London Film Festival Jubilee The Love of Cinema Reigns By Michel Ciment

in 49th London BFI London Film Festival

by Michel Ciment

The desperate attempt by most film festivals to show world premieres — the latest example being the first edition of the “Festa Internazionale di Roma” — leads up to desillusions, the international production being not good enough to supply satisfying and hitherto unreleased films. The London Film Festival — under the expert guidance of Sandra Hebron — which celebrated this year its fiftieth anniversary is probably the most brilliant example of a Festival taking place in a big town and providing its audiences with the crème de la crème from the major artistic events of the year (Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Rotterdam, Locarno, San Sebastian) as well as some little seen gems.

With no official competition and a few awards being handed during the closing night at the Odeon Leicester Square — the FIPRESCI prize Lola by Xavier Rebollo (Spain), the Sutherland trophy to Red Road by Andrea Arnold (Great Britain) and the Satyajit Ray award to The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarch (Germany), all three first features — the festival can unspool in a quiet atmosphere where the love of cinema reigns supreme. More selective than the Toronto Film Festival and less aristocratic than New York (with its twenty-odd entries), London is able to provide not only the screening of more than hundred and sixty current films with additional projections of shorts and experimental works, but also masterclasses and talk shows by luminaries such as, this year, Dustin Hoffman, Tim Burton, Richard Linklater and Paul Verhoeven, as well as revivals of classics in restored prints from the major archives like Frank Capra’s formidable melodrama Forbidden (1932) — which, for Time Out, “hasn’t stood the test of time” though it seemed to us more modern and better acted than most films in the contemporary section —, Tol’able David by Henry King (1922), a masterpiece worthy of Griffith and whose villains anticipate the hillbillies of Deliverance and Joseph H. Lewis’ The Big Combo (1955), a classic of the gangster film with a superb black and white photography by John Alton.

Among the twelve first or second features submitted to the FIPRESCI Jury (and whose choice seemed sometimes quite arbitrary, leaving aside more worthy candidates like Le Pressentiment, 12-08 East of Bucharest or Fresh Air), we would like to single out besides the prize-winning Lola, unanimously voted by the jury, Ghosts, Nick Broomfield’s second fiction, which benefits from the strong documentary background of its director. Starting with the death by drowning of twentyone Chinese cocklepickers in Morecambe Bay in February 2004, the film traces the journey from China to Britain of one migrant, Ai Quin Lin, and dissects the whole system of exploitation from the organizers of the trip who impose an extravagant amount of money to the passenger, to the Chinese fixer in England and the ruthless British landlord, and finally the racist natives who beat up the illegal immigrants. The film is a worthy companion in the docu-drama tradition to Michael Winterbottom’s Road to Guantanamo. Reprise, a Norwegian first feature by Joachim Trier depicts with visual flair and a very controlled mise en scène the literary world of Oslo and the ambitions of two writers who want to do something creative. Old Joy, a minimalist Sideways by American helmer Kelly Reichardt, shows the same visual quality in its beautiful evocation of the North Western woodlands, though its contemplative style to describe the decaying relationship of two friends lends a certain tedium to this road movie.

One quarter of the films in the FIPRESCI selection dealt with the theme of pedophilia, arguably a rather disproportionate ratio. The most interesting was The Little Children, Todd Fields’s second feature (after In the Bedroom) which takes place in the suburbs of Boston and shows with a satiric edge how the fear of a pedophile just released from prison reveals the frustrations and the discontent of a number of middle class neighbours. In Wild Tigers I have Known, the underground American director Cam Archer creates a pseudo poetic dreamlike atmosphere to portray the crash of a 13 year-old boy for an adult while The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (with the same scene of an effeminate youngster putting on lipstick to seduce a cop) is more rewarding though rather rambling in its narrative. It at least reveals its director Auroeus Solito as a disciple of Lino Brocka able to portray the lower depths of Manila.