Great Things to Watch at This Year’s BFI London Film Festival

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Triangle of Sadness, 2022
Triangle of Sadness, 2022(Film still)

From Brendan Fraser’s emotional turn as an obese divorcee to Ruben Östlund’s satirical black comedy on the lives of the super-rich; here are 11 highlights from this year’s festival

One of the UK’s biggest and brightest film events returns for its 66th year in October, with a programme made up of 164 features, as well as countless short films, TV series, restorations and experimental works. Yes, the BFI London Film Festival is back. The question is, where do we start?

For those unfamiliar, The BFI LFF is ground zero in the UK for headline films from some of the world’s biggest festivals – Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Sundance included – as well as future classics and esteemed award-winners. Last year alone saw the likes of Titane, Belfast, The French Dispatch, Boiling Point, The Tragedy of Macbeth and Memoria receive their UK premieres – this year’s programme, though, could be even better.

Tickets for a cornucopia of filmmaking abundance – including new works by contemporary giants like Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) and Sam Mendes (Skyfall), starring the likes Harry Styles, Emily Blunt, Adam Driver and Florence Pugh – go on general sale on September 13 (BFI members can book from today). It’s overwhelming, but luckily we’ve curated some highlights to help get you started. Check them out below.

The Whale (Darren Aronofsky)

Footage widely circulated on the internet this week showed The Whale star Brendan Fraser struggling to compose himself at the movie’s premiere at Venice Film Festival. He was overcome with emotion and on the verge of tears after receiving a six-minute standing ovation for his performance in the new film from Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream; Black Swan) – in which he plays a morbidly obese divorcee attempting to reconnect with his daughter.

The 1990s and 2000s Hollywood star known for George of the Jungle and The Mummy has been relegated to roles in Bollywood productions and B-movies in recent years, so this high-profile project is seen as an opportunity to restore his long-depleted reputation. In other words, the Brenaissance may well begin here.

Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook)

After a six-year hiatus from feature filmmaking since the release of the BAFTA-winning psychological thriller The Handmaiden, one of the most important figures in Korean cinema returns with a romantic mystery that has already been submitted for Oscars consideration by his home country.

Park Chan-wook was responsible for the international breakthrough of commercial Korean cinema around 2003 after his revenge thriller Oldboy won the Grand Prix at Cannes that year. Now, in 2022, Decision to Leave – the multilayered and Hitchcockian tale of a detective (Park Hae-il, The Host) who falls for the prime suspect in a murder investigation (Teng Wei, Lust, Caution) – has bagged Park the Best Director award at the same film festival after also competing for the Palme d’Or. If you’re looking for a new Korean film sensation, this is it.

Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund) – lead image

The winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, meanwhile, was Ruben Östlund (The Square)’s Triangle of Sadness – a satirical black comedy on the lives of the super-rich which has, tragically, taken on a whole new relevance after 32-year-old lead actress Charlbi Dean died unexpectedly last week.

Described as “a true star-in-the-making” by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, Dean is magnetic here playing a model and influencer who finds herself on a top-dollar cruise with an assortment of Russian oligarchs and other obnoxiously rich types. (Captaining the $250 million luxury yacht, meanwhile, is alcoholic Marxist Woody Harrelson.) As chaos ensues on board, a new kind of conflict emerges as the power dynamics begin to shift in this twisted farce that takes aim at the affluent and the privileged. 

The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)

Director-screenwriter Martin McDonagh – the four-time Tony Award-nominated playwright turned Oscar-courting filmmaker – returns to the big screen with his first film since 2017 Academy Award for Best Picture nominee Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

The Banshees of Inisherin is a black comedy set in rural Ireland that concerns two friends whose lives are built around their afternoon visits to the pub. This simple happiness is thrown into disarray one day when one of them decides he no longer wants to be friends with the other. Much heartbreak and hilarity ensue in this work that reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson – the leads of McDonagh’s BAFTA-winning 2008 debut feature In Bruges alongside Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan and Better Call Saul’s Kerry Condon.

Meet Me In The Bathroom (Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace)

At the turn of the century, New York City was stricken by rising rent costs and the tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks. In the wake of the disaster, a vital rock scene began to thrive in DIY spaces in Brooklyn as music fans sought a sense of community and connection. The sounds of new acts like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol would then kickstart a musical rebirth and renaissance that is today remembered as one of the last great rock subcultures of its kind.

This adaptation of Lizzy Goodman’s best-selling 2017 book of the same name was a standout at Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of this year. And with a wealth of archive footage forming the crux of the film, we expect music film veterans Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace (directors of the Blur documentary No Distance Left to Run and LCD Soundsystem concert film Shut Up and Play the Hits) to bring this palpable musical history to life in a dynamic fashion.

The Inspection (Elegance Bratton)

A young gay Black man (Jeremy Pope) enrols in a military boot camp after spending ten years living homeless. He excels in rigorous physical training and harbours dreams of becoming a Marine in order to make something of himself. But he also struggles to obscure his sexuality – and soon becomes subjected to brutal hazing by both his fellow recruits and his training instructor (Bokeem Woodbine, Fargo).

The feature debut of screenwriter-director Elegance Bratton already looks to be a powerful subversion of the military training film. Ahead of its premiere at Toronto International Film Festival this week, it was picked up by independent production house A24 for distribution – confirming a place alongside modern cult classics like Moonlight and Uncut Gems.

Blaze (Del Kathryn Barton)

Another remarkable feature debut on show is that of director Del Kathryn Barton. Regarded as one of Australia’s leading painters (she’s won the Archibald Prize twice, and her often psychedelic work is exhibited in the collections of every major art gallery in her home country), Barton’s coming-of-age film innovation Blaze has been critically acclaimed since it premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in New York in June.

The film opens with a young child, the titular Blaze (Julia Savage), witnessing a shocking rape and murder on her way home from school – an act expressed on-screen through the medium of Barton’s artworks, as well as via stop-motion animation and puppetry. Thereafter, she retreats into a world of imagination and fantasy as she struggles to comprehend what she has seen. 

Augmenting the film’s already-vivid atmosphere in this examination of trauma is a resplendent soundtrack featuring the songs of Nick Cave, The Flaming Lips and The Mouldy Peaches – plus a bespoke score by Angel Olsen and Sam Petty.

She Said (Maria Schrader)

This dramatisation of the work undertaken by New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey – who in 2018 were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking the story of Harvey Weinstein’s historic sexual misconduct against women – looks to be vital viewing. 

The feature, directed by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Maria Schrader (Orthodox) and starring Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) and Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick), is a sprawling account that really underlines the scale of this watershed investigation, which resulted in the global establishment of the #MeToo movement.

Kamikaze Hearts (Juliet Bashore)

Screening as part of the ‘Treasures’ programme – which platforms recently revived and restored works – is Juliet Bashore’s docu-fiction Kamikaze Hearts, which takes the viewer into the heart of the heady 1980s San Francisco porn industry. 

Adult film icon Sharon Mitchell – who appeared in over 1,000 pornographic films across a 20-year career – is the central focus alongside her then-girlfriend Tigr Mennett. The couple endured a tumultuous relationship during this period of pornographic excess, not least as a result of the various substance abuses and addictions that were scattered throughout the industry. Despite being rejected by the lesbian mainstream at the time of its original release in 1986 due to its portrayal of queer women, it remains a milestone in queer cinema over 35 years later.

The Origin (Andrew Cumming)

More than just a home for future Academy Award and BAFTA winners (as well as highlights from arthouse and international cinemas from all across the globe), the LFF is also a melting pot for innovative new genre works – as exemplified by strands like ‘Love’, ‘Thrill’, ‘Laugh’, and ‘Cult’.

In the latter programme, the horror film The Origin – shot in the Scottish Highlands at the height of the pandemic – boasts an intriguing premise. Set in the Old Stone Age (the Palaeolithic era, which dates back to roughly 2.5 million years ago), the film follows a band of early humans who embark on a perilous migration in hope of pastures greener – only to find themselves being hunted down by a malevolent force.

Love Life (Koji Fukada)

Writer-director Kôji Fukada competes for the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival this year with this life-after-loss drama – about a woman and her husband who decide to care for her former partner after he reappears, deaf, ill and homeless in the wake of a tragic accident.

Like Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi (whose Oscar-winning Haruki Murakami adaption premiered in the UK at LFF last year), Fukada was once tutored by the great Kiyoshi Kurosawa – director of cult psychological horror Cure and the 2020 Venice Silver Lion winner Wife of a Spy. If that’s not already a seal of quality, then eerie 2016 drama Harmonium – which stars Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer) as an emotionless ex-con who turns up at the house of an old acquaintance looking for work – duly exemplifies Fukada’s talents. The latter was awarded the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes that year.

BFI London Film Festival takes place 5-16 October in cinemas around the UK and continues on BFI Player until October 23.