be made of stone not to love the opening film, Tim Burton’s 3D mock-horror FRANKENWEENIE, in which the vocal talents of everyone from Winona Ryder and Catherine O’Hara to Martins Landau and Short perfectly complement the deliciously spooky plot. Filmed in rich black and white, with the models made by the same team that brought us former festival favourite Fantastic Mr Fox, this is classy family fare that will appeal to every age, with references to old Hammer classics and monster movies. The 3D is a bonus, but not a deal-breaker for the film’s success. It’s also rather neat that the long-term partner of Burton, Helena Bonham-Carter, is the star name in the festival’s closing film, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, camping it up as Miss Havisham, the eternal bride-in-waiting. This will have to go some to beat David Lean’s version of Charles Dickens’ much-filmed masterpiece, but in the hands of director Mike (Four Weddings) Newell and with Ralph Fiennes as the menacing Magwitch, it might come close.
More contemporary literary adaptations come in the shape of
2. The Crowd Pleasers
Roger (Notting Hill) Michell delivers a British period film, HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON headlined by American actors (Bill Murray, Laura Linney). Whereas American method man Dustin Hoffman makes his debut as a director with a British film QUARTET, a clutch of top-notch British actors, including Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins, and the safety net of a script from Ronald (Diving Bell & The Butterfly) Harwood. To see more impeccable, homegrown stars in full flow, check out Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave in SONG FOR MARION.
They all sound fine and dandy to me, but my heart beats much faster at the prospect of movies from two European auteurs: a new Michael (Hidden) Haneke film, AMOUR, about an ageing couple – not to mention BEYOND THE HILLS, from Romania’s Cristian Mungiu, who made the remarkable 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Plus I keep hearing great things about ARGO, the latest from Ben Affleck, who this time directs, produces and acts in a thriller based on an true story first published in Wired magazine…
3. Could Be Contenders…
Apart from MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, those up for the Official Competition include END OF WATCH, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and from the director, David Ayer, who gave us another LA-based police thriller in the jaw-dropping Training Day. IN THE HOUSE gets this reviewer’s vote as it’s directed by Francois Ozon and has a cast boasting the rather wonderful Kristin Scott-Thomas. Sicily-set contemporary drama, IT WAS THE SON, looks like gripping stuff, as does LORE, set in Germany at the end of the Second World War, seen through adolescent eyes, and directed by Australia’s Cate Shortland. Anything with Gael Garcia Bernal is worth a second glance, and NO, set in Chile under Pinochet, looks pithy and political. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS stars Colin Farrell and is Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges, so bums on seats are guaranteed. And RUST AND BONE stars Marion (Piaf) Cotillard and marks Jacques Audiard’s follow-up to – and complete departure from – A Prophet. Any of these would be a worthy winner…
It’s a strong field fighting it out for First Feature, and Scott Graham’s SHELL (above-right) looks a good outside bet, set in what feels like the remotest, most windswept petrol station in Scotland, where a father (Joseph Mawle) and his teenage daughter Shell (the remarkable Chloe Pirrie) are too close for comfort in every conceivable way. Also look out for THE COMEDIAN, with its sharp, improvised script, directed by Tom Shkolnik and starring Edward Hogg; plus the bold NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS from Brazil’s Kleber Mendonca Filho, EAT SLEEP DIE, from Sweden’s Gabriel Pichler, and MY BROTHER THE DEVIL set in the midst of an Egyptian family on a Hackney housing estate, and directed by Sally El Hosaini.
The Best Documentary winner could come from Finland, with its stark food production story, CANNED DREAMS, or from remotest Greenland with VILLAGE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Sarah Gavron’s non-fiction follow-up to Brick Lane. Then again, Ken Burns’ latest, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, will take some beating, even alongside the unpalatable truths revealed by the controversial MEA MAXIMA CULPA, about abuse by a Wisconsin priest.
4. Off The Beaten Track
My main advice would be to seek out the movies that aren’t your usual, mainstream fare. Something that might challenge your worldview, perhaps introduce you to a new filmmaker, new actors, new places and new experiences. When I first saw Festen, by Thomas Vinterberg, I was shocked and thrilled in equal measure. Now Vinterberg has teamed up with Denmark’s leading actor, Mads Mikkelsen (of Flame & Citron fame) to make an equally shocking drama, THE HUNT, and I recommend it unreservedly. A hasty accusation is made by a kindergarten child – and everyone in a small community takes sides and draws conclusions against a man who has been their trusted friend and colleague. Do not miss.
If, like me, you use the festival to seek out lesser-known treats from far-flung countries, then pull up a chair right now. Argentina seems to be hitting a rich vein of form with a clutch of promising titles: THE DEAD MAN AND BEING HAPPY, not to mention 3 (from Pablo Stoll Ward, co-director of an all-time festival favourite, Whisky), VILLEGAS, post-war drama MY GERMAN FRIEND, NORMAL SCHOOL and EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN. Two very different Czech films, LONG LIVE THE FAMILY! and MADE IN ASH maintain a strong tradition, as do a couple from Ireland: WHAT RICHARD DID and SILENCE.
Apart from Vinterberg’s latest, Denmark offers up A HIJACKING (from Tobias Lindholm, fresh from working on THE HUNT and TV drama, Borgen), two-part thriller EASY MONEY, and love story TEDDY BEAR. Similarly, apart from Haneke’s latest, Austria might just knock our socks off with another couple of gems: MUSEUM HOURS and THE WALL. As for Francophiles, they’re well served by Helena Klotz’s ATOMIC AGE, and Frederic Fonteyne’s TANGO LIBRE. And for those of you like me, suffering withdrawal symptoms from a shortage of Korean movies, check out A FISH (a thriller shot in homemade 3D), Bryun Youngjoo’s HELPLESS, Hong Sangsoo’s comedy, IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, and NAMELESS GANGSTER (featuring Choi Minsik, star of Old Boy).
To see some already lauded movies, look no further than Hungary’s JUST THE WIND, which won the Berlin Jury prize for its dramatic exploration of violence against Romany people in Hungary. And there are Cannes prize-winners to savour, like Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone’s Italian satire, REALITY which ran off with the Grand Prix, Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas, who won the Best Director award with POST TENEBRAS LUX, and IN THE FOG, a winning war movie from Sergei (My Joy) Loznitsa.
5. Closer To Home
The UK has many offerings in different categories, so you can pick and choose between love story BROKEN starring Cillian Murphy and Tim Roth, and directed by Rufus Norris, or thriller I, ANNA with Gabriel Byrne, Charlotte Rampling and Hayley Atwell – plus a terrific Richard Hawley soundtrack. Then there’s the option of a journey down the A5, in the heartfelt documentary THE ROAD: A STORY OF LIFE AND DEATH, or Yorkshire drama WASTELAND, starring Luke Treadaway and Timothy Spall.
But whatever you opt for, you won’t be disappointed, so go outside your comfort zone and try something a bit different…
Book your tickets online at bfi.org.uk/lff or by phone on: 020 7928 3232 – or in person, of course, at BFI Southbank.