How many times has the line “Give me another shot” been uttered in a boxing movie? What is it about these fiercely stubborn, bloodied and bruised fighters that means they just don’t know when to throw in the towel? Of all the human punching bags witnessed on film over the years, and of the many, many stories of triumph inside the ring in the battered face of adversity outside it, perhaps none are as deserving of cinematic treatment as Vinny Pazienza.
Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani rose to international fame alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s 2008 film, Body of Lies. She’s been busy, and constantly on the move, since then though her most memorable role for many cinephiles was the last one in her home country, as Sepideh in Asghar Farhadi’s acclaimed drama, About Elly. This year she stars with Adam Driver in Paterson, the latest triumph from Jim Jarmusch.
“The Mozart of chess” isn’t the most hip of nicknames but it goes some way to expressing the inexplicable, impossible genius of Magnus Carlsen. The 25-year-old Norwegian Grandmaster is the focus of Benjamin Ree’s Magnus, an intimate documentary that charts his rise to fame and an all-important 2013 World Championship event in Chennai. It does so with a humility that mirrors the self-effacing nature and bashful smile of its timid, attention-averse subject. “It’s hard to be cool when I play chess,” says Magnus in home video footage as an adolescent, struggling through his formative years at school.
November 2016. A member of the Royal family is forced to defend his chosen partner in the face of an unscrupulous right-wing press, with the suggestion in some commentaries of negative racial undertones. It’s hard to fathom, and deeply galling, that this may still be the case but the theatrical release of Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom remains a sadly timely one in spite of this true story originating nearly seventy years ago.
Paterson teaches us that there is beauty to be found in all things. Poetry, meaning and further dimensions to even the most mundane trivialities of everyday existence. In Jim Jarmusch’s latest, which takes place in contemporary New Jersey, Adam Driver plays a bus driver and amateur wordsmith named Paterson. Cyclical, overlapping layers, in narrative, naming and construction, make this week-in-the-life of a lumbering, ironically monosyllabic dreamer and his wonderfully wacky and supportive other half, Laura (played exquisitely by beautiful Iranian actress tress Golshifteh Farahani), a softly spoken, spellbinding and kooky triumph.
Many artists down the years have crooned that breaking up is hard to do and cinema has forever shared a similarly morbid fascination with this particular hardship. Again returning to the everyday domesticity of family life, but with significantly less psychological brutality than his 2012 film Our Children, Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s latest feature, After Love, is an unrelentingly dour take on divorce and the agonisingly slow death rattle of what was once, presumably, a loving relationship.
Most people would gladly, and rightly, watch Isabelle Huppert act in just about anything, such is her peerless talent and effortless screen presence. In Belgian director Bavo Defurne’s Souvenir – one of two films the great French actress appears in at LFF this year, alongside Elle – she plays a former nearly-winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have justly developed a brand of filmmaking synonymous with targeted, dispassionate but engrossing social realism. The Unknown Girl, the latest endeavour co-written, produced and directed by the pair, features in the Debate strand of the 2016 London Film Festival but sadly is unlikely to spark the heated thematic discussions they had perhaps hoped to achieve.
Their Finest is a nostalgic, jolly hockey sticks moving picture. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. “Authenticity informed by optimism” is the name of the game for British propaganda productions concerned with the morale of a blitzed public in the early years of World War Two and Danish director Lone Scherfig’s film about filmmaking opts for a similar spirit of stiff upper-lipped positivity. It’s full of the keep calm and carry on attitude which characterised the era, where people firmly believe that a cup of tea can solve all.
Lion, the debut feature from Australian director Garth Davis, is the tale of a tiny needle in a very large haystack and perseverance against all odds. By turns tragic, deeply moving and heartfelt, it tells the remarkable true story of a young Indian boy, played in his childhood by Sunny Pawar and later in life by Dev Patel, who is lost at a train station and must find himself – both literally and figuratively – later in life.