Monday, November 07, 2011

Highlights from BFI London Film Festival

I went positively square-eyed for five days of non-stop cinema-going in London for Volta  at the 2011 BFI London Film Festival last week. Here is a run-down of what we learned and some of the films you should look out for in your local cinema in the coming months.
The Artist - France, dir. Michel Hazanavicius 
A sneaky hope for this years Oscars? This inventive and charming silent film is so authentic that it is impossible not to fall in love with it. But can a black & white, silent comedy win over the multiplex audience? We'll have to wait and see! With extremely likeable performances from the two leads, Jean Dujardin channelling Gene Kelly and Bernice Bejo as a rising starlet, the film is slyly post-modern but joyfully unironic. Check your cynicism at the door.

Watch the trailer here:

Lotus Eaters - UK/Ireland, dir. Alexandra McGuinness 
Alexandra McGuinness directs and co-writes this insight into the London hipster scene. Although it's difficult to engage with the characters whose incessant vapid ramblings make up the bulk of the film, the film doesn't judge, nor does it glamourise. It serves as a window and the world McGuinness creates is so believable that it feels very much like we are watching a summer in the lives of these people. Filmed in crisp black and white with a fashion-conscious eye, McGuinness has a stylish edge to her filmmaking that should make her one to watch. Watch the trailer here:

Bernadette Devlin: Notes on a Political Journey - Ireland, dir. Leila Doolin 
The fascinating story of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is brought to life in this documentary by Leila Doolan which tracks Bernadette's rise to power in the 1970's all the way through her political carrer and her most recent struggle, the attempted extradition of her daughter Roisin to Germany. Voted to UK parliament as a 21 year old student, Bernadette Devlin became a passionate international voice for the troubles in Northern Ireland. Mixing some fantastic archive material with present-day interviews with the subject herself, the film marvels at the massive impact one simple, intelligent voice can have on a global scale.

Take Shelter - US, dir. Jeff Nichols 
A man sees hallucinatory visions of an impending storm and must decide whether he is a prophet or a madman. That is the quite simple setup of this brilliant family drama/horror film from director Jeff Nichols who re-teams with actor Michael Shannon for the second time (the first being his very interesting Shotgun Stories). Filmed in just four week with a miniscule budget, the film is a masterpiece in atmosphere and tension. Michael Shannon, already an Oscar nominee for his performance in Revolutionary Road, puts in what could be the best performance of his career to date as a man struggling with his mental health. Definitely worth a watch for the magnificent storm sequences alone. Watch the trailer here:

Martha Marcy May Marlene - US, dir. Sean Durkin
One of the films that got the most buzz at the festival was this drama/thriller. A dreamy, beautiful film which deals with the psychological aftermath of a girl who has escaped from a cult. Starring Elizabeth Olsen who will surely be in a casting tizzy after this, the film focusses on Martha's life after leaving the cult; the paranoia, the sense of isolation, and the craving to return to the arms of terrifying but charismatic leader Patrick (a brilliant John Hawkes). There are flashbacks to life at the commune but these serve mainly to highlight Martha's current state of mind than to give the audience a look at the machinations of a cult. Though some might find the lack of conclusive storytelling frustrating, the characters, the performances and the ambitious intent of the film will surely gain the film some fans. Masterful and chilling. Watch the trailer here:

The Descendants - US, dir. Alexander Payne 
Alexander Payne's latest drama, The Descendants, is a film far superior to its potentially melodramatic set-up. A woman lies in a coma, waiting to die and her husband realises she has been having an affair and must come to terms with the mistakes they have made as a family before letting her go. Payne masterfully gets to the genuine human experience at the heart of the story and proves himself yet again one of cinema's great pain merchants. He cuts to the bone, allowing the audience intimate access to spectrum of subtle feelings one might experience at such a time. As always though, Payne infuses the extremely heavy subject matter with just the right touch of light-heartedness. Funny, touching and intelligent, The Descendants is a far better film than expected. Judge for yourself, hee's the trailer:

Miss Bala - Mexico, dir. Gerardo Naranjo 
A beauty pageant hopeful from the slums of Tijuana becomes inadvertently involved in cross-border gangland warfare. This disquieting, sad and innovative film is a well-paced and unique addition to the gang crime genre. Director Naranjo handles the slow drama and the gory action set-pieces with equal finesse. Definitely a filmmaker to watch, and credit must go to Stephanie Sigman who must carry the film almost silently, and does so with tremendous grace and delicacy. Watch the trailer here:

Nobody Else But You (Poupoupidou) - France, dir. Gerald Hustache-Mathieu 
This fun, French, small-town murder mystery centres on the apparent suicide of a beautiful local celebrity whose journals help investigators figure out how she wound up dead in the snow. The girl's story parallels the life and death of Marilyn Monroe in many different ways and the film is a form of conspiracy theory about what really happened to Marilyn. Quirky, intriguing and atmospheric, this film is a unique story, well told. Watch the trailer here:

Shame - UK, dir. Steve McQueen 
Hunger director Steve McQueen teams up with Michael Fassbender again as they delve into the murky world of sex addiction. We follow Brandon as he lives from day-to-day trying to ensure his life never gets in the way of his intense sexual urges. There is no easy way to explore this subject matter but McQueen has created a cold but sympathetic portrait of a man with a very complex set of neuroses. Gorgeous-looking, challenging and featuring a superb perfrmance from Fassbender. 

Bernie - US, dir. Richard Linklater 
Richard Linklater teams up with Jack Black for this dark comedy about a beloved local mortician who murders his abhorrent elderly companion and keeps her in the freezer for nine months. The film is based on a true story and feels very authentic as Linklater sets the film in his home state of Texas. A strong performance by the Jack Black and a number of suberb supporting characters makes this a fun, likeable black comedy.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - UK, dir. Lynne Ramsey 
A devastating account of a mother's struggle with her disturbed son and her dissection of the reasons behind his violent attack on his school. Beautifully shot by Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and featuring an outstanding, conflicted performance by Tilda Swinton, this film won Best Film at the festival and it's easy to see why punters and critics alike were so taken with it.
Check out the trailer here:
Snowtown - Australia, dir. Justin Kurzel Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel's debut film tells the story of notorious serial killer John Bunting and his influence on a young man whose home life is extremely unpleasant. When Bunting comes into his family's life his charismatic charm seduces him, his mother and the rest of the community. Soon, Bunting is rallying friends to "rid" the town of its paedophiles, homosexuals and junkies. Often abstract, very dark and harrowing throughout.
Watch the trailer on YouTube:

For more articles on the best of independent cinema please go check out Ireland's best VOD resource, Volta.


  1. Anonymous9:36 PM

    Loved The Artist, The Descendants, Martha Marcy May Marlene and We Need to Talk About kevin. Scarred for life after Snowtown and can't wait to see Shame...

  2. Snowtown was horrifying but luckily I was carefully forewarned by a kind twitterer! :)