As public ticket sales for the BFI London Film Festival open Monday (24 September), the time is ripe for a preview blog. Having attended a number international film festivals this year, I’ve already had the chance to see a handful of the films that will be screening here in London next month. The complete list of films (which you can view conveniently organised A-Z by title, country or director) has been online for several days now. The line-up looks more varied and interesting than ever, and of the films I’ve already seen, I can recommend every one of them wholeheartedly. Here are my tips on films you shouldn’t miss:
The film centres a neighbourhood in urban Brazil and follows the everyday life of a few of its residents: a middle class family with kids; three generations of a wealthier family; and the lower classes who come to cook, clean and provide security for them. On the surface, it appears to be a safe neighbourhood: a car stereo might be stolen now and again, but otherwise the calm is only interrupted by a barking dog or a brief dispute between neighbours. Still, there is a constant feeling of threat in the film. The characters seem uneasy, as if perpetually anticipating disaster. Kleber Menconça Filho takes this undefined sense of danger the characters are feeling, and subtly cultivates it in the audience. The resulting suspense holds the film unerringly aloft for its 131-minute duration, until the reason for unease, and who should feel it, finally becomes clear. The film has already won two FIPRESCI awards: one at Rotterdam, the other at the New Horizons Film Festival in Wrocław, Poland. This film will be a solid contender among the twelve in competition for The Sutherland Award (most original and imaginative directorial debut).
You can read more about this film in the FIPRESCI report from Wrocław.
Thursday Till Sunday
Another accomplished directorial debut, Dominga Sotomayor’s film follows a family road trip through rural Chile. It seems like a normal car journey, with singing, word games, and stories to pass the time, but simmering beneath the surface is a parental dispute that will boil over before the trip ends. The situation is only aggravated when one of the mother’s old friends and his son join the family at their campsite. The audience observes the parents from the children’s perspective: like the older daughter, we see straight through their attempts at secrecy, but never completely grasp the essence of their marital problems. Like Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy, Thursday Till Sunday is a tender portrait of childhood games, children’s vulnerability and the poignancy of their dependence upon all-too-fallible parents. I have already seen this film twice this year: once at the Cinélatino Rencontres festival of Latin American film in Toulouse, and again at New Horizons in Wrocław, where the film won the festival’s Grand Prix.
To find out more, read the FIPRESCI report from Toulouse.
A Canada-US co-production, Francine presents a sensitive portrait of its title character, a woman just released from prison for an unspecified crime. The camera stays with Francine for the duration of the film, as she attempts to integrate back into normal society. Her love of animals leads her first to a job in a pet shop job, then a stable and finally a vet’s office. That same love also marks the beginning of her demise, as she keeps too many pets at home, and seems to relate to them better than the human beings around her. At just 75 minutes, Francine leaves an impression of balance and completion.
Death of a Man in the Balkans
Of all the films at the London Film Festival, this one is the most special to me. I first came across Miroslav Momčilović’s work back in 2007 at a Serbian Film Festival in Paris where they screened his Seven and a Half, a comedy divided into seven sections, each about one of the deadly sins. It remains among my top five Serbian films, but the director’s most recent feature is characterised by the same style of humour. Death of a Man in the Balkans was screened as a work in progress at the Sofia International Film Festival: I jumped at the opportunity to see it, and recommended it for the London Film Festival, where it was selected. In the meantime, it went on to win the Independent Camera Award at the Forum of the Independents in Karlovy Vary, and is among 47 films on the selection list for this year’s European Film Awards.
The entire film takes place in the apartment of a man who has just committed suicide. While the title and setting may sound serious, the director creates a wonderful black comedy based on the reactions of his neighbours when they find the body and wait for the authorities to arrive. After going through initial feelings of shock and sympathy, and having officiously followed what they believe are the correct procedures, the neighbours soon get bored, and start discussing the dead man and his lifestyle. All characters prove entertainingly inventive in protecting their own self-interest.
The 2012 BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff