From a commentary on the state of contemporary Chinese cinema to a realist drama about migration complications, here are ten highlights from London Film Festival
The 64th London Film Festival concluded this past weekend, taking place both online and in select cinemas across the UK in light of these unprecedented times, offering roughly a fifth of the usual number of features presented in a normal year, alongside shorts, experimental and VR works, and a couple of TV series previews. The festival ended with showings of Francis Lee’s period lesbian romance Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, in hundreds of cinemas nationwide, while Thomas Vinterberg’s drama Another Round won the inaugural LFF Audience Award.
Here are ten of the best titles from LFF 2020 worth looking out for in the future; some on their way to cinemas or digital soon, others further off.
1. Striding Into the Wind (lead image)
Beijing-born director Wei Shujun presents a somewhat metatextual commentary on the state of contemporary Chinese cinema as his idiosyncratic and contemplative debut feature; a road movie concerning slackerdom and film school screw-ups. Protagonist Kun (Zhou You) is a talented sound recordist in his final year, who is getting some work experience on actual productions, but he doesn’t take his remaining studies seriously and focuses his attention on visiting Inner Mongolia with his girlfriend, Zhi (Zheng Yingchen).
David Byrne’s 2019 Broadway show, based on his recent album and tour of the same name, is documented here, though with Spike Lee in the directing chair, this is far from a standard point-and-shoot situation like you might get with a National Theatre Live broadcast. An actual film in its own right, American Utopia is eccentric, fully immersive and an utterly euphoric experience that calls for a rise up against hate and complacency. Almost no concert documentary can top Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (1984), but it seems only fitting that one of the closest to do so should once again feature Byrne as bandleader.
Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon (Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner) reaches new heights with the gorgeous fantasy epic Wolfwalkers, a rich and intelligent environmental fable that uses revisionist history to thrilling effect. Set during Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland in the 17th century, the film explores the burgeoning friendship between Robyn, the daughter of an English hunter over in Ireland to exterminate the wild wolves, and Mebh, a free-spirited girl living deep in the woods, from a tribe rumoured to both control wolves and also transform into them.
An enigmatic, absorbing, hallucinatory and frequently grisly hybrid of sci-fi, cyberpunk and body horror, Possessor sees writer-director Brandon Cronenberg make literal the idea of one’s body being little more than another tool for corporate demons. A bleach-blonde Andrea Riseborough plays an agent of a secretive organisation using brain implant hardware to inhabit people’s bodies, possessing them to perform assassinations on behalf of wealthy clients. Riseborough and Christopher Abbott are both mesmerising as the souls fighting over one body.
Writer-director Ben Sharrock’s second feature is a moving and funny tragicomic drama that carefully balances deadpan humour with piercing pain. Stylistically something of a blend of the works of Aki Kaurismäki and the great Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth, Limbo focuses on Omar (Amir El-Masry), a Syrian musician stationed on a freezing Hebridean island off the northwest coast of Scotland, awaiting word on the status of his asylum application. He shares an assigned house with three refugees from other countries, each coping with the apparent futility of their hopes and dreams in their own ways.
Inspired by the 19th-century fairytale novella of the same name, rooted in mythology and concerning water nymphs and love pacts, Undine sees writer-director Christian Petzold (Transit, Phoenix) flirt between fantasy and semi-realist contemporary drama, exploring the idea of all-consuming romance’s ties to the eradication of oneself. His reunited Transit stars Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer shine as, respectively, industrial diver Christoph and Undine, an urban historian whose fate seems connected to how the aquatic myth plays out.
Oscar-winning actor Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) directs this electric adaptation of Kemp Powers’ 2013 stage play of the same name, which takes a real-life hangout between four African-American icons, about which little is known, and presents a fictionalised “what if?” scenario concerning this meeting of influential minds. The date in question: February 25, 1964, the night that Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeated Sonny Liston in a title bout in Miami, with the 22-year-old boxer – soon to become Muhammad Ali – then spending the night with friend Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), soul legend Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and NFL superstar Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
Nora-Jane Noone and the late Nika McGuigan – who passed away during post-production – are both extraordinary in writer-director Cathy Brady’s bracing debut feature Wildfire, a haunting portrait of personal and political trauma intertwined. Set at the Irish border, with the uncertainties of Brexit omnipresent on TV news, it sees two estranged sisters reunited after one’s long, abrupt absence, their intense and complicated bond reignited as they deal with generational wounds and mental illness. A raw drama with a lot on its mind.
Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland places Frances McDormand in the centre of a tender though unromantic American odyssey, which gradually devastates with its portrait of the brutal cycles of the gig economy and whole communities destroyed by economic collapse. McDormand’s Fern used to live and work in a Nevada town that was built around an industry that no longer exists anymore. Now widowed, she lives out of her van and travels for seasonal employment, eventually getting involved with modern nomads, many of whom are played in the film by actual nomads.
The Nigerian debut feature from brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri, Eyimofe is a realist drama about migration complications, split into two distinct stories via a plotting structure vaguely reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994). Capturing Lagos on 16mm film in a way both the West and the prosperous Nigerian film industry don’t tend to see, this is a patient, evocative and moving film where the city is just as much a character in the text as the people onscreen.