NOTE: This article was originally published on October 31st 2017 but was deleted due to an admin error. The text below has been republished in full.
I first attended the London Film Festival in 2014 when Goro Miyazaki's From Up On Poppy Hill played for the first time in the UK as a teenage anime fan. I followed that up the year after to attend the premiere of Mamoru Hosoda's Wolf Children after spending a week watching Summer Wars on repeat and being disappointed by his successive films afterwards. In 2016, I appreciated the scale of what LFF had to offer for the first time by seeking out the latest projects by notable masters such as Hou-Hsiao-Hsien, Jia Zhangke and Terrence Malick while also seeing newly acclaimed highlights like Son Of Saul and realising I should throw my net even further come this year's festival.
I saw 25 films at the festival in total. Rather than talk about the films I found lacking or the disappointments, this will be focused on five films I highly recommend and hope everyone has an opportunity to see.
24 Frames by Abbas Kiarostami
Looking at reviews of Kiarostami's swan song after the screening I was surprised at the lack of comparisons to Andrezj Wajda's final film After Image who died earlier this month. Both films use paintings as a way to reflect the subjective memory of the past: Wadja though a biopic of a soviet painter while Kiarostami let's the images speak for themselves. A prescript at the beginning states Kiarostami's intentions of depicting the reality of the scene through digital recreations of paintings before moving to photos. The first image is the most recognisable of Pieter Brugel's The Hunters In The Snow as life is given to the chimney as smoke rises to the vanishing point awakening the rooks as the picture becomes alive. Kiarostami has always experimented with the border between fiction and reality most famously in the Koker trilogy and in the film Close-Up but it's here where this statement is taken literally. It's questionable whether all 24 images are needed to display this effect efficiently but as his final statement on cinema as a medium it is unique and profound (The final frame in particular is brilliant at tying the project together).
120 Beats Per Minute by Robin Campillo
Watching the film there's a certain irony to the title where the focus on the film shifts from the macro to the micro as the structure morphs to reflect the decay the AID's epidemic has on the activist group as a whole. It's a relief then that Campillo manages to walk the tightrope so well for the films runtime, critiquing Act Up's methods of achieving praxis while portraying an inclusive and diverse LGBTQ community fighting for a common goal. Sensual pleasures are shown as fleeting with the looming spectre of death hovering over each member before it ends in the only way it can. Complaints about loose editing and an unfocused narrative seem quaint against the message on display as the socio-political context of Eastern Boys is given additional context with a level of attention sorely needed in 2017.
Let The Sunshine In by Claire Denis
Truth be told I've never been the biggest fans of Denis's brand of stoic directing and careful pacing on the foibles of her characters. I've never been able to successfully work out why this is but the nature of her genre fare such as Trouble Every Day and Bastards or her humanist pieces of 35 Shots Of Rum and Friday Night have always left me cold, even if this was deliberate. Colour me surprised then that Let The Sunshine In works a sense of humour into her delicate compositions to create her most holistic work since Beau Travail. Juliette Binoche anchors her experiences with shitty men in the film and Denis never relents on her being the focus at all times. This stare into a middle aged woman's love life is a unique one, helped by a dry sense of humour that stops the films from becoming naval gazing or overly pithy (the final encounter with a psychiatrist that I won't spoil is Denis at the height of her powers). Her next film High View looks like a return to her previous style of films but with Let The Sunshine In, I am more excited than ever to see what she delivers next.
Lu Over The Wall by Masaaki Yuasa
Yuasa's latest film The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl was released a few weeks ago and I was surprised how he manage to take everything that worked so well in the first few episodes in The Tatami Galaxy and structure his best movie since Mind Game in terms of visual creativity and criticism of the male ego. For his second outing this year, Yuasa goes in the opposite direction, creating a family film like Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo released a couple of years ago except Yuasa has more fun with the material. Criticisms of this being a tonal nightmare are true, The mood switches in the film every two minutes or so and there's little to no attempts to characterise any of the human characters outside of the broadest strokes. Despite all of this, Yuasa's visual flair propelled this to being one of the best experiences I had at the festival. His imagination extends to a series of fun musical interludes, some light drama, a giant shark man with an umbrella and anything Yuasa had drew in his sketchbook that day is given life in this 100 minute animation reel. The taste won't be to anyone but after the pointed message of The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl and the litany of serious character dramas I saw during the festival, Lu Over The Wall was a near perfect send off that made me smile the whole way through and has me very excited for his upcoming Devilman adaptation should this streak continue.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer by Yorgos Lanthimos
My favourite film of the festival. I've been a fan of all of Yorgos's films so far and I've never bought a lot of criticism that hovers over his head regarding his nihilism or misanthropy and seeing this the same day as Michael Haneke's Happy End confirmed that he is leaps and bounds ahead of depicting the uncomfortable white middle class privilege in increasingly hilarious ways. From how the first cut on this movie slides from a birds eye view of open heart surgery to a fish eye lens of an unbelievably dull conversation about watch straps with Kubrician droning in the background immediately shows Yorgos's understanding of how dull misanthropy really is (compared to Happy End where you are expected to laugh at the base absurdity of the events rather than how out of elements the characters are), this morphs into a cat and mouse game where rules are barely established and there's never a final explanation for how the actors, or yorgos in general may just be replicating the story the title's based on. None of this conveys just how funny the movie is though, I can't think of another film where I felt compelled to laugh at everything that was going on from a pure directing level never mind the amazing performance Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman give as a wealthy couple who have lost all reason to emote with each other. I still can't explain why usually find this type of film so repellent but Yorgos's styling between this or The Lobster or anything else makes it pop so much but I hope he continues to make more of these.