Monday, October 16, 2023

BFI London Film Festival highlights

 I say highlights, but they are simply a sampling of what I saw. Not much, but how wonderful to be able to go out to the cinema again! I am cautious--I mask and distance as much as I can, and hardly anyone else does, which is disconcerting. But I was thrilled to be able to sit in a cinema seat and watch a screen. 

Actually, Curzon Soho's cinema 2 worked out well for me, because I was in the back row and on the end, in what felt like was the usher's seat. Ample legroom and nobody near me. Hurrah!

The films. Well, I only saw two features, both by celebrated auteurs but with very different outcomes. I am embarrassed to say I had never seen anything by Aki Kaurismäki before, though I know him by reputation. His latest, Fallen Leaves, is a curiously slight piece of work, at heart a two hander of lonely man and woman pursuing each other. There are other minor characters and also a dog, but really it's just those two being awkward and laconic and not much happens. The Ukraine war is on the radio as a backdrop, but I am not sure of the significance. The humour is dry and the performances were good but I was left unmoved by the thing. 

Todd Haynes' May December is a different beast, an unsettling expose of human denial, betrayal and deceit. I was a bit shaken by it. Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman are excellent as subject and actress playing subject. Their dance of power is played out as a slow burn over the film's length, with excellent support from Charles Melton as Moore's husband. I will say no more. 

As usual for the last few years, I also watched the shorts available online and found a few of note. Khabur (dir Nafis Fathollahzadeh) explores the ethnographic studies Germans made of their excavations of a site in Syria in the early 20th century. The director repurposes these to expose the assumptions of superiority and exploitation behind the works. She then gives voice to one statue as it sits in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. I found the sound mix a bit iffy, but the film is strong. 

Essex Girls  (dir Yero Timi-Biu) is a contemporary story of a girl navigating different social groups and trying to find her place in among them. Well acted and features Corinna Brown (Tara in Heartstopper!) in a supporting role. 

The other one I really liked was an animation, Boat People (dir Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma), which is the director's remembrances of leaving Vietnam with her family as a very young child. What she knew then and understands now are of course quite different. 

I hoped to get to some of the art exhibits but did not. It was good to be back. 

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