Twelve films are set to compete in the London festival’s Official Competition section for the Best Film Award, which is given to an inspiring, inventive and distinctive film.
Running October 4-16, the festival will screen 242 films, from 67 countries, with 29 world premieres, 8 international premieres and 34 European premieres.
Films in official Competition:
120 BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)
Dir Robin Campillo
Prod Hugues Charbonneau, Marie-Ange Luciani
Scr Robin Campillo, Philippe Mangeot
With Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel
Pulsating with life and pounding with urgency, this rousing, heart-breaking celebration of political activism is nothing short of a modern queer classic. Drawing directly on personal experience, Robin Campillo’s extraordinary account of AIDS activist group ACT UP-Paris in the 1990s begins in the thick of it – at a group meeting. As members discuss action and debate strategy, a small gang of fresh recruits are welcomed into the fold. Among the newbies is introspective, HIV-negative Nathan, who finds himself instantly drawn to outspoken group member Sean. As Nathan becomes more involved in the group’s activities – from closed-off meetings to direct action in medical labs, school playgrounds and political rallies – his romantic relationship with Sean develops. With much of the drama taking place in the meeting space, Campillo’s film thrives on the power of discourse. So rarely has the palpable exhilaration and frustration of activism been so richly rendered on screen, with the weekly gatherings that punctuate the film exuding passion and anger. But far more than a cerebral account of political action, this is a deeply emotional and bracingly sensual film, which ignites the heart and body just as much as it incites the mind.
ANGELS WEAR WHITE (JIA NIAN HUA)
<class=”credits credits1″>Dir-Scr Vivian Qu
Prod Sean Chen
With Wen Qi, Zhou Meijun, Shi Ke
Mia, a teenage drifter without official papers, is illegally working a hotel-reception night shift when she witnesses something disturbing and suspicious. At a nearby school the next day, 12-year-old Wen and her friend get into a fight, which leads their teachers to suspect that the girls have been assaulted while in the care of a police commissioner. These events are the catalyst for this astonishing drama, which focuses on Mia and Wen over the days that follow. Director Vivian Qu follows her debut Trap Street (LFF2013 First Feature Competition) with a film that contrasts gripping realism with poignant imagery and subtle symbolism. Aided by the breakout performances of its two young leads, Angels Wear White conjures up a complex tale of blackmail and corruption that has us empathising with characters even as they make morally questionable choices. Qu’s compassionate, feminist approach illustrates Mia’s and Wen’s internal lives, while showing how the trouble they’re in is the result of systemic problems, particularly the way sexuality is imposed on – and used to control – the bodies of women and girls. This is urgent contemporary Chinese filmmaking that packs a devastating emotional punch.
BEYOND THE CLOUDS
Dir-Scr Majid Majidi
Prod Shareen Mantri Kedia, Kishor Arora
With Ishaan Khattar, Malavika Mohanan
Set in the slums of Mumbai, acclaimed director Majid Majidi delivers a powerful coming-of-age tale about a brother trying to save his jailed sister. Risk-taking Iranian director Majid Majidi, best known for his Oscar®-nominated Children of Heaven, moves to Mumbai for this stunning feature. Appearing in his first film, Ishaan Khattar gives an extraordinary, high-energy performance as Aamir, a teenage roustabout. He makes the most of his life of fast bikes and dodging trouble while dealing drugs across Mumbai’s dockland underbelly. And yet, behind the hedonism is a young man desperately missing his family. Following a drugs bust, Aamir ends up on the doorstep of his estranged sister Tara. She lives alone and is constantly harassed by men. The siblings try to live together in the apartment, but a past clouded by loss and despair makes it difficult. However, when Tara almost kills a man who attempts to rape her and ends up in jail, she suddenly finds in Aamir her one hope of seeing the outside world again. Alongside his gifted cast, Majidi is working once again with cinematographer Anil Mehta, who captures India’s urban landscape with a breathtaking sense of awe. And the immensely talented, Oscar®-winning composer A R Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) provides a richly nuanced score.
Cary Rajinder Sawhney
Dir Nora Twomey
Prod Anthony Leo, Andrew Rosen, Paul Young, Tomm Moore, Stéphan Roelants
Scr Anita Doron, Deborah Ellis
With Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Laara Sadiq
One girl’s struggle in Taliban-controlled Kabul is the subject of this animated tour de force from Cartoon Saloon (Song of the Sea, LFF2014) and executive produced by Angelina Jolie. When 11-year-old Parvana’s father is taken by the Taliban, she and her family find life difficult without a man in the house. Women are forbidden from going anywhere unaccompanied, which means access to food or even trying to enquire about their father’s whereabouts is impossible. If they are to survive, drastic action must be taken. That’s when Parvana cuts her hair and passes herself off as a boy. It’s a cruel environment, but as a boy she has complete freedom in this war-torn city. The sole breadwinner she might be, but Parvana’s actions place her in terrible danger. Respectful and celebratory in its depiction of Afghan history and culture, this is an exceptional film that depicts a family determined to stay together at all costs. The Breadwinner is an important work, beautifully made by Nora Twomey and while there are difficult moments, this is ultimately an uplifting, inspiring film that offers hope and desire for a world where all women’s voices will be heard.
GOOD MANNERS (AS BOAS MANEIRAS)
Dir-Scr Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra
Prod Maria Ionescu, Sara Silveira, Clément Duboin, Frédéric Corvez
With Isabél Zuaa, Marjorie Estiano, Miguel Lobo
If you like surprises, then look no further – this mind-bendingly subversive, grown-up fairy tale is about as unclassifiable as it gets. The more unexpected a film, the less one should know in advance. So, for those who don’t wish for this year’s great cinematic surprise to be compromised, stop reading now. Should you choose to keep going, I promise to tread carefully. Clara is a care worker living on the outskirts of São Paulo. Struggling to make ends meet, she accepts the position of live-in nanny to the as-yet unborn child of a wealthy single woman named Ana. The two women immediately develop a strong bond, but Ana’s increasingly strange behaviour hints at a deep, dark secret. Then, one night, the shocking truth emerges. What starts as an eccentrically styled slice of social realism, morphs into something else entirely, without ever compromising the emotional integrity of its characters, nor stretching narrative credibility, no matter how weird things get. This is truly innovative, bracingly bold filmmaking – unafraid of breaking rules and creating new ones. There is, quite simply, nothing else like it. See it now before everyone starts talking about it.
THE GUARDIANS (LES GARDIENNES)
Dir Xavier Beauvois
Prod Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon
Scr Xavier Beauvois, Frédérique Moreau, Marie-Julie Maille
With Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet, Iris Bry
Xavier Beauvois reveals the heroic struggles of women on the rural home front in First World War France, in a gripping, terrifically acted ensemble drama. With Of Gods and Men (LFF2010), erstwhile enfant terrible director Xavier Beauvois came of age as a powerful storyteller in a classic French tradition. He explores that mode further with a film that rediscovers a 1924 novel by the once-celebrated Ernest Pérochon. The ‘gardiennes’ of the title are the women who roll up their sleeves to take charge of the land when war breaks out. Nathalie Baye, in the role of a lifetime, is utterly commanding as Hortense, the matriarch who will do anything to ensure that family and farm survive, as the men of the family make intermittent returns from the front, and the arrival of American troops brings its own unrest. Caroline Champetier’s magnificent landscape photography brings an elemental touch to the realism, while a superb support cast mixes known names (notably Baye’s real-life daughter Laura Smet) and non-professionals, including terrific 78-year-old debut actor Gilbert Bonneau. Another revelation is radiant newcomer Iris Bry, who plays Francine, her personal drama carrying an emotional heft that gives The Guardians the intensity of French-style Thomas Hardy.
LEAN ON PETE
Dir-Scr Andrew Haigh
Prod Tristan Goligher
With Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny
Ravishing and doleful in equal measure, Andrew Haigh’s fourth feature is a resplendent portrait of a lonely neglected boy on a quest for home. While Haigh continues to make exciting, unexpected choices of material – Lean on Pete is adapted from Willy Vlautin’s acclaimed novel about a Huckleberry Finn-esque journey across America’s sparse Northwest – this shares DNA with his last two features, skilfully making intimate emotional journeys epic, and the personal universal. 15-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) has rarely stayed in the same place for more than a year. Having been left by his mother as a child, he lives with his father who loves him but doesn’t understand just how much Charley craves and needs stability (not to mention food). He longingly remembers his aunt, who fell out with her brother. But her whereabouts are unknown. Taking a part-time job with a cantankerous and not entirely on the up-and-up horse trainer (Steve Buscemi), he forms a deep bond with nearly-knackered horse Lean on Pete. Charlie Plummer is soulfully good in the lead role – his talks to the horse providing a tender and insightful interior monologue. We knew it already, but Lean on Pete once again confirms Haigh’s versatility and cements his reputation as one of the great cinematic storytellers of his generation.
Dir Andrey Zvyagintsev
Prod Alexandre Rodnyansky, Serguey Melkumov
Scr Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev
With Maryana Spivak, Alexey Rozin, Matvey Novikov
Andrey Zvyagintsev’s follow-up to his LFF2014 Best Film winner Leviathan, about a couple whose son disappears as they’re just about to divorce, paints a quietly horrific picture of life in contemporary Russia. Still reluctantly sharing their apartment, Boris and Zhenya can’t wait to end their marriage and begin anew with their respective lovers; such is their mutual dislike, they’re oblivious to the terrible effect their constant arguments are having on their shy, lonely 12-year-old son Alyosha. Then one day they discover that the boy’s no longer to be found, and they’re expected to work together in dealing both with the police and with a group of volunteers who search for missing children. Faced with bureaucratic lassitude and focused on their own romantic, erotic, professional and hedonistic aspirations, the parents – clearly representative of certain aspects of Russian society – are ill-equipped to deal with this time-consuming catastrophe; desperate for love themselves, they seemingly have none to spare. Working with his regular writing partner Oleg Negin, Zvyagintsev expertly balances taut suspense, vivid characterisation and state-of-the-nation commentary, while his sensitivity to subtly expressive sound and eloquent, resonant images remains undiminished. Another gem from a boldly imaginative filmmaker.
Dir-Scr Azazel Jacobs
Prod Azazel Jacobs, Ben LeClair, Chris Stinson
With Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen
Azazel Jacobs muses on long-term love and marriage with this bittersweet, blackly comic drama starring Tracy Letts and Debra Winger, who deliver a pair of knock-out, awards-worthy performances. Michael and Mary have been married for years. Estranged from each other, they are trapped in tedious jobs and find some solace in semi-ridiculous affairs (with Melora Walters and Aidan Gillen, terrific as the irritating but earnest lovers). Unbeknown to each other, Michael and Mary are both poised to walk away from their marriage; all they have to do is get through a weekend visit from their son and his new girlfriend. However, their feelings for each other start to thaw, even stir. Delivering both belly laughs and gut-wrenching pathos (both moods are deliciously present in Mandy Hoffman’s sweeping romantic score), Jacobs’ screenplay is perfectly calibrated, balancing moments of sublime absurdity with devastating, razor-sharp observations on how love can shift and change with time. Nowhere more so than in the final act, as we become more intimate with the details of how Mary and Michael reached such a lamentable impasse and witness the effect their interaction has on their son.
Dir Warwick Thornton
Prod David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin
Scr Steven McGregor, David Tranter
With Sam Neill, Ewen Leslie, Thomas M Wright
An Aboriginal stockman is accused of murdering a white man in Warwick Thornton’s searing Australian Western. Thornton follows up his uncompromising Camera d’Or winning debut Samson & Delilah (LFF2009) with an expansive film of great cinematic scope and vision. It’s 1929 and segregationist policies weigh heavy in Australia’s Northern Territory. Cattle-herder Sam (Hamilton Morris) is sent with his wife and niece to work for newly-arrived station owner Harry March (Ewen Leslie). But where Sam’s religious boss (Sam Neill) treats them respectfully, March is institutionally racist, unhinged and abusive. When March goes on a booze-fuelled rampage, an altercation occurs and Sam shoots him in self-defence. Anticipating that frontier ‘justice’ will prevail, Sam and wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber) go on the run. The local sergeant (Bryan Brown) sets off in hot pursuit, leading a posse of landowners and aided by Aboriginal tracker Archie (Gibson John). Traversing the stunning MacDonnell Ranges outside Alice Springs, the chase takes them onto country where Sam, a seasoned bushman, has the upper hand. Heightening the overall sense of dread and unease with a series of hallucinatory flash-forwards that reveal horrors yet to come, Thornton brings a vital Indigenous perspective and a striking visual imagination to this potent, revisionist epic.
Dir-Scr Cory Finley
Prod Kevin Walsh, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Alex Saks, Andrew Duncan
With Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin
Two teenage girls reignite a childhood friendship to deliciously dark ends, in this witty contemporary noir. Electrifying duo Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) and Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) are Lily and Amanda, reunited when Amanda’s mum asks Lily to help her daughter study. Having personally euthanised the family horse, Amanda is notorious amongst the blue-blood community of her Connecticut suburb. It’s a fact Lily clearly finds fascinating. Neither is afraid to shock or offend, and their competitive trading in acerbic quips soon intensifies to the point where they jokingly plan to kill Lily’s loathsome stepfather Mark. However, in their attempts to impress each other, the plan soon becomes serious and together they dupe a small-time drug dealer (the late Anton Yelchin, imbuing his role with the perfect amount of pathos) into helping them. Les Diaboliques and Heavenly Creatures are clearly reference points here, but Thoroughbred is no imitation. Playwright-turned-debut filmmaker Cory Finley embraces cinema’s full potential, directing with muscular energy. As Lyle Vincent’s camera prowls through Mark’s mansion – accompanied by Erik Friedlander’s unsettling percussive score – Finley’s finely-toned script is offset by smart visual cues, nudging the audience towards the dreaded dénouement. Thoroughbred is a pedigree treat.
Dir-Scr Annemarie Jacir
Prod Ossama Bawardi
With Mohammad Bakri, Saleh Bakri
In Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir’s accomplished and charming third feature, a man carries out a centuries-old tradition with his estranged father. Shadi returns to his paternal home for the first time in years, to honour the Nazareth tradition of hand-delivering his sister’s wedding invitations with his father (‘wajib’). But the two men haven’t spoken for a long time and don’t see eye-to-eye on many things – from who should be invited to what music to listen to in the car. Whilst Abu Shadi is bemused by his architect son’s Italian fashion sense – he wears bright red trousers and a flowery shirt – he remains pained by Shadi’s allegiance to his mother following their divorce. Inevitably, personal antagonism, small town gossip, political, cultural and generational differences all rear their heads as the journey progesses. But as their bickering continues against the backdrop of a vibrant city, the pair come to understand each other a little better. Acting together for the first time, real-life father and son Mohammad and Saleh Bakri bring warmth, charisma and humour to Jacir’s thoroughly engrossing and immensely entertaining drama.