Trapped by its place in the calendar, too often the London Film Festival can feel like it arrives last in line, showcasing movies that earlier festivals premiered first. But even so, there can be no denying the strength of this year’s selection by artistic director Tricia Tuttle. A real treat for the public.
The mix of cult, arthouse and mainstream has been intoxicating. Of course all eyes will be on Martin Scorsese’s epic three-and-a-half-hour gangster saga The Irishman this Sunday, the festival’s closer, which receives its European premiere in London and around the country, with simultaneous screenings across the nation before it hits Netflix in late November.
Beyond that, there has been much to enjoy – too much, in fact, to take in. Among my favourites was the British coming-of-age comedy Days of the Bagnold Summer, which marks the directorial debut of Simon Bird (best known to audiences as Will from The Inbetweeners).
This stars Earl Cave – son to musician Nick – as a stroppy Metallica-loving teen made to stay with his Mum (Monica Dolan) over the summer months when his holiday plans with his father go awry. Based on a graphic novel by Joff Winterhart, it’s like the British Ghost World, wonderfully deadpan and scored with a fine Belle and Sebastian soundtrack.
Also impressive was Colour Out of Space, the first ‘completed’ feature film by cult director Richard Stanley since 1992’s Dust Devil (he famously was fired from 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau). Starring Nicolas Cage, this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation about a meteorite that lands on Earth, causing carnage for a rural family, is a gloriously twisted sci-fi/horror, brilliantly batty.
What else? Michael Winterbottom’s comedy Greed proved interesting, to a point. His regular collaborator Steve Coogan plays a cocksure retail fashion billionaire named Sir Richard McCreadie. This “king of the high street” – a thinly disguised take on Topshop owner Sir Philip Green – is seen preparing for his lavish, ludicrous Roman-themed 60th birthday.
Featuring a glitzy cast – including Isla Fisher as McCreadie’s ex-wife and David Mitchell as his biographer – it’s a little ragged, with Winterbottom cramming too many ideas in with all typical sledgehammer subtlety. But it’s the sort of film that makes you question your own high-street choices, and how the government has let the real-life McCreadies get away with so much.
In terms of foreign-language cinema, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, winner of Best Screenplay in Cannes earlier this year, is a near-masterpiece. A bold examination of the female gaze, this tale of a woman portrait painter (Noémie Merlant) and the bride-to-be (Adèle Haenel) she’s employed to try and capture on canvas is a precise and perfectly executed drama of the heart.
More bewildering was Pablo Larraín’s Ema, a story of a young dancer in Santiago who has abandoned her adopted son, Polo. Her world is one of free-love, multiple sexual partners and zero responsibility, but there’s a plan afoot in what emerges as a very strange musing on parenthood. Mariana Di Girolamo, who plays Ema, is a real find, though.
The London Film Festival runs until 13 October. For more details, visit here.
1. Lead Image: Still from Color out of Space.