London Film Festival highlights

Six of the best at this year's fest

by Amber Wilkinson

Saltburn will open London
Saltburn will open London Photo: Courtesy of London Film Festival
The London Film Festival starts today, screening 252 films in total, of which 167 are features, including 20 world premieres. It will open with the international premiere of Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn and close with Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares’ directorial debut The Kitchen. The programme runs wide and deep but we’ve selected six of the best to catch at the fest.

The Zone Of Interest

The Zone Of Interest will open the Pearls section
The Zone Of Interest will open the Pearls section Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
If you only see one film at the festival try to make it Jonathan Glazer’s haunting and powerful adaptation of Martin Amis’ novel of the same name, which is head and shoulders above anything else you’re likely to see this year. A throbbing, threatening aural prologue from Mica Levi sets the unsettling tone for this tale of the “idyllic” life unfolding for Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their family immediately outside the walls of the Auschwitz Death Camp where he is commandant. Hedwig strolls in the garden with a babe in arms pointing out the flowers, seemingly without a care in the world, even as we see the sky lit like a hellmouth as the chimneys of the camp belch out fire and smoke at night. The shocking level of denial and wilful dismissal of the lives of others is brought home more strongly with almost every passing minute, whether it’s in Hedwig’s cultivation of plants that will cover up the walls of the camp or the arrival of an assignment of clothes euphemistically said to have come “from Canada”, their real origin betrayed by a partially used lipstick found in a pocket and instantly appropriated. Children, one of whose night-time forays is the only shred of humanity here, may be scrubbed clean of the physical traces of their father’s poisonous and murderous actions but the blackening of the soul is unmistakable. At the time of writing, there are tickets remaining for the screening on Friday 13 October at 2.15pm at Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall.

Copa 71

Copa 71
Copa 71
The arrival of this documentary about the 1971 Women’s World Cup couldn’t be more timely, since it explores issues including sexism and pay inequality which are still up for debate as the world reflects on this year’s contest and the fallout from Spanish football chief Luis Rubiales’ kissing scandal - which was still getting plenty of coverage on the Spanish news last week while I was at San Sebastian Film Festival. Rachel Ramsay and James Erskine allow the story to unfold from the perspective of members of the various teams, including France, England and Mexico, as the women talk of the shared surprise of suddenly finding themselves and their talent in the spotlight after years of struggle on an unlevel playing field. This is traditional documentary filmmaking, with its mix of talking heads, archive footage and academic observation but it’s packaged with care and served up with verve. There are currently tickets left for the screening on Sunday 15 October at 1pm, at Vue West End, Screen 5

May December

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore in Todd Hayne's May December. Christine Vachon on working with Haynes: 'We have a real shorthand, tremendous amount of trust, and I have an ability to figure out what will help Todd do his best work'
Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore in Todd Hayne's May December. Christine Vachon on working with Haynes: 'We have a real shorthand, tremendous amount of trust, and I have an ability to figure out what will help Todd do his best work' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Anne-Katrin Titze writes: We enter the Southern world by the river - where the trees wear veils and moms bake pies for business and children hang out on the slanted roofs - with movie star Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) during a barbecue. Many mirrors reflect the journey of an actress through the looking glass into the world of Gracie (Julianne Moore), a woman whose affair at age 37 with a seventh grader was tabloid fodder 20 years prior. The first shots of Todd Haynes’s May December (cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt), screenplay by Samy Burch, are of butterflies with one of them seemingly stuck, accompanied by the most perfectly ominous and playful music, which sounds a lot like Michel Legrand. Precisely because it is a variation of a Legrand score (for Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between), adapted by Marcelo Zarvos for this film. The complex visuals pull us in. Moore doing Portman’s makeup - a moment snatched from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona - is equally intimate and chilling. What is a woman? Who are we? What are the rules? The director prompts our minds to wonder and set out on journeys to the abyss where the cradle rocks. There are currently tickets left for Friday 6 October at 6pm, at Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall and Saturday 7 October at 10.30am at the same venue.

Late Night With The Devil

Late Night With The Devil
Late Night With The Devil Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival
Jennie Kermode writes: It's rare to see a leading turn from David Dastmalchian, an actor more interested in character than in moving up, but he delivers some of his best work to date in this unsettling exploration of the dynamics of live television. Playing a presenter, Jack, once tipped to become the biggest name in late night entertainment, he draws on his stage background in a performance which is all on-stage schmooze and backstage panic. Jack's ratings are falling and he's desperate to stay in the game. A still-recent bereavement and hints of occultist leanings are referenced by the presenter of a notorious episode being shown in full for the first time, or so we are told. It's a Halloween special, but as disturbing things start happening for real, Jack's determination that the show must go on takes him into dubious ethical territory, as does his manipulation of a psychiatrist asked to perform a live session with a young girl who believes she is possessed by a demon. How much of what we see is the magic of television and how much supernatural is left open to question as our interpretation of events must also be filtered through the host's gradual mental breakdown. Superb production design and costuming contribute to a film which, in getting everything just right, highlights myriad wrongs. The film screens on October 9 and 14 but is currently sold-out, so check with the festival for returns.

Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves
Fallen Leaves Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
Film festivals are frequently a serious business, with many directors turning to dark themes and genres and film running times often running to more than two hours. If you are looking for something to brighten your day without taking up half of it then Aki Kaurismäki’s comedy romance is just the ticket. As always with the Finnish director he transports us to a specific world that still feels fully embedded within our own. The eyes of recently sacked Ansa (Alma Pöysti) meet those of the soon to be employment-challenged Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) at a karaoke night and from then on, Kaurismäki spins a gently absurdist will/they romance that though packed with deadpan humour and less than glowing observations about the modern world, is simultaneously shot through with longing and the promise of better things to come for those who are prepared to wait. The film screens on October 7, 13 and 15 but is currently sold-out, so check with the festival for returns.

Vincent Must Die

Vincent Must Die
Vincent Must Die Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival
Jennie Kermode writes: In the design company where Vincent (Karim Leklou) works, everybody is under pressure, so when one person loses it and physically attacks Vincent, it seems understandable - something which, though shaken, he can take in his stride. When a second colleague attacks him, apparently at random, the boss suggests that he work from home for a while. But workplace satire gives way to horror when random people begin to attack him for no discernible reason, forcing him to flee the city. In due course he will discover that he's not the only person this has happened to, and the series of twists which follow force him to cope with a drastically altered life as well as reckoning with his own capacity for violence. More interested in the existential than in any kind of conventional zombie trope (with attackers who subsequently sober up and have to reckon with the consequences of actions they can barely remember), the film takes a very specific experience and opens it out to explore huge issues. It's seriously scary in places, and tragic, and yet ultimately life-affirming, part of a new wave of films willing to do beyond familiar cynicism. Leklou is fantastic and there's great support from Vimala Pons, plus an award-winning performance by canine contributor Susie. Tickets are available for Saturday 14 October at 8.45pm at Vue West End, Screen 5.

All tickets are available from the official site. Those looking for returns for sold-out screenings should also check out @LFFStubbs on Twitter, who retweets posts about spare tickets.

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