Thursday, 6 October 2016

LFF 1: Unroll the carpet

The 60th London Film Festival kicked off last night with the UK premiere of Amma Asante's biopic A United Kingdom. Rosamund Pike (above) ruled the red carpet, making the most of a wardrobe malfunction. And her costar David Oyelowo hit the headlines today as host of a symposium on race issues in movies. And so it begins, with an exhausting schedule of nearly 250 movies over the next 12 days. I'm packing as many in as possible, and still will be missing several big titles on my list simply because there isn't time. Here are some highlights for today...

A United Kingdom
dir Amma Asante; with David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike 16/UK ***
This is a great true story with a huge present-day relevance, and it features robust, engaging performances from both David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. So it's a shame that the screenplay lets it down so badly. Not only are characters painted with broadly cartoonish strokes, but the structure drains any sense of momentum from the narrative. So if it's not hugely compelling, at least it's still a worthy biopic packed with important themes.

A Monster Calls
dir JA Bayona; with Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson 16/UK ****.
This may look like a fantasy adventure, but it's actually a staggeringly resonant emotional journey that will connect with audience members of all ages. As it explores enormous themes from loneliness to grief, the film builds an earthy authenticity that even carries through its big effects sequences. Not only is it shot with skill and care, but it's anchored by a terrific performance from the young Lewis MacDougall.

Into the Forest
dir Gilles Marchand; with Jeremie Elkaim, Timothe Vom Dorp 16/Fr ***
Clearly a riff on Zvyagintsev's The Return by way of Kubrick's The Shining, this dark thriller evokes considerable dread, mainly in its sound mix. But director Guy Marchand also has some visual tricks up his sleeve to freak out the audience. There doesn't seem to be much to the film beyond insinuated nastiness, but it's enjoyably spooky.

Ma' Rosa
dir Brillante Ma Mendoza; with Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz 16/Ph ****
Shot with handheld urgency and extended real-time sequences, this Filipino drama grabs hold of the audience from the start and never lets up. Filmmaker Brillante Mendoza skilfully immerses us in the rain-soaked bustle of Manila, focussing on a low-level drug dealer whose concern for her family makes her enormously sympathetic. And while the drama is more than enough to hold the attention, the film also has some harrowing things to say about justice in the Philippines.

And two films I saw in Venice were also screening in London today: the French drama Heal the Living and the Italian drama Indivisible.

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