The 56th BFI London Film Festival


by Joanna Orland & Ruth Thomson

The annual London Film Festival is on the brink of greatness. This year saw the changing of the guard with new festival director Clare Stewart taking the reigns from Sandra Hebron. Previously director of the Sydney Film Festival for five years, Stewart injects fresh life into the festival in its 56th year. Some of the biggest and best changes include allowing the festival to go beyond the West End and Southbank to more relevant cinemas including The Ritzy in Brixton, Screen on the Green in Islington, and the Hackney Picturehouse and Rich Mix in Hackney. In addition to the physical differences, other changes forged by Stewart include enhancing official competition sections to create a more visible platform for competing films, and most notably moving away from geographical categories of films and focusing more on thematic ideas including “Dare”, “Love”, “Thrill”, and “Cult” for the two-hundred plus films on offer.

With so much happening in only twelve days of festival, we best get right to it. To start with, here is a brief run down of some of our most memorable moments:

Rust & Boned: A couple get caught having sex in a screening of Rust & Bone.
Timothy Spall’s Loose Lips Sink Ships:
The tirade of words coming out of Timothy Spall’s mouth, directed at me!
Dustin Hoffman’s Wife:
“Have you met Lisa? This is my wife Lisa! Have you seen Lisa?”. Dustin Hoffman is really into Lisa!
Marion Cotillard:
Child Journalists:
Why are children taking over the red carpet?
Terence Stamp’s tribute to his parents:
A beautiful and touching moment in the Q&A for Song for Marion.

In honour of Clare Stewart making her mark as the new festival director, we will take her lead and review the films we saw based on the true thematic categories in which each should be placed:

Music and the Elderly

Directed by Dustin Hoffman
Starring Dame Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Sheridan Smith

Dustin Hoffman:

Billy Connolly:

Pauline Collins:

Tom Courtenay & Ronald Harwood:

Dame Gwyneth:

This film could easily fall into the trap of being lumped into the genre of the elderly never having it so good, alongside last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is merely a superficial categorization as Quartet is much better than its vague premise would have you believe.

Dustin Hoffman takes the reigns as a first time director at age 75, after a lifelong career as a very accomplished actor. He fares well as director, as much as he always has as actor, but with some of the recent performances he’s given, his directing is far more on the money than his modern film role choices. The story of Quartet is based on the play by Ronald Harwood, who also adapted the screenplay on the suggestion of the film’s star Sir Tom Courtenay. The premise of the film is inspired by real events of legendary classical music composer Giuseppe Verdi who, after his passing, left his estate to elderly musicians for them to live in as a retirement home of sorts.

Quartet’s narrative moves from Italy to England in the fictional Beecham House, a home for retired musicians. Three fourths of a once-quartet, played by Sir Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and a brilliant Pauline Collins, all reside in Beecham House. Cedric the conductor played wonderfully by Michael Gambon is arranging a gala event in honour of Verdi’s birthday. When the fourth of the quartet, played by Dame Maggie Smith, moves into the home, the other three attempt to convince her to reform the quartet to perform the music that found them success together in the past.

The story focuses on each of the four characters, looking past their age and into who they are as people. Aging is still an issue, notably for Cissy (Collins) who is battling dementia and who is portrayed so endearingly on screen. The main four characters plus Michael Gambon are supported by a cast of elderly classical musicians and opera singers. Dustin Hoffman was the leading force in casting true musicians as the other residents of the retirement home, giving this film a sense of authenticity. What was fascinating for Hoffman when meeting his supporting cast was that even though some of these musicians were physically and perhaps mentally aged, their voices and talents remained intact. Even in such a fragile body, a powerful operatic voice can persevere as passion triumphs time.

Song For Marion
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams
Starring Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton

Joanna says…

This film is one of the best and one of the worst films we have seen at the festival. It was as if we were watching two completely different and incongruent films at the same time!

The good was really good. The relationship between Arthur (Stamp) and his dying wife Marion (Redgrave) was moving, emotional, poignant, realistic and beautiful. Both actors gave performances of their lifetimes in this examination of ageing and losing one’s partner late in life.

The bad was really bad. The other fifty percent of the film which focused on a terribly untalented Gemma Arterton as a choir conductor for an elderly community centre, where Marion goes to escape her troubles and sing her heart out. After Marion’s passing, it was inevitable, based on the title alone, that the generally cankerous Arthur would join the choir and sing a song for Marion.

While the first half was a powerful examination of ageing, loss, and familial relations; the second half of the film was a clichéd, tick-all-the-boxes, drawn out cheesefest. After Marion’s passing and the increase in screen time for Ms. Arterton, the audience seemed to count down the minutes until the end was nigh for us all. Why take such beautiful performances and serious subject matter and water it down with grating formulaic nonsense?

Even throughout this nonsense, Stamp’s performance remained strong. His inevitable singing was heartfelt and soothing, although not worth the entire plot of the second half. Terence was on hand to explain the inspiration behind his beautiful performance. Such a commanding man as Terence, you wouldn’t expect him to be so open with an audience as to speak in depth of his parents’ marriage and how their romance and personalities almost paralleled Arthur’s and Marion’s. The difference was, Terence’s father passed before his mother, and she was the one who was heartbroken and left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of losing a loved one. Terence still took this as his inspiration and played Arthur as though it was his mother who had passed first, leaving his father to deal with the great loss of his life. It was a touching scene to witness Terence reveal his motivation, leaving the audience as moved as they had been watching him act out his emotions on screen. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful of an acting performance this is.

I would not be rushing out to the cinema to see this film, but if given the chance to see the first half of this story, do. The emotive portrayals of Arthur and Marion are inspiring and heartbreaking all at once.

Ruth says…

Why, why, why would anyone ever in a million years think that putting Gemma Arterton on screen with Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave was a good idea??? Why, Paul Andrew Williams, WHY???????!!!!!!!!

Arterton plays a perky girl music teacher (shudder) who even before we see her, as she patronises her elderly choir over the opening credits on a black screen, is deeply, deeply irritating. This British comedy/drama is like two films roled into one – one, the story of elderly couple Arthur and Marion facing Marion’s death is deeply moving. The other, the story of music teacher Elizabeth and her comedy choir of manically grinning OAPZ (yes with a Z, I told you it was bad) is all that is bad about British cinema.

Stamp’s gravelly voiced miserable old git Arthur, struggling to get his head round losing his wife and useless at his relationship with his son James (a very well cast Christopher Eccleston) is terrific. Needless to say he ends up falling for Elizabeth and the choir’s charms and showing his ‘true colours’ (Marion’s solo days before her death) – I’d almost have liked him more if he hadn’t. I get the feeling Vanessa Redgrave can do these roles in her sleep, but Stamp for me was a revelation. He’s confessed that he found inspiration for the performance in the memory of his father Tom – a man unable to show emotion to his family, but whose wife was the absolute love of his life.

I get the feeling male directors think Arterton, ever smiling in slightly sheer t-shirts, ballet pumps and lip gloss, is the archetypal girl next door fantasy. Maybe so, but THIS DOES NOT MEAN SHE CAN ACT. 9 year old Orla Hill as grand daughter Jennifer did a better job.

It’s a real shame. Song for Marion could have been so much better – the family drama at the heart of it deserved more than the OAPZ singing Love Shack and Let’s Talk About Sex every five minutes – the redemptive power of (decent) music could have been sensitively but still lightly explored. No disrespect to the real Newcastle based choir involved – competing with Redgrave and Stamp was a tall order – but Williams could have done much to soften the gulf in tone between the two strands. Anyway it’s an interesting night at the cinema when you’re crying one minute, and cringing the next.

Crossfire Hurricane
Directed by Brett Morgen
Starring The Rolling Stones

The LFF gala premiere of Crossfire Hurricanes – Brett Morgen’s Rolling Stones documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the band – was one rock and roll red carpet. Leicester Square was packed with fans (and police) and 6Music’s Lauren Laverne was working the crowd. Shy stone Charlie Watts managed to bolt up the carpet almost anonymously, completely ignoring fans and journalists alike, but not surprisingly the real fun kicked off when Mick and co arrived. Mr Jagger himself was nimble and friendly running from one side of the carpet to the other and putting in a healthy amount of time with the autograph hunters/shriekers. Keith Richards and Ronnie Woods were also on good form (or as near to that as biologically possible) – award for best preserved stone goes to Ronnie, by a long shot – maybe it’s all those organic Jo Woods products… Also spotted were Jade Jagger (shorter than you’d imagine), Jerry Hall (about as tall as you’d imagine, even in flats), and next generation’s rock royalty Liam Gallagher (plus that Appleton one) who was about as articulate in interview with Laverne as you’d imagine. Breaking news: yes, he was indeed influenced by The Stones and The Beatles. Glad we got that cleared up… Random celeb attendee of the night was Colin Firth (and glossy wife Livia) who must have been trying to up his street cred – I bet he’d have enjoyed The Reluctant Fundamentalist on the other side of the square more…

As for the film itself – despite the 50 years it’s celebrating, it focuses very much (or so I hear) on the first 20. So the interesting ones then. Dishevelled director Brett Morgen (who was last acclaimed in 2002 for his documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, about movie producer Robert Evans) stopped by briefly to give his response:

‘You can’t do 50 years in two hours, you know…so I said let’s just do the foundation, how the Stones became the Rolling Stones… it’s a Mythumentary, it’s not a Documentary, I don’t care about facts… I just care about stories, these guys are legends – and with legends everybody’s got a different interpretation, so that’s what makes the myths. This is just my interpretation of this particular myth’

You heard it here first.

Slice of Life

End of Watch
Directed by David Ayer
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña

If you’re familiar with David Ayer’s background as writer of Training Day and writer-director of Harsh Times, you will have some knowledge of what to expect with End of Watch. There will be cops, gangs and most importantly, a story about two males and their evolving relationship. At the core of End of Watch is Brian (Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Peña) who are cops, partners, friends, brothers. The linear narrative is a bit thin in this gritty drama, with key plot points sporadically placed throughout to force some sort of story arc. The real story is the close relationship between Brian and Mike, who are so close in their friendship, one would take a bullet for the other. The emphasis of this drama is the relationships and interactions between police force members and how they are all brothers in arms, taking care of each other as much as they care over the general public.

This story feels real. Michael Peña was on hand for a Q&A to explain how a lot of the film’s realistic vibe came from the director’s desire to have the film appear as though improvised. Ironically to achieve this effect, the cast and crew rehearsed for about four months before their very brief shoot that only lasted twenty-two days. They only had a day and a half to shoot all of the car interior scenes between Brian and Mike – and that comprises the majority of the film! Peña even exclaimed how this is a backwards way of film-making with the majority of film shoots rehearsing for three weeks and shooting for four months. He also went on to explain how he preferred this method of film-making and finds it difficult that most actors don’t want to spend much time rehearsing whereas for him, it was so beneficial to the point of him knowing exactly how his character would play out a scene. He now even goes as far as to hire film students to rehearse with him months in advance of his other film shoots in order to nail down his characters.

As part of these rehearsals, the cast and crew were introduced to the intimate workings of the LAPD, as well as life in some of the various gang-run LA neighbourhoods. On Jake Gyllenhaal’s first day of a ride-along with police officers, he actually witnessed a man bleed to death. It’s this exposure to the reality of the story that makes this film feel so authentic.

Another reason for the realism portrayed on screen is the intimate filming technique used by David Ayer. A lot of the camera shots are done fly-on-the-wall style with character Brian filming a documentary for a film studies course, using a mixture of handheld camcorders, as well as hidden cameras placed on the characters/actors. This mixture between the hidden cameras and film cameras blended seamlessly to give the intimate feel of the film as though the audience was in the car with these two partners. It was almost as if these two cops were making the TV show Cops, but with a very stylized edge and narrative.

In addition to the stylized camera work and narrative presentation, the cast themselves were fantastic. Gyllenhaal and Peña are joined by Anna Kendrick and America Ferrera of Ugly Betty Fame, as they were cast brilliantly in their roles as love interest and policewoman, respectively. Notably Ferrera who was cast against type as a very blunt and confident police woman on the force. Kendrick is wonderful in anything that she does. Even Twilight.

Overall, this is an intimate, gritty, engrossing cop drama about friendship. The unique fly-on-the-wall element adds to the intimacy and realism, putting the audience in the car right alongside partners Brian and Mike. We are along for the ride and what a ride it is!

The We and the I
Directed by Michel Gondry

The We and the I depicts the lives of sixteen year old teenagers in the Bronx who are living a day in the life of their bus journey home on the last day of school before summer break. The narrative is limited, but the characters are detailed and true. The young actors feel like documentary subjects rather than Hollywood thespians. The directing style was reminiscent of Gondry’s beginnings as a music video director, using a very solid soundtrack to solidify the vibe of this film.

While all of the teenagers were very much of the modern age with their behaviours, issues and technologies, the film had a very 1980’s New York vibe to it, with its imagery, music and overall look and feel. It almost looks like it was actually shot in the 80’s! The cast of non-actors is obvious in their lack of experience, but even so, they are likable in their on screen presence, and believable as their characters.

This is not an epic cinematic experience. There are many characters and plot-threads with no major standouts amongst the bunch. In spite of this, Gondry manages to keep this film entertaining and insightful. It is a slice of life captured on film, but dramatically written to emphasize key points and issues in the lives of today’s modern American youth. While based on a New York City transport bus in the Bronx, these kids could be based in any big city, their issues relevant the world over. Perhaps this is Michel Gondry’s modern version of Kids?

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry

Some films make you really grateful to have been born into middle class geographically temperate Britain. This is one. 6 year old Hushpuppy is less lucky. She lives with her alcohol soaked father Wink in abject poverty in the fictional Bathtub (filmed in South Louisiana) in a community surrounded by swamps and under constant threat of extinction from rising waters. The community is portrayed initially as vibrant and volatile, all sparklers, beer, and baby racing (Rio 2016?), and it doesn’t take long to realise that these are as much the Beasts of the title as the assortment of chickens, dogs, cows and other mangy animals who feature strongly throughout.

It’s only once we see Hushpuppy (Wallis) at home in a broken down cabin diminutively pottering around in isolation, talking aloud to her absent mother, feeding herself tinned cat food and, during one prolonged disappearance by her father, contemplating that it’s not going to be long before she has to start eating her pets, that the heart strings really start to strain. Hushpuppy’s story of survival is intricately connected to her relationship with Wink (Henry) which, with its pent up mixture of aggression, resentment and love, is often painful to watch. As a devastating amount of rainfall pounds their already broken roof and other townsfolk flee, Wink grimly determines that they’re staying put, drunkenly struggling to put armbands on her whilst yelling that she go to sleep. His violent insistence that she regularly flex her tiny guns, rip open crabs and other sea creatures with her teeth, and most emphatically of all show ‘NO TEARS’ is his way of ensuring her survival after he’s gone.

That the film is cast entirely with non-actors (local residents) only adds to the incredible sense of realism and impact. Dwight Henry for instance is owner of a bakery in New Orleans [] which director Benh Zeitlin frequented with Quvenzhané in the early days of their collaboration. Having not found anyone suitable to play her father, Zeitlin thought ‘let’s try Mister Henry from the bakery’. And so was born an award worthy performance, made all the more real no doubt by Henry’s own survival of not one, but two hurricanes. Beasts only jars when it strays unnecessarily into fantasy, most often with the enigmatic but no doubt symbolic appearance of a large snorty herd of aurochs – the ancient ancestors of today’s cattle – which only detracted from an otherwise devastatingly real and direct film.

Despite his sudden rise to fame (it’s his first feature film) 30 year old Zeitlin refreshingly proposes to stay in New Orleans where his production company is based as ‘there are plenty of stories in Louisiana’. Hopefully they’ll all be as inspiring and moving as this.

Franks and Weenies

Frankenweenie 3D
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau

As opening film for the 56th BFI London Film Festival, a lot was resting on the shoulders of Tim Burton’s latest stop motion animation film. The opening film usually sets the tone for the festival, and Frankenweenie certainly left a strong impression.

Frankenweenie is obviously a passion project for Burton. Not only is he revisiting the short animated film Frankenweenie which he made very early on in his career in 1984, but he is also visiting many of his other films that he has made over the years, along with many of the films he grew up watching, in an homage to cinema Tim Burton style.

The most obvious tribute displayed in Burton’s Frankenweenie is to the old classic horror genre. Not even including the Frankenstein references, the homage is evident in the film’s creepy quirky characters, the narrative, the cinematography, the use of light and shadow, and most obviously casting Martin Landau as science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, a hybrid of Martin himself and horror legend Vincent Price.

Tributes aside, Frankenweenie is a wonderfully enjoyable film with its deadpan humour, beautiful animation and cinematography, enjoyable narrative, and wonderfully endearing characters. In fact, it is these characters brought to life by highly skilled animators that is the key enjoyment of this film. Each unique in their own right, while still based on classic horror genre archetypes. Made loveable by the talented cast of actors including Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Landau and Winona Ryder. These characters are instant classics and if I were a child, I would love to have my very own Edgar E Gore doll to play with.

People seem to have fallen out of love with Tim Burton’s work of late, but with Frankenweenie, the director is aggressively reminding audiences why he is one of our generation’s greatest and most imaginative directors. Frankenweenie will appeal to adults and kids alike. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone at all not liking this film.

The Art of Frankenweenie Exhibition

The 56th BFI London Film Festival’s opening film Frankenweenie carried its presence throughout the entire festival duration. Not only did it hold its world premiere on the festival’s opening day, but director Tim Burton was honoured, alongside his wife Helena Bonham Carter, with the BFI Fellowship Award. And during the last five days of the festival, The Art of Frankenweenie Exhibition was thriving at the BFI Southbank.

Free for patrons, the exhibition provided great insight into how detailed the art of Frankenweenie really is. With still shots, sketches, drawings, models and fully dressed sets for the public to examine, you don’t have to have seen the film or even have liked it to appreciate the intricacies and beauty of the art at hand.

This exhibition not only enhanced my enjoyment of Frankenweenie, but it made me want to watch the film again, and again, and again…..

View Our Full Art of Frankenweenie Photo Gallery

Hyde Park on Hot Dog Hudson
Directed by Roger Michell
Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams

Bill Murray:

Samuel West:

Roger Michell:

The only possible reason I can see Bill Murray agreeing to star in this film is his desire for an Oscar nod. He will receive such a thing, but is it deserved? Well, for his career-spanning excellence, yes it is. For this film? Well, no it isn’t.

This film is primarily about Hot Dogs. It’s also about Franklin D. Roosevelt (Murray), his cousin Daisy (Linney), and their time at Hyde Park on Hudson. A dramedy based on a true story of a day in the life.

I best summed it up as the first name on the credits started to roll, “Well, that was a stinker!“. The entire film is pointless and unsure of itself. I actually had to ask Ruth if it was a comedy or a drama. If comedy, well it was quite funny. If unintentional comedy, well, good luck to it. The comedy and only excellence of this film came in the form of The British. Samuel West and the amazing Olivia Colman as King George VI and the Queen Mum respectively (obviously). They gave an excellent performance as the Royal couple, they were so loveable and comedic with a natural touch. They were the only good thing about this film and should have been the only focus of the narrative. Instead, the film got lost in the main character of Daisy and her affair with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Having her character as not only the main focus but also as the narrator of this film, was a huge mistake and detrimental to this film’s potential. As much as I adore Laura Linney, this character was wet and purposeless.

Epic + Long = Epically Long

Rust and Bone
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts

Rust and Bone – one of the highest profile European films at this year’s LFF in no small part due to the presence of everyone’s favourite Parisienne Marion Cotillard – is directed and co-written by the critically acclaimed Jacques Audiard. Audiard has followed up 2009’s prison drama A Prophet with this off beat love story which features the not typically romantic combination of orca whales, a double amputation, and extreme kickboxing. Cotillard ’s feisty and enigmatic Stephanie meets bouncer Ali (Belgian newcomer Matthias Schoenaerts) as she stumbles out of a club, alone and bloodied. Their relationship kicks off in earnest months later, only after she has suffered a horrific accident in the line of duty as a whale trainer at the local marineland, which has resulted in the loss of both legs below the knee. Ali is struggling to provide for his young son and has, to put it mildly, a fairly limited emotional skill set. Their relationship blossoms (or at least splutters into life) despite Ali’s brutal honesty and directness – on one occasion casually abandoning Stephanie in a club on her first night out with her new prosthetic limbs in order to go and have sex with another (able bodied) conquest.

Cotillard and Schoenaerts give utterly convincing performances, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Stephanie’s eventual conquering of her predicament (Audiard says he likes to see the hero emerge from within his characters), and Ali’s terror when his son’s life is in jeopardy. There’s plenty of gallic subtlety and nuance – the whale accident scene for instance is shot discreetly from below the surface of the water – good news if you’re in the front row of the cinema. But ultimately the unusual circumstances and social inadequacies of each lead don’t add the depth or weight you’d expect. I’ve lost count of the French films I’ve seen over the years which are basically just about two people with messy lives trying to make sense of their relationship and each other, many with more charm and pertinence than Rust and Bone. Let’s hope for his next film Jacques goes back to prison.

Great Expectations
Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and an All Star British Cast

The Cave Sisters:

David Nicholls:

Holliday Grainger:

Ewen Bremner:

Ben Lloyd-Hughes:

Many must be wondering why yet another adaptation of Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations was to hit the screen, especially after the recent BBC television adaptation. Well, I can’t answer that question even after having seen the film. While it is indeed a very good film from narrative, cinematic and performance perspectives, it isn’t groundbreaking and perhaps will just be looked upon in the future as yet another Dickens adaptation.

Or perhaps I’m being cynical. It was definitely a very good adaptation. Jeremy Irvine made an excellent, and surprisingly likeable Pip. Helena Bonham Carter played the role she was born to play in Miss Havisham, but for some reason toned down her performance more than she should have. This character is an eccentric, as is this actress. It was played more flatly than I’d imagined it would have been. Ralph Fiennes was great as Magwitch, a role that he never in his life envisioned he’d be suitable for. He proved himself wrong.

The all star British cast was complete by such actors as Jason Flemyng, Ewen Bremner, Robbie Coltrane, Jessie Cave, Holliday Grainger, David Walliams, Tamzin Outhwaite, and other various familiar or soon to be familiar British faces. The cinematography was very dark and eerie. Wonderfully so. The directing was great. The recreation of old London was so grim and accurately unhygienic, one audience member commented that he’d need a shower after watching the film.

The adaptation itself was done by master writer David Nicholls (One Day) and hit all of the key narrative points. One of the challenges David faced was to adapt a first person book into an objective film, without the use of a narrator. He believed the actors were able to portray a lot of the missing verbal exposition in their performances and flashbacks. He also chose to have a small focus on some of the characters that may have been left out of other adaptations, including Ewen Bremner’s Wemmick.

Both Nicholls and director Mike Newell wanted this film to be true to the book in Dickens fashion, without actually being Dickensian. A very difficult feat to pull off, but I believe they have as this will appeal to modern audiences, even those who fear the classic period drama.

For Love’s Sake (Ai to Makoto)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Before the first song broke out, I hadn’t realized that Takeshi Miike’s For Love’s Sake was going to be a Japanese musical comedy. I know from Miike’s previous films that I was in for something very much off the beaten track. I should have expected the unexpected, but there was nothing I could do to prepare myself for what was in store for me and the rest of the audience: The Japanese version of West Side Story.

This film should have clocked in at one hour and twenty minutes, rather than the two hour twenty that it managed. The comedy elements were hilarious, especially when they came in musical form. The characters and acting were very much over the top and ridiculous, but somehow amusing and loveable. The plot was ridiculous and way too complex for such a silly film. It should have been half its length, focused on the comedy songs, and thinned out the plot greatly.

The standout character of this film is the four-eyed geek. He was comic relief in an already comical story, but he did steal every scene he was in. Too bad for his character that he couldn’t steal the girl as well as he did the scenes. Anyway, this film was mental and if you’re up for something very long and zany with Japanese sensibilities, then I guess it will do.

Laurence Anyways
Directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément

Clocking in at 3hrs, Québécois epic Laurence Anyways is a magnifique masterpiece of a love story. Beautifully shot & performed. A true gem.

Our Toronto correspondent Toastie in T-dot had reviewed Laurence Anyways at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it won this year’s Best Canadian Film accolades. Canadian films are no strangers to recognition, with various French-Canadian films being prominent in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards, notably Incendies and Les Invasions Barbares. I am sure that Laurence Anyways will make this year’s Canadian submission to the Oscars.

Director Xavier Dolan has achieved much in his young career and life. At age 23, he presents to us his third feature film, about Laurence and Fred. A heterosexual couple very much in love, when two years into their relationship, Laurence comes to the realization that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. But he is hopelessly in love with Fred(erique) who tries to come to terms with Laurence’s revelation.

Regardless of the heavy subject matter of a man in his mid-30’s coming to the realization that he is a transgender, this film is essentially a love story. This story is told through music video style visuals and soundtrack, intense drama, light humour and gripping performances. Even though this film is longer than Lord of the Rings, the audience never loses patience or interest as these characters are so intricately portrayed, there is always more to discover about them. Going through a decade of their relationship, the audience is living through it with them, even the most intimate moments. But yes, this film could use to shave a few minutes off of its length in order to attract more of an audience.

Midnight’s Children
Directed by Deepa Mehta
Written by Salman Rushdie

Based on Salman Rushdie’s 31 year old novel of the same name, Rushdie revisits his work by adapting Midnight’s Children into a screenplay, filmed by acclaimed Canadian director Deep Mehta. I can’t claim to be writing an educated review of this film as I have not read the book from which it is adapted, but this film is a very long and tedious depiction of any story. As a standalone piece, it doesn’t hold its own, and to be honest, I’ve seen just as good baby-swapping stories on American soap opera The Young & the Restless.

Unlike an American soap opera, this film did have poetic charm. Deepa Mehta herself gushed about Rushdie’s writing and the words themselves. After the rough cut of Midnight’s Children was edited, Mehta realized the need for voiceover. This narration was not for the purpose of exposition, which can often be detrimental to a narrative (see Hyde Park on Hudson review), but rather this narration in Midnight’s Children was for the sole purpose of letting the audience hear the beautiful words of Salman Rushdie himself. The way he wrote the book was a huge part of the appeal of the story for Mehta, and without this aspect of Rushdie’s wording being present in the film, she felt it to be lacking a lot of its heart.

And what better way to depict Rushdie’s words than for him to narrate them himself. Rushdie was hesitant to accept the role of narrator and would have preferred an actor for the role, but director Mehta was very persistent. In the end, it does give the film that personal touch.

As Salman Rushdie revisited this story thirty one years after he originally wrote it, he was able to come in with new perspective. In the book, the main character of Saleem never reveals to his nemesis Shiva that they were switched at birth. While adapting the story into a screenplay, Rushdie realized that this event needed to happen in order for the story to reach its climax. In hindsight, he says he wished that he had known this was needed back when he wrote the book, and while its too late to rewrite it, this film adaptation has allowed for new avenues for the characters to be explored.

In hindsight for me, I wish that I read the book rather than watched this film.

Girls With Funny Accents

Ginger & Rosa
Directed by Sally Potter
Starring Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt and Annette Bening

Elle Fanning:

Timothy Spall:

Alice Englert:

Sally Potter:

Sally Potter’s feature films are few and far between, but highly acclaimed contributions to British Cinema. Ginger & Rosa follows the two title characters, primarily focusing on Ginger, played brilliantly by Elle Fanning, as they live their teenage years amongst the turmoil of 1960’s London, with the the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Cold War looming – Doomsday always on the horizon.

Their relationship is closer than that of siblings. Their closeness is threatened not only by the dire state of world politics, but by Ginger’s turbulent relationship with her parents, notably her father (Nivola) as he makes a political statement by continually sleeping with Ginger’s best friend Rosa.

The film is wonderfully directed and acted, but one can’t help but question some of the casting choices of Americans in the roles of British characters. Elle Fanning was excellent as Ginger, but some of the English accents acted on screen seemed unnaturally forced and unnecessary. I’m sure there are British actresses of Christina Hendricks’ age who could play her part just as well, and perhaps with more eloquence. She is very lovely to look at though. Her screen presence is exuberant.

On the red carpet event for Ginger & Rosa we were fortunate enough to speak to director Sally Potter, her two young stars Elle Fanning and Alice Englert, as well as the very brash but awesome Timothy Spall. Their words speak for themselves.

The Sapphires
Directed by Wayne Blair
Starring Chris O’Dowd and some lovely Australian ladies

Every couple of years, a feel-good film featuring a fantastic soundtrack comes out of Australia. This year’s Aussie film is The Sapphires, which is basically Australia’s answer to the 2008 film Dreamgirls.

Focusing on an Aboriginal Australian girl group in the 1960’s, and their rise to success as soldiers’ entertainment during the Vietnam war, this film does exactly what you’d expect it to do. It hits all of the key plot points, has the right balance of the light and dark of racism and war, has a great soundtrack, love story, and well, it just ticks all of the boxes. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s very fun and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s exactly what those of you who loved Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla Queen of the Desert want in a film.

American Politics

Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal
Starring Jason Biggs

Grassroots, directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (father of Jake and Maggie), is a political comedy (of sorts) based on the true story of Seattle journalist Phil Campbell, who in 2001 became campaign manager for his friend Grant Cogswell’s wholly unlikely but near successful bid for a position in local government. Biggs (all blazers and dark rimmed specs – there must be more to him than apple pie!) is not much more than the straight man to Joel David Moore’s deeply irritating socially dysfunctional loud mouthed political candidate Cogswell – a one cause zealot obsessed with the idea that extending the cities Monorail will cure all of Seattle’s ills.

Once the campaign is up and running with an assortment of 20 year old douchebag-esque volunteers, Campbell is increasingly drawn into the seemingly futile cause at the expense of his career and relationship with dreary girlfriend Emily. So far so predictable. Where things really go off the (mono)rails is the moment where the 2001 penny drops – as the gang wake from a night of drunken stupidity, news of 9/11 is hitting the airwaves. Seeing a selection of characters who have primarily so far been borderline moronic caricatures pull sad faces and say ‘this is terrible’ as they watch footage of the first tower collapse is so trite, unconvincing, and in such bad taste it makes you want to run screaming from the cinema and assault Gyllenhaal. Even if that will forever annihilate your chances with Jake (or Maggie).

The film flounders primarily because Gyllenhaal’s lofty ambitions seem out of sync with the finished product (or even the poster – there’s a polar bear suit involved). He modestly claims ‘from the beginning I’ve had a gut instinct that this story might deeply move other people feeling alienated from democracy… Is it possible that this one funny, true Seattle story could reverberate across the years and have an effect on the 2012 election?’ – maybe so, but not likely if you dress the whole thing up as another frat boy comedy, even if in this instance Biggs is disguised as a grown up.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Directed by Mira Nair
Starring Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland

In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, British Pakistani actor (and rapper!) Riz Ahmed plays Changez, an idealistic young man torn between the American Dream he grew up believing in and striving for, and the realities of his native Pakistan. The story begins in present day Lahore with a sinister Changez sitting down to tell his story to Liev Schreiber’s US journalist Bobby. An American professor has been kidnapped and the implication is that Changez is involved. The story then jumps back in time to New York in 2001 where a bright-eyed, innocent and ambitious Changez has graduated from his Ivy League school and started living that dream working at an illustrious Wall St firm.

The film’s power lies primarily in Ahmed’s dual portrayal of Changez a decade apart – as a young graduate he is politely endearing charm personified and we’re instantly drawn into the events that have turned him into the steely eyed dark presence sipping tea in Lahore amidst political unrest and violence. The turning point comes of course with 9/11 – as he watches the towers collapse on TV whilst on a foreign business trip, lovely young Changez can’t disguise his gut reaction – a smile. As David strikes Goliath he feels awe at the audacity of it all. But he later tells Bobby – ‘after 9/11 you chose your side, I had mine chosen for me’. Needless to say as a young Asian man, he doesn’t have a pleasant time getting back into his adopted homeland, where he’s then arrested on the street and questioned by moronic cops – ‘have you ever had any military training in Afganistan??’ Appropriately he finally decides where his loyalties lie whilst in Istanbul – the crossing point of East and West.

Ahmed’s performance is terrific, and the whole thing is sensitively directed by Mira Nair – who incidentally was extremely gracious at the LFF gala screening when the subtitles during the Pakistani scenes got so out of sink that during a love scene set in New York, there were subtitles on screen of an argument between Changez and his sister causing widespread laughter…

Smaller roles – Schreiber’s paunchy world weary journalist and Keifer Sutherland’s terse Wall St boss all work well – for me only Kate Hudson as Changez’ US love interest was unconvincing. The ending is a little limp – with questions unanswered about Changez’ true feelings, but as a portrayal of an innocent individual caught between a cultural rock and a political hard place in post 9/11 America, The Reluctant Fundamentalist packs real punch.

Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck
Produced by Ben Affleck
*Theme Tune by Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck:

John Goodman:

Bryan Cranston:

Argo is Ben Affleck’s latest all encompassing film project. A smart political thriller / Hollywood satire, this film is riveting and slick. Based on the true story of the 1979 American Embassy hostage situation in Iran known as the Canadian Caper, the film follows Tony Mendez (Affleck) in his attempt to rescue six American hostages who’ve escaped the embassy and taken refuge in Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor’s home.

The hard to believe aspect of this true story is Tony Mendez’s plan to rescue the hostages. Mendez and the six pose as Canadian filmmakers in Tehran on a location scout. To solidify the cover story’s authenticity, Mendez involves the help of Oscar-winning Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), and a successful Hollywood producer Lester Siegel played wonderfully by Alan Arkin.

Speaking of, the cast of Ben Affleck is filled out nicely with an ensemble cast of very solid character actors and some familiar faces including Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin. All performances are on top form.

In addition to the wonderful acting, the costume, cinematography and set design had an authenticity to it that at times it was indecipherable if we were watching a film or documentary footage. This was especially true in some of the non-actor focused Tehran scenes of uproar. Google suggests that archive footage was used in this film, and I must say that it was seamlessly so.

This film was so good that I found myself having a major crush on Ben Affleck about halfway though. I’ve never been a fan of the man on a professional level, even to go as far as to say that I didn’t really rate Good Will Hunting. But, after this, he is on the top of my list of directors and actors that I must follow more closely. Also, he does look particularly good with a beard and foppish hair! Yes, I had to debase this review slightly as it’s Ben Affleck FFS!

This film is top two of the London Film Festival! I’m sure it will be in the top two come awards season as well!


Just Really Good!

Directed by Ben Wheatley
Starring Alice Lowe & Steve Oram

Sightseers is the film that Natural Born Killers would have been if it were a British Indie Black Comedy. A grim and great take on the relationship of two very dysfunctional people, Tina and Chris, as they take a road trip across the UK, three months into their relationship.

The road trip isn’t the smoothest of journeys as Chris is actually a serial killer, using Tina as his muse, ultimately leading to her descent into his madness. A bleak subject matter and setting across a very damp looking England. At times it’s very graphic and grey, but the characters, particularly Tina, keep the story interesting and flowing.

The beginning of the film focuses on Tina’s other relationship, with her mother. This sets the film up very well as you get an immediate insight into her character and how she relates to those close to her. It is a shame though that after that introduction sequence, the mother is hardly to be seen at all for the rest of the film as she was by far the most humorous character and could’ve added a lot of life to this film about death.

Not for everyone, but Sightseers is a great British Indie film that explores relationships and socio/psychopathic tendencies with a dark humour to carry it through.

The Hunt
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Starring Mads Mikkelsen

The Hunt (Jagten) is a devastating film with a brilliant performance by Mads Mikkelsen. As one of the best films that the 56th BFI London Film Festival has on offer, it deals with the very delicate subject matter of child abuse and how careless words can cost lives.

This Danish film’s story follows kindergarten teacher Lucas and his friendship with his best friend’s daughter Klara. When Klara’s harmless romantic affections for Lucas aren’t reciprocated, she tells an innocent lie out of anger. The lie spirals out of control and Lucas’s life is ruined.

This tense and emotional drama is played out with a realism that only tenses the audience further. You can see exactly how this story could play out in our very own reality, with innocent words causing such destruction. Using subtlety and nuances rather than outright thrills, Vinterberg demonstrates a directing skill able to provoke some of the most unnerving reactions from his audience. Scenes including the grocery store and the church are so tense through their minimal dialogue and implied conflicts, that I was on the edge of my seat just waiting for the scenes’ climaxes.

There is not one redundant scene in this film, each as gripping and enhancing as the next. Mikkelsen’s performance is one of the finest this year. I do believe we should be hearing more about this film come awards season. If not, well, there really is no justice.

Nap Time


L’Enfant d’En Haut
Directed by Ursula Meier
Starring Léa Seydoux, Kacey Mottet Klein, Gillian Anderson

This film is definitely better than I found it to be. It is a slow paced examination of wayward children who live in an alpine valley. One child in particular, Simon, is the focus of this story, as is his relationship with his “Sister”.

The young Simon lives with his Sister in a Swiss valley and steals from the ski resort in order to make ends meet. The premise has been seen on film before and there is nothing groundbreaking about this film. It is still rather interesting as Simon is a wonderful character and his relationship with his sister is tense at the best of times.

It’s a simple and uncomplicated film in its style, with the plot a bit deeper than initially seeming. Even so, I found it very difficult to stay awake as the pace was slow and dialogue intermittent. Not much actually happened in the narrative, but the characters did slowly evolve at key points in the film.

Not the most entertaining thing I’ve seen this festival, but definitely an interesting piece that will likely go on to win some other’s critical accolades.

The One We Didn’t See

The Sessions

Directed by Ben Lewin
Starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt

Helen Hunt:

John Hawkes:

Ben Lewin:

We didn’t actually see this film, but it’s been doing well on the festival circuit, so we thought we’d drop by the red carpet and speak with stars John Hawkes (LEGEND!!!) and Helen Hunt, along with the director / writer Ben Lewin.

And now a word from festival director Clare Stewart as we caught up with her on the Closing Gala red carpet:

To end our 56th BFI London Film Festival review, Joanna would like to make note of her order of preference for all of the films that she managed to see.

Drumroll please….

The Hunt
Laurence Anyways
End of Watch
Ginger and Rosa
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Sapphires
Rust and Bone
Great Expectations
The We and the I
Song for Marion
Midnight’s Children
For Love’s Sake
Hyde Park on Hudson


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