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A guide to the 56th BFI London Film Festival

If you take a quick look at this year’s programme, you will see that it has undergone some significant changes – it’s only 12 days long (instead of its usual 16 days duration) and the French Revolution section is no more – but there is no reason to panic. The shorter duration of the festival is more than compensated for by the increase in the number of the relevant venues. In addition to the Leicester Square cinemas and the BFI Southbank, now for the first time, festival screenings are taking place at some of our favourite independent cinemas, from the Renoir in Bloomsbury to the Ritzy in Brixton. As for the festival’s sections, new categories have been introduced with titles such as love, laugh, debate and thrill, making it much easier for the public to navigate through the festival’s ever-eclectic selection of more than 200 films. If you need any additional help though, here is a timetable of what we believe will be the festival’s highlights:

 

DAY 1, Wednesday October 10th

Frankenweenie

Keeping in line with the general spirit of renovation, the festival kick starts with the European Premiere of Frankenweenie that finds Tim Burton expanding on his 1984 live-action short film of the same name. With a story that focuses on the attempts of a little boy to bring his beloved dog Sparky back from the dead, the film promises to be a return to form for the director who seemed to have lost something of his wonderfully gloomy touch with his recent offerings. The film will be screened simultaneously at 19:00 at the Odeon Leicester Square and at the IMAX where the public will be able to fully enjoy this gloriously crafted, stop-motion 3D animation.

 

DAY 2, Thursday October 11th

Wadjda

Cinema has an unparalleled power to transfer you to places (geographical or emotional ones) that are far away from your ordinary life. A fascinating case in point is Wadjda (15:30 VUE 7), the debut feature of female director Haifaa Al Mansour. It offers us a unique glimpse into everyday life in a country where cinemas have been banned for over 30 years, through the story of a little girl who challenges the traditions of the Saudi society in the capital city of Riyadh. Laurence Anyways (18:00 VUE 7) has an equally exciting premise, examining through an impressive visual style how the unexpected decision of Laurence (the wonderful Melvil Poupaud) to make the transition from male to female affects his relationship with his long term girlfriend. If your heart has not yet been broken to pieces by this exquisite melodrama then have a go at the gala screening of Amour (20:45 Mayfair 1). The recent Palm d’Or winner tells the story of Georges and Anne, a loving couple who are both in their 80s. When Anne suffers a stroke that leaves her partly paralysed and speechless they both try to cope with this new challenge, never losing their love for each other. Featuring incredible performances by the legendary actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, Amour is the first film in the oeuvre of  Michael Haneke that will engage both your mind and your heart.

 

DAY 3, Friday October 12th

For Love's Sake

Takashi Miike’s For Love’s Sake (12:00 NFT1) may have the word love in its title but as we have come to expect from this eccentric director, it is certainly not soppy. With his frenetic visual style, Miike offers an explosive mix of violence, romance and music galore with the characters singing and dancing to vintage Japanese pop songs. Gimme the Loot (18:15 VUE 7) will offer the perfect antidote to Miike’s delirium. The debut feature of Adam Leon follows the adventures of two Bronx kids, Malcolm and Sofia determined to make a mark on the city by tagging the famous NY Mets home-run apple. This subtle gentle little tale with a big heart earned the Grand Jury Prize at the South by Southwest festival and is a bonafide crowd pleaser. As far as heart-warming experiences go though, it will be really difficult to find a more sensational film released this year than Beasts of the Southern Wild (20:30 OWE 2). It blends the escapist power of fantasy with the harsh reality of life at a remote southern delta community – and with a performance from five- year – old actress Quvenzhané Wallis that has to be seen to be believed, the film has easily gained the glowing acclaim of both the public and the critics, receiving major awards at both Sundance and Cannes.

DAY 4, Saturday October 13th

The Hunt

Continuing with films that have been praised at some of the biggest film festivals in the world, The Hunt (18:30 OWE 1), which has been hailed as a return to form for Danish director Thomas Vinterberg deals with the taboo subject of paedophilia (a much –loved kindergarden teacher is accused by a young girl in his class of sexually abusing her) with the same raw emotional ferocity and complexity that made his debut Festen a difficult but essential viewing experience. Jacques Audiard on the other hand, has never put a foot wrong and his latest film Rust and Bone (20:30 OWE 2) is an excellent example of how a film with a paraplegic main character (Marion Cotillard in a strong performance) can offer genuine emotions without succumbing to sentimentality.

 

DAY 5, Sunday October 14th

The We and I

The We and the I (15:00 VUE 5), the latest film from Michel Gondry, presents to us the hopes and dreams of a number of students at a Bronx high school on the last day of term, in his usual utterly charming way. Moving from hope to nightmare, the documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (18:15 NFT 1) explores the controversial issue of paedophilia in the Catholic Church using as a starting point the shocking accusations against the Catholic priest Lawrence C Murphy of molesting as many as 200 boys for more than 25 years at St John’s School for the Deaf in St Francis Wisconsin. The Oscar –winning filmmaker Alex Gibney wil discuss this film and his overall career in what will surely be a fascinating screen talk on Tuesday 16 at 18:15 at NFT 2.

 

DAY 6, Monday October 15th

Love, Marilyn

 As its title suggests Love, Marilyn (12:30 OWE 2) is an affecting homage to the legendary Hollywood actress by the Academy Award nominated director Liz Garbus who has collected an impressive array of home movies and photographs of Monroe. But perhaps more intriguingly, she has also filmed a diverse range of contemporary Hollywood stars and starlets from Ellen Burstyn to Lindsay Lohan doing performative readings of extracts from the recently published Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn. Stanley Kubrick may have never received the same amount of worship as Marilyn – but his undisputed genius and the air of mysticism that surrounded him throughout his life has earned him a significant cult following and has made him the subject of a continuing growing number of intense debates and well thought essays. Room 237 (14:00 ICA) tries to uncover the hidden meanings and mystic codes within one of the great filmmaker’s most celebrated works The Shining. That it manages to do so with an engaging combination of wit and intellect makes this documentary an unexpected delight.

DAY 7, Tuesday October 16th

Death of a Man in Balkans

Death of a Man in the Balkans (14:00 ICA) brings a much needed breath of fresh air into the tired found film footage premise. Shot in only nine takes, this highly inventive Serbian film is presented via a webcam that was set up by a lonely composer just before committing suicide. As we watch a great set of characters, from the neighbours to the undertaker, entering a flat after they have heard gunshots, we become witnesses of not just a perfect example of black comedy but also of a sharp critic of the absurd reality we live in. Hyde Park on Hudson (18:45 Empire) may not share an equally inventive visual style but it is directed by the always dependable Roger Michell (The Mother) and besides, the chance to watch Bill Murray in the role of American president Franklin D Roosevelt is worth the admission fee alone. And now for something completely different. A Liar’s Autobiography (21:00 Empire) is a lovely animated tribute to the late Graham Chapman filled with the Pythons’ legendary bonkers style and the best film that Chapman has been in after he died.

 

DAY 8, Wednesday October 17th

The Sessions

There are many things to enjoy in the Sundance sensation The Sessions (12:30 VUE 5). John Hawkes and Helen Hunt both give extremely moving performances in this story about a 38-year old paraplegic who wants to lose his virginity and his sexual surrogate who helps him with his endeavour. The film’s strongest merit however is the wonderfully written script by writer-director Ben Lewis, based on a true story, which walks the thin line between comedy and drama, despair and hope, with enviable ease. Argo (19:00 OLS) makes another strong case in support of the notion that reality is often far more exciting than fiction. The incredible true story of a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist who, during the Iranian revolution, came up with the imaginative plan to go to Tehran pretending to be a producer of a sci-fi movie scouting for location, is helmed by Ben Affleck, who has made an astonishing transition from a mediocre actor to a well-respected director.

 

DAY 9, Thursday October 18th

Everyday

In his latest film, Everyday (15:00 OWE 2), the renowned and impressively productive British director, Michael Winterbottom captures the effects that the imprisonment of a man for drug smuggling has on his hard-working wife and their four children over the course of five years with an acutely observational style, a perfect accompaniment to the deceptively simple script. That said, simplicity is one of the few qualities that you would not associate with The Rolling Stones. The legendary band has been writing rock history for 50 years now and Crossfire Hurricane, which will have its world premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square at 19:00 promises to be the definite documentary about the Stones and a fitting celebration of the group’s anniversary.

DAY 10, Friday October 19th

Compliance

Why not start your afternoon with an emotional punch in your guts courtesy of Craig Zobel’s much talked about Compliance (15:00 OWE 2)? Based on true facts, the film is about a prank call that gradually breaks every moral code known to men. Then, get some much wanted comic relief by watching Seven Psychopaths (18:00 OWE 2) Martin Mc Donagh’s highly anticipated follow up to the cult masterpiece In Bruges. It offers another endlessly witty script and a cast to die for (Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken).  Then finish your day in style with the world premiere of the restored version of Alfred Hitchcock’s classy silent melodrama The Manxman (20:30 Empire) that will bring the BFI’s grand scale project “The Genius of Hitchcock” to a glamorous end.

 

DAY 11, Saturday October 20th

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

Slavoj Žižek is finally back. After six years, the sui generis Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic returns to the big screen with The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (18:00 OWE 2).  Be prepared to see popular films, from The Sound of Music to The Dark Knight, from a completely different perspective and give it your best shot to refrain yourself from bursting into laughter. Another welcome return is that of Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace, Kill List). Sightseers (21:00 OWE 2) follows the romantic trip of two lovers that soon becomes a murder spree. The bloodshed that prevails in Wheatley’s previous efforts is still very much present but for the first time romance is thrown into the mix. The final result should be really interesting.

 

DAY 12, Wednesday October 21st

Great Expectations

What a great way to start the last day of the festival by watching (or re-watching) Robert Aldrich’s cult classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (15:00 Hackney) and marvel at the Grand Guignol fight to the death between decaying divas Joan Crawford and Bette Davies who blur the line between performance and reality. Compared to these highly deranged characters, Miss Havisham is an exemplary human being who just does not cope so well with rejection. Still Miss Havisham remains one of Dickens’ most fascinating creations and she is definitely a perfect match for the perennial gloomy Helena Bonham Carter. She is surrounded by equally aspiring choices of actors (Ralph Fiennes in the role of Magwitch, Jason Flemyng as Joe) that make this latest adaptation of Great Expectations (19:00 OLS) by Mike Newell not just a must-watch film but a fitting melancholic choice to close this year’s festival. (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)

The 56th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 10-21 October. Tickets go on sale September 24th, but for more info about the programme go to www.bfi.org.uk/lff

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