• Ben Keightley

BFI London Film Festival 2019 - 10 Films To Watch

The 2019 London Film Festival runs from 2nd - 13th October this year. The full schedule of the festival is now out and with hundreds of films playing across the festival it can be hard to know what to watch. The obvious options are the big Gala screenings, which come with A-list stars and great directors, but understandably are the hot films, so getting tickets can be hard. But across 11 strands (Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Experimenta, Family, Treasures) there is a wealth of films from 75 countries that will delight, surprise and astonish audiences. Tricia Tuttle (Festival Director) and her team of programmers, Kate Taylor, Michael Blyth, Ana David and Manish Agarwal have created a programme of films which tackle the burning issues we face today, some of the most interesting and adventurous of which are debut films.


Having scoured the festival programme below I've recommended 10 top tips - some of the films i'm most excited to try and catch. Cinema is in a rich vein currently, and the programme is mouthwatering. The below 10 just the tip of the iceberg for great films showing.


10. The Lodge - Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala


It took a long time for me to shake off the unease and feelings of dread Franz and Fiala conjured in their masterfully disturbing Goodnight Mommy. A film which explored ideas and questions most of us never want to go near. That they delivered something as captivating as it was unnerving makes me extremely excited about their follow-up The Lodge. Taking on a similar feel to Goodnight Mommy, Franz and Fiala's sophomore effort sees two bereaved siblings spending a summer holiday with their father's new fiancee at an isolated lodge. If The Lodge promises to be a film that will be unsettling and overpowering, so maybe not one for the feint of heart. Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Lodge is playing at part of the Cult Strand.



9. Queen of Diamonds - Nina Menkes


Playing in the Treasures Strand, Nina Menkes subversive, independent 90's Las Vegas set drama is getting a new restoration. It's one of two films playing the Treasures stand directed by women, and is described by Menkes herself as, "my very personal portrait of the US: an over-enlarged, profit-motivated core surrounded by mute and arid alienation". That sounds pretty appealing to me. And now might be just the perfect time to discover (or rediscover) this film.



8. Abominable - Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman


The latest animation from Dreamworks is an adventure about a little girl and her yeti in a race-against-time trip from China to the Himalayas. Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman co-direct and have solid experience, (Culton working at Pixar on A Bug's Life and Monster's Inc and directing Open Season, Wilderman - art department work on Trolls, Cloudy with a Chance of Meat Balls). The film looks magnificent, is a co-production between Dreamworks and Chinese company, Pearl Studio, and promises a coming-of-age story with themes about nature and the environment (The Yeti having magic powers and a connection with nature). This could be the perfect family fun. Abominable is the Gala screening for the Family Strand.



7. Rocks - Sarah Gavron


Everything about Rocks makes it sound like a potential festival stand out. Sarah Gavron previous films include Brick Lane and Suffragette, the script is by award-winning playwright Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson (Little Drummer Girl) and the film was developed through extensive workshops with a female cast identified through casting sessions at schools, its also shot by Hélène Louvart (Happy as Lazzaro). The film tells the story of Olushola, Rocks to her friends, a London teenager who returns home from school one day to find her mother has left. With a younger brother to look after she decides not to tell the authorities, for fear of them being separated, and instead cope with her brother alone.


6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire - Céline Sciamma


That Céline Sciamma's previous effort was Girlhood is enough to make me extremely excited about Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the story of a portrait painter who falls in love with her subject. Set in the 18th Century, Marianne is hired, at the request of Lady Heloise, to paint the portrait of her daughter for a distant suitor. However, the daughter is reluctant to be married so Marianne must paint the portrait in secret. Through secret observation an intense love develops between the women. This promises to be one of the highlights of the festival and cement Sciamma's position as one of modern cinemas most impressive voices. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the BFI Flare Special Presentation.



5. The Finishing School - Wanda Tuchock, George Nichols Jr.


Playing as part of the Treasures Strand, Wanda Tuchock's The Finishing School, a romantic drama set in an exclusive finishing school was condemned by the Legion of Decency upon its initial release in 1934. Tuchock is one of the few female directors to begin her career in the silent era and continue to make films beyond the arrival of sound. The restored 35mm print represents a rare opportunity to explore the work of one of the few female directors working in 30's Hollywood. The film also stars Ginger Rogers and Billie Burke.



4. The Perfect Candidate - Haifaa Al Mansour


Al Mansour returns to the LFF following her 2012 Wadjda. The film is about a doctor who turns to politics, becoming an electoral candidate, after her passage to a medical conference is blocked due to having the wrong paperwork. As she begins to understand the complexities and responsibilities of local government she calls on the help of her sisters to run a successful campaign. At the same time her father, a musician, watches on from afar having just received a permit to perform in public spaces. Al Monsour is a celebrated Saudi director and I'm excited to see her tackle politics in her latest feature. The Perfect Candidate is in Offiial Competition.



3. Bombay Rose - Gitanjali Rao


An animated romance set in Mumbai about two immigrants, Kamala who is Hundi and Salim who is Muslim with fantastical epic Bollywood inspired sequences, a nuanced intimate love story and a gorgeous animated style. What's not to look forward to in Gitanjali Rao's debut feature which opened Venice film festival Critic's Week. Bombay Rose is a Special Presentation.



2. Rare Beasts - Billie Piper


Billie Piper stars in her own directorial debut, Rare Beasts, a no-holds bared anti-romcom which explores a modern woman's struggles in work and love. Piper plays a single mother, with estranged parents and a needy new partner. If Piper brings the same kind of intensity, honesty and daring to her direction as she does to her performances then this is a film i'm going to be very happy to get on board with. Piper is a actress who is always willing to take on challenging roles and I can't think of a better actress to tackles issues about women in the modern world and the expectations and demands put upon them. Rare Beasts plays as part of the Laugh strand.



1. A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood - Marielle Heller


The early buzz around Heller's latest film, playing in the BFI Patrons' Gala is huge. Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers - to American Culture is a household name. For three generations he enchanted children on his TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. His show discussed, is a safe way, some of the challenges children faced. His motto, "if you can mention it, you can handle it". Hanks seems like perfect casting, Matthew Rhys (one of my favourite actors), the script is by Transparent alumni Micha Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster and Heller is coming of the back of the excellent, Oscar nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me? This could be a contender for film of the year, and a favourite come next years award season and is one of the films i'm most excited about seeing.



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