BFI London Film Festival


This year’s London Film Festival ends today but my viewing ended on Thursday. I had a much more scaled back experience this year and only saw 4 films, compared to last years 22 in 10 days.

A Monster Calls  was the first film- beautifully written, shot and acted – though Sigourney Weaver’s English accent was a tad mobile nipping in to various bits of the country from scene to scene. Ostensibly a film about how a young boy deals with his mother’s terminal illness by ‘imagining’ a tree monster (played by Liam Neesom) it was a story within a story. The three educational tales told by the tree monster were all beautifully illustrated cartoons. For me it hit the right balance without ever tipping over into mawkish sentimentality or maudlin manipulation. Also devastatingly good performance from the young lead who was amazing.

Second film was Arrival which was the stand out of the festival and hands down the best film I’ve seen in years. I’d steered clear of reading any reviews – all I knew was it was a tale of first contact. It brought together all the things that fascinate me about good story telling – really intriguing narrative structure, a truly alien civilisation, and a whole set of sub themes about culture, language, perception, thought and science. I’d definitely recommend seeing it when it gets a wider release, and seeing it on the big screen if possible. Again the cinematography was gorgeous and Amy Adams central performance was stunning.

Third film was Brimstone a western with Guy Pearce and Dakota Fanning both giving great performances. Also another with an interesting narrative structure and beautifully shot but I would avoid it like the plague. I suspect Martin Koolhaven thinks he’s made a art house movie about the horrendous effects of violence against women whereas what he’s actually made is little more than just under three hours of glorious and lovingly (and not in any sense a good kind of lovingly) shot torture porn. The moral of the tale seemed not be that all men are evil or ineffectual and regard women as property and that no matter how hard you try and escape to build a new life you can never get away. I was out of my seat and out of the door with a gazelle like speed the minute the credits rolled. There was no way I could have stayed for the Q&A session that followed because I seriously question what is going on inside writer/director Koolhoven’s head. I came out wanting both a stiff drink and a hot shower.

The final film (45 mins after Brimstone) was The Autopsy of Jane Doe – which was a great palette cleanser after Brimstone. Autopsy is a whodunnit horror mystery. It’s creepy and scary and original. Father and son coroner team (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) are asked by the town sherriff to conduct an autopsy on Jane Doe, (a perfectly preserved body found in the basement of a house where a several people have been found apparently murdered. Cue the start of the mystery – how did Jane die, why are there no marks on her body? It says something that in Autopsy the main female protagonist is a naked corpse on a table yet she has more agency than the living female protagonist in Brimstone! The nudity and the autopsy process in Autopsy are not in any way shape or form shot in a way which is titillating or exploitative – it’s all about the scientific process and solving the (terrifying!) mystery that is Jane. I’m generally not a horror fan but I really enjoyed this.

So there you go – of my limited selection of 4 films this year I’d definitely recommend Arrival as the stand out not-to-be-missed film for everyone to go and see. It should be getting a major release around early to mid November so should be in a multiplex near you soon.

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