The film film in London starts next week, and after a pandemic edition in 2020 that mostly played online, the organizers of the UK’s leading film festival emphasize the joys of returning to the cinema in all its glory. This is good news for some of us – but those elsewhere in the country may feel excluded from the party after being given a virtual seat at the table last year.
Fortunately, the party has not forgotten the ground gained in terms of accessibility, and it offers a digital program with 30-odd features that can be streamed on BFI Player — each for a 24-hour window after the festival premiere — along with a program of shorts, that can be seen freely. It’s a smaller menu than last year’s, but it’s a well put together: While the presumption at hybrid festivals like this is often that the program’s features are thrown online as a gruesome admission, this selection includes some of the very best films in the lineup.
Two of them come from the festival’s main competition. Harry Wootliff True things is a sensual, poignant adult drama that delivers on the promise of her delightful debut in 2019 Only you, electrified by remarkable performances by Ruth Wilson, as a frustrated office drone longing for human connection, and Tom Burke, as the fleeting, nameless ex-con who gives her just that, with messy, spiral consequences. And the irresistible debut of Iranian filmmaker Panah Panahi Hit the Road was one of the big discoveries in Cannes this year. Panahi Jr., son of the leading Iranian writer, Jafar, shows his own playful, dynamic feel for the medium in this breathtaking but tender family film that gradually reveals high emotional stakes amidst all the antique, dysfunctional comedy.
One of the breakout hits at this year’s Sundance festival, which won both the top jury award and the audience award in the international documentary competition, the Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s distinctive animated doc. Escape presented here in collaboration with BFI’s LGBTQ Flare Festival. Following the Afghan saga of an Afghan-born academic in Denmark, together with his forthcoming story, it is an urgent, inventively presented addition to the series of refugee stories on film. Also on the documentary side, if you can still bear to revisit the early days of the pandemic, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Heinemans The first wave is a compassionate, heart-to-mouth survey of first responders in New York City in the first months of the crisis.
Other highlights include Between two worlds, an absorbing, morally difficult story of deception and exploitation, with Juliette Binoche in fine form as the author who acted as a ferry cleaner across Channels for the sake of research; real-time, single-take London restaurant drama Boiling point, with the great Stephen Graham as chef on the verge of collapse; Belgian director Laura Wandel’s nervous, ruthlessly observed debut Playground, where children’s playtime policies become breathtakingly cruel; and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s lovely, bittersweet conditions all around Wheel of fortune and fantasy, one of two major films by the Japanese author at this year’s festival. (The other, his immaculate Murakami adaptation Drive my car, you must see in the cinemas.)
My two favorites from the entire selection come from very different schools in Eastern European cinema. Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov’s crazy, swirling dystopian fantasy Petrov’s flu is a vision of social collapse in the midst of an influenza pandemic that has the imaginative density and lavish poetry of surreal Russian literature. However, it’s impressive stuff, so chase it with the airier, more joyful Georgian romantic fantasy What do we see when we look at the sky?, a modern fairy tale about coincidences, love at first sight and football World Cup fever that makes you feel fluid without resorting to magic-realistic tweeness. In a larger festival lineup, you might overlook it; take advantage of having this beauty brought to you.
Also new to streaming and DVD
(Amazon / Apple TV)
I have written about the loving, ironic meme-ification of Nicolas Cage as an actor, but his performances in this elegant, appropriate autumnal kind of revenge drama are no joke. He is wonderfully eccentric as a surviving chef on a purposeful mission to recover his missing, truffle-sniffing pig, but the film supports him with true humanity.
The truffle hunters
How hugely satisfying that this droll documentary and Pig should have been released for non-premium VOD at the same time: must this new wave of truffle cinema Continue. After the older Italian men — and their faithful, eager dogs — feeding on the elusive white Alba truffle in the Piedmont forests, it is amused by their calling while finding something soothing, even spiritual, in it.
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life
(Curzon Home Cinema)
The late British neurologist and writer gets a positively glowing bio-documentary describing his troubled childhood, his struggles with his homosexuality and drug abuse, and his groundbreaking research into autism and neurodiversity. There’s a lot to tackle, and the film just foams the surface of its subject, but it’s lit up by Sack’s own irresistible presence.
That this slip, wise riff on Truman Show for the gamer generation has taken more than £ 230 million worldwide the cinema has been hailed as a triumph for original storytelling in an era of franchise overload, even though Shawn Levy’s films are so incoherent gathered from existing plots and tropics that victory feels a bit hollow. A little real charm would help.