Another London Film Festival is beginning, giving audiences in London – and in many cases across the UK too – their first chance to see some of the films that will be hitting the headlines over the coming months.
It opens with Armando Iannucci’s take on the Charles Dickens classic David Copperfield and closing with the hotly anticipated Martin Scorsese mob drama The Irishman, with more than two hundred features in between.
But as well as the bigger titles that will be challenging for awards and box office success, the programme also includes gems from film makers who are tentatively dipping their toe into the cinematic pool for the first time. “For some, it’s that moment of discovery – that chill up the spine when you realise you are watching a debut from a major new film-making voice,” enthuses the BFI’s Tricia Tuttle, who runs the festival.
You’ll already have read about some of the big films that have started making waves, in Venice, Toronto and elsewhere. But if you’re interested the unsung features, from directors who are about to break onto the scene, Tricia told us “what’s worth seeing” at this year’s London Film Festival.
She’s selected five debuts from directors from different countries. “All five use the full canvas of cinema and these films scream out to be seen on the big screen,” she says.
SAINT MAUD (UK), by Rose Glass, follows a nurse who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of a dying patient.
“In a year of exceptional new work from emerging UK filmmakers, Rose Glass’ audacious and dark debut stands out. Astonishingly good newcomer Morfydd Clark (also in the festival’s opening film, The Personal History of David Copperfield) plays Maud, a young nurse with a nervous disposition and ferociously devout faith who becomes convinced she needs to save the soul of her patient (Jennifer Ehle), a bohemian retired dancer diagnosed with a terminal illness. Saint Maud is a mysterious, unsettling psychological study of a woman on the verge, which uses genre conventions to great effect. This one will really get under your skin.”
BABYTEETH (Australia), by Shannon Murphy, blends provocative adult drama with teen romance.
“Aussie director Shannon Murphy’s film was one of just two from female directors in competition at Venice, all the more exceptional considering it’s a first feature film. Sharp Objects’ Eliza Scanlen plays a teenage terminal cancer patient who falls in love for the first time with a twenty-three year old drug dealer, Moses. He’s the worst nightmare of her suburban parents, deeply grief-stricken about their daughter’s diagnosis, who both indulge and overprotect her. Murphy skilfully weaves a story that moves from spicy, angular humour to quiet emotional power and heartbreak.”
INSTINCT (Netherlands), by Halina Reijn, sees a prison psychologist drawn to a sex offender she believes is too dangerous to be released.
“An intensely engrossing debut feature from Dutch actress-turned-director Halina Reijn, Instinct is another provocation, this one interrogating thorny questions around consent, desire and power. Carice van Houten (Melisandre in Game of Thrones) plays a psychologist specialising in patients with severe criminal sexual disorders who becomes obsessed with one of her patients. A psycho-sexual thriller that is intensely smart, though often knotty and uncomfortable.”
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (US), by Joe Talbot, is described as a gorgeous, inventive meditation on art, architecture, black culture and gentrification in California’s Bay Area.
“Joe Talbot collaborates with writer-performer Jimmy Fails in a debut about the impacts of gentrification on the black community in San Francisco. But where some might tackle that subject through a naturalistic or social-realist frame, Talbot’s film is majestic, poetic, magical and filled with wry humour and tenderness, especially in offering a rare portrait of a lifelong friendship between two young black men. Exquisite..”
WORKFORCE (Mexico), by David Zonana, sees construction workers take matters into their own hands when their bosses ignore their requests.
“30 year old Mexican writer/director David Zonana, delivers this provocative, highly composed first feature with shades of both Michael Haneke and Michel Franco (who exec produces here). After an accident on a construction site leaves a worker dead, his brother and co-worker fights for compensation and then justice. But this is much more complex than the working-classes-fight-back tale it might imply. In precisely crafted scenes, Zonana takes the viewer to uncomfortable places, challenging loyalties and sympathies as he questions the dynamics of power, privilege and corruption.”