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BFI London Film Festival – Highlights

Picks from the 61st annual festival include a dark psychological thriller, an exploration of manhood in South Africa, and Harry Dean Stanton’s final performance

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The 61st annual BFI London Film Festival which headlined some great new films such as Andy Serkis’ direction debut Breathe starring Andrew Garfield, Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) returns with the crippling dark comedy The Killing of Sacred Deer, and Cate Blanchett stuns in 13 different roles in Manifesto (director Julian Rosenfeldt). But with over 15 different cinemas involved and countless screenings across London per day, take some time to check out the films you may have missed:

Lucky

Harry Dean Stanton’s final performance is one not to be missed. A disgruntled cowboy facing meditations of death and life make this a sad, but fond farewell to the great and understated actor.

Featuring a bizarre, but always welcome appearance from David Lynch, who plays an old friend who has lost his pet tortoise, subtly speaks to the enchanting performance Stanton gave in the the recent season of Twin Peaks. It is wonderful to see an actor who had typically made the smaller roles he played feel massive, fully embody a leading role for the second, and sadly final time.

This is a film about death, but also how to deal with death. The comedic elements are not only given as lighter relief to its darker themes, but offer up the solution in dealing with the end of the road. Lucky is a fitting tribute to Stanton and to life in generally. Stanton plays the character Lucky, in this film called Lucky, but after watching Lucky it is you who will feel, very lucky indeed.

The Wound

An exploration into a South African ritual called “initiation” in which young men embark on a passage to manhood, through tribal circumcision, isolation from their families and the outside world, and shouting “I am a man!” to their elder tribesmen., and the societies complex relationship to homosexuality in these communities.

The film’s leading men are dealing with their homosexuality in a society which shuns this from everyday dialogue. Featuring a fascinating post screening Q&A from the films South African director John Trengove, and the films star Nakhane Touré, it became clear that homosexuality in these communities was a common and acknowledged fact, but was repressed and hidden beneath the surface. Both Trengove and Toure, both whom are gay themselves, expressed the significance of screening The Wound in communities who do not talk about the sexual activities of some of its men, adopting a simply “We know it happens, but we don’t talk about it!” attitude.

Trengove spoke of the exciting reach and momentum this film was gathering in rural communities in South Africa which would not normally have access to films exploring such topics – tragic, when they express real emotions, complexities and dilemmas in these places. An exciting move for localised film screenings, and a fascinating insight into these unique, but universally understood, communities.

Ana, Mon Amour

This tender tale from Romanian director Diana Cavallioti tells the story of two lovers, Ana and Toma, struggling to keep their relationship together in the face of Ana’s (played by Diana Cavallioti) depression and mental health issues, as well as the stigmas which go alongside. Although a complex structure was made even more unreadable by some strange editing choices, Cavallioti’s performance was encapsulating and the film delivered a fascinating, philosophical insight into various ways of dealing with mental illness.

As a multi-faceted exploration into ways of dealing with mental illness, pharmaceutical medicine, religion and therapy were considered as ways of dealing with it, all within the backdrop of complicated family structures and traditions in Romania. Cavallioti brought this up during the post screen Q&A, remarking on the dynamics of Romanian families and the pressures put on the next generations children, which was conveyed through some of the dilemmas Toma inherits and negotiates throughout the film.

Although the film suffers from a convoluted plot and unconventional narrative structure, this was an emotional delve into the personal and sociological impact of mental health.

Thoroughbreds

My personal highlight of the festival is a dark and bitter one. Walking the line between black comedy and psychological thriller, this stunning and immersive spectacle will leave you laughing and shivering in equal measure. Sublimely satisfying, Thoroughbreds is like a modern day Les Diaboliques, but takes some darker turns as these two young girls plot to get their revenge on a sadistic man.

Amanda (played by the incredibly talented Olivia Cooke) claims she has never before felt emotion, she pretends to cry, care and love but in the end her creepiness is overtaken by the sinister and sadistic core of her preppy, rich, angel faced childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who leches onto Amanda’s suggestion to kill her manipulative step-father.

The captivating blunt delivery of some excellent scripting, along with an eerily tense score carries what might otherwise be an average narrative. But this an an above average film, celebrating complex, creepy, and unconventional female characters. The film takes some dark turns – and although the cinematography is stunning, the girls performances is enough to keep you gripped.

G Funk

Written and directed by Karam Gill, this documentary speaks to the rise of ‘G Funk’, the groovy, hybrid subgenre of Hip-hop. Featuring interviews from Ice Cube, Russell Simmons and more, Gill tells the story of G Funk’s primary pioneers, Warren G, Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg.

Touching on the emergence of the infamous East-West coast rivalry, G Funk fills the gap in the history of Hip-hop, and gives a interesting perspective on the development of Hip Hop culture – as it became less about the aggressive, politically charged, punching beats of N.W.A and Public Enemy, about more, as Snoop says, chilling out, smooth flows and riding around L.A with something to ‘kick back’ to.

Battle of the Sexes

An inspirational delight and a fist punch to the air for women everywhere. The story of the famous tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) couldn’t avoid being predictable, but its successes truly lie in its illuminating of the universal frustrations of women trying to succeed in life and at work in the face of relentless, normalized and institutionalized sexism (which unfortunately seems ever more prominent considering recent, Weinstein-related events).

Also brought to centre stage – or should I say centre court – was King’s personal fight for LGBTQ rights, and her discovery of a perpetual double burden of inequality at her time. Despite the almost comedic caricature-esque villainy of Riggs, it was Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) who represented the real bad-guy.

Although beating a still undeniably funny, foot stomping, puppy-like Carrell might seem a small victory in the grand scheme of things, unfortunately the theme of childish, self proclaimed “chauvinistic male pigs” in power is still as prominent in today’s society (we might only look toward Mr Trump and Mr Weinstein for examples of this). Battle of the Sexes feels hugely welcome in moments such as this.