London Film Festival 2019

Patrick Bliss is the film programmer for The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury and Salisbury International Arts Festival, which takes place in May. With the support of a bursary from Film Hub South West, Patrick was able to attend BFI London Film Festival in October to look out for films that will play well for audiences in the South West.  Read his film reviews here:

Rose Plays Julie
I was keen to see this film as I really enjoyed directors Christian Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s earlier film Helen and this title seemed to be cut from very much the same cloth, indeed in the Q&A they described it as a kind of thematic sequel. It was disappointing then to find that after a promising start, their latest film has none of the intrigue that made Helen such a compelling watch.


Exhibitors Forum
An annual event at LFF, I always enjoy these events, meeting with fellow programmers and distributors to talk about up coming releases and initiatives. Among subjects discussed this year were relaxed screenings, The National Lottery’s #ThanksToYou campaign and the next New Release Strategy title The Peanut Butter Falcon (see below).


Likely to be in my top five films of the year, Monos is an astonishing cross between Lords of the Flies meets Apocalypse Now… on acid! The lush forests of Columbia make striking backdrop for a story of power struggles within a group of child soldiers left largely to fend for themselves. A whirl of ravishing cinematography, hypnotic sound design and anarchic performances, this wild, chaotic fever dream of a film is what cinema was made for.


Peanut Butter Falcon
From William Golding to Mark Twain. The Peanut Butter Falcon is a crowd pleasing buddy/road/river movie set in North Carolina featuring the likeable pairing of Shia Le Bouf and young actor Zack Gottsagen who has Down Syndrome. It’s great to see a disabled character being played by a disabled actor. Audiences will love this for the engaging performances, boys own adventure plot and the picturesque setting. It reminded me of Hunt for the Wilder People, a film that will appeal to a very broad demographic.


Lucky Grandma
A feisty OAP comes across a holdall full of money, triggering all sorts of mayhem. Veteran actress Tsai Chin is hilarious as the irrepressible, chain smoking heroine, who finds herself at the centre of a mob war in New York’s Chinatown. Playing in the Laugh strand, this should have enough appeal to get distribution and will play to fans of the Coen Brothers and Danny Boyle.


System Crasher
I missed this at the ICO screening days, so was glad to catch up with this powerful German study of a wayward nine year old who the “system” has almost given up on. It features a ferocious lead performance from tomboyish young actress Helena Zengel, a whirlwind of dayglo pink clothing and peroxide blond hair who explodes off the screen. The film was playing in the Dare strand, but Debate might have been a more appropriate home for it. It would certainly make an interesting event in partnership with child care and fostering services.


The Lighthouse
Having a Cult strand that is mostly made up of new films might be something of a oxymoron, but I have no doubt that Robert Eggers strikingly singular alt horror is a cult classic in the making. Filmed in crisp monochrome in the 1.19:1 aspect ratio of early cinema and with a keen ear for period dialect, it features astonishing performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as pair of feuding seadogs stuck on a remote lighthouse. There was a brief introduction with Eggars and Dafoe, but no Q&A. I would have loved to have asked how much of the weather was real as opposed to CGI. I guess the answer might have been “the bits where it wasn’t blowing a gale or raining!”


The Aeronauts
Next up, another two hander where the weather plays a supporting role, but a very different film in every other way. The moment I saw the first still from this film showing Felicity Jones sitting on the rigging of an early hot air balloon, I knew this would be a film that would play well at The Roses, and having seen it that is absolutely still the case. Reuniting Eddie Redymane and Felicity Jones in a period drama should provide enough romance and history for older audiences, while the CGI thrills should bring in younger and family audiences.


An impressive US indie about an adopted star student who starts to show some worrying signs of extremist views, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see Luce, but I’m really glad it did. It’s unanswered questions about race & power stayed with me long after the credits rolled. It’s getting a release from Universal, and it’s cast includes Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Octavia Spencer,so it stands a chance of holding its own among easier sell award contenders. Word of mouth will be strong.


Marriage Story
The first of several Netflix award contenders in this years Festival, Noah Baumbach’s best film since his Squid and the Whale breakthrough immediately joins the likes of classic break up dramas like Scenes from a Marriage and Kramer vs Kramer. When Scarlet Johansson’s character, an actress running a New York theatre company with her soon to be ex husband, mentions that she can’t cry on queue, we just know this is setting us up for floods of tears later on as the couples attempt at an amicable separation turns very nasty indeed. Johansson and Adam Driver are dead certs for Oscar nominations, along with Laura Dern who turns in a hilarious supporting performance as a divorce lawyer. If Alan Alda joins the party, then we have that rare film that is nominated in all acting categories.


The Report
The second Adam Driver film at LFF tell the story of Daniel Jones, who was tasked with racking through reams of private emails and reports to uncover some uncomfortable truths about the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program.For the Q&A, the real Daniel Jones joined Driver, Annette Bening and Director Scott Z Burns on stage. He’s several inches shorter than Driver, but I guess physical resemblance isn’t important in this type of film. I wonder though, what it would take to get Adam Driver to cut his hair for a role?!!!


The Girl with the Bracelet
At the outset, this is a compelling French courtroom drama about a teenage girl who is accused of murdering her best friend, the bracelet of the title being the security tag she wears while she is on bail. As the case unfolds and the accused’s character and lifestyle come under attack, we realise that there is something else on trial here: the modern teenage woman.


A sequel of sorts to her previous film (which I haven’t seen), and possibly the middle of a trilogy, Ga-Young Jeong’s self reflexive Korean drama follows a young woman asking for advice from a previous adulterous lover about undertaking an affair with another married man. She wants to use this experience to make a film, which has a very similar plot to the one we are watching…


The Perfect Candidate
Haifaa Al Mansour, director of Oscar nominated Wadjda, returns to her homeland for another story of a modern Saudi Arabian woman finding her way in a highly patriarchal society. Saudi woman still need permission from their husbands or fathers to travel, and it is while trying to circumnavigate this rule that our protagonist finds herself running for local elections, mounting a campaign pushes at the boundaries of the counties strict social codes. Audiences will be rooting for her in a story about a woman’s courageous steps to bring about small but important changes in the country, much like Mansour making this film has.


Le Mans ‘66
As someone who has no interest in cars (and doesn’t drive) or motor sports, I can attest to the wide appeal of this true story of Fords bid to build a car that would beat Ferrari in the Len Mans 24hour race (the original title was Ford vs Ferrari). Christian Bale continues to prove hat he is one of the most flexible actors working in Hollywood, while Matt Damon yet again plays a version of Matt Damon, not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Jojo Rabbit
Following a successful detour into blockbuster territory with Thor Rangnarok, Taika Waititi returns to quirky character driven comedies like Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople with a story of an impressionable young member of the Hitler Youth, who receives life guidance from an imaginary friend… Adolf Hitler. The high concept “Hitler Youth Comedy”, controversy over the films light hearted treatment of Nazi ideology (remember Life is Beautiful?),Waititi’s growing fan base and some award season attention should ensure good audiences when it is released in January.


Knives Out
This was a hoot! A deliciously hammy Daniel Craig leads a huge ensemble cast as a private detective charged with solving a murder at a country house. It’s a very knowing take on Agatha Christie, which is enjoyable as a satisfyingly twisty whodunit, while having a huge amount of fun with genre conventions. With a diverse cast and the hotshot director of Looper and the Last Jedi at the helm, this should have wide appeal.


The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain
At first, this intriguingly titled film appears to be a documentary about sheep farmers in the Himalayan foot hills, until a thin plot about a crashed plane and the financial rewards that lay in finding it emerges. It’s one of those ethnographic type films that tends to play well at the venues I programme, though this hasn’t got quite the same charm and compelling narrative as the Eagle Hunteress or The Story of the Weeping Camel.


La Llorona
Playing in competition, this rare film from Guatamala blends ghost story, political allegory and courtroom drama to tell the story of the man behind Guatemala’s lengthy civil war and the ethnic cleansing of the Mayan citizens. Mostly set within the house where an elderly general and his family are holed up awaiting his trial, it takes it’s name from the Latin American legend of La Llorona, whose spirit appears to be present in the house, while the noise of an angry mob outside permeates nearly every scene.


The Whistlers
I will have to programme this so I can list “Canary Island Whistling Language” on a monitoring form! The latest film from Corneliu Porumboiu follows an undercover police officer from Romania who infiltrates a crime syndicate and ends up on the Island of Gomera, where he learns the obscure Whistling language (it exists, I checked!) as a way of unobtrusively communicating sensitive information over large distances.


I’ve long been a fan of the diverse range of work from prolific British film maker Michael Winterbottom, and some of his most successful work has been in collaboration with Steve Coogan. The partnership proves fruitful yet again in the this thinly veiled parody of “Sir” Philip Green. There’s a lot of Alan Partridge in Coogan’s Richard “Greedy” McCreadie character and there’s really nothing wrong with that, this is entertaining stuff, with a pause for thought as the credits role. The last time I saw a Winterbottom film at LFF was the Boyhoodesque Everyday, where he bought the whole cast on stage. This year he did likewise, except the cast was much larger. For his next film they will need to find a bigger venue!


Guest of Honour
Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan returns with an intricately structured story of an over zealous food inspector and his daughter, who we learn has spent some time in prison, though it is some time before the details of her crime are revealed to us. Building up the intrigue as information is drip fed to us over multiple time lines, It’s a return to the jigsaw narrative of his earlier works such as The Adjuster and Exotica (and more recently Adoration) and indeed the pieces do all fit together by the end of the film. It’s just that the finished picture isn’t that interesting.


La Belle Epoque
A high concept French romance where a high tech theatre company will recreate a favourite moment from a persons past for them to relive all over again. It’s a mix of West World and the Holodeck of the Starship Enterprise, but perhaps the closest comparison is Hirokazu Koreeda’s 1998 film After Life, which did pretty much the same thing, except that it took place in Heaven. There is cross over potential for this Pathe release, and I’m sure there will be an inferior American remake somewhere down the line.


Official Secrets
Following The Report earlier in the Festival, this years Debate Gala is another true life story of post 9/11 whistle blowing. Keira Knightly starts as GCHQ employee Katherine Gun, who leaked information about an illegal spying operation that led to the UN Security Council sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.Given the Britishness of the film, it will probably be a bit more attractive to UK audiences than The Report, but I hope to programme both of them. Knightley, Gun and director Gavin Hood were in attendance, but the biggest round of applause was saved for Gun’s husband, a Turkish refugee who was threatened with deportation in order to get her to back off.


Developed in workshops with a non professional cast, Sarah Gavron’s new film Rocks is almost documentary like in it’s portrayal of modern teenage girls. It reminded me a bit of Patti Cake$ and American Honey. Teenagers will love this film, but the challenge, as ever, is getting them to see it.


Robert De Niro Screen Talk
This must have been the hottest ticket in the Festival, it sold out even before it went on sale, yet somehow I managed to get in! The adulation was incredible, there was a standing ovation as soon as he waked into the room. In town to promote The Irishman, he spoke at length about working with Scorsese and the long gestation of this project, his rigorous preparations for Raging Bull, where he first had to build muscle and then lose it and gain weight, and how being turned down for the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather was a blessing in disguise, freeing him up to play the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather P2, winning him his first Oscar. There was, of course, time of a bit of Trump baiting, how wonderful to hear the Godfather saying “he won’t get away with it forever!” The most touching moment was when a woman in the audience revealed that her father had “kept the lights on and paid the bills” as De Niro’s French dub voice!


A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
Tom Hanks plays much loved US children’s TV host Fred Rogers (nearest British equivalents I could think of are Tony Hart and John Craven) in a story about his friendship with a jaded journalist tasked with writing a story about him. Hanks will likely get a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, which will help the films fortunes, but my concern is that British audiences unfamiliar with “Mr Rogers” will be slow to latch onto what is undoubtedly a very nostalgic watch for Americans who grew up with his long running TV series.


After his relatively commercial English Language début Jackie, Pablo Larrain returns to his native Chile for this (sometimes literally) incendiary character study. Ema is a fascinating central character who we learn about in a piecemeal fashion as her life is presented to us in fragments, punctuated with some electrifying dance sequences. It’s undeniably cinematic, but narratively disjointed, much like its volatile protagonist.


The Other Lamb
Set in beautiful woodland setting, we are introduced to a community of women living in thrall of a lone male known a The Shepherd. Divided in Sisters and Wives, who wear different colours, the story has a lot to owe to The Handmaid’s tale. It’s an intriguing set up, but ultimately doesn’t really do much with it.


Bombay Rose
My final film this year was Indian animation Bombay Rose. Three intersecting stories set on the streets of Bombay, all linked by a red rose. The hand pained animation is captivating as we move from story to story, in and out of day dreams, and in the most memorable scenes, black and white reminisces of the past. I hope this gets distribution, “adult” animation can sometimes be hard sell, but it would be a shame if this didn’t reach a wider audience on the big screen.

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