LFF 2018 – It’s That Time of Year Again…

Brace yourselves. It’s that time of year when I start warming up the blog in the hopes of spending a good chunk of my October watching the best films the world has to offer at the BFI London Film Festival. The full programme is revealed next week but some of the highlights teased so far have me restoring my faith in cinema again. Below are the three that have caught my eye; each from an LFF stalwart. All male directors though… Sorry.

Steve McQueen’s Widows


It has been five years since McQueen had me weeping into my press pass with 12 Years a Slave. Having given us enough time to collect ourselves he returns to London with Widows; a female crime thriller co-written by Gillian Flynn and adapted from a Lynda La Plante TV series. If that pedigree weren’t confusing enough the cast includes Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. What an embarrassment of riches.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite


Having confounded me in previous years with The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer Lanthimos is back at LFF with what is likely to be a festival favourite. Starring the highest paid non-Marvel actress in cinema Emma Stone, and UK TV’s most powerful actress Olivia Colman, The Favourite is an 18th century English farce about Queen Anne and her correctly spelled favourite. As someone who considers The Lobster to be Lanthimos at his best I can’t wait to see him reunited with Colman in a much meatier role.

Mike Leigh’s Peterloo
In 2010, my first year in London, I watched Boris Johnson introduce Mike Leigh’s Another Year. The film had been funded by the UK Film Council which the Tories had just scrapped. Ah the fun we all had back then! Leigh is the only filmmaker I have seen watching a film at LFF when he had nothing at the festival himself – he sat behind me for the five hour Japanese drama Happy Hour in 2015 – so has proven himself as a true patron of the festival. Returning to the period genre he mastered so well with Mr Turner, Leigh is this time portraying Manchester’s 1819 Peterloo Massacre with the film’s premiere actually taking place in Manchester not London. Mass violence is not something that screams Mike Leigh, but I have no doubt he will tackle it masterfully.

LFF Day 9 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer | The Lovers | The Florida Project | On the Beach at Night Alone

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Two years ago Yorgos Lanthimos made his English language film debut with The Lobster and cemented his place in the hearts of diehard cinephiles. Now he is back, and reunited with Colin Farrell, in a similarly disjointed story of revenge and morality.

Farrell plays a surgeon who has befriended the son (Barry Keoghan) of a deceased former patient. Farrell’s surgeon has a perfect life with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children but the introduction of Keoghan into their lives brings with it a sinister game and drastic consequences.

In any other director’s hands the plot of the film would be a run of the mill thriller but Lanthimos would never be so boring. As with The Lobster all dialogue is delivered in an emotionless deadpan that is increasingly at odds with the events as they unfold. The result is an incredibly creepy and deeply unsettling atmosphere in which I genuinely didn’t know what would happen next. The low energy delivery from Farrell makes any moments of emotional outburst all the more explosive and adds to the overall sense of dread that permeates the film.

As strange a film as you have come to expect from Lanthimos but with a more focussed plot than a lot of his previous work.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer screens at the festival on 13th and 15th October and in UK cinemas from 3rd November 2017.

The Lovers

Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star as a couple whose marriage has run its course. Both have been having long-term affairs (with Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters respectively) and have separately chosen the impending visit of their son as the moment to leave one another. As the big day grows closer the illicit relationships start to feel more and more like hard work and, after an unplanned evening in with a bottle of wine, old sparks start to fly again for the couple.

Winger and Letts beautifully realise a relationship well past its sell by date and then the shock and excitement as the pair start to fall for each other again. The script by writer-director Azazel Jacobs is very clever and beautifully executes flirtation via subtext as the married couple somehow end up seducing one another through their lies about their whereabouts. It’s not often you witness a conversation with at least three layers of understanding to unpick.

There is a lot to love about The Lovers. Don’t underestimate this film, it has a few surprises up its sleeve and one beautiful cover song by Tracey Letts.

The Lovers screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 15th October.


Sean Baker blasted into the collective consciousness with his 2015 iPhone-shot debut Tangerine and now follows it up with a more traditionally shot drama surrounding the occupants of a rundown motel in Florida. The motel is named after Cinderella’s castle but the lives of the inhabitants are far from fairytales.

The focus of The Florida Project is six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberley Prince) and her painfully young mother (Bria Vinaite). On the surface Moonee has a terrible upbringing; living in poverty with a mother who has to hustle each week to pay rent on a cramped motel room. Moonee is often left to her own devices and has adventures during the day with whatever local kids she can convince to come with her. In reality Moonee is incredibly loved; her mother showers her with attention and tries to bring joy to her life and the motel’s manager (Willem Dafoe) keeps a watchful eye over the pair too.

Both young inexperienced actresses give bold performances in a film that meanders through one summer in their character’s lives. Authenticity is the key to a film like this and The Florida Project positively oozes it, or rather it aggressively spits authenticity in your face.

Funny, uplifting, and heartbreaking.

The Florida Project screens at the festival on 13th and 14th October and opens in UK cinemas on 10th November.

On the Beach at Night Alone

Hong Sang-soo has an incredible rate of work with at least one new film coming out each year. Hong reunites with his now frequent collaborator, and controversial real life love interest, Kim Minhee in a story of the aftermath of a love affair. On the Beach at Night Alone is the story of what happens after the credits have rolled on a typical love story.

Kim plays a woman recovering from a relationship with a married film director, a relationship that oddly mirrors her own with Hong. When reviewing Right Now, Wrong Then two years ago I listed the Hong Sang-soo tropes and while his traditional visual style is present this film is firmly focussed on its female lead and not on a bumbling romantic male.

I don’t Hong has ever been so on the side of the female in his film. Here we spend all our time we Kim, we see her struggling to connect to people, and it is her that embarrasses herself while drunk; a role usually left to a man in a Hong Sang-soo film.

On the Beach at Night Alone feels deeply personal and offers a very intimate portrait of a young woman with a broken heart. Long may the Kim and Hong collaboration continue.

On the Beach at Night Alone screens at the festival on 15th October.

The Lobster – LFF Review

The Lobster

In a world much like our own being single has become tantamount to a crime. Anyone finding themselves unattached through divorce, death, or simply unsuccessful dating must go to The Hotel. There they have 45 days to find a partner, essentially someone who shares one distinct trait with them, or be transformed into an animal of their choice. The Hotel is run by Olivia Colman who gives lectures on why being in a couple is a good things and how it might prevent you from dying or being raped. The message here is clear; if you are single you might as well not be human.

Out in the forests hides an outcast group who cannot live in polite society anymore. This group is known as the Loners and are led by a militant Léa Seydoux. In this group being in a couple is the ultimate betrayal and even kissing or flirting are punished violently. Independence is the only valuable attribute and each Loner is even expected to dig their own grave in case they die. Running away to join the Loners is your only alternative if your time runs out at the Hotel and you want to keep your human face.

Our guide through this peculiar world is David (Colin Farrell) who reluctantly checks into The Hotel at the start of the film with his dog-shaped brother in tow. He has 45 days to find himself someone with a matching distinguishing feature or he will find himself transformed into a lobster; the logical form to choose for his post-human years. Inside the hotel he is joined by a limping man (Ben Whishaw), a woman who has nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly), a woman who loves biscuits (Ashley Jensen), and a heartless woman (Angeliki Papoulia). All of them, barring perhaps the heartless woman, are desperate to find whatever passes for love in this world. Meanwhile out in the woods the likes of Michael Smiley and Rachel Weisz do their best to be friendly but not flirty and evade capture from The Hotel’s residents. The cast is crammed with a fine selection of British actors and it is a great endorsement that director Yorgos Lanthimos chose to make this film in the UK rather than the US.

The Lobster 2

Yorgos Lanthimos has brought his distinctly dry humour to his first English-language feature. As you can presumably tell from what I have described the film forms a scathing satire on the modern world of dating and selecting a partner out of desperation based on the most trivial of compatibility criteria. Every line spoken in the film in done so in a completely deadpan manner making the more absurd dialogue seem sane and turning mundane conversation surreal. I got the distinct feeling that Lanthimos has looked at the world, found it ridiculous, and wants to show us the insanity he sees.

The Lobster is an incredibly funny and smart film. It takes the norms of our societal rituals and expectations and blows them up to be seen for the madness that they really are. The film has a lot of clever ideas and humorous moments and is a pleasure to watch but struggles when trying to thread a plot through all the metaphor. This being a film about love it can’t resist having a love story rear its ugly head. The romance in question is sweet but the insistence on deadpan delivery dampens any emotions. That said the muted nature of the romance adds to the general mood and message of the film so is far from out of place.

The Lobster will provide you plenty of chuckles and a few wry knowing smiles and is a unique confection from one of our most creative modern filmmakers. Once you’re in sync with the film’s unique rhythm you’ll be lost in its world.

Lobster screens at the festival again on the 15th October but sadly has sold out. Luckily it is released on the 16th anyway so not to worry.