Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The BFI London Film Festival 2012

The 2012 London Film Festival marks the start of a new era. Sandra Hebron's hugely successful nine-year reign as the festival's artistic director came to an end in 2011, and the daunting task of replacing her has fallen to Clare Stewart, former director of the Sydney Film Festival. With a fresh face comes fresh ideas, and the festival has undergone a major revamp for this year's event. Running from October 10-21, the LFF is shorter this year, but its films will be spread across a greater number of venues, which may make any attempt to cover it comprehensively something of a logistical nightmare. The strands that the films are divided into are new as well, with each of them being built around a single theme and named according to their content – Love, Laugh, Thrill, etc. – although some of these headings seem rather dubious (Cult? Dare?).

Ultimately, however, all that really matters are the films themselves, so after browsing through its new categories, here is my guide to pictures worth looking out for in this year's London Film Festival lineup.


The standout in this field is undoubtedly Michael Haneke's Amour, but as that's due for a UK release in November anyway, let's look beyond it to try and discover some smaller gems. I've enjoyed Stéphane Brizé's previous films a great deal, so I'm pleased to see him back at the festival with his Miss Chambon leading man Vincent Lindon for A Few Hours of Spring. The great Abbas Kiarostami makes an unexpected detour to Japan for his new film Like Someone in Love, while Gillian Anderson has gone to Switzerland for Ursula Meier's Sister. The erratic young talent of Xavier Dolan will be on display for a full 159 minutes in his transgender melodrama Laurence Anyways, and director Ira Sachs draws heavily on his own past for Keep the Lights On. This category also has a strong international flavour, with The Great Kilapy from Portugal, Epilogue from Israel, With You, Without You from Sri Lanka and Memories look at Me from China. There's also a couple of documentaries among these fictional love stories: Liz Garbus' Love, Marilyn is a tribute to the iconic star while Love in the Grave looks at romance among the homeless.


I'm not sure what it is about these films in particular that inspires debate – surely all good films can do that – but I'm guessing that a lot of the pictures in this category will focus on provocative, hot-button issues. Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt, which is about a man wrongly accused of paedophilia, certainly fits that description, as does Marco Bellocchio's Dormant Beauty, which explores a real-life euthanasia case from Italy's recent history. The other pictures that immediately stand out here come from directors whose work I admire, Lenny Abrahamson's What Richard Did, Matteo Garrone's Reality and Pablo Trapero's White Elephant. I'm also keen to check out a couple of the debut films in this collection, notably the Irish film Pilgrim Hill and the Iranian film A Respectable Family.


This collection of films consists of the most challenging pictures in the festival, but the definition is vague enough to cover both young provocateur Carlos Reygadas, here with Post Tenebras Lux, and the 90 year-old French legend Alain Resnais, whose new film is intriguingly entitled You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet. After seeing a creepy clip at this morning's press launch, I'm very intrigued by the Japanese film Helter Skelter, starring supermodel Erika Sawajiri, while I have heard very good things about the Danish thriller A Hijacking and Joachim Lafosse's Our Children. Given the recent run of remarkable films coming out of Greece, I'm inevitably keen to catch Ektoras Lygizos' debut film Boy Eating the Bird's Food, particularly as it is screening along with a new short from Attenberg director Athina Rachel Tsangari, and Ulrich Seidl brings Paradise: Love to the festival, although it's a shame we won't also get Faith, which premiered recently at Venice.


As any LFF veterans will attest, film festivals tend to be light on films willing to tickle the funny bone, so the creation of a category for more light-hearted fare is a very positive move. The risk with an international line-up of comedy films, of course, is that humour doesn't always travel, and the programme notes for Hong Sangsoo's In Another Country suggest that his films receive a rapturous reception from Korean audiences that doesn't resonate elsewhere. There are a few relatively safe bets for UK audiences here – Ben Wheatley's Sightseers and American indie Celeste and Jesse Forever, for example – but I'm keen to hear some gags from further afield. I'll be checking out Everybody in Our Family, the new film from Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude, Kenji Uchida's Key of Life, South African Muslim comedy Material and the Spanish black comedy Happy Birthday, Grandma!


From this apparently exciting bunch, I like the look of the Korean gangster hit Nameless Gangster and I'll also be checking out the other offerings from that country, Helpless and the low-budget 3D film Fish. A couple of pictures in this group have already made waves elsewhere; Compliance has become one of the most talked-about American films of the year since its Sundance debut, and Caesar Must Die took the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. There are opportunities for some fine actors to shine in lead roles – Blood stars Paul Bettany, I, Anna has the pairing of Gabriel Byrne and Charlotte Rampling, Everybody Has a Plan stars Viggo Mortensen and Joel Edgerton takes the lead in Wish You Were Here.


Here's where the categorisations get a little odd. You can't really label a new film as a 'cult' film and you can't anticipate which films will develop a cult following over time. Anyway, it's a very eclectic mix, ranging from modern silent movie Blancanieves to Room 237, a documentary about The Shining. Of course Takashi Miike has a new film – For Love's Sake, which is described in the programme as "Romeo & Juliet as a 60s pop musical" – and Bubba Ho-Tep director Don Coscarelli returns with John Dies at the End. Juan Carlos Medina's Painless has an intriguing premise, while  Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-sung are together again with their new film Doomsday Book


I'm not sure what to make of this category either, as "Journey" is a description that could surely apply to most of the films in the programme. One person who has been on an epic journey over the past 12 months has been Isabelle Huppert, who appears in four LFF films this year, including Brillante Mendoza's Captive. This looks like being the category where I will be going in blind most often and – hopefully – making some great discoveries. Normally I'm sceptical about portmanteau films, but I'll take a punt on 10 + 10, which features contributions from twenty Taiwanese directors. I'm also keen to catch Lines of Wellington, a film completed by Valeria Sarmiento after the death of her husband Raúl Ruiz, which has been described as a companion piece to Ruiz's great final film Mysteries of Lisbon. I'll be seeing The Patience Stone purely on the basis that it stars the brilliant Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, whose performance in About Elly was one of the best of recent years, and I'm hoping to see Dreams for Sale as it's the new film from Miwa Nishikawa, whose Dear Doctor was a highlight from LFF 2010.


I'm not sure about the wisdom of devoting a whole strand to music-inspired films when  you've only got six of them. Spike Island has the potential to be the breakout hit from this collection, but nothing here is really inspiring me. I won't venture deeply into the Family section either, but I do want to see Ernest and Celestine, the new animation from the team behind A Town Called Panic. Another French/Belgian production, Le Tableau, looks like it will be one of the most conceptually interesting films in this selection.


As ever, the new films at the London Film Festival are only part of the story. Every year the archive strand serves up some of the LFF's most enjoyable and surprising experiences, and this year they have a terrific line-up. Alfred Hitchcock's last silent film The Manxman will be the Archive Gala, with a new score by Stephen Horne, while David Lean's classic Lawrence of Arabia – a must on the big screen – returns to show off the BFI's brand new 4K projector. Wings is another terrific big screen experience and Roberto Rossellini's Journey to Italy is screening with an intriguing new addition, a documentary detailing his relationships with Anna Magnani and Ingrid Bergman called The War of the Volcanoes. I'm going to kick-start my long overdue Satyajit Ray education with his 1963 film Mahanagar and I'm beyond thrilled to see a silent Lubitsch in the programme, his long-lost 1922 film The Lovers of Pharoah, starring Emil Jannings. That summary is barely scratching the surface of a fantastic, diverse and extremely exciting group of films.