London Film Festival 2017

A film festival does London truly proud

By Toby Rose

BFI London Film Festival 2017 saw a resolutely diverse selection of quality films and London, as ever, provided a suitably spectacular showcase for the best cinema on offer. A West End premiere standout is the ultimate prize for a picture. A red carpet screening in Leicester Square is the seal of approval from the industry and cheering crowds of thousands turned out to lend support and admire the red carpet glamour.
And so it was the pomp and circumstance of an Opening Night in Leicester Square showcased the work of two Britons who have found international fame in blockbusters. Significantly debut director Andy ‘Lord of the Rings’ Serkis and his leading man Andrew ‘Spiderman’ Garfield chose an intimate and intensely personal story to tell. Breathe relates a painfully intimate struggle with the one time scourge, polio. At a time when so many killer diseases are in retreat this was a timely reminder of the suffering inflicted by incurable afflictions of the recent past.

Aside from the glamour of the star casts and the red carpet pazazz, BFI London Film Festival offers delegates a rather special insider perk. For the duration of the festival global filmmakers and journalists are given the keys to the city, in a manner of speaking. The accreditation badge is not just entry to a mouthwatering offering of world cinema but doubles as membership to some rather exclusive private members clubs. Delegates find themselves temporary members of such swank establishments as Covent Garden’s Hospital Club, The Library on St Martin’s Lane and the ultra chic St Barnabas club on Soho Square. With the keys to these establishments, guests to BFI LFF can truly be said to have sampled London Life.

While the resources, venues, restaurants and cultural offerings of London, provide a unique backdrop for this world class film festival, programming is key to the event. The choice was truly a ‘best of’ of current world cinema. Notable this year was the pole position accorded woman filmmakers. The official selection showed the increasing assurance and visibility of woman directors. Dark River from emerging female director Clio Barnard featured two standout performances from Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley who play warring sister and brother clashing over the succession rights to a farm when their father dies. This dogged story of pain and family torment is set against the wind-lashed landscape of the Northern moors of Yorkshire. Chocolate box cinema this isn’t.

From the damp bleakness of a moorland sheep farm, feted female director Sally Potter creates a fine chamber piece in the more rarefied setting of a North London townhouse. A stellar cast of stars including Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas and German superstar Bruno Ganz lock horns in a finely tuned battles of wits which collides head on with a number of life’s harsh realities. Middle class values and a fine turn of phrase are put to the test in the face of grim plot twists and the frightening urgency of a health emergency.
While woman were given rightful prominence in the programme films tackling tough topics also loomed large. A world away from the sophisticated North London world of The Party – was the working class Boston world in Stronger – impacted by the grisly consequences of the marathon bomber. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the lovelorn regular guy Jeff who’s infatuation with Erin puts him on the winning line and in the bomb’s blast path. The aftermath of his injuries is a world of pain thoughtfully depicted by talented young director David Gordon Green. Jeff’s family rally round but the dysfunctions remain and are played out with honesty and compassion. At the heart of the obstacles for a textbook rehab is Jeff’s mother, Patty, played by Miranda Richardson. When Jeff rekindles feelings for Erin, her middle class world bumps up uncomfortably against the harsh realities of the jagged edges of working class Boston life.

From gritty drama Made in the USA to the winning choice of the 2017 BFI LFF jury, a tough watch called Loveless from Russian Andrey Zvyagintsev.

“Recognising inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking, the winner of the Best Film Award, went to Siberian born Andrey Zvyagintsev.” LOVELESS, is a powerful and eloquent film about a divorcing Russian couple whose son’s disappearance is the backdrop for a raw family drama. Loveless is the official submission of Russia for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category of the 90th Academy Awards in 2018. But whatever the Hollywood verdict – thanks to the BFI LFF jury, headed up by Academy Award® and BAFTA-winning director Andrea Arnold, the film already has a most glittering prize.

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