This week, the BFI London Film Festival gets underway. With 242 features from 67 countries, it’s a beast of an event, with many of the movies already familiar to festival-goers around the world. It’s certainly worth combing the brochure, with big films sometimes hidden away in the various themed strands. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Oscar-worthy turn as Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman in Stronger can be found nestling in the Love strand; likewise Robert Pattinson’s grimy sibling crime drama Good Time is in the Thrill section.
Of the Gala films, one to recommend is Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Baker is the director who made a splash when his film Tangerine – all shot on an iPhone – did the rounds. This latest project may have seen an upgrade in equipment, and a name actor in the shape of Willem Dafoe, but this story of kids living in motels in the shadow of Orlando Disney World still has the same low-fi charm as its predecessor. Baker’s ability to extract credible performances from his youthful stars is impressive.
Another special film in the Gala section is Last Flag Flying, the new film from Boyhood’s Richard Linklater. It’s a sequel-of-sorts to Hal Ashby’s 1973 The Last Detail, with Jack Nicholson (Linklater penned the script with Darryl Ponicsan, who wrote the book Ashby’s film was based on). Here Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell play the characters, thirty years after their time together in Vietnam. A meditation on the sheer futility of war, it’s a warmly acted film with genuine heart to it.
Also essential viewing is Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Russian masterpiece Loveless. Winner of the Jury prize when it played in Cannes earlier this year, the film is an austere state-of-the-nation study seen through the eyes of an estranged couple (Maryana Spivak, Alexy Rozin) still living together but barely speaking are brought back together when their 12 year-old boy disappears. It’s a thought-provoking and densely layered work, one that explores the Russian character in perceptive detail.
For those interested in adult animation, Chinese film Have a Nice Day is worth considering. Written and directed by Liu Jian, it’s a contemporary urban noir that feels like a Coen Brothers movie transposed to modern-day China. With references to Brexit, Chinese society and more, the satirical jabs give the film a unique edge, amid a story that sees greedy, foolhardy characters chasing a bag of money with murderous abandon.
Meanwhile, in the Laugh strand, American independent comedy Ingrid Goes West is a fantastic takedown of social media habits. Aubrey Plaza is the lonely Ingrid, who befriends – stalks – Elizabeth Olsen’s Los Angeles “influencer” on Instagram. Co-written and directed by Matt Spicer, it’s a wonderfully sly piece that hides its darker themes – notably, the way we seek validation through digital lives – beneath the sunny West Coast climes.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 4 October to 15 October. For more details, visit: www.whatson.bfi.org.uk
1. Still from Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless.