The London Film Festival kicks off next week, and after a pandemic 2020 edition that took place mostly online, the organizers of the UK’s first film festival are highlighting the joys of returning to cinema in all its glory. That’s great news for some of us – but those elsewhere in the country might feel left out of the feast after getting a virtual seat at the table last year.
Fortunately, the festival has not forgotten the ground gained in terms of accessibility and offers a digital program of around thirty features available for streaming on the BFI Player – each during a 24-hour window after its festival premiere – at alongside a free short film program. It’s a smaller menu than last year, but it’s well-organized: While the presumption at hybrid festivals like this is often that program dregs are reluctantly thrown online as a concession, this selection contains a number of the best films in the range.
Two of them are from the main festival competition. Harry Wootliff’s Real things is a sensual and thrilling adult drama that delivers on the promise of its 2019 debut Only you, electrified by the remarkable performances of Ruth Wilson, as a frustrated desktop drone yearning for a human connection, and Tom Burke, as a volatile and anonymous ex-convict who gives it just that, with messy and in-depth consequences. spiral. And the irresistible debut of Iranian filmmaker Panah Panahi Take the road was one of Cannes’ big discoveries this year. Son of lead Iranian author Jafar, Panahi Jr shows his own playful and dynamic feel for the medium in this raucous but tender family road movie, which gradually reveals high emotional stakes amid all the ancient and dysfunctional comedy.
One of the biggest hits of this year’s Sundance Festival, winning both the Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the International Documentary Competition, the striking animated doc from Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen To flee is featured here in conjunction with BFI’s LGBTQ Flare Festival. Tracing the escape saga of an academic born in Afghanistan in Denmark, in tandem with his coming-out story, this is an urgent and inventive addition to the ranks of refugee stories on film. On the documentary side too, if you can still bear to revisit the early days of the pandemic, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Heineman The first wave is a compassionate and heartwarming study of first responders in New York City during the early months of the crisis.
Other highlights include Between two worlds, a captivating and morally delicate story of deception and exploitation, with Juliette Binoche in great shape as a writer posing as a cross-Channel ferry cleaner in the name of research; London restaurant drama in one real-time take Boiling point, with the great Stephen Graham as leader on the brink of collapse; The disturbing and ruthlessly watched debut of Belgian director Laura Wandel Playground, in which the children’s recreation policy becomes breathtakingly cruel; and the delicious and bittersweet relationship of Ryusuke Hamaguchi Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, one of the two great films by the Japanese author at this year’s festival. (The other, his immaculate adaptation of Murakami Drive my car, it will be necessary to see in the cinemas.)
My two favorites from the entire selection come from very different film schools in Eastern Europe. Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov’s crazy swirling dystopian fantasy Petrov’s flu is a vision of social disruption in the midst of an influenza pandemic that has the imaginative density and biting poetry of surreal Russian literature. It’s an imposing trick, however, so chase it with the airier and more joyful Georgian romantic fantasy of What do we see when we look at the sky?, a modern fairy tale of chance encounters, love at first sight and soccer World Cup fever that makes you feel floating without resorting to a magical-realistic tweeness. In a larger festival lineup, you might forget it; enjoy this beauty that is brought to you.
Also new in streaming and DVD
(Amazon / Apple TV)
I’ve written about Nicolas Cage’s affectionate and ironic meme-ification as an actor, but his performance in this elegiac and appropriately autumnal revenge drama is no joke. He’s wonderfully eccentric as a survivalist leader on a mission to recover his missing truffle-sniffing pig, but the film backs him up with true humanity.
The truffle hunters
What an immense satisfaction that this funny documentary and Pig should have been released on non-premium VOD at the same time: that this new wave of truffle cinema Keep going. Following the old Italians – and their loyal dogs with fine noses – who forage the elusive white truffle of Alba in the forests of Piedmont, he has fun with their vocation while finding there something soothing, even spiritual.
Oliver Sacks: his own life
(Curzon Home Cinema)
The late British neurologist and writer gets a glowing bio-documentary chronicling his troubled childhood, his struggles with his homosexuality and drug addiction, and his pioneering research on autism and neurodiversity. That’s a lot to tackle, and the film only scratches the surface of its subject matter, but it’s enlivened by Sacks’ own irresistible presence.
That this flippant and sarcastic riff on The Truman Show as the generation of gamers took over £ 230million worldwide in cinema has been hailed as a triumph for original storytelling in an era of franchise overload, though Shawn Levy’s film is so unevenly put together from existing intrigue and tropes that victory seems a bit hollow. A little authentic charm would help.