Despatches from the BFI London Film Festival
Film Editor | Jack Salvadori
One of the most distinctive features of the London Film Festival, which took place all over the city throughout October, is quantity over quality.
True, this peculiarity allows many more movies to be screened, possibly satisfying a wider range of viewership. However, at the same time, the festival cannot possibly present a clear direction, and it seems like a hotchpotch only interested in its excessive and impractical high figures.
The endless programme of the 61st edition gives the impression that the more movies there are, the greater the festival is: a festival with no selection, which proudly accepts films as if in a scoring game. But it should not be forgotten that most of these motion pictures had their premieres already, opening in other more important film festivals, such as Cannes, Toronto and Venice.
Moreover, having all these films in just 10 days denied the sharing experience; the most charming characteristic of film festivals is in fact the irresistible share of thoughts, impressions, reviews and opinions: everybody watches everything, at the same time. Of course, this is possible when a programme lists 20/30 films in competition – and not more than 300, like the London one!
This is the reason why a variety of movies which do not share any common line of thought were piled up within the festival’s programme: from critically acclaimed masterpieces such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, to purely plotless artistic pieces like Manifesto, passing from banal commercial flicks like Battle of the Sexes and Breathe. The latter, which was selected to open the festival, recounts the biography of Robin Cavendish, a polio-affected man who spent his life fighting for disabled rights. Andrew Garfield, who plays the tetraplegic protagonist, might well run for this year Oscars, considering the Academy’s fond appreciation for characters with a disease. However, the predictable film is flatter than its central character’s perspective. Sometimes, a great life does not mean it will turn out to be a great film.
On the other hand, there were pleasant surprises on the commercial side too. Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories might look like the classic, chewed-up American comedy, while it is an irresistible original piece, simultaneously hilarious and touching. Legendary Dustin Hoffman stars next to the often underrated Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler, who are both capable of dramatic performances too.
Moving towards a more authorial branch of the festival, Richard Linklater presented his latest work, Last Flag Flying. It is hard to classify this intense film into a single genre, a road-movie reflecting upon war, containing several comical scenes which perfectly combine with the overall dramatic tone. Moreover, it is finally possible to watch Bryan Cranston in a proper lead role, after his television successes. The strangest – but yet extremely entertaining – film of this edition is definitely How to Talk to Girls at Parties, mixing 1970s British punk culture with aliens visiting planet Earth. What happens when an extra-terrestrial and a punk fall in love? It seems like the beginning of a joke, but it is actually a romantic comedy destined to be a cult.
There was also the chance to commemorate the recently passed away Harry Dean Stanton, who stars in his latest work Lucky, an almost autobiographical confession of an old man questioning himself about the significance of life and death.
But the true discovery of the festival is a film that changes forever the history of motion pictures, being entirely hand painted; no computer graphics or special effects were employed for Loving Vincent, showcasing 65,000 paintings commissioned to more than 100 painters. The film investigates over the mysterious death of Vincent van Gogh, exploring his difficult existence and paying homage to the genius artist by representing the movie in his own unique style. A true delight for the eyes, and the work of art of the 61st BFI London Film Festival.
Featured image: Loving Vincent