Our verdict on the BFI London Film Festival

Rachel Hayward, Programme Manager gives her verdict on the BFI London Film Festival…

With over 300 shorts, features and events, the BFI’s London Film Festival is one of the most important events in the UK film calendar, which profiles some of the best British and international work from over the last year.  I visited the festival for three days and managed to catch nine features – pleasingly there were more hits than misses for me in my selection this year!

Top of my list was Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter an atmospheric portrait of a father’s struggle with mental health issues as he begins to experience terrifying visions and waking nightmares. Michael Shannon is excellent in the central role, and Jessica Chastain is luminous as the wife who lovingly supports her husband. Nichols’ previous film Shotgun Stories was woefully under-seen in the UK, but we’re predicting big things for this latest psychological thriller. Catch Take Shelter at Cornerhouse from Fri 25 Nov.

Next on my list of recommendations was Justin Kurzerl’s Snowtown, a dark and uncompromising film that unflinchingly presents torture, rape and sexual abuse.  The film is an account of Australia’s most notorious serial killer, John Bunting played with both menace and chilling charisma by Daniel Henshall, the only professional actor in the film.  The other performances (equally as brilliant) come from local non-professional cast, recruited from the areas around Adelaide where the murders took place. Snowtownis a difficult but wholly compelling film – an excellent directorial debut but not for the fainthearted. Catch Snowtown at Cornerhouse from Fri 18 Nov.

Keeping with the darker side of cinema, my third recommendation came from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos whose film Dogtooth delighted and bemused audiences in equal measure in 2010.  His third film Alps continues his obsession with creating alternative family structures which we saw in both Dogtooth and to degrees in his first film Kinetta. In Alps, the pseudo-family in question are a mixed bunch of misfits who target the recently bereaved and ‘stand in’ for the deceased to help family members with the grieving process.  In many ways, Alps is a more challenging film than Dogtooth – the audience has to take a leap of faith without much character backstory, nonetheless the tragi-comedy of Alps has an emotional impact that lasts after you’ve left the auditorium. An interesting addition to the recent canon of new, off-beat Greek cinema.

And for a rapid round-up of my other titles:

The Descendants, Alexander Payne’s most recent film since the hugely successful Sideways, had the audience both crying and laughing as we saw George Clooney playing Matt King, a father and husband detached from his family who has to deal with the aftermath his wife’s boating accident.

Dominic Moll’s intense film The Monk bewitched us with Vincent Cassel’s battle between his religious devotion, sexual desire and devilish pact.

And Alison Bagnall’s indie The Dish and the Spoon is a delight with two great lead performances from mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig and British newcomer Olly Alexander.  This is a charming, distinctive film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

The BFI London Film Festival came to a close last week, and the festival’s prestigious awards were announced.  There’s good news for our current film We Need To Talk About Kevin which won Best Film and also good news for upcoming titles Junkhearts (screening here on Tue 22 Nov) and Las Acacias (screening at Cornerhouse from Fri 2 Dec).

Check out the full list of awards from the BFI website here and selected extracts are below.

Best British Newcomer: Candese Reid, actress, Junkhearts

The award for Best British Newcomer was presented to Candese Reid, for her acting role in Junkhearts, a sophisticated, social drama about hope and the search for redemption. Chair of the Best British Newcomer jury, Andy Harries said, “Candese is a fresh, brilliant and exciting new talent. Every moment she was on screen was compelling.”

Sutherland Award Winner: Pablo Giorgelli, director of Las Acacias

The long-standing Sutherland Award is presented to the director of the most original and imaginative feature debut in the Festival. This year, Argentinian director Pablo Giorgelli took the award for his film Las Acacias, a slow-burning, uplifting and enchanting story of a truck driver and his passengers.