The London Film Festival 2014 Part 2: Voyage of Discovery

The London Film Festival 2014 The London Film Festival 2014‘s first part of our round-up brought you reviews of the English language feature films coming your way. But there are just as many amazing movies being made in the rest of the world – so what should you be looking out for from the 2014 London Film Festival? Part 2 gets you a front row seat – easy on the virtual popcorn – for films from every part of the globe, fast rising and established directors with different visions, gritty thrillers, comic treats and issue-tackling dramas that might expand and or even changef your world view.

Latin America

Miguel Cohan spoils us rotten with his well-crafted Argentine crime thriller, BETIBU (above), containing dozens of red herrings, corruption lurking around every corner, and an unlikely trio tasked with solving a murder. A retiring newspaper hack, the crime correspondent who’ll replace him, and a female celebrity novelist (known as Betibu) start out in unpromising fashion, each with their own methods, respectively using old cuttings, the internet, and talking and taking photos. But what connects an industrialist who’s had his throat cut – soon after his own wife’s murder – with other important figures gradually being bumped off? No-one is safe, and a mounting sense of fear is palpable as the journalists turn detective and put themselves in harm’s way…

Impressionistic, yet hard hitting, HISTORY OF FEAR, from Argentine director Benjamin Naishtat pushes the same buttons as Neighborhood Sounds did a couple of years back. It plays on the paranoia of well-heeled Buenos Aires families with high-end security systems and lackeys to cosset them. Until things go wrong. Menace and the unsettling heat seep through every scene, every little thing seems to carry meaning, and the sound design adds to the feeling that things are out of kilter… until they literally get darker towards the end. Very promising.

Also direct from a middle class world comes CASA GRANDE, though this debut feature from Brazil’s Fellipe Barbosa focuses on a family that’s suddenly on its uppers. Apparently this is the world Barbosa grew up in and tried to escape, and it might be that the central character of Jean is autobiographical. When privileged, spoilt Jean’s parents have their own financial crisis he must take the bus rather than being chauffeured to school, and watch his parents lay off the domestic staff he saw as friends. But can he cross class and racial divides by hooking up with a girl from the favelas? Using a good mix of untried teenage actors and established soap stars, Barbosa shows he’s one to watch.

guerosSweetly romantic, THE WAY HE LOOKS is also quietly subversive. Brazilian writer-director Daniel Ribeiro has adapted and expanded this feature from his short, trying to explore how a person who cannot see, can still find themself attracted to another person. Not content with making Leo blind, Ribeiro also has his teenage character come to terms with being gay, and shows through his classmates’ attitudes that both blindness and homosexuality are still targets of prejudice. Luckily Leo has a loyal gal pal, Giovana, who only gets jealous when Leo confronts his confused feelings and falls hard and fast for cute new boy Gabriel, accompanied by some Belle & Sebastian music. And while Leo’s doting, protective parents wrap him in cotton wool, he only craves more independence. But won’t it all end in tears?

Although it’s unlikely that the Uruguayan comedy and festival classic, Whisky will ever be matched, at least writer-producer-director Alvaro Brechner is having a go with MR KAPLAN. Brechner’s own granddad fled Poland for South America just before World War II, and his eponymous lead character is an ageing Jewish man who has lived most of his life in Uruguay. And when he suddenly reckons that he’s found a Nazi living in his midst, he wants justice. Meanwhile his family and friends believe he’s losing his marbles and his grip, so he enlists a hapless, dishevelled, boozing ex-cop to help him. With perfect pacing, the fabulous characters embark on a comic pursuit, and Brechner also deftly manages to show the near invisibility of the elderly, and explore their role in society.

The rightly praised Mexican feature GUEROS, is director Alonso Ruiz Palacios’ confident debut. Gorgeously shot in black and white with deep shadows, its dramatic backdrop is the real student strike of 1999, when all university activities stopped for one year, as they refused to kowtow to being asked to pay for enrollment, which had always been free until then. Into this unrest steps troublesome teen Tomas, sent to stay with his hopeless brother, who drifts around, powerless and cashless, only engaging when they search for an old, forgotten folk singer hero, Epigmenio Cruz, and they encounter the brother’s old flame leading the protesters. They venture into parts of their own city that are unfamiliar and unwelcoming, as the director shows a country and its people still uneasy with each other, feeling on the edge of something potentially explosive… Gueros shows that a rookie director can push the envelope in style and substance, and his next work should be worth looking out for.

At the other end of the scale, seasoned European filmmaker Laurent Cantet chooses Cuba as the setting for his nostalgic, but never sentimental RETURN TO ITHACA. Like The Big Chill (which also had a terrific soundtrack) this focuses on a group of five middle-aged friends looking back on their misspent youths. They’ve all made compromises and mistakes, and as they sit on the rooftop in the warm Havana evening, drinking rum, eventually the truths about the past emerge, in true ‘vino veritas’ fashion. The writer who fled to Spain, the painter who became an alcoholic, the bitterness of those left behind. They all have secrets to hide and seek, which Cantet shows with great affection.

Go to page 2 for Spain and Italy…


Despite, or perhaps because of the recession, Spain seems to have rediscovered its creative mojo. In 10,000KM, director Carlos Marques-Marcet has taken two charismatic characters, and prised them apart through work, with him (David Verdaguer) stuck in Barcelona and her (Natalia Tena of Game of Thrones fame) dispatched to Los Angeles. Then he tests the sturdiness of their relationship over the distance between them. Can Skype, texts, email and Google maps keep them together? Presented in diary form, with inevitable ups and downs through their constant technological interaction, this is really an old-fashioned love story.

Using flowers rather than technology to communicate, directors Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga have arranged the set-pieces of LOREAK around three women looking for answers and closure. Ane is going through the menopause and is lifted when she starts receiving mysterious flowers. Lourdes is dismayed by the roadside flowers placed where her late husband’s car went off the road. Tere is missing her son terribly. And all their lives and stories become intertwined in this deeply poignant narrative.

Emilio Martinez-Lazaro’s broad comedy SPANISH AFFAIR (right) may be the highest-grossing Spanish film ever, but the best way to think of it is Gavin & Stacey, not set in Essex and Wales, but in Andalusia and the Basque country. Playing on cultural differences and misunderstandings this is a life-changing journey for simple, lovelorn Rafa, who leaves his beloved Seville and heads north in search of the tough Basque girl, Amaia, he’s fallen for. Will she soften towards him as he flounders like a fish out of water? She’s been left high and dry, and the plot thickens when Rafa must pretend to be her betrothed to impress her father, who has been away at sea for six years. But can Rafa pull off acting as a charismatic local rebel when his knowledge of Basque customs and language is non-existent?


Based on Gioacchino Criaco’s book, Anime Nere, BLACK SOULS (right) is director Francesco Munzi’s story of three very different brothers with inescapable ties to the ‘ndrangheta. Most of the action takes place in rural Calabria and the town of Africo, and Munzi mixes local residents with actors to get an authentic feel for his thriller. Two of the brothers have moved up in the world, thanks to their mafia business connections, and money can buy them almost anything, including flashy watches, cars and strippers, but they’re still happy to nick a couple of goats from a farm. Bitter resentment and vengeance seem to be passing down the generations, despite one brother trying to go straight. And even though fraternal loyalty and betrayal are constant themes, and they’re all armed to the teeth, the film’s ending is still shocking.

THE DINNER, from director Ivan de Matteo, is based on Herman Koch’s bestselling novel, and centres around a huge moral dilemma that faces two privileged families – with a similar feel to the play and film (God of) Carnage. It all starts with a road rage incident that becomes fatal, with one doctor brother caring for the kid who was shot by the same cop that his lawyer brother is defending. They almost come to blows over this, but soon after, when their respective, privileged teenage kids seem to have committed a crime as they return from a party, and are recorded on poor quality CCTV, we are forced to consider what we might do in their shoes. Can you defend the indefensible? Does family loyalty trump integrity? Should a terrible crime be covered up if there are no witnesses? Can justice ever really prevail? Again, be prepared for a startling ending.

Eugene Green’s LA SAPIENZA focuses on two pairs of characters: a married couple and an ambitious young man and his sickly sister who they meet on holiday at the Italian lakes, and take under their wings. The husband is an architect unwilling to inflict any more human misery with compromised buildings, and his wife is a psychoanalyst trying to unpick human misery. Spanning issues from love and spirituality to the power of architecture, Green poses big questions about knowledge and truth by splitting up his couples and setting each of them on a potentially painful journey of self discovery.

Go to page 3 for France, Germany and Belgium…


We are often plunged into a world of teenage girls hanging out in shopping malls in American movies, but in Celine Sciamma’s GIRLHOOD, we are on the outskirts of Paris, where rival black gangs congregate and assert their supremacy. Seen through the eyes and experience of Marieme (the excellent Karidja Toure), who is falling behind at school, looking after her two younger sisters, and coping with a bullying brother, it feels inevitable that she’ll be drawn into a gang of fun, but bitchy girls, who carry knives, fight and thieve. Beautiful yet insecure, her peers stride around, asserting themselves, living purely for the now, and loyal only to each other. When her gang leader is defeated in a fight, Marieme is confident, almost cocky and ready to take over the role. But when it comes to matters of the heart, and an ill-advised crush on a friend of her possessive brother, she’s plunged into worse trouble as she enters a shady criminal world. Despite the girls’ difficult existences and the feeling that their fates are inescapable, this is a film brimming with energy, character and emotion buoyed up by youthful optimism, and driven by Toure’s superb central performance.

Based on a Doris Lessing story, MY FRIEND VICTORIA is a touching drama directed by Jean Paul Civeyrac and springing into life through the actors – both newcomers – at its heart, Gulagi Malanda as Victoria and Nadia Moussa as Fanny, her friend and our reliable narrator. Class, race, identity, love, jealousy, sibling rivalry and belonging are the ingredients jostling for attention, and though this could be set in Lessing’s old West Hampstead postcode, it’s successfully transplanted to modern-day Paris.

Sophie FillieresIF YOU DON’T I WILL is a droll, quirky, offbeat comedy with two seasoned actors, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric at the top of their game. It’s all in their sideways looks and timing, as she faces her post-cancer, midlife crisis by going on a forest ramble, then deciding to stay there and go native. He eventually follows, but there’s a feeling that he may have left this – and much else in their relationship – too late…

The main characters go properly feral in Cedric Kahn’s WILD LIFE when their parents fight over custody of their three boys, with two of them going on the run with their father. The police are a constant presence, always on their trail, never quite catching up with them. Literally going back to nature, living in forests, fields, farms and a commune, all is well with the fleeing trio until the boys are properly grown up, seduced by civilisation and starting to challenge the values of their dad, fiercely played by Mathieu Kassovitz. Wide-eyed and innocent, the boys’ world view is infectious, and this entire narrative is based on a true story widely covered in the French press in 2008, that inspired books from both parents, and now raises all sorts of questions about a clash of ancient and modern lifestyles.


Back in 2011 we championed Dreleiben as one of the main achievements in the entire festival, a trilogy of self-contained, but interlinked thrillers, each with a different director, with Christian Petzold helming the first. And now Petzold has made PHOENIX, set in Berlin just after World War II, and one of the official contenders for Best Film. Nelly (the always excellent Nina Hoss) is a woman whose face was destroyed and rebuilt, and she’s now forced to fight her demons and confront the truths in her past. Her one real friend wants to take her to make a fresh start in Palestine; but Nelly feels driven to discover whether her husband, Johnny, gave her up to the Nazis. He doesn’t recognise her, and she keeps her real identity hidden, but he begins to believe that they can dress her, style her hair, make her look like his late wife, even get her to walk in her shoes… which feels like the plot of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. She refuses to believe that he could have betrayed her… but Petzold cleverly shows every stage of her growing realisation, as Johnny pursues his plan, in order to get his hands on Nelly’s money.

Covering the same wartime and post-war period, GERMANY PALE MOTHER is a neglected classic written and directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms, and based on her own mother, Lene’s experience. First show at the 1980 Berlin Film Festival, it received mixed reviews, especially from the German critics. A shorter version was released, but over the years the film’s reputation was enhanced, and now it’s back to its original full length. We see the war from a woman’s point of view, as her husband enlists and is sent away to the front. Narrated by the character of Lene’s daughter (ie, Helma), this is brutal, simple, direct and gives us the largely untold story of those left at home in the midst and terrible aftermath of war.


Also showing that war pictures don’t have to be gung-ho, DAMN THE WAR is a splendidly restored 100-year-old anti-war picture in which the futility of conflict is shown through friend pitted against friend, and a romance doomed by a revelation from the past.

Go to page 4 for Denmark, Greece and more…


When you see a Susanne Bier film, you might not know what to expect in subject matter, but you always know you’re in safe hands. A SECOND CHANCE focuses on the seemingly idyllic life of cop Andreas (Game of ThronesNikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his lovely wife and baby, contrasting this with low-life junkie and criminal Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, best known as Sarah Lund’s last partner in The Killing, and a frequent Bier collaborator), who dominates his own girlfriend, Sanne and their baby, in their squalid apartment. When Andreas’ own child suddenly dies, seemingly from cot death, he seizes the opportunity to do something outrageously immoral, which will give a second chance to the deprived baby and his own family. Can something so obviously wrong ever be right? Bier claims this film is personal but not autobiographical, and it comes from her ongoing creative collaboration with screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. But she says it was also influenced by stories like that of Baby P, and the tale of a stolen baby from long ago in her own childhood. She’s wanted to work with Coster-Waldau for a while, focusing on his likeable, endearing qualities as Andreas, “until you look into his eyes and you aren’t so sure.” And Bier plucked model May Andersen to play Sanne after meeting her at a party, giving her cast a challenging mix of familiar faces, established stars, and untried, raw talent… which somehow gels and works.


Two films that tackle the collapse of the Greek economy with mixed results are Syllas Tzoumerkas’ drama A BLAST and Ken McMullen’s OXI: AN ACT OF RESISTANCE. A Blast is by far the more effective, focusing on the physically strong Maria (a riveting performance from Angeliki Papoulia), who has been left powerless by the financial crisis, with debts piling up, three kids, and a husband who works, plays and strays far away from home. This contrasts with flashbacks showing their past life of passionate fulfilment, and energetic sex. Now she’s taking desperate action, as she leaves her kids with her sister and right-wing brother-in-law, and heads off as her existence splinters around her.

OXI, however, might be well-intentioned, but suffers from over-intellectualised structure and content. Mixing bits of Ancient Greek culture and history with speeches from modern thinkers, economists and experts, even flashes of solid acting from the likes of John Shrapnel and Dominique Pinon (of Amelie fame, and also in My Old Lady) cannot save this.


Kutlug Ataman’s THE LAMB foregrounds a poor Anatolian family who can’t afford a lamb to be slaughtered for their son’s traditional circumcision feast. The boy’s knowing older sister convinces him that if they can’t get a lamb, he will be killed instead, which understandably horrifies him. An odd, but endearing blend of high comedy with tough family drama, which looks stunning (as Ataman is also an artist), this shows how dire straits can force ordinary people to consider drastic action. Thank goodness that a couple of the female characters use their brains…

Czech Republic

In Andrea Sedlackova’s gritty drama, FAIR PLAY, athlete Anna is being groomed for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as an emblem of successful Czechoslovakian socialism. This is the paranoid 1980s, and pressured by her coach she signs away her medical and physical welfare, as she’s put on steroids that soon have side effects. Her mother was a top tennis player who took part in the Prague Spring, her father is in exile, and her musician boyfriend is encouraging her individualism, so Anna starts to open her eyes and see how the State is spreading its tentacles. But as they resort to bugging the family’s apartment, have they pushed her too far in forcing her to conform and perform?


Maya Vitkova’s ambitious and hugely imaginative film VIKTORIA (right) is about a girl born to a doting dad, with a mum who never wanted her. And as she’s born just as the country comes into being, she’s showered with gifts, chauffeured to school, and indulged by the President, for whom she’s become symbolic and to whom she has a hotline. Quite frankly Viktoria is a horrible, bullying child. But as she turns nine, communism collapses and her spoilt lifestyle ends. Can she survive the fallout? What will her parents do? With equal measures of levity and tragedy, this is a terrific and plausible fable from another female director to watch.


Containing strong parallels with Viktoria, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s THE PRESIDENT is a post-Arab Spring fable about survival, forgiveness and retribution, that constantly shifts in tone between high comedy and utter desolation. It all starts with a dictator who presides in blissful ignorance over his unnamed country as his subjects teeter on the brink of revolution. He even shows off to his impressionable young grandson, as they switch all the lights off in their capital city, resulting in unrest that quickly turns into riots and insurrection. Fleeing their subjects, who are baying for blood, the President and grandson go on the run, disguising themselves as street entertainers, hiding out in bleak landscapes, and witnessing what their country has turned into. With echoes of Pilgrim’s Progress and It’s A Wonderful Life, this never looks like having a happy resolution, especially when they are literally chased with pitchforks.

Go to page 5 for Africa and The Middle East…


Director Abderrahmane Sissako boldly chose to make his latest feature film, TIMBUKTU about the recent Islamic extremists’ takeover of Mali. With nimble footing, he negotiates his way through this oppressive period of sharia law through humour, strong characterisation and multiple narratives unfolding across unbelievably gorgeous landscapes. Opening with militants shooting at ancient tribal artefacts as target practice, we see how everyday life continues, but with severe punishments for anyone who doesn’t conform. So there’s no music, no bare hands, legs or feet, no football, and no smoking – though we overhear soldiers discussing the merits of Messi versus Zidane, and one of the leaders goes off for secret smokes. And just when it seems that maybe it’s bearable, the law comes down hard on a nomad and his family, and the action is punctuated by lashings and fatal stonings. Deservedly nominated for the festival’s official Best Film award.

Based on a real-life story from Ethiopia, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s DIFRET tells an everyday tale of the unpleasant tradition known as ‘telefa’ that allows men to ‘abduct’ girls against their will, then marry them. Focusing on one 14-year-old schoolgirl, Hirut, who shot her aggressor and was sentenced to death, we follow her case as it is taken up by legal aid pioneer Meaza Ashenafi, who keeps hitting brick walls, but never gives up. She gets the local press involved in Hirut’s cause, puts the pressure on the local police and legal system, and defies the tribal elders. Quite an achievement to film this in his homeland with limited resources to hand, Mehari deserves plaudits for bringing this important story to our attention, pushed forward not only by his producer wife, but also with considerable clout from their fervent supporter Angelina Jolie.

fishing-without-netsIn the vein of all those answer songs from back in the day, FISHING WITHOUT NETS is the low-budget answer film to last year’s Tom Hanks’ movie Captain Phillips and its Danish predecessor, A Hijacking. First-time director Cutter Hodierne has expanded his original, 2012 Sundance-award-winning short, pulling in mainly first-timers, along with experienced actors like Reda Kateb as a captured crew member. This is unashamedly from the opposite point of view, focusing on the desperate Somalian pirates themselves, a ragtag bunch of criminals and the naïve innocents they’ve dragged into the venture. Abdikani Muktar is terrific as the fisherman and reluctant participant who just wants to provide for his family. But it all goes wrong when they find that the tanker they’ve hijacked on the high seas is carrying no oil, making the crew the only valuable commodity. Edgy and thrilling.

Filmed mainly in Morocco, THE NARROW FRAME OF MIDNIGHT, the debut film from Tala Hadid, explores memory, place, dreams and loss, all swirling around writer Zacaria as he first helps a young orphan escape her captors, then heads off in search of his brother in Iraq, travelling via Istanbul.

Hitting a completely different tone, Amr Salama’s Egyptian coming-of-age comedy EXCUSE MY FRENCH had to overcome censorship not once but twice before being approved. Funny right from the start, this is young Hany’s story of reduced circumstances forcing him to move from his comfortable Christian college to a Muslim school run by a motley crew of teachers, where his fellow pupils are anything but welcoming. Not only does Hany have to fit in to get by, but he’s powerless to help his favourite female teacher when she’s singled out, and the film doesn’t flinch from showing the stark realities of life amidst many humorous incidents.

Go to page 6 for the India, Pakistan, China and Korea…

next-to-herMiddle East

VILLA TOUMA isn’t a typical Palestinian film, as debut director Suha Arraf structures it around three Christian sisters – in Chekhov style – who live simply in an austere, aristocratic home. All is controlled and ticking along slowly until their orphaned niece comes to live with them and they determine to find her the right match. Inevitably, they become more outward-looking in the process, although there’s a major setback when their niece has her head turned by an unsuitable suitor, and their frozen-in-time existence is further pierced by the intrusions of the outside world.

From Israel comes a very personal film, NEXT TO HER, based on the direct experiences of the wife of director, Asaf Korman. Indeed Korman’s wife, actress Liron Ben Shlush plays Chelli in the film, who grows up with a learning-disabled sister, Gabby (played by Dana Ivgy). Chelli and Gabby do everything together, eating, sleeping, playing. But eventually Chelli is forced to place Gabby in a day centre while she works, which gives Chelli time to start a relationship with her co-worker, Zohar, who moves in. He swiftly becomes part of the family, although he can’t cope with Gabby sharing their bed – and an unexpected pregnancy throws a spanner into all their certainties, loves and loyalties.


Physical disability is at the core of another personal film, MARGARITA WITH A STRAW, in which director Shonali Bose draws inspiration from her cousin Malini, who has acute cerebral palsy. Kalki Koechlin is extraordinary as Laila, a smart, confident teen from Delhi who won’t be held back by her wheelchair or her cerebral palsy. She confounds expectations when she gets a scholarship to New York – where her world opens up and her self-knowledge increases, especially when she unexpectedly falls for a beautiful blind Pakistani woman. So at one stroke this movie busts all kinds of boundaries and barriers in disability, sexuality and even faith. Bold indeed.

COURT, from Chaitanya Tamhane revolves around the Kafka-esque world of the Mumbai legal system, and the case of a folk singer accused of inciting a labourer to commit suicide – and although evidence is scant, he faces up to ten years in jail. A well-acted story and neat critique of India’s creaking, rigid, labyrinthine, Raj-based courts.

With hardly any words spoken throughout, LABOUR OF LOVE is Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s haunting first film, and relies on everything being expressed through gorgeously shot scenes of colour, light, gesture, food preparation, work and sleep. Its two central, isolated figures toil respectively in the day, and at night, living parallel lives and sharing the same space, but never there at the same time…


Another debut drama, DUKHTAR, from Afia Nathaniel, tells a timeless tale of two rival families who agree to settle an old score by betrothing the very young daughter (or dukhtar) of one leader to marry the other. But the girl’s mother has other ideas and they flee together. Unfortunately this means that both clans are on their trail, and we see them making their way across slabs of epic landscape with rare slashes of colour, as they escape with help from one sympathetic man, who risks his own livelihood and life. It also has a great soundtrack.


An unexpected treat of a thriller from Diao Yinan, BLACK COAL THIN ICE, takes place across several years. Detective Zhang is investigating a grisly murder in north China, but retires when he’s wounded. But it gnaws away at him, and five years later he is still desperate to solve a case that now has more dead bodies. But how and why are body parts turning up at coal plants some 100 miles apart? And can he resist the charms of dry cleaning worker, Wu Zhizhen, a woman who seems strongly connected to victims in the case? Is she perhaps an ice-skating siren who has lured them to their deaths? There are elements of Double Indemnity, Lady from Shanghai, and black widow stories sprinkled through this gripping drama, with gambling dens and amusement parks that Orson Welles would be proud of, where the pursuer becomes the pursued as further bodies and body parts pile up…

SHADOW DAYS is Zhao Dayong’s story of a rural ghost town into which a young urban couple arrive. Here the young man’s uncle employs him to help enforce the one-child policy in a heavy-handed manner, which he relishes, despite his own partner expecting their baby. They strut around with impunity, insisting on abortions and “tubes being tied” to keep the numbers down – but surely their consciences will alter their actions if they look like affecting their own lives? Effortlessly atmospheric, this film also highlights an important and divisive issue in China.

Migrant workers and the families they leave behind is the highly topical issue behind Chienn Hsiang’s drama, EXIT. Some 30 per cent of Taiwanese men now work in China, so their wives and children are left to fend for themselves. One of these women is Ling, who is responsible for a sullen, uncommunicative daughter and an ageing, hospitalised mother. And as if that wasn’t enough, she’s going through the menopause and is out of a job when the garment factory closes down. Her only solace comes from tending to the ailing patient in the bed opposite her mother’s. With bandaged eyes and no visitors, he evokes her pity and she even starts bathing him. But what will she do when his bandages are removed and he is able to see her?

If it’s fun you’re after, then the 3D spectacular, THE WHITE-HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM (right) from Jacob Cheung should be right up your brightly-coloured street. Set at the end of the Ming Dynasty, it sees heroic warrior Zhuo Yihang fall in love with the White-haired Witch, Jade Raksha (Fan Bingbing). Special effects in Hero and House of Flying Daggers style manage to transport our characters through caverns, across cliffs and into splendid palaces, as they battle their way through adversity, and confront evil and ambitious men. Witty, stunning to gaze upon, and packed with action sequences as the fights come thick and fast, this is also another cinematic triumph for girl power, with strong, heroic female roles. And the 3D glasses really do give the action another dimension.


They say you should leave the best until last, which in this case is my favourite festival thriller of 2014, A HARD DAY, from Kim Seong-Hun. Not sure if it’s something in the water or the genes, but Koreans currently make the most exciting thrillers around. Period. This one starts at a million miles an hour and never lets up. In fact, it has one of the best opening twenty minutes of any recent feature film. To describe it in detail would be to ruin it, so suffice it to say that homicide cop Ko (Lee Sun-Kyun) accidentally hits a lone figure while driving late at night, shoves the body into his car boot, then has to find somewhere to secrete the corpse. And he’s running late for his own mother’s funeral… But as the plot spins, twists, turns and chucks in corrupt colleagues, car chases, coincidences, vice, money and drugs for good measure, you’ll be breathless trying to keep up. There’s also lots of humour. Resistance is useless. You. Must. See. This.

Next time: in Part 3 of our round-up, The London Film Festival 2014 documentaries you have to check out – oh, and the much-coveted DVDfever awards are virtually here…

Check out the BFI London Film Festival 2014 website here.


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