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.
As with many great film noirs of days gone by, City of Tiny Lights begins with the setting sun. A man’s voice speaks of “the lies people tell, the truths they don’t”, but in the gathering gloom it’s not the broad boulevards of Los Angeles that will be the setting for this murky tale of murder and intrigue. From high above a West London suburbia a camera focuses on a leather-jacketed man at a zebra crossing.
Chief in the many accomplishments of Mohamed Diab’s hard-hitting sophomore feature Clash is the director’s decision to conduct, and construct to astonishing effect, his entire film from the back of a police van. Perhaps eight foot wide and a dozen paces long, this metal cage is our home for the duration. It, and the people within it, form a microcosm for the Egyptian director’s keen inspection of his nation in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and its unstable, bitter fragmentation during the Muslim Brotherhood’s resurgence. Taking place over the course of a little less than 24 hours, it is day-in-the-life cinema at its most pertinent.
At the time Chasing Asylum was filmed 2,175 men, women and children, seeking refuge in Australia, were being detained indefinitely in centres on Manus Island – in northern Papua New Guinea – and on Nauru, a remote Pacific Ocean island nation. A further 10,000 were stranded in the Philippines due to an escalation in 2013 of the Australian government’s already rigorous and unflinching decree to “Stop the boats” by successive Prime Ministers.
François Ozon’s latest feature, Frantz, is a stylistically rich, emotionally restrained historical endeavour. It is led by strong performances from Pierre Niney and Paula Beer. This is Franco-German co-production which has been selected for the 2016 BFI London Film Festival’s Official Competition and which takes place in the immediate aftermath of World War I.
Even those with a limited knowledge of the game of chess will know that the queen rules the roost. Making an astonishing acting debut, the strongest piece of Mira Nair’s joyous Queen of Katwe is Madina Nalwanga. Playing Ugandan prodigy Phiona Mutesi, the charming newcomer lights up the screen from first to last with a radiant smile and extraordinarily mature performance.
Do you dabble in kale? Nina (a wonderful Tanya Fear), the lead of Shola Amoo’s A Moving Image, jokingly says she could eat it all day, every day. While chomping down on the unappetising health food, the suggestion of a grimace plays on her face. With the camera of a visual arts project turned to face her by friend and collaborator, Isha (Hussina Raja), the Brixton native seeks to extricate herself from the quinoa yuppie brigade upon returning to live at the southern end of the Victoria line. A Moving Image is a critique of gentrification situated somewhere between a Spike Lee joint and the recent works of Ira Sachs.