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BFI 60th London Film Festival

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Opening Night Gala

Amma Asante (Belle, A Way of Life) opens the Festival with this impassioned drama depicting an interracial romance that changed the world.
A United Kingdom is a powerful testament to the defiant and enduring love story of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the government of the time. Director Amma Asante follows her previous film Belle with another elegant, impassioned drama that also reveals a painful episode in the history of British race relations and imperial politics. At a London dance, there is an immediate spark of attraction when the erudite and dashing Seretse (David Oyelowo) meets the independent-minded Ruth (Rosamund Pike). Ignoring the opposition of friends and family, they plunge into a whirlwind romance that leads rapidly to marriage. Reality sets in when, having completed his studies, Seretse has to return to Africa to assume his duties as King. Their interracial union is seen as a slap in the face both to Malan’s apartheid-riven South Africa and to the royal traditions of Seretse’s own people. As the international diplomatic crisis escalates, the British Government sets out to do everything in its power to drive the couple apart.

Anchored by commanding performances from Oyelowo and Pike, Asante’s filmmaking relishes the contrasts between the cool, subdued tones of London and the colour-saturated heat of Botswana, employing cinematography and design to heighten the emotional register of Guy Hibbert’s (Eye in the Sky) acutely observant screenplay. We are proud to be opening the 60th BFI London Film Festival with a film of great contemporary relevance, one that celebrates the triumph of love and intelligence over intolerance and oppression, and which confirms Asante as one of the UK’s most distinctive and important filmmakers.

Clare Stewart

Opening Night Gala in partnership with American Express®
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Closing Night Gala

Ben Wheatley (High-Rise, Sightseers) returns to close the Festival with this all-guns-blazing bullet opera, starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer.
Ben Wheatley’s ascent as one of the UK’s most dazzling and prolific cinematic talents continues with this ballsy, high-octane action thriller filmed hot-on-the-heels of last year’s Festival Gala, High-Rise. Sharp-witted Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a deal on behalf of two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley), setting them up to buy a stash of guns from seedy gangsters Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer). But the meet-up in a deserted warehouse derails when stoner side-kick Stevo (Sam Riley) recognises one of the two handover guys (Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor) and shots are fired. Dripping with blood, sweat and irony, Free Fire’s bravura filmmaking pays knowing tribute to the kinetic cinema of directors such as Sam Peckinpah and Ringo Lam. Wheatley and writing/editing partner Amy Jump’s relentlessly playful riff on the shoot-em-up is as fascinated with the slowness of destruction as it is with speed and action. The virtuosic editing and complex staging (it was shot on location in a warehouse outside Brighton) serve not only to propel the mayhem, but also to emphasise just how bloody long it takes, and how messy it is, to obliterate everything.

Notionally set in Boston and steeped in 1970s Americana (with threads and hairdos to die for… literally), the crackling script and knockout cast have as much fun with character and dialogue as we do with the fact that there are no mobile phones to save the day. Wheatley fan and supporter Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producers and the film’s intermittent, pulsating score is by Geoff Barrow (Portishead) and Ben Salisbury. We are thrilled to be presenting the European Premiere of Free Fire as our Closing Night Gala, ensuring that the 60th edition of the BFI London Film Festival goes out with a bang!

Clare Stewart
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Headline Galas

Join us on the red carpet for our Opening Night, Closing Night and Headline Galas.
People who added this item 340 Average listal rating (217 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 8.1
American Express® Gala

Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman lead the cast in this rousing true tale of a lost Indian child, adopted by Australian parents, searching for home.

More intricate in its texture and more astounding in its narrative twists than most works of fiction, Saroo Brierley’s engrossing memoir A Long Way Home receives a sweeping adaptation with this highly-anticipated feature debut from Garth Davis (co-director with Jane Campion of the acclaimed Top of the Lake series). As a boy, Saroo was a cheeky and adventurous five-year-old, living with his beloved, hard-working mother and siblings in an impoverished rural township in India. One night, when out with his older brother, he falls asleep in a stationary train carriage only to be trapped on board when it departs. Days later, he arrives in Kolkata, hundreds of miles from home and entirely alone. Left to fend for himself on the overcrowded streets, Saroo eventually lands in an orphanage and is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham). Lively and inquisitive, he soon adjusts to his new life. 25 years later, the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) is haunted by lucid, recurring memories of his past. When he discovers a new technology – Google Earth – he begins an obsessive search for his original family, progressively withdrawing from his adoptive parents, and his girlfriend (Rooney Mara).

Luke Davies’ layered screenplay traces the complexities and tensions of the adoption experience – compounded by the arrival of another child who struggles to adjust – with great depth and dimension. Lion is a rousing tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit, the extraordinary courage of Saroo, and the resilience and unswerving love of both his mothers. Davis draws out mesmerising performances from Patel, Kidman and young discovery Sunny Pawar. He also proves himself a director of breadth and vision, making full use of Greig Fraser’s (Zero Dark Thirty, Bright Star) stunning cinematography to intensify the emotional impact, as well as ground this universally resonant story in the beauty of the Indian and Australian landscapes it traverses.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 876 Average listal rating (620 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.9
Royal Bank of Canada Gala

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as the humans who make first contact with extraterrestrial visitors in this richly textured sci-fi from director Denis Villeneuve.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s (Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies) versatile and prolific creative streak continues with Arrival, an emotionally arresting, visually inventive science fiction based on the award-winning Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Professor of linguistics Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is enlisted by the US government to decipher the language of extra-terrestrials who initiated first contact. She is accompanied by scientist Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner) on a mission to determine the purpose of their mysterious visitation. As the military manoeuvres around the operation become increasingly fraught, the two outsiders are drawn together in their search for understanding. Global in its scope and lyrical in form, the film’s narrative structure shape-shifts, reflecting the changing perception of time experienced by Dr Banks as she gets closer to comprehending the unfathomable alien messages. The story is underpinned by an extremely resonant interest in the importance of translation, not only the direct challenge of decoding this new language, but also in the forging of international cooperation between countries to prevent conflict. A universe away from traditional alien invasion films, Arrival is ultimately a cinematic paean to human life – its intimacy, complexity and grandeur, and to what keeps us connected to each other – communication, memory, and the experience of love and loss.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 67 Average listal rating (35 ratings) 6.4 IMDB Rating 6.4
Headline Gala

This explosive Sundance-winning drama follows Nat Turner, a preacher who became the radical leader of an uprising against slavery.

Nate Parker’s monumental tour-de-force – he produces, directs, writes and gives a scorching performance in the lead role – is a gruelling account of the life of Nat Turner, an enslaved African American and ordained preacher who led a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831. Young Nat (Tony Espinosa) dreams of his African ancestors and is predestined to be a leader of his people. He is encouraged to read by the wife of the plantation owner, who gives him a bible. By the time he reaches adulthood he has become a man of religion, but when the white slave owners detect insurrection, he is forced to preach submission to his fellow slaves. Unable to accept the atrocities he witnesses at other plantations, and the abuse of his own wife Cherry (Aja Naomi King), he begins to plot an uprising. Parker’s Sundance-winning feature debut is especially urgent given recent racial clashes in the US and the subsequent momentum behind Black Lives Matter. Ava DuVernay also unpacks the degree to which DW Griffith’s 1915 epic of the same name set the agenda for racial servitude in the 20th century in her documentary The 13th. Parker’s re-appropriation of the title is just as bold, challenging and ambitious as his powerful and important film.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 828 Average listal rating (542 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 8.1
Headline Gala

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone channel old-school Hollywood glamour in this bright and playful romantic musical from director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash).

Damien Chazelle’s bitter-sweet love letter to the city of Los Angeles, the golden era of Hollywood musicals and the visual flair of French maestro Jacques Demy, is beyond glorious. It’s a perfect confection with medicinal properties! Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress, barely holding down a day job on a studio lot while juggling auditions for second-rate parts. Sebastian (Gosling) is a pianist who struggles to keep his job at a family restaurant where he plays freewheeling jazz instead of stale, cheesy favourites. Their fleeting first encounter during a traffic jam on an LA fly-over ripples with tension and holds little promise. (The opening sequence alone is a rapturous homage to West Side Story via 8½.) But after a series of blunders and mishaps, romance blooms. Stone and Gosling may well be the sprightliest pairing since Rogers and Astaire, and where Chazelle’s first feature Whiplash (LFF2014) left us breathless and immobile, La La Land sends the heart racing and will have you dancing out of the cinema. That said, it’s not all sugar and spice and happy-ever-after. There is a disconsolate undercurrent at the film’s emotional core – a clear recognition that ‘the chase’ sometimes takes you away from ‘the dream’. Reuniting composer Justin Hurwitz and editor Tom Cross, Chazelle’s virtuosic direction is amplified by superb choreography and design.

Clare Stewart
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Headline Gala

Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams shine in this devastating drama from Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, You Can Count on Me), about a man’s painful hometown return.

Tender, brutal and utterly mesmerising, Kenneth Lonergan’s (Margaret; You Can Count on Me, LFF2001) third feature as director is one of the most visually eloquent and emotionally devastating explorations of grief and redemption in recent cinema. Casey Affleck gives an indelible, career-defining performance as the laconic, calcified Lee, a man whose spare existence is suddenly ruptured when the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) forces him to return to the hometown he abandoned years before. Rocked by contact with his estranged ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the revelation that Joe has made him guardian of his teenage son (Lucas Hedges), Lee’s private torment deepens.

Lonergan harnesses all the cinematic potency of the wild and durable Massachusetts locations to magnify the unfathomable inner turmoil of a man so shattered by the consequences of one single mistake that he cannot reverse his retreat from life, even when faced with the responsibility of caring for someone else. The primary tragedy is revealed through a series of flashbacks that imbue the narrative with a foreboding urgency, often triggered by an emotional response to place, spoken exchanges, or the knowing stares and whispers of the townspeople. This is exacting filmmaking, profound and overwhelming.

Clare Stewart
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The May Fair Hotel Gala

Patrick Ness’ hugely popular book is brought to life, as a young boy’s vast imagination enables him to see wonder beyond his tough circumstances.

Shooting from the spectacular heights of fantasy, straight to the beating heart of reality, A Monster Calls is a genuinely moving film of great wonder and beauty, directed by JA Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage) and based on the hugely popular book by Patrick Ness. 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall is extraordinary) is bullied by his classmates because he sees the world differently. His mother (Felicity Jones), with whom he has a very special bond, is suffering from a terminal illness. His bossy grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) has become increasingly controlling. And his unreliable father (Toby Kebbell) is perpetually absent. Suddenly, a wizened and mysterious yew tree materialises to provide Conor with some much-needed guidance (Liam Neeson’s voice is the perfect combination of melodic and imposing).

Bayona’s visually inventive filmmaking gives glorious form to this deeply moving story about a boy who draws on his expansive imagination to come to terms with impending loss. He brings together members of the award-winning creative team that worked on Pan’s Labyrinth and the film’s level of technical creativity is a sight to behold. The film is abundant with cinematic references, such as the scene where mother and son watch the original King Kong, a model precedent for the animatronics and performance capture that bring to life this film’s profoundly human monster.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 495 Average listal rating (329 ratings) 7.2 IMDB Rating 7.5
Headline Gala

Tom Ford (A Single Man) returns with a dark, sophisticated adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams.

Uncompromising in both its beauty and its cruelty, Tom Ford’s riveting adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan is similarly fixated with the connections between reality and constructed worlds. Susan (Amy Adams) is a glamorous and accomplished Los Angeles gallery director whose current marriage appears to be unravelling, despite the glossy, high-design trappings of wealth and success. Filled with a rising sense of panic, she fuels her insomnia by reading the manuscript of a novel, written and sent to her by her ex-husband. It’s a thriller about a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose recklessness and fear ultimately endanger the lives of his wife and teenage daughter. Susan soon finds herself riveted, embroiled in what appears to be a savage and sophisticated game: is she supposed to identify with the victim or the perpetrator? Is she being accused of a lack of agency, or is it that she leaches the agency of others?

Fusing colour-saturated melodrama with overheated, neo-noir, Nocturnal Animals switches between the world of the novel, Susan’s luxurious reality and her memories of her first marriage. Reuniting many of the team behind A Single Man (LFF2009), including composer Abel Korzeniowski, editor Joan Sobel and costume designer Arianne Phillips, Ford collaborates for the first time with maestro cinematographer Seamus McGarvey to striking effect.

Clare Stewart
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Virgin Atlantic Gala

The powerful true life tale of one girl’s determination to escape from poverty in Uganda by becoming a chess champion, directed by Mira Nair and starring David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.

Directed with vision and heart by Mira Nair, who returns to LFF for the seventh time, Queen of Katwe is based on the inspirational true story of young Ugandan chess champion, Phiona Mutesi (captivating newcomer Madina Nalwanga). The 10-year-old lives with her family in an impoverished township in Kampala, Uganda. Her mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) scrapes together a meagre livelihood selling maize and vegetables in the street. Phiona’s curiosity is piqued when she discovers a chess club run by football-player turned missionary, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). Despite being unable to read or write, Phiona has a natural aptitude for strategic thinking and risk-taking, and she rapidly develops her skill for the game. With Katende’s guidance, her confidence and ambition grow, and soon she is advancing through the ranks in local competitions. Working with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave) and production designer Stephanie Caroll (who also worked with Nair on Monsoon Wedding), Nair forges an incandescent visual style, responding to the vibrant colour and detail of the Kampala streets while retaining a commitment to authenticity throughout. Together with her extraordinary cast, she gets under the skin of this remarkable story, never shying away from the challenges and hardships faced by Phiona and her family, while constantly rejoicing in this young woman’s steely determination and grace.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 255 Average listal rating (142 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 7.3
Headline Gala

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is given the Oliver Stone treatment in this thrilling dramatic examination of international surveillance, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Oliver Stone is an agile and compulsive hacker of official histories, a director who digs deep under the surface of what we are told and asks the big questions about why we are told it. The truth, how it gets framed and who frames it are central preoccupations in his films. So his interest in Edward Snowden – ‘soldier, fugitive, patriot, spy, hacker, traitor, hero’ – is both logical and compelling. Rippling with paranoia, Snowden is a super-charged political thriller opening with the titular subject (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in a hotel room in Hong Kong, preparing to blow the whistle on covert surveillance programmes run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. His collaborators are documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo playing the director of Citizenfour, LFF2014), activist journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Pinto) and later, The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). In parallel, the film charts Snowden’s rise as an intelligence operative and the development of his romantic relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), with the tension anchored by a single line of enquiry ‘why?’. This probing instalment in Stone’s ongoing interrogation of systems of power concludes with a particularly prescient answer to its central question – one that casts a dark shadow over the current US presidential race – delivered by Snowden himself.

Clare Stewart
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The Mayor of London’s Gala

Gemma Arterton sparkles in this witty drama set in the world of propaganda filmmaking during WWII, from director Lone Scherfig (The Riot Club, An Education).

Danish director Lone Scherfig’s (The Riot Club, An Education, LFF2009) fascination with British manners continues to find new register in this delectable comedic drama, her fifth film set in the UK. Gemma Arterton is positively luminous as Catrin, a young Welsh copy-writer enticed to London by her husband (Jack Huston), a self-obsessed and wayward artist with little interest in her emotional needs or ambitions. She soon lands a job as a script editor with the Ministry of Information, hired to provide a ‘woman’s touch’ to propaganda films being made during the Blitz. Thrown into the colourful and surprisingly active world of filmmaking in London in the 1940s, her confidence grows and new interests and desires soon ignite. Debut screenwriter Gaby Chiappe’s adaptation of Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour and a Half is an intoxicating blend of social drama and shrewd wit, alert to the poignancy and irony of the way that new opportunities became available to women during wartime. With her finely-tuned eye for character, performance and gender politics, Scherfig plays to the strengths of the film’s top-flight British cast. None more so than Bill Nighy, who is irresistible as the fractious, past-his-prime movie star who develops a creative dependency on our heroine.

Clare Stewart
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Strand Galas

Red carpet Galas from our themed strands: Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, and Treasures.
People who added this item 1 Average listal rating (1 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 7.1
The Informer (1929)
Archive Gala

An early, silent adaptation of Liam O’Flaherty’s 1925 novel about betrayal amid the political and revolutionary environment of the newly independent Ireland of 1922.

Liam O’Flaherty’s 1925 novel about betrayal amidst the chaotic political and revolutionary environment of the newly independent Ireland of 1922 was famously adapted for the screen by John Ford. This earlier, silent adaptation is arguably finer, bringing to bear the best of late 1920s European filmmaking, but with one foot in the 1930s. O’Flaherty claimed that he wrote The Informer as a ‘high-brow detective story’ that was ‘based on the technique of the cinema’. Director Robison’s approach, emphasising the sense of claustrophobia and playing up the chiaroscuro, anticipates the mood of later film noir thrillers. German cinematographers Brandes and Sparkuhl make the most of the A-list international stars, Lars Hanson and the languorously beautiful Lya de Putti. Dublin is convincingly realised – one virtuoso tracking shot takes you from a rooftop down to a bustling street as it follows Gypo Nolan (Hanson), elbowing his way through the crowd, on his way to inform on his friend. Love and loyalty struggle to survive the consequences of his action.

Bryony Dixon

The BFI National Archive’s restoration team have used original nitrate and duplicates to reconstruct the film with its original intertitles and the delicate mauve tint. The new BFI commissioned score is by Irish composer and violist Garth Knox. Garth is at the forefront of the new music scene in many fields, drawing on his vast experience as viola player of the Arditti Quartet and the Ensemble InterContemporain. Composing for a 6 piece ensemble including accordion, flute, irish pipes and viola d’amore, he brings a wealth of cutting edge compositiontechniques, whilst also opening up the music of the past with his interest in medieval, baroque and traditional celtic music.

Restoration supported by Matt Spick.
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People who added this item 2 Average listal rating (1 ratings) 2 IMDB Rating 4.6
Mirzya (2016)
Love Gala

A compelling Romeo and Juliet-like Indian story of childhood sweethearts whose obsessive love is rekindled just as the heroine is about to be married into royalty.

Unfolding amongst magnificent palaces and against the vast desert backdrop of Rajasthan, Bollywood director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s (Rang De Basanti, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) glorious epic is a richly-colourful drama evocative of the swooning romance of Romeo and Juliet. Penned by acclaimed poet, lyricist, screenwriter and director Gulzar, the film moves seamlessly between the story of mythical couple Mirza and Sahiban, and the modern world where two real-life lovers grapple with similar forces that seek to keep them apart. Classmates Adil and Soochi are inseparable sweethearts. When Soochi is beaten by a teacher Adil is unable to control himself and seeks a deadly retribution. As a result he is forced to flee, leaving Soochi heartbroken. Many years pass and Soochi, now stunningly beautiful, is being pressured by her police chief father to marry a dashing local Rajput prince, seemingly her perfect match. However, his insistence that she takes riding lessons leads to an encounter that will have devastating consequences on all their lives. With its accent on unbridled passions, belief in the notion of true love and a fantastic cast that includes Om Puri, Art Malik and newcomers Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher, Mirzya is breathtaking, sensual and a feast for all senses.

Cary Rajinder Sawhney
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People who added this item 314 Average listal rating (196 ratings) 7.9 IMDB Rating 8.1
Dare Gala

Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Stoker) channels Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, to create a sumptuous twisty psychological thriller, full of erotic intrigue.

Young pickpocket Sook-hee is enlisted by Fujiwara, a suave con artist claiming to be a count, to work as a handmaiden for wealthy heiress Lady Hideko. Sequestered in a grand mansion by her pervy black-tongued uncle, Hideko is looking for a way out and Fujiwara expects Sook-hee to help him charm his way into the role of Hideko’s husband. But the plan is complicated when the haughty Mistress begins to fall for her new lady-in-waiting. Inspired by Welsh writer Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith, The Handmaiden relocates the narrative from Victorian England to 1930s Korea, which is under Japanese colonial rule. This enables production designer Ryu Seong-hie to give full flower to her imagination, creating awe-inspiring sets rich with period detail, blending Japanese and British architecture (and my God – the wallpaper!). Marking Park Chan-wook’s first Korean film after Stoker, The Handmaiden continues the theme of revenge so deliciously and obsessively explored in the director’s Vengeance trilogy. But here, the erotic is foregrounded, through immaculately composed images that imbue every object with a seductive energy, so that even a pair of gloves thrums with scintillating power. A foxy concoction of exquisite style and thrilling storytelling, The Handmaiden will leave you breathless.

Kate Taylor
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People who added this item 14 Average listal rating (8 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 6.6
Nocturama (2016)
Debate Gala

French director Bertrand Bonello imagines Paris in a state of apocalypse, in a provocative, troubling response to the contemporary age of terror.

A group of young people from diverse social backgrounds move through Paris, crossing paths, heading with determination towards a common purpose – to set the city alight. After accomplishing their terrible mission, they hide out overnight in a department store, where – surrounded by the glamorous signifiers of 21st-century materialism – they await their fate. Bertrand Bonello has established himself as one of French cinema’s most elusive and thoughtful provocateurs, exploring different aspects of outsider culture in films such as The Pornographer and House of Tolerance. His latest film will certainly be his most controversial. Conceived before the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, Nocturama unapologetically addresses a topic that many will find disturbing, while the film’s compelling thriller-style detachment and supremely elegant execution may strike some as a questionable exercise in radical chic. But Bonello undoubtedly has something urgent to say, not just about terrorism, but about violence, consumerism and the decay of idealism in Europe, and he says it in a way that echoes – among others - JG Ballard, Bret Easton Ellis and Alan Clarke’s Elephant. No matter how you react to it, Nocturama is undeniably extraordinary filmmaking, and a work very directly tuned to the current, increasingly troubled European psyche.

Jonathan Romney
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Laugh Gala in association with Sight & Sound

A lonely prankster father visits his estranged, high-powered consultant daughter, creating a fictional alias to embarrassingly insinuate himself into her stressed corporate life.

When Winfried’s career-driven, expat daughter Ines pays a flying visit from Romania, the pair’s awkward reunion is incessantly and – from her perspective – gratefully interrupted by work-related calls. Shortly after, Winfried travels to see Ines in Bucharest. The trip doesn’t go well and Winfried decides that his daughter’s life needs a few changes. Or rather, his bewigged, snaggle-toothed alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ does. Toni turns up at the worst moments, ambushing and pranking an already stressed Ines at work meetings and social engagements, to ends neither of them could possibly predict. Cannes 2016’s unanimous breakout hit (causing hardened critics to break out in spontaneous applause, twice), writer-director Maren Ade’s near-three-hour tragi-comedy is as continually surprising, hilarious, exasperating and bizarrely touching as its shambling, mischievous, titular shapeshifter. This belated follow-up to her superb 2009 Berlinale award-winner Everyone Else settles into its own loose-limbed pace and loping rhythms. Consequently, Ade mines so much more than a straightforward domestic drama. By using comedy to probe the disconnect between estranged family members, she explores the demands of the modern corporate environment where everything, even personal ties, are subject to market forces. And as Winfried and Ines, Austrian stage veteran Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller (Requiem) give two of the year’s standout performances, in one of its very best films.

Leigh Singer
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People who added this item 55 Average listal rating (33 ratings) 6.3 IMDB Rating 6.8
Thrill Gala in association with Empire

The extraordinary true story of Vinny Pazienza, a world championship boxer left with a broken neck after a devastating accident.

Based on the remarkable true story of world champion boxer Vinny ‘Paz’ Pazienza, this powerhouse drama recounts one of the most unlikely comebacks in sporting history. Miles Teller plays Paz, a native Rhode Islander who shoots to stardom after a succession of championship knockouts. At his physical peak and raking in the dollars, a near fatal car crash lands him in the hospital with a broken neck. Told he may never walk again, let alone fight, Paz sinks into depression, refusing to face up to the harsh reality of his situation. But months into the long and agonising road to recovery, the fighter makes a precarious decision to return to the gym and, unbeknownst to his friends and family, resumes work with his personal trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). After an excruciating rehabilitation regime, one year on from the accident that nearly cost him his life, Paz confounds expectations and returns to the ring.

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Bleed for This is a powerful testament to one man’s unflinching refusal to give up, brought vividly to life through an emotionally nuanced and physically commanding performance from the ever-impressive Teller. Quietly moving at times, the film is also aggressively confrontational, particularly during the extraordinary fight scenes which pack one hell of a punch. From Paz’s intimate moments of self-reflection to his high-octane bouts in the ring, Ben Younger’s perfectly-pitched biopic is never less than thrilling.

Michael Blyth
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Cult Gala

The director of cult hit Troll Hunter returns with a morgue-set shocker that will have you screaming in the aisles.

From director André Øvredal, the creative force behind cult smash Troll Hunter, comes a new exercise in relentless suspense. Abandoning the snow-covered Norwegian wilderness for the more intimate terrains of suburban America, we meet Tommy (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch), two coroners working together in a fully-equipped basement morgue in their own home. Austin is planning an evening out with his girlfriend, but when the unidentified body of a female homicide victim unexpectedly arrives on their doorstep, he reluctantly opts to stay and assist with the autopsy. As the procedure commences, the pair uncover one horrifying anomaly after the other, as the young woman’s body betrays evidence of brutal torture that defies medical sense. With each new incision, the perplexed morticians become increasingly aware that something is terribly wrong and this Jane Doe has more secrets than she is willing to reveal. Gleefully ratcheting up the tension, Øvredal’s expert sense of timing makes for an often agonising endurance test. Pulling no punches with its graphic medical scenes, this post-mortem is certainly not for the squeamish. But for those with a strong constitution (and an even stronger stomach), a wickedly humorous and devilishly surprising thrill ride awaits. Prepare to be screaming in the aisles – this might just be the most fun you’ll have in the dark all year.

Michael Blyth
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People who added this item 219 Average listal rating (126 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.4
Journey Gala

Adam Driver excels in this effortlessly charming tale of a bus driver poet in New Jersey, filmed with typically groovy élan by Jim Jarmusch.

Jarmuschians rejoice! Jim’s got a new joint and this one is for all you lovers out there. Adam Driver is a bus driver named Paterson who lives in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. Golshifteh Farahani is Laura, a freelance artist, baker and homemaker. They live together in a small house with their bulldog Marvin. Married life has its rhythms and routines, with Paterson’s days taken up crisscrossing the city, overhearing snippets of passengers’ conversations, while evenings find him enjoying a post-dinner walk with his dog and a trip to the neighbourhood bar. Throughout, Paterson mulls over words, observing fragments of life and constructing verse for a series of poems he writes in a notebook. Meanwhile, Laura’s artistic impulses spark her to make everything monochrome and groovy. Her talents span every kind of DIY, cupcakes and a newfound propensity with electric guitar. Adam Driver (Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) hits a career high as our quiet everyman with a military past whose journeys are both physical and existential. Paterson is constantly attuned to the extraordinary and poetic, even in the smallest of gestures, offering a charming depiction of how lovers can co-exist and support each other’s creativity. The poems, by real-life poet Ron Padgett, are damn fine too.

Kate Taylor
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People who added this item 38 Average listal rating (26 ratings) 6.3 IMDB Rating 5.7
Sonic Gala in association with MOBO Film

Spike Lee reimagines Aristophanes’ ancient Greek play Lysistrata as a dazzling modern-day hip-hop musical set in Chicago.

Spike Lee is back on the rampage and the result is this dazzling, rage-fuelled, in-your-face hip-hop musical that re-purposes Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – a comedy about a Greek heroine who leads a sex-strike to prevent war – setting it in Chicago’s South Side. Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) is the leader of the Spartans and the lover of foxy, feisty Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris). The Spartans are at war with rival gang, the Trojans, led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). When an 11-year-old-girl is killed in the crossfire of a gang battle, Lysistrata decides to take action. On the advice of her activist neighbour Miss Helen (Angela Bassett), she convinces all the sisters, on both sides, to take a stand. Their rally cry: “No peace, no pussy”. Needless to say, deprivation undoes the men. Song lyrics, spoken word and on-screen titles bring it home. This is scorching social analysis framed as raunchy entertainment. And in case you’re not getting it (or getting any), Samuel L Jackson breaks it down – a one-man chorus in a nifty three-piece suit. At its core, Chi-Raq is deadly serious (the title conflates Chi-cago and I-raq) and the film underscores that there have been more gun-related deaths in Chicago in the last 15 years than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. When it’s over, go download (legally, please) Mai Zetterling’s Lysistrata adaptation The Girls for more.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 196 Average listal rating (147 ratings) 5.6 IMDB Rating 6.5
Trolls (2016)
Family Gala in partnership with Sky Cinema

The happiest creatures in the world find themselves coming under threat when miserable giants want a bit of joy for themselves in this animated treat.

Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake lead an accomplished voice ensemble in this vivid, joyously choreographed musical animation from the ever-inventive team at DreamWorks. The tiny Trolls are to happiness what their giant neighbours the Bergens are to misery; they are the happiest creatures ever and love to laugh, sing and party. Except for Branch, who remembers that 20 years ago the Bergens celebrated Trollstice believing the taste of a troll would bring them everlasting joy. Despite Branch’s extensive preparations for survival in the event of a Bergen attack, the other Trolls are carefree and mock him for his caution and reluctance to embrace their way of life. One night, after an especially loud celebration, Branch’s worst fears are realised when a Bergen finds them and captures a number of Trolls. Princess Poppy must convince Branch that if the Troll race is to survive, he must join her on a dangerous rescue mission to the Bergen town, armed only with their magical hair and a handful of songs. The film’s vibrant look is amplified by its anthem ‘True Colours’, a song that emphasises the central themes of tolerance and acceptance, and just one of many terrific musical choices in this thoroughly entertaining film for all ages.

Justin Johnson
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Special Presentations

Join us for our Documentary, Experimenta, Festival and BFI Flare Special Presentations.
Festival Special Presentation

Andrea Arnold dazzles with a sun-soaked and tune-filled epic about door-to-door teenage magazine sellers travelling the American highways.

Rhianna’s ‘We Found Love (in a Hopeless Place)’ blares from the Walmart tannoy when Star (Sacha Lane) and Jake (Shia LaBeouf) lock eyes. She’s transfixed by his raffish good looks and charisma. So when he asks her to join his ragtag band of teenage travelling magazine sellers, she briefly hesitates – only at the thought of leaving her half-siblings with their deadbeat mother and her drunkard boyfriend. In American Honey, Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road) creates a lyrical story set on America’s highways, with echoes of Malick and Van Sant. But the British director brings an outsider’s delight to observing the people. Whether it’s Star, Jake, one of the oft-revolving mag crew, or their reclusive boss Krystal (Riley Keough, here, an imperious presence with porn-star glamour), Arnold clearly loves her characters’ contradictory rough-edged tenderness. And as in her early short Wasp, she sharply observes the socio-economic divides of the country.

In an expansive three hours, American Honey offers scale and space to get to know its central character, the intimacy fostered by Arnold and her long-time cinematographer Robbie Ryan with their regular 4:3 camera ratio. And what a central character: Lane’s Star is spellbinding at the heart of the film – sensual, defiant, forming unexpected allegiances with the strangers she meets on the road, and offering an almost transcendental moment of hope in the movie’s exquisite last shot. American Honey is as epic as Steinbeck’s portraits of America, but ultimately more full of joy – and with a seriously banging soundtrack.

Tricia Tuttle
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People who added this item 65 Average listal rating (42 ratings) 7.7 IMDB Rating 8.2
13th (2016)
Documentary Special Presentation in association with Time Out

Director Ava DuVernay presents a searing look at a century of race relations in America in this far-reaching and powerful documentary.

Ferocious in its commitment and cool-headed in its unrelenting logic, Ava DuVernay’s (Selma) new documentary draws an indisputable connection between the US Constitution’s 13th Amendment and the rising incarceration rates – which are astronomically disproportionate for black men – in the United States. The 13th Amendment, introduced to abolish slavery, states: ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.’ Opening with an address from Barack Obama, where he notes that America has almost 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners, the film uses archival footage and contemporary interviews to outline the systemic exploitation of this ‘exception’ in the last century of African-American history. From the rebirth of the KKK and the impact of DW Griffiths’ The Birth of a Nation (A title radically re-employed by Nate Parker in his account of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave revolt); through Nixon’s ‘war on crime’ and the introduction of the 1994 Crime Bill, DuVernay and her interview subjects trace – or in some cases, inadvertently reveal – the staggering trajectory of institutionalised racism in the criminal justice system, while dissecting the politicians and corporations that have benefitted from its escalation. A clarion call for Black Lives Matter, The 13th is a terrifying indictment of the state of race relations in the US. It is also urgent, essential viewing.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 2 Average listal rating (2 ratings) 6 IMDB Rating 7.2
Ascent (2016)
Experimenta Special Presentation

Using dazzling images of Mount Fuji from across the history of photography, the mountain inspires the artist on both a philosophical and romantic journey.

The beautiful and mysterious Mount Fuji is the site for an adventure of the imagination for a western female artist and her soulful male Japanese correspondent. We go on a metaphorical journey with them up the mountain, crossing geographical, temporal and cultural divides. Employing a collection of dazzlingly varied still images spanning the history of photography, the mountain becomes a breathtaking cultural monolith, inspiring the artist to uncover different paths and to muse on the significance of its dominant presence in Japanese history, religion and philosophy. By combining fiction and documentary, the film is able to explore the intersections between Japanese and Western art and popular culture, from Van Gogh’s passion to the perspectival simplicity of Japanese designs to Hokusai’s woodblock print of ‘The Wave’ that adorns tea towels and drinks coasters around the world. There is even the saviour-monster, Godzilla, who battles with the US imperialist equivalent, King Kong. Evoking both the insight and lyricism of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and emotional complexity of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour, Fiona Tan’s wonderful film captures the paradox of existing in time and space without movement. Profound stillness.

Helen de Witt
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BFI Flare Special Presentation

Another emotionally rich and visually sumptuous melodrama from Xavier Dolan, which picked up the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes.

The deserving recipient of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, visionary director Xavier Dolan (Mommy, Heartbeats) adds a thrilling new addition to his string of emotionally volatile, visually sumptuous melodramas. Based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play Juste la fin du monde, this taut chamber piece follows terminally ill writer Louis (an arresting Gaspard Ulliel), who returns home to break the news of his debilitating condition to his estranged family (a powerhouse cast including Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel). Once there, old wounds and deep seated frustrations surface as Louis struggles to rekindle relationships and articulate the real reason for his unexpected visit. Continuing to prove himself a master visual craftsman, Dolan’s bold artistic choices effectively strip the film of its theatrical roots. Shot almost entirely in uncomfortable, claustrophobic close-ups, this may be his most aesthetically divisive film yet, although such showmanship never threatens to overshadow the aching sadness that permeates every scene. Although based on another man’s work, the overarching themes of isolation, miscommunication and the queer experience which form the backbone of this arduous family reunion feel decidedly Dolan, albeit a more mature and intimate version than we have seen before.

Michael Blyth

Taking place every March at BFI Southbank, BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival showcases the best in contemporary queer cinema from around the world.
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Special Presentation

Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with Fisher Stevens to present an irrefutable and urgent update on the facts about climate change.

Leonardo DiCaprio puts on his environmental activist cap and teams up with fellow actor and Academy Award-winning producer of The Cove (2010) Fisher Stevens (directing here) to raise the alarm bell about climate change. “Time is not a luxury we have” says DiCaprio as we follow him, between shooting scenes from The Revenant, in his relentless campaign around the globe meeting scientists, world activists and local residents of impacted areas to gain a deeper understanding of one of the most vital and complex issues of our times. Astutely aware of the power of DiCaprio's celebrity and the value of being able to use this to responsible effect, the film team is able to access the world’s most influential figures including president Barack Obama and Pope Francis as well as prominent international scientists and activists playing key roles in combatting climate change such as Sunita Narain, Lindsey Allen and Piers Sellers. DiCaprio's genuine passion and knowledge for the subject, his charisma and straight-forward approach, and his obvious comfort working with Stevens behind the camera make for an accessible documentary of depth and scope. Not only does Before the Flood present an irrefutable and urgent update on the facts about climate change, it also investigates and proposes solutions and actions that can be taken now, to prevent the flood.

Clare Stewart
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Official Competition

The Best Film Award recognises inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking.
People who added this item 79 Average listal rating (43 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.1
Dakota Fanning is a revelation in this brutal revenge tale about a mute midwife in the old American west.

In the uncompromising terrains of the old American West, mute midwife Liz enjoys a humble existence with her young daughter, independently minded stepson and loyal, devoted husband. Seemingly content with her life, Liz’s eyes nonetheless betray a quiet sadness, suggesting a previous life fraught with pain and anguish. One day in church, her delicate peace is shattered when she hears the ominous, Dutch-tinged drawl of the town’s new preacher. Instantly recognising the man she had so desperately hoped to have escaped, Liz must prepare to protect both herself and her family from the the reverend’s merciless grasp.

Told in four distinct chapters, writer/director Martin Koolhoven’s extraordinary western is a ferociously rendered, richly-evocative tale of bloodshed and retribution driven by Dakota Fanning’s remarkable turn. Imbuing Liz with a quiet fragility and steely determination, Fanning’s tenacious frontierswoman instantly joins the ranks of cinema’s most compelling Western heroines. Memorable support is provided by a stellar cast including Kit Harington and Carice van Houten, while special mention must go to Guy Pearce – channeling Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter – for his terrifying portrayal of Liz’s unrelenting nemesis. With a visual lyricism in striking contrast to the gruelling violence on screen, this deeply affecting tale of moral reckoning is often difficult to watch, but impossible to forget.

Michael Blyth
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Kelly Reichardt delivers an impeccably quiet study of the lives of Montana women, starring Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone.

The LFF has long loved Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass, Old Joy and most recently, Night Moves). Certain Women reunites her with Michelle Williams (Wendy & Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff) for a story about the lives of different women in Livingstone, Montana, a town of only 7,000 residents. Laura Dern’s lawyer is conducting a surreptitious lunchtime affair with a married man while defending a disgruntled construction worker (Jared Harris) in a workplace accident suit. Williams is Gina, a woman of frustrated ambitions attempting to build a ‘perfect’ family with her husband and surly child, but struggling with her own slippery ethics as she tries to get things done in the sleepy town. And Native American actor Lily Gladstone rounds off the trio, playing lonely ranch hand Jamie, who enrols in a night school course and develops confusing feelings for supply teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart). It’s all-round stellar work from an impeccable cast, with striking discovery Gladstone particularly sublime as the near-silent figure struggling to articulate the nature of her interest in Beth. Drawing from Montana-native Maile Meloy’s short stories, Reichardt’s delicate, nuanced direction ensures that the minutest look or gesture gains epic significance. And the only moment in the film to employ scored music is so overwhelming it might just break your heart.

Tricia Tuttle
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People who added this item 20 Average listal rating (13 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.7
Mohamed Diab’s Clash is an unforgettable portrait of Egypt on the brink as rival protestors find themselves locked up in a police van.

Mohamed Diab confirms his status as Egypt’s foremost cultural commentator with Clash, a masterful depiction of a society torn apart by its differences. Where Diab’s previous 678 tackled female harassment in Egyptian society, Clash’s scope is even more ambitious: the future of the nation. Egypt has long been the centre of the film industry in the Arab world. Following the heady 18 days in 2011, which saw a people-led revolution overthrow the decades long rule of Hosni Mubarak, there have been no shortage of films attempting to capture the epochal events. Most have already dated, framed as they are in the white heat of the moment. Diab’s film possesses a more long-term perspective.

Set in 2013, after mass protests saw the ruling Muslim Brotherhood thrown out of power by the army, Clash unfolds almost entirely within the claustrophobic confines of a police van as rival demonstrators find themselves caught in impossibly stifling heat. From this simple set-up, Diab weaves a striking story of scale, ambition and pure cinematic verve, pulling off a remarkable feat; a road movie about confinement. The film’s surprisingly strong performance at the Egyptian box office is testament to its power to move and enthral, leaving audiences breathless with a magnificent denouement that artfully evokes the faultlines in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Ali Jaafar
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People who added this item 274 Average listal rating (168 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.2
Isabelle Huppert gives an unforgettable performance in Paul Verhoeven’s provocative thriller about one woman’s response to a violent attack.

French icon Isabelle Huppert – who can switch from scathing to playful with a liminal quiver of her upper lip – gives a staggering performance as Michèle Leblanc, the director of a video game company who is raped in her own parlour by a masked assailant. Giving no immediate sign of distress and taking what appears to be a deliberate pleasure in shrugging off the terrifying incident, she locks the door after her attacker and gets on with life. Michèle is a woman who mocks the idiocy of others and enjoys her own power, especially her capacity to disrupt. When her attacker insinuates himself into her psyche via a series of text messages, there is a whisper of fear, but she soon flicks it to ‘game on’.

American writer David Birke’s screenplay (translated back into French) is persistently ambiguous and ironic, avoiding the easy psychology and obvious motivations of the rape revenge fantasy for something far more textured and sophisticated in its treatment of desire and control. It is full testament to the collaboration between Verhoeven and Huppert that they expertly navigate amorality and sustain a permanent state of suspense, mischief and challenge.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 60 Average listal rating (35 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 7.5
François Ozon makes a welcome return to the Festival with this sweeping love story set in the aftermath of World War I.

The ever-prolific François Ozon makes a welcome return with this richly-evocative period piece, set in the aftermath of World War I. In a small German town, a young woman named Anna mourns the tragic death of her fiancé Frantz. Living with her departed lover’s parents, Anna keeps to herself, until one day she spies a mysterious man leaving flowers on Frantz’s grave. Discovering the man to be a close friend of her fiancé during his time in France, Anna finds solace in the outsider’s memories of her beloved. But as her sorrow slowly begins to lift, and the pair become increasingly attached, some striking truths emerge, forcing Anna to question her burgeoning feelings.

No two Ozon films are ever the same and this sweeping love story is a typically atypical work from the wonderfully unpredictable filmmaker. Shot predominantly in gorgeous black and white – the monochrome austerity of the film’s opening scenes feels curiously reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (although this is as far as such similarities go) – it is a surprising contrast to the vibrant colours Ozon usually employs. But if Frantz marks a stylistic departure, fans can rest assured that the director’s signature touches (mischievous narrative twists, an affection for classical melodrama and playful sexual ambiguity) are all present and correct. The result is unmistakably, quintessentially Ozon.

Michael Blyth
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People who added this item 7 Average listal rating (5 ratings) 5.4 IMDB Rating 6.3
Goldstone (2016)
Corruption and Aboriginal exploitation are rife in an Outback town, led by reptilian mayor Jacki Weaver, in Ivan Sen’s (Mystery Road) tense new thriller.

Ivan Sen delivers another layered and engrossing slow-burn thriller, reprising both the distinctive, ‘outback noir’ style of Mystery Road (LFF 2013), as well as its central character – troubled Indigenous Australian detective Joe Swan (the broody, charismatic Aaron Pedersen). On the desolate road into the mining town of Goldstone, Joe is arrested for drunk-driving by fresh-faced local cop Josh (Alex Russell). Joe is on the trail of a disappeared girl, but Josh is mistrustful and reluctant to help him on the case, yielding to the considerable, pie-baking sway of the corrupt local Mayor, Maureen (the brilliant, butter-wouldn’t-melt Jacki Weaver). When Joe’s investigations lead him to Furnace Creek mine, Josh is faced with a moral choice – help Joe, or collude with Maureen and the mine’s slippery manager, Johnny (David Wenham).

Cogently employing the device of the law-enforcement two-hander to prise open the film’s nail-biting narrative, Sen establishes both blackfella and whitefella perspectives to illuminate the social, economic and environmental factors that continue to corrode Australian Indigenous ‘country’. Sen’s vision is cohesively realised through his own writing, cinematography, editing and composing; a true filmmaking all-rounder, his cinema is both searing in its eloquence and steadfastly entertaining. Goldstone’s exceptional cast includes David Gulpilil, Tom E. Lewis and Cheng Pei-pei.

Clare Stewart
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People who added this item 5 Average listal rating (4 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 6.8
Layla M. (2016)
The gripping and powerful story of a young girl’s path towards radicalisation from director Mijke de Jong (Bluebird).

We first meet Dutch/Moroccan teenager Layla at a football match, cheering on her team and enraged by the ease with which racial slurs are thrown about on the pitch. Whilst her referee father shrugs them off, she struggles with the slights. Increasingly disillusioned by her own society’s latent discrimination and its indifference to violence in the Middle East, Layla begins to find a sense of community with people who share her concerns. Growing increasingly distant from her family, who are perplexed by the conservative views she embraces, Layla leaves home and marries Abdel, a member of her group. Clearly smitten, the innocence of their growing attraction highlights a youthful naivety. However, as restrictions on how they live their life multiply, Layla begins to question the choices she has made.

Newcomer Nora el Koussour delivers an electric performance as Layla, adroitly fusing the conflicting tensions of a bright, angry and passionate young woman. Director Mijke de Jong, whose work has often explored the vulnerability of youth – most notably in Berlinale winner Bluebird – packs a powerful but nuanced punch, unpicking the disillusionment that can trigger radicalisation amongst young people and the complex web of realities that it represents.

Elhum Shakerifar
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People who added this item 548 Average listal rating (395 ratings) 7.7 IMDB Rating 7.4
Based on the play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’, Moonlight follows Chiron as he finds his identity and sexuality in Miami in the 1980s.

Miami. The 1980s. Chiron is a reticent child, different from the other kids at school. There’s something about the way he walks, the way he talks, that has others guessing before he does, in an environment where queerness is just not an option. Junkie Ma (a tightly-wound Naomie Harris) is no help in navigating these waters, so Chiron turns to local drug kingpin Juan (played with charismatic gravitas by Mahershala Ali), who offers the kind of leadership and emotional support that he so sorely needs. And Juan’s relationship with his girlfriend (Janelle Monáe in an auspicious onscreen debut) offers the blueprint for an equal relationship. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney and journeying across three time periods, we witness key moments in the formation of Chiron’s masculinity and how in turn, these moments come to define his sexuality. Barry Jenkins’ debut feature Medicine For Melancholy (LFF2008) earned him many fans, including Steven Soderbergh and Brad Pitt, who is a producer here. Moonlight makes good on that film’s promise, delivering a restrained yet intoxicating story with genuine emotional power. It’s consistently surprising and brimming with formal invention, from camera movement to the richly evocative imagery. Grand in scope but intimate in execution, make Moonlight your discovery.

Kate Taylor
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People who added this item 62 Average listal rating (31 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 7
Described by director Pablo Larraín as an ‘anti-bio’, this bold, inventive detective thriller offers an electrifying contemplation of Neruda’s life on the run in the late 1940s.

For his sixth feature, Pablo Larraín turns to his compatriot, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda. Only this isn’t so much a biopic as a boldly inventive and visually thrilling contemplation of identity and branding. It details how Neruda’s public persona – as a romantic poet with a political conscience – was cemented in the late 1940s. Despite his vanity and snobbishness, Neruda (brilliantly played by Luis Gnecco) is a figure who inspires and animates, galvanising the ideals enshrined in his poetry. In 1948 as President González Videla (Larraín regular Alfredo Castro) begins to clamp down on communism in Chile, Neruda goes on the run with his wife Delia (Mercedes Morán). He is obsessively pursued by a detective, the wonderfully named Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), who is doggedly determined not to be a supporting player in the escalating drama. So begins a chase that comes to acquire epic proportions as the lauded poet, aided by ordinary Communist party members, attempts to stay one step ahead of the authorities.

Described by Larraín as an ‘anti bio’, Neruda is a dizzying cinematic adventure filmed with playful virtuosity. History, legend and fiction fuse to powerful effect, offering a beautifully performed, shadowy cat-and-mouse thriller, where the celebrated poet, a gloriously contradictory feature, forever eludes those trying to pin him down.

Maria Delgado
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People who added this item 35 Average listal rating (14 ratings) 6.6 IMDB Rating 6.6
Terence Davies returns with an elegant and deeply moving biopic of poet Emily Dickinson, played with sensitivity and rebellious spirit by Cynthia Nixon.

Emily Dickinson is a nonconformist who cannot smooth her own sharp edges. Whether as poet, daughter or woman of faith, she finds herself at odds with the diktats of religion and society. Retreating into the bosom of her Massachusetts family, relief comes in the form of a new neighbour, Vryling Buffam, who offers Emily an equal of the mind, as well as some excellent sassy badinage. But Dickinson’s longings for romance, and insecurities about her own attractiveness, are at odds with the amount of love she has to give. Featuring a finely curated selection of her poems in voiceover, A Quiet Passion details many facets of Dickinson’s character: her wit and linguistic command; an inescapable melancholy, and her poetry’s transcendent ability to connect with other people in ways she cannot.

Cynthia Nixon is superb in a role spanning Dickinson’s adult life, making vivid the notion that the parts of our personality that harden over time are rarely the ones we’d choose. As a biopic, its reach extends well beyond existing lovers of her poetry (although you’ll be challenged not to be a fan by the end) and Terence Davies once again proves himself to be astonishingly sensitive to the nature, dreams and disappointments of women.

Kate Taylor
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People who added this item 47 Average listal rating (25 ratings) 6.4 IMDB Rating 6.2
Una
Adapted from David Harrower’s prize-winning play Blackbird, Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn star in this brilliant and unsettling exploration of a dark and deeply destructive relationship.

The less said, the better when it comes to the basic plot points in Australian theatre director Benedict Andrews’ remarkable cinematic debut Una, based on David Harrower’s Blackbird (the Scottish playwright here adapts his own work). So here goes: with deeply unresolved questions about her past, Una (Rooney Mara) travels to another city, turning up unannounced at Ray’s (Ben Mendelsohn) work and dredging up a decade-old experience that he thought he’d left behind. Mendelsohn and Mara are exceptional as the troubled and troubling Ray and Una, and Riz Ahmed makes for a perfect foil as the innocent Scott. The film interrogates the psychology of abuse with precision, intelligence and restraint; taking on a disturbing subject, Harrower and Andrews expertly shift us through an enormous range of intellectual and emotional positions. This is filmmaking artistry of the highest order, from writing and performances to the unsettling, moody score from Jed Kurzel (Macbeth, Snowtown). The brilliance of Andrews’ overall achievement is crystallised in a breath-taking opening sequence, a masterclass in cinematic exposition, which ends with Una staring defiantly at the camera while PJ Harvey screams “I lost my heart / Under the bridge / To that little girl”. It’s a moment of hard-hitting power, pure cinema, and as literal and painful as a punch in the face.

Tricia Tuttle
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People who added this item 343 Average listal rating (247 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 8.4
Teenagers Mitsuha and Taki haven’t met but find their lives intertwined after the arrival of a comet in this emotionally charged anime.

Two teenagers’ lives are changed forever when the first visible comet for a thousand years approaches Japan. Mitsuha lives in a rural area and longs to leave, whilst Taki waits tables in Tokyo when he’s not studying. Despite never having met, they both begin to dream about each other, imagining that somehow they have exchanged bodies and are existing in parallel lives. As this phenomenon continues, they start communicating with each other via messages left on smartphones and resolve to meet to make sense of what is happening to them. Despite the fun body-swap vibe that our heroes initially experience, a dark journey lies ahead.

Considered by many as the heir to Miyazaki, Makota Shinkai (5 Centimeters Per Second, The Garden of Words) proves himself to be a master of precise, beautifully observed animation, with every scene rich in detail. As a writer, he delivers an emotionally-charged story, cleverly balancing contemporary feel, traditional influence and sci-fi elements, which keep the viewer enthralled as the drama moves towards its awe-inspiring conclusion. This is a thought-provoking, mature work by one of Japan’s finest filmmakers. And it marks the first time an animated film has appeared in our Official Competition.

Justin Johnson
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First Feature Competition

The Sutherland Award recognises the most original and imaginative directorial debut.
People who added this item 0 Average listal rating (0 ratings) 0 IMDB Rating 6.9
Camaleón (2016)
Two women are terrorised by an unwanted stranger in this gruelling but stylish bourgeois nightmare.

The day after hosting a going away party, Chilean couple Paula and Paulina plan on a quiet day together, making the most of their final hours before Paulina has to leave for a long stay in Europe. When Gastón, a guest from the previous evening, shows up unexpectedly the two think nothing of it. But Gastón appears intent on staying and when a few drinks bring forth underlying tensions between the pair, his dark intentions begin to emerge. With its glacial approach, there is something Haneke-esque about this impeccably-styled bourgeois nightmare, which is strewn with ambiguities and unanswered questions. Touching upon the potent themes of class, sexuality and racial identity, Jorge Riquelme Serrano’s insidious, often unbearably tense debut can be genuinely upsetting at times. And yet, though undeniably gruelling, it is by no means exploitative, displaying a satisfying sense of restraint even during its most brutal moments.

Michael Blyth
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People who added this item 9 Average listal rating (5 ratings) 7.2 IMDB Rating 7.1
Dry, sarcastic, maddening Mary must find a date for her best friend’s wedding in this Irish feel-good hit for misfits everywhere.

Fresh out of a six-month stretch in the slammer, Mary returns home to find the people around her have moved on. And it stings. Preparing a speech for her best friend Charlene’s wedding and, seeing a chance to prove that she’s not a total fuck-up, Mary decides she must find a date to take to the ceremony. Her dryly sarcastic response to her own mission may make for crackling comedy, but Mary’s misfit status has isolated her, and the version of Charlene she idolised may no longer exist. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Jess, the gorgeous wedding videographer… Brothers Darren and Colin Thornton take on directing and screenwriting roles, adapting Yasmine Akram’s stage play to deliver an instant-hit Irish feel-good film with guts. And Seána Kerslake delivers one of the stand-out performances of the year, which will have you rooting for messy, infuriating and hilariously compelling Mary all the way.

Kate Taylor
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People who added this item 49 Average listal rating (28 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.4
The gangster genre is given a shrewd feminist makeover in this arresting debut about a young girl embarking on a life of crime.

With staggering self-assurance and disarming creativity, director Houda Benyamina bursts onto our screens with the frenetic story of Dounia, a teenage girl living in a crime-fuelled suburb on the outskirts of Paris. Along with her best friend Maimouna, the budding entrepreneur vies for the attention of local dealer Rebecca, whilst simultaneously embarking on a fraught emotional relationship with a handsome male dancer who has caught her eye. But as Dounia’s work and personal lives rapidly escalate, her control begins to slip and she soon finds herself dangerously out of her depth. A neat feminist twist on the typically male-centric terrain of the gangster thriller, this imaginatively directed and sharply-performed drama signals the arrival of some major new talents. In its depiction of female friendships and power dynamics, the film makes for an interesting companion piece to Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, while as a vibrant explosion of youthful energy and imagination, it stands defiantly on its own.

Michael Blyth
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People who added this item 7 Average listal rating (6 ratings) 5.8 IMDB Rating 6.6
The tender story of Rikard, a severely deformed autistic man whose life is fueled by dreams of sports victory and imaginary worlds.

Bristling with originality, The Giant defies classification: a mythic story told on a very intimate scale; a sports movie played out to a Western soundtrack; a comedy of melancholy optimistism. From this melting pot of ideas, writer-director Johannes Nyholm crafts the tender and emotionally complex story of Rikard, a severely deformed man with autism. Haunted by the loss of his mother, from whom he was separated as a young child, Rikard believes that she will take him back if he wins the Scandinavian Championship trophy in his beloved sport of pétanque (a form of boules). Although surrounded and supported by an army of loving friends and carers who are unfazed by his condition, from time to time Rikard escapes to an imaginary world where he is a 50-metre tall giant. Marrying dazzlingly beautiful fantasy sequences with quietly moving drama, Nyholm filters Rikard’s world through a distinctive soundscape to create an extraordinarily rich and inventive film.

Sarah Lutton
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People who added this item 4 Average listal rating (3 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 6.7
Inhebek Hedi (2016)
This taut, naturalistic, prize-winning drama about a dutiful son on the brink of an arranged marriage speaks volumes about Tunisia today.

Deserving winner of the Best Actor and Best First Feature prizes at this year’s Berlinale, Mohamed Ben Attia’s simple yet richly resonant film is named after its young Tunisian protagonist, a car salesman about to embark on a marriage arranged by his mother. But when Hedi (Mastoura, superbly understated) is sent by his likewise domineering boss to solicit sales in another town, he encounters and is drawn to Rim, a tourist guide and entertainer at his hotel whose free-spirited confidence is worlds away from his bride-to-be’s conventional modesty – and indeed from his own listless passivity. Freedom beckons, but the wedding’s just days away… Succeeding both as a persuasively naturalistic account of a fraught personal dilemma and as a lightly handled metaphor for Tunisia itself, torn between tradition and modernity as it struggles with economic problems, this extremely fine debut heralds a writer-director to watch.

Geoff Andrew
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People who added this item 67 Average listal rating (33 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 6.9
A defiant, passionate young woman struggles against suffocating societal norms in this exceptional British debut starring the incandescent Florence Pugh.

Debut director William Oldroyd and writer Alice Birch move from theatre to film with an ingeniously realised adaptation of an 1865 Russian novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young bride, unhappily married to the nasty son of a wealthy mine owner. Unable to consummate his marriage, the husband is sadistic, refusing to even allow his young wife out of the house. Left alone when her husband is called away on business, Katherine starts to explore the grounds and initiates a passionate affair with earthy, ill-mannered stable-hand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), while her increasingly concerned maid (rising star Naomi Ackie) watches on. Lady Macbeth has grand ambitions, and exudes a rare vision and talent. Proving her knockout turn in The Falling was no fluke, Pugh amazes as a heroine whose behaviour shifts from steely proud to wild-eyed and deranged.

Tricia Tuttle
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Debut writer/director Hope Dickson Leach delivers a hugely impressive first feature about a middle class farming family’s crisis, set against the backdrop of the Somerset floods.

Clover (Ellie Kendrick, The Diary of Anne Frank) is finishing a veterinary course when her beloved brother dies and she is called home to her family’s struggling Somerset farm. Her mother died some time ago and it’s clear that Clover and her garrulous father Aubrey (David Troughton) do not get on. Debut writer/director (and LFF short film alumnus) Hope Dickson Leach gives the talented duo a complex, finely-crafted script to work with, offering a drama that works on many different levels. The story is framed against the devastating Somerset floods, with parallels drawn between the fractured family and their dying farm. Nanu Segal’s expressive photography of the land, accentuated by Ben Baird’s rich sound design – both elements unshowy but wholly cinematic – underpin the challenges the family face. Dickson Leach also skilfully dismantles assumptions about privilege of gentleman English farmers delivering a sophisticated feature of deep emotional heft and power.

Tricia Tuttle
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People who added this item 120 Average listal rating (70 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.8
Funny and engaging animated first feature about an orphan named Courgette, written by Celine Sciamma, for kids, teens and adults alike.

Nine-year-old Icare, known to his friends as ‘Courgette’, finds himself in a local orphanage after the accidental death of his abusive mother. Here he meets a group of children, each with their own emotional burdens and traumas to bear. Rather than dwelling on their misfortunes, the kids adopt a pragmatic approach to leading their lives, finding ways to co-exist in relative harmony. And the arrival of young Camille gives Courgette his first taste of hope and possible romance. Despite its disarmingly uncomplicated look, this stop motion animated feature is one for older children and teens, as well as adults. It deals with its mature themes subtly and with respect, exploring the ways we adapt to the future and make the best of our lives. Claude Barras, working with an inventive script by Céline Sciamma (who wrote Being 17, which also plays in this festival) has created a funny, engaging and moving film with an unexpected depth and sense of beauty.

Justin Johnson
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Two young Polish schoolboys perform acts of extreme violence in this remarkable but incendiary debut feature.

Gabrysia, Szymek and Czarek are three pre-adolescents on the last day of school. Gabrysia is shy and unsure of herself, prone to bouts of self-harming that go unnoticed by her family. Szymek and Czarek, on the other hand, both display a boyish sense of bravado, frequently lashing out with apparently senseless acts of aggression and cruelty. When Gabrysia decides to divulge her true feelings for Szymek, the two boys take their sociopathic tendencies a step further, leading to a series of shocking and unexpected events. Bearing strong resemblance to the real-life murder of James Bulger which rocked the UK back in 1993, Bartosz M Kowalski’s chilling debut is every bit as disturbing as it should be, featuring distressing scenes of horrific violence yet without ever resorting to crude sensationalism. Cold, controlled and savagely upsetting, this remarkable but incendiary piece of work seeks only to ask difficult questions, not to offer easy answers.

Michael Blyth
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People who added this item 6 Average listal rating (2 ratings) 6 IMDB Rating 6.3
Anton Yelchin and Lucie Lucas star in this elegiac and deeply cinematic lovesong to the pains and pleasures of a brief romantic encounter.

A location where every frame seems imbued with a lingering romantic pessimism, Porto is the setting for the end, the start and the reminiscence of a love affair between American drifter Jake and French archaeologist Mati. By turns sexy and sad, the film shows the damage that their momentary connection helps them transcend, as well as the feelings they’re left with. Anton Yelchin, in one of his final roles, brings a restless physicality to Jake, a man caged in his own way of thinking. And Lucie Lucas’ bold performance is made iconic through some Nouvelle Vague framing – especially in an extraordinary eyes-across-the-room café scene. Executive produced by Jim Jarmusch and featuring a brief vocal performance by Chantal Akerman, director Gabe Klinger follows his 2013 documentary Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater with this ravishing debut fiction feature combining the textures of 35mm,16mm and Super8 film formats to question the verisimilitude of love, and of film itself.

Kate Taylor
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People who added this item 216 Average listal rating (141 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 7
A young woman discovers an insatiable appetite for flesh in this playful coming of age body horror tale.

Following in the footsteps of both her parents and older sister, animal-loving vegetarian Justine enrols in veterinary college. Entering a seductive world of boys, drugs and all-night parties, the diligent freshman remains committed to her studies. But when she is forced to eat raw meat during an elaborate hazing ritual, a dormant hunger is awakened within her and soon an insatiable appetite for flesh takes over. With an abundance of subtext to sink your teeth into, this feminist teen cannibal tale oozes with provocative, youthful exuberance. Like comparable explorations of forbidden female desire such as Marina de Van’s In My Skin or Lynne Stopkewich’s Kissed, Raw is a deeply tactile, even physical experience, which is often uncomfortable to witness. But Julia Ducournau laces her sanguinary exercise in body horror with a caustic streak of dark humour, making it as perversely enjoyable as it is gleefully grisly. A truly singular coming of age fable… with extra bite!

Michael Blyth
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BFI London Film Festival (17 lists)
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Published 3 years ago



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