Report by Carlie Newman
Once again there were so many films that it was impossible for me to see all, or even half of those on offer!
An especially good festival, there were some terrific films. Too many films to cover all here. Some have now been released but others will come out before the end of this year and be reviewed in the main Close-Up Film Reviews section and others in 2023 and will be reviewed then.
On offer were 164 feature films from all around the world. There were lots of Gala and special presentation movies as listed below. I tried to see a number of them:
Opening Night Gala – Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (UK, dir. Matthew Warchus)
Closing Night Gala – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (USA, dir.scr. Rian Johnson)
American Express Gala – Empire of Light (UK-USA, dir.scr. Sam Mendes)
American Airlines Gala – The Banshees of Inisherin (Ireland-UK-USA, dir.scr. Martin McDonagh)
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Mexico, dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
Decision to Leave (South Korea, dir.-prod. Park Chan-wook)
Living (UK, dir. Oliver Hermanus)
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (USA, dir. Guillermo Del Toro, Mark Gustafson)
She Said (USA, dir. Maria Schrader)
The Son (UK, dir. Florian Zeller)
The Mayor of London’s Gala – Till (USA, dir. Chinonye Chukwu)
BFI Patrons’ Gala – The Whale (USA, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
White Noise (USA, dir.scr. Noah Baumbach)
The Wonder (UK-Ireland, dir. Sebastián Lelio)
Allelujah (UK, dir. Richard Eyre)
Causeway (USA, dir. Lila Neugebauer)
Series Special Presentation – The English (UK-Spain, dir.scr. Hugo Blick)
The Eternal Daughter (UK-USA, dir.scr. Joanna Hogg)
Holy Spider (Denmark-Germany-Sweden-France, dir. Ali Abbasi)
My Imaginary Country (Chile-France, dir.scr. Patricio Guzmán)
My Policeman (UK, dir. Michael Grandage)
Nanny (USA, dir.scr. Nikyatu Jusu)
Nil by Mouth (UK, dir.scr. Gary Oldman)
The Swimmers (UK, dir. Sally El Hosaini)
Triangle of Sadness (Sweden-Germany-France-UK, dir.scr. Ruben Östlund) – In association with Time Out
Women Talking (USA, dir.scr. Sarah Polley)
BFI Flare Special Presentation – The Inspection (USA, dir.scr. Elegance Bratton)
Experimenta Special Presentation – Piaffe (G
Here are some of my top picks:
Unusually both the opening night gala at the start of the festival and the gala film on the last day and the one at the end were family films. Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical has a lot of the exuberance of the original stage musical. The big difference to me is, that while the theatre saw a male playing the dreadful head of the school, Miss Trunchbull, this film version has Emma Thompson in the part. She is well made up and manages to be both scary and larger than life. Miss Trunchbull runs the school where Matilda (lovely performance by Alisha Weir) is sent by her neglectful parents (played satirically and a bit over the top by Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough). Showing the sweet side of a good teacher is Lashana Lynch as Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey. There were lots of children in the audience at the LFF screening and they cheered when Matilda got the better of Miss Trunchbull. A little too long at 120 minutes hours for tiny children but older children and their parents will love it. Directed with verve by Matthew Warchus, this is one to look out for when it comes on general release.
A somewhat different Pinocchio is on offer with Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio. This stop-motion animation film has a dark tinge to the story of the wooden puppet, which the carpenter, Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) makes after the loss of Carlo his 10-year-old son. At just under two hours, it’s a little long for small children, but more suited to older ones, anyway. In his adaptation of the story, Del Toro shows us an Italy under Mussolini’s fascist government. But the puppet is not going to bow down to authority and needs constant rescuing from his lack of obedience. Good to have a child give voice to Pinocchio and Gregory Mann does a grand job. Other actors giving voice include Christoph Waltz, Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, and Cate Blanchett. Learning to love someone who doesn’t conform is one of the messages of the film, which also gives us a grieving father and the world encountered by a puppet brought to life. Beautifully filmed, it’s recommended viewing when it goes on general release.
A much smaller film given a gala screening was Living, an extremely well-acted character movie about a civil servant, Mr Williams (the wonderful Bill Nighy) who, on discovering he has only a few months to live, sets out to discover what life is all about. He meets up with the somewhat bohemian Sebastien (Tom Burke) and spends a night seeing new sights in clubs. He then meets and makes a friend of one of his ex-workers, Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood, giving a sensitive characterisation), who has left the Civil Service to enjoy her life more. Williams wants to find some of Margaret’s joy. The film is enhanced not just by the humanity and very moving depiction of a man who has been stuck in the same job for too long by Nighy but also the costumes – by Sandy Powell – and production elements are absolutely right, showing us parts of London in the 1950s. For a lesson in fine acting, you can’t do better than watch Bill Nighy.
Very fine acting, too, in the Gala movie, The Banshees of Inisherin. Here we have Brendon Gleeson and Colin Farrell playing lifelong friends who have suddenly fallen out. At least Padraic (Farrell) is astonished to find that Colm (Gleeson) won’t speak to him. He doesn’t know why and even Colm’s reason that he is just fed up with his erstwhile pal doesn’t satisfy Padraic who keeps attempting to renew the friendship. It’s a small community on an island off the coast of mainline Ireland and all the community know what is happening. Padraic lives with his sister (nicely gaged characterisation by Kerry Condon). She understands the people and just wishes to leave. There is also a somewhat naïve character, Dominic, well-played by Barry Keoghan, who suffers from his father’s brutality. To prove that he means what he says, Colm performs some horrifying acts on himself. Although some amusing moments the film is quite dark – but this black comedy is well worth seeing for the fine performances.
More good performances in Bones and All. There is a sharp intake of breath from the audience when teenage Maren (a star making performance by Taylor Russell) bites off and then eats a friend’s finger! When her father turfs her out of home at 18 she finds herself all alone. Setting out to meet her mother she comes across Sully (a fantastically grisly performance by Mark Rylance, whose image lives with me weeks after seeing the film!). He is an ‘eater’ – an old cannibal, who initiates Maren into the art including the top cannibal experience – eating a person, bones, and all. She also meets a young lad who is more her age. Timothee Chalamet plays Lee, who is, like her, a cannibal. But, because they don’t eat one of their own kind, they are free to be together. It is a very bloody film, well-directed by Luca Guadagnino. Gory to the extreme and the ending will remain with you – not necessarily in a good way!
Much jollier is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which was the closing night Gala film. With an array of stars, it is an amusing film – a follow up to the Knives Out Movie three years ago – with lovely location cinematography and a good story. Daniel Craig returns to play the detective, Benoit Blanc, who is surprised to find himself invited to a mystery party to solve a murder at the huge mansion of Miles (Edward Norton) alongside 6 of Miles’ friends. It’s difficult to write about what happens as the joy of the film is to be amazed as each episode in the movie reveals something new. It would spoil the pleasure to divulge the plot. Look out for the glittering stars including Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr, Stephen Sondheim (indeed!) and Hugh Grant in a tiny part.
Go see and enjoy.