07/10/2019 A Weekend of Cinemania – LFF Days 4 + 5
As anticipated, trying to find a moment between two four-film days over the weekend at the BFI London Film Festival proved a little tricky. Any spare time – of which there is little – was dedicated to a necessary inhalation of food. A boy’s gotta eat, after all (and no one wants their stomach growling sporadically during a screening). But what a weekend of top-notch cinema.
Friday night provided what might be my favourite film of LFF so far, the mesmerising Colombian psychological thriller Monos. A spellbinding story about a close-knit group of child soldiers and their American hostage, the film explores themes of gender and coming-of-age in fascinating ways. Bolstered by an incredible score from composer Mica Levi – who we’ve only come to expect outstanding things from, after her work on Under the Skin and Jackie – this is truly unmissable cinema. Thankfully we don’t have to wait long until Monos is in cinemas, as Picturehouse Entertainment are releasing here in the UK on 25th October.
Saturday’s slate of films was an eclectic and rewarding mix, beginning with The Personal History of David Copperfield. I can only assume that anyone who has seen BBC political satire The Thick of It – if you haven’t, you’re missing out – is an Armando Iannucci fan; this latest work from one of the UK’s best comedy minds is a slight departure for Iannucci, with more of an emotional core that Dev Patel conveys superbly as the title character. Oh and it’s still hilarious, so Iannucci is very much on form here.
Following on from David Copperfield was a film that made a splash at Sundance early in the year, having been released in the US recently to critical acclaim: The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Now, this was a special one. Beautifully crafted and imbued with heartfelt authenticity, the breathtaking way in which the city of San Francisco and the characters’ lives there are captured is nothing short of stunning. Look out for a UK release from Universal later this month (25th October). Next up was Monsoon, the sophomore feature from Lilting (one of my very favourite films in recent years) director Hong Khaou. Following a man’s – played by Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding – return to Vietnam to scatter his mother’s ashes in their homeland, after immigrating to London to escape government persecution when he was a child, Monsoon employs a similarly meditative and astutely observant style as Lilting. Monsoon also marks my first queer film of the festival, of which there is a superb array at LFF this year.
Capping off Saturday in dizzying fashion was the late-night Gala Premiere of Robert Eggers’ delightfully nightmarish The Lighthouse. Nothing I’ve read or seen about the film could have prepared me for what I can only describe as a wholly singular viewing experience – a hellish descent into utter madness, playing out as a deft two-hander between Robert Pattinson (better than ever) and Willem Dafoe (give this man his long-overdue Oscar). Walking a tightrope of horror and hilarity, Eggers plunges into even more disturbing territory than he achieved with his breakout debut The Witch (of which cast members Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson were in attendance at Saturday night’s The Lighthouse screening!).
Retinas still just about intact, Sunday started off with a jolt into the heart of darkness in the form of Rose Glass’ intriguing portrait of faith and delusion, Saint Maud. It is easy to see why Glass was awarded the IWC bursary award from the BFI for her work – it’s astonishing to think this is the director’s debut feature film, announcing her as one of the most promising new voices in British cinema. No surprise Studiocanal have picked this one up for distribution after the effusive praise out of TIFF and now LFF. I’m eager to revisit again when the film is on general release in cinemas. The other standout from Sunday, and indeed of the festival so far, was the engrossing psychological drama Luce. What starts off as a suburban drama soon unfolds into mind games of high-stakes personal cost, as the central trio of Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and a jaw-droppingly good Kelvin Harrison Jr, play off each other to sensationally riveting effect. This is razor-sharp, intricately woven material, designed to spark debate and conversation around complex themes of race, ethics, privilege and societal expectations. Sure to remain a highlight of LFF for me.