Sep 10, 2009

LFF 2009 Preview Part 1

This will be my fifth London Film Festival, it’s supposed to be the most welcoming of the big fests, designed from the outset as a festival of festivals, a first chance for the British public to see the films that have been making the rounds of the circuit over the last 12 months. Here are my own personal picks - the films I’m most interested in seeing, and the events I’d like to go to - from this year’s programme.

I'll deal with the big films and events in this post, and the smaller, more specialist, strands of the festival in Part 2

You can see the full programme at


A woman investigates her suspicions of her husband's infidelity in this compelling and psychologically nuanced drama.

Atom Egoyan’s latest is a remake of Nathalie – a French film which starred Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Beart in the roles played here by Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried. Moore hires Seyfried to test the fidelity of her husband (Liam Neeson). I’m hoping that this will, finally, mark a full return to form for Moore, who has been largely off the boil as an actress since The Hours. This does sound like just the tonic though – an adult drama (which, incidentally, apparently features copious nudity by both lead actresses) by a serious and respected director. This could also be one of the few films to buck the prevailing trend for shitty remakes.

An Education

A lively and witty adaptation of Lynne Barber's memoir of a London schoolgirl seduced by the lifestyle of an older man.

Supposedly, young British actress Carey Mulligan is one of the smart bets for this year’s Best Actress Oscar for her part in this film. The trailer certainly makes it look impressive, with good work from Mulligan and reliable character actors like Peter Sarsgaard and Alfred Molina. The film is a coming of age tale about a young woman (Mulligan) attempting to get into Oxford University in the early 60’s, who is swept off her feet by an older man (Sarsgaard). Not an especially original story perhaps, but this has collected nothing but admiring notices over its time on the festival circuit.

Father of my Children

Superb drama from upcoming French talent Mia Hansen Løve: a family's life is turned upside down when the father, a hustling film producer, faces crisis.

The French magazine Cahiers du Cinema has a way of breeding directors. Several of its critics – including Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol – have gone on to be some of the most revered and successful directors in France. The latest to join that list is Mia Hansen Løve, whose second film this is. Father of my Children has been one of the big critical hits of this year’s festival circuit, attracting much praise for Hansen Løve in particular.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Based on Jon Ronson's best-seller, this funny, eye-opening story reveals a bizarre secret US military unit trained in paranormal techniques.

A new George Clooney film is usually a good thing, and this year’s LFF brings two; this and Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air. Early reviews have both down as winners, and Men Who Stare at Goats pegged as “the funniest war satire since Three Kings”. Add to that a cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor and this becomes a pretty exciting prospect.

The Road

A brilliant and largely faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

I’m a bit torn on this one. On the one hand it’s based on a Cormac McCarthy novel and the last film from his work was No Country For Old Men. It also stars Viggo Mortenson who, since the Lord of the Rings films, has been distinguishing himself as a truly great actor, particularly in his work with David Cronenberg. It looks, from the stills, to be fantastically beautiful to look at, and the early reviews are pretty gushing. And yet… I really, really didn’t like John Hillcoat’s last film - the ridiculously overpraised The Proposition, and his presence behind the lens slightly worries me.

Air Doll

Kore-eda's unexpected fantasy is both a charming love story and a fragile parable: an inflatable sex doll suddenly acquires a soul and starts to discover what 'life' really is.

I’ve been wanting to see this latest from Hirokazu Kore-eda since it debuted at Cannes. I love the central idea, and it simply couldn’t be better cast. Korean actress Bae Doo-Na has a pixieish cuteness that makes her seem very young and fragile, and yet she’s also able to be worldly and sexual on screen. Bae also happens to be a sharp and malleable acting talent, and this sounds like a really meaty role that will fit her like a glove. I can’t wait to see her in this.

Cold Souls

Actor Paul Giamatti stars as actor Paul Giamatti in this gentle existential comedy about an imagined international trafficking in human souls.

The trailer paints this as something of a cross between Being John Malkovich (this time starring Paul Giamatti as a version of himself) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (only it is the soul that is removed here, not memories). Still, even if the rest of the cast weren’t as interesting as it is - Giamatti, Emily Watson, David Strathairn - I’d be seeing this purely for Russian actress Dina Korzun. She’s only been in two English language films before this, and in each she’s given a brilliant performance and she’s become one of my favourite actresses, so I’m sold on Cold Souls, and so should you be.


A sensuous drama of obsession and misguided love set in a secluded girls' school in the 1930s.

This directorial debut from Ridley Scott’s daughter Jordan grabs me with its quality female cast (Maria Valverde has been excellent in the two Spanish films I’ve seen her in, it will be interesting to see how she fares in English) and with the promised ‘libidnous Lord of the Flies’ atmosphere. In concept it reminds me a little of Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Innocence. If it also reminds me of that in practice then that can only be a good thing.

Enter The Void

An audacious experiment in the hallucinatory power of cinema: non-linear and immersive.

Gaspar Noé’s last film was IRREVERSIBLE, which remains the single most disturbing film I’ve ever seen in a cinema. It was also utterly, utterly brilliant, so I’m already completely up for Enter the Void. Apparently this feels like a terrifying two and a half hour trip, and Noé’s style and design are even more extreme than in IRREVERSIBLE. This won’t be an easy film, but it will almost certainly be a thrilling one, and unlike any other at LFF.

Life During Wartime

A sequel of sorts to the director's Happiness, this is an emotionally resonant and darkly humorous portrait of modern life and love.

A new film from Todd Solondz? Sold. A sequel to Happiness? Sold. A film starring (deep breath) Alison Janney, Shirley Henderson, Ally Sheedy, Ciaran Hinds, Paul Reubens and Charlotte Rampling? Sold. Everything I hear about Solondz’ follow up to his deeply divisive third film makes me anticipate it more rabidly. The first reviews have been strong, but even if they weren’t I’d be excited about this.


A quack herbalist and acupuncturist turns 'detective' to prove her son's innocence when he's charged with murder in Bong Joon-Ho's stunningly original account of maternal feelings in all their terrifying intensity.

Bong Joon-ho is one of the most interesting directors working. His blend of serious drama and comedy in films like Memories of Murder and The Host has led to both critical and commercial success. The reception suggests that Mother is his best yet, with particular plaudits going to the leading performance of Kim Hye-ja.

Surprise Film
Always a sell out screening. Director Sandra Hebron has tough acts to follow, her last two surprises having been No Country For Old Men and The Wrestler. This year? I have a feeling about Avatar’s absence from the programme.

Screen Talk: Julianne Moore

One of the most daring and talented actors of her generation joins us to discuss her diverse slate of work.

A career spanning interview with, and a chance to ask questions of one of the great actresses of her generation. She may not have done her best work lately, but Julianne Moore remains one of the most impressive raw talents in cinema and this ought to be fascinating.

Script Factory/NFTS Masterclass: Gaspar Noé

The uncompromising auteur discusses his desire to offend, provoke and affect the audience in a primal way.

Noé is one of the most distinctive filmmakers alive; his ability to manipulate, shock, and upset his audience is second to none. If you are a budding filmmaker and are at all interested in making challenging and provocative films then this is likely to be an invaluable event.

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