Sep 12, 2009

LFF 2009 Preview Part 2

Here’s the second part of my personal preview of the London Film Festival 2009, my picks of the films I’m most interested in seeing. In this part I’m looking at the more specialist strands of the festival.

You can see the full programme at

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Libertarian, outlaw, shaman, philosopher, romantic, preacher, genius...Bill Hicks was always something other than a comedian.

Bill Hicks’ comedy is still both relevant and funny 15 years after his death, aged just 32. He achieved more mainstream success in Britain than he did in America, and so it is rather fitting that this biographical documentary - exploring everything from Hicks’ childhood to his infamous censoring on the Letterman show just months before his death - was made by two British filmmakers. The film is animated, and features interviews with family and friends, as well as previously unseen performance footage.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

J Blakeson's endlessly inventive debut feature is a committed, claustrophobic three-hander, featuring some of Britain's most credible and adaptable film acting talent.

An intriguing, and extremely dark, sounding 3 hander which apparently opens with a disturbingly methodical abduction of a young woman (rising star Gemma Arterton) but is supposed to manage to be more than simple schlock and exploitation. The performances ought to be good; Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston are both distinctive talents and this sounds like a good showcase for Arterton to prove that there’s talent as well as beauty there.


A markedly assured feature debut from Lindy Heymann, an intelligent and witty comment on modern celebrity culture.

I hate football, and films about it are generally guaranteed to keep me far away from cinemas, but this sounds rather interesting. Kicks appears to be a film more about obsession – two girls’ adoration of a Liverpool footballer who is put up for transfer – than it is football. The synopsis says that ‘they take drastic action to prevent him leaving’. I’m intrigued to find out exactly what that may mean.

Chris Atkins' revelatory documentary exposes the shams and deceit involved in creating a pernicious celebrity culture.

Perhaps this appeals to the grumpy old man in me. I hate the ‘celebrity’ culture that we’ve created, and the paparazzi that feeds and feeds on it in this country. Atkins, who directed the well received Taking Liberties, has form with polemical docs, so this ought to be both biting and interesting.

The French Kissers

High-school comedy, French style: comics creator turned director Riad Sattouf scores with a pithy, outrageous saga of acne, snogging and teenage angst.

Europe and Scandinavia have been producing excellent, dark, and very real teen movies of late. This one sounds like it will be a considerably lighter proposition, apparently more like a French American Pie than a more typical arthouse outing. The cast is composed largely of unknowns, but Emmanuelle Devos, Irene Jacob and Valeria Golino all lend support.


Bruno Dumont returns with his most provocative film yet, and arguably his masterpiece: a novice nun tries to reconcile her fanaticism with the outside world.

This one is a little bit of a mystery. I haven’t seen any of Bruno Dumont’s films, the cast seems to be completely unkown, so there’s very little to hang on to here, but that little strapline sounds really interesting. It will need to have a towering performance from Julie Sokolowksi, who plays the novice nun in question, but I think this will be an interesting film.

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno

How one of France's great directors nearly made a visionary masterpiece: a revealing documentary about a legendary catastrophe of French cinema.

It sound as if this will be, like Lost in La Mancha, an unmaking of documentary, revealing the original concept of Clouzot’s unfinished project. The screenplay was adapted in the 90’s by Claude Chabrol, whose L’Enfer would likely be a brilliant companion piece to this – two different versions of a project that never quite saw the light of day.


A passionate tale of a bourgeois wife and mother's flight from her respectable life.

The story - that of a middle aged wife and mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) who strays into an affair with the builder (Sergi Lopez) constructing her home office - sounds pretty standard, almost a cookie cutter melodrama, but that’s not what calls to me with this film. Scott Thomas gets better with every passing film, and as she enters her 50’s she is among the best actresses working, while Lopez has shown himself to be a sensational actor, with a magnetic screen presence and the ability to be compelling in three languages. Seeing these two together ought to be extremely exciting.


Cedric Kahn's suspenseful, psychological twist on that staple, the French adultery drama, with Yvan Attal and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi as ex-lovers dangerously reunited.

I’ve had a mixed experience with Cedric Kahn. L’ennui was one of the world’s most accurately titled films, while Red Lights started off intriguing, but ultimately bored me. However, he also made Roberto Succo - one of the best serial killer films of recent years. Regrets gives Kahn a strong cast; Yvan Attal and Francois Ozon favourite Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and promises the feel of a Chabrolian thriller applied to an adultery drama. I’m intrigued.

White Material

Director Claire Denis is on mesmerising form, directing Isabelle Huppert in a drama about a woman struggling to survive in an African revolution.

The sensational Isabelle Huppert, who, on any given day, could make a justified claim to being the best actress alive, toplines the latest from Claire Denis. The film is set on a coffee plantation and sees owner Huppert trying to hold her business together despite the efforts of workers and her ex-husband (Christophe Lambert) and the fact that the infrastructure of the country is collapsing around her. It sounds like Denis might be combining her ever-present social consience with a larger helping of thrills this time out.


The product of an active and inventive imagination, though some may doubt it comes from a healthy one…

For me, much of the most interesting cinema in the world comes from the margins. Extreme cinema fascinates me, and Dogtooth sounds both extreme and interesting. It’s about a patriarch who has essentially imprisoned his children in their own home. However his son is growing up, and so the Father hires Christina to move into the household and to initiate the young man into sex. The sex, apparently, is hardcore and the film is also supposed to feature jolting scenes of violence against both people and cats. 2009 has already thrown up much fine challenging cinema, this might be another challenge worth embracing.

The Double Hour

Ultra-suspenseful contemporary crime thriller about a new romance, torn apart by robbery and murder.

The official information for this Italian neo-noir sets a high bar indeed. It compares Giuseppe Capotondi’s film to Double Indemnity, Body Heat and Vertigo, this will have to be a hugely impressive film to even get close to meriting those comparisons. There’s not much plot disclosed - after a speed date an ex-cop and a hotel maid embark on a relationship, but crime and violence soon intervene. If it can live up to those references then this could be a modern classic.


A meticulously drawn study of a pilgrimage to the iconic site, touching on themes of faith, hope and charity.

This has been a critical hit at Venice, prompting The Times (who sponsor LFF) to tip it for the Golden Lion, and if it wins there Jessica Hausner’s third film will be a hot ticket. It should be a hot ticket anyway, based on the presence of the excellent Sylvie Testud, who is criminally unknown outside of France. Here the adaptable actress plays a wheelchair bound sceptic who visits Lourdes hoping for a miracle cure.


A compelling and occasionally graphic story adapted from Mikhail Bulgakov's stories about a country medical practice in Russia in 1917.

Adapted from what are apparently autobiographical stories by Bulgakov, Morphia is about a doctor in revolutionary Russia who becomes addicted to morphine and draws the nurse who is also his lover into that addiction with him. This promises to be hard hitting, with medical scenes which saw it get a 21 rating in Russia. It also boasts Ingeborga Dapkunaite in the cast, this Russian actress lives in London, and has done much impressive work on British TV, It will be good to see her get a main part to sink her teeth into.


A legal drama about personal and political integrity, and about the face of modern Europe.

Hans Christian Schmid impressed me hugely with Requiem, and though Storm - a legal drama set at the Hauge’s International Criminal Court - is quite a change of pace it promises to be an interesting one. Requiem showed Schmid to be a sensitive director of actors and here he’s got a great crop; Stephen Dillane, Kerry Fox and Anamaria Marinca among them. A film that seems very much of the moment.

At the End of Daybreak

Inspired by a tabloid news story, Ho Yuhang's tale of the illicit affair between a confused 23-year-old and an underage high-school girl is a kind of modern Malaysian film noir.

Noir and Neo-Noir are fascinating genres, and I generally get something out of almost any example of either style, this would be the first Malay film I’ve seen, and it sounds both accessible and entertaining. One really intriguing thing is the presence of former kung-fu star Kara Hui (now going by her real name) as the mother of the young girl in this illicit relationship.


Brillante Mendoza's Cannes prize-winner (Best Director) chronicles a young police cadet's horrified realisation that he's about to become an accessory to murder.

There are divisive films, and then there’s Kinatay. This year’s Cannes jury obviously felt very strongly about it, but most other viewers were repulsed by it. 45 minutes of Briillante Mendoza’s film is devoted to the torture, murder and dismemberment of a prostitute, in graphic detail, in the back of a cramped, dark and constantly moving van. The tabloids will have an aneurysm if they get wind of it playing at LFF, which only makes me want to see it.


An effectively minimalist telling of the atrocity of the Montreal engineering school massacre of 14 women students in 1989.

Two filmmakers have previously addressed school violence with deliberately minimalist films, and both were awful. Hopefully Polytechnique can do what Elephant and Afterschool failed to do and make this uniquely modern phenomenon into compelling cinema. There’s a key difference here in that this film is explicitly based on real events, but what sells me on it is the beautiful imagery in evidence in the black and white stills available. I’m looking forward to seeing them in motion.

Though this is by no means a comprehensive selection of what's on offer at LFF this year I hope it at least gives you some ideas for what to see and some impetus to check out the full line up. See you in the screenings.

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