LFF: Second Coming

The second week of the 61st London Film Festival, which concludes this Sunday, has afforded some intriguing movie experiences. Continuing a recent trend for animation that comfortably straddles the adult-children crossover, The Breadwinner was a fine example of a film that raised political, social and ethical points in a very accessible way. Directed by Irish filmmaker Nora Twomey, who made The Secret of Kells, it’s an adaptation of the book by Deborah Ellis about a young girl living in an oppressive regime in Afghanistan who must disguise herself as a boy to move freely.

With Angelina Jolie behind the film as an executive producer, it’s a piece that clearly champions women’s rights, but without ever feeling didactic. An Irish-Canadian-Luxembourg co-production, the headstrong main character, Parvana, is voiced by young Toronto-based actress Saara Chaudry, who gives a spirited performance. The animation is simple and yet elegant, perfectly in keeping with the story, which follows Parvana after her father is arrested and imprisoned by the Taliban for a non-existent crime. A fascinating use of the medium.

With television being increasingly embraced by film festivals, the LFF also premiered the first two episodes of the new Netflix show, Mindhunter. With these initial episodes directed by David Fincher, this 1977-set tale of the birth of behavioral science, with two detectives (Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany) working on methods to understand the psychopathic criminal mind in the wake of the Manson Family murders and David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, clearly sees him retreading terrain he previously explored in his 2007 film Zodiac. Queasy, unsettling but engrossing, it bodes well for the rest of the series.

Also impressive was Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute), this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner in Cannes. A compelling French drama set in the shadow of the AIDS pandemic it follows a group of youngsters who all belong to ACT UP, a (real-life) activist group campaigning for legislation and medical treatment. Fuelled by the power of debate, love, music and drugs, it’s a poetic cry for life. There are some splendid sequences, as Campillo (who co-wrote Laurent Cantet’s Cannes-winning The Class) merges edgy realism with dreamlike fantasy.

Towards the close of the week, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here receives its British premiere, after debuting Cannes where it won star Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor prize. Based on the book by Jonathan Ames, Phoenix plays an avenging angel, whose plan to free a girl caught in a sex ring goes wildly off the rails. It’s a slow-burner, elliptical in style, punctuated by moments of extreme violence and a typically eclectic, get-under-your-skin Jonny Greenwood score. Every bit as atmospheric as Ramsay’s 2002 movie Morvern Callar, it’s a glorious way to wrap up this year’s festival.

The BFI London Film Festival runs until15 October. For more details, visit: www.whatson.bfi.org.uk

James Mottram

1. Still from Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute).