Hannah Lack selects her five highlights of the BFI London Film Festival, along with a long forgotten classic and a 80s mash-up short
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
There are echoes of Jim Jarmusch’s Strangers in Paradise in this woozily off-kilter, noirish debut set in a lawless Iranian ghost town. Based on the director’s own graphic novel, it’s something of a feminist vampire film, featuring actress Sheila Vand as a heavily kohl’d bloodsucker (and occasional skater), who haunts the seedy underbelly of her town against a soundtrack of underground Iranian rock and 80s new wave.
Mia Hansen-Love’s bewitching films tend to grow out of an intense emotion – a connection or a loss – and then follow the smudges it leaves in her characters’ lives. With Eden, she captures the explosion of electronic dance music in the early 90s and a group of kids who abandon their daytime lives to a twilit world of warehouse raves, drugs and fleeting moments of euphoria beneath the strobes. But by stretching the story across two decades in the French club scene, she layers the initial exuberance with all the coming-of-age melancholies and disappointments of DJs who didn’t grow up to become Daft Punk.
The combination of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe is a pretty hard one to resist; and after Ferrara’s brilliantly dark and audacious Welcome To New York earlier this year, (inspired by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair) he’s clearly on a roll. Pasolini focuses on the final 24 hours in the outspoken, superlatively talented director’s life as it narrows towards the Ostia beach where he met a brutal, still-murky death under the tires of his own car.
Quebecois director (and former child-actor) Xavier Dolan is only 25 and already five films into an illustrious career; with his adrenaline-rush of a movie Mommy, he’s picked up Oscar buzz after a rapturous Cannes reception. Dolan captures the violent, fluctuating, but loving relationship between a whip-smart single mother and her troubled, charming son just kicked out of juvenile detention. When a neighbour is swept into the complex, sticky web of their relationship, their future begins to take on a newfound glow.
The story is heart-breaking but the storytelling is spellbinding in Duane Hopkins’ follow-up to Better Things, bolstered by a phenomenal lead in George McKay (who dropped two stone for the role) and lushly beautiful camerawork. McKay plays a sensitive teenager thrown into the role of breadwinner when his tough, charismatic brother goes to jail. A minnow negotiating his way through the petty-criminal underworld on one hand, and a bureaucratic system rigged against him on the other, he struggles to keep his sister from veering off the rails as his problems domino. Hopkins brilliantly conjures the oppressive claustrophobia of life lived on the poverty line, and the visceral ache for new horizons.
Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
You’ll see Cher in a whole new light after watching her revelatory, freewheeling performance in this forgotten 1982 drama from Robert Altman. Best known for the likes of Nashville and The Long Goodbye, this rarely-screened gem featuring a phenomenal, force-of-nature cast in Kathy Bates, Karen Black and Cher. As former members of a James Dean fan-club, they reunite at a Five & Dime in dusty, middle-of-nowhere Texas for a reunion of confessions and revelations as a heat-lightning storm flickers outside the grimy windows. A new documentary on the late, maverick director, Ron Mann’s Altman, also shows at the festival.
If you see one short…
The Dark, Krystle
Artist Michael Robinson excavates pop detritus and imbues it with a demonic afterlife; his mining of esoterica has included everything from Little House on the Prairie to Guns n Roses’ November Rain. This 10-minute short collages shoulder pads, vertiginous hair and industrial quantities of lip gloss with its montage of moments from soap opera Dynasty. Robinson whips the feud between Alexis and Krystle Carrington into a dizzying alternative reality by looping the soap’s melodramatic gestures – Alexis drinking, Krystle crying – into a continuous flow of 80s excess.
The BFI British Film Festival runs across London between October 8-19.
Text by Hannah Lack