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London Film Festival 2007 Preview


By Matthew Arnoldi - Posted on 12 October 2007

In cinemas across London, feverish preparations are being made for the 51st annual London Film Festival which begins next week.

Over the space of some 15 days, 180 feature films from across the globe will be shown including 7 world premieres, 29 European premieres, and 128 UK premieres. It promises to be a busy time at some of London's cinema box offices.

Opening film

David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises opens the festival on Oct 17th. A thriller about a Russian mafia family, it focuses on midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) who delivers a baby in a North London hospital ward. When the teenage mother dies in childbirth Anna keeps the fostering cycle at bay and delves into the mother's history hoping to return the baby to her relatives. The young mother, of Eastern European origin, has a murky past and hasn't left many clues but there's her diary. The only problem - it's written entirely in Russian.

Despite the anxieties of Anna's mother (Sinead Cusack) and Uncle (Jerzy Skolimowski), the diary takes Anna into the seedy world of young man Kirill (Vincent Cassell), his kind-looking father Semyon (Armin Meuller-Stahl) and a sinister looking driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Anna must tread carefully in her search for answers.

Closing film

Some two and a half weeks later, the festival closes on November 1st with Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson playing three estranged brothers going on a bonding trip across India in Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited. The film co-scripted by Roman Coppola, is a road movie with unexpected surprises (think The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums). With it is a short prequel Hotel Chevalier co-starring Nathalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman.

Ang Lee's film Lust, Caution was well received at Venice where it won the Golden Lion. Set in 1940's occupied Shanghai and based on a short story by Eileen Chang, it's an espionage tale about passion and disguise, co-starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (In The Mood For love) and Joan Chen (Xiu Xiu The Sent-down Girl).

Responses to Iraq

US Interventionist Foreign Policy is the target of several films this year. Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs is a contemporary thriller in which Tom Cruise plays a high-level senator, Meryl Streep a journalist and is about two students who take a deep interest in the war going on in Afghanistan.

Nick Broomfield's Battle for Haditha is a dramatisation of an incident in Iraq in November 2005 when Marines opened fire on Iraqis in the western city of Haditha. As with Nick's previous film Ghosts, Haditha is a docu-drama showing in forthright fashion, a memorable real-life incident.

The same approach is at the heart of Brian De Palma's new film Redacted described as a fictional documentary inspired by true events. Again it's based in Iraq and centres on what may happen when the American people aren't being fed the exact truth about a particular incident. It won the Silver Lion Prize at Venice.

The directorial debut of James C Strouse, Grace is gone starring John Cusack, Alessandro Nivola and Shelan O'Keefe, is a perceptive look at the effect of the Iraq war on one particular family and carries a message about the futility of war suggesting the cost of human lives is beyond any political posturing to justify causes.

Naturally amongst films knocking US policy, you shouldn't ignore Michael Moore's latest documentary, although his target in his new film Sicko, is a bitingly funny attack on the US government-backed health system which is fine if you're rich, but pretty much a non-starter if you're poor.

U.S. in focus

Moore is visibly bewildered when he discovers that in France, Canada, and the UK there are much better health systems provided by the welfare state. There's a particularly moving part of the film when Moore charters a boat full of sick Americans and tries to get medical help from Guantanamo Bay, where we learn incarcerated prisoners get better medical treatment than the health opportunities offered to some of America's own. It's a fairly damning indictment, granted it's slanted towards a particular message, but Moore still triumphs in a moving attack.

Intensity can be found on a different war stage in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn in which Christian Bale plays a German-born US fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, who shot down and captured in the jungles of Laos in 1965 during the Vietnam war, refuses to denounce America and then has to fight to survive along with other prisoners played by Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies. The film has echoes of previous Herzog classics such as Aguirre Wrath of God.

Herzog directs tightly with a particularly haunting scene at the beginning, where bombs drop grotesquely upon a green and lush-looking countryside with the irony that he and you know what awful devastation the bombs are causing.

I'm Bob Dylan

Christian Bale also appears in one of the hottest tickets in the fest, Todd Haynes' I'm Not There in which Bale and another 5 actors, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and get this, yes even Cate Blanchett get to play Bob Dylan in different guises and different stages of his life. It promises to be a great curioso, its the centrepiece fest gala, being shown on both 27 and 29 October and Blanchett won the Best Actress prize in Venice for her performance as Dylan.

Music and Art

Lodged in the same beat-era but taking a different angle is Morgan Neville's The Cool School, a documentary about the LA art scene from that period. It's narrated by Jeff Bridges and includes contributions from the likes of Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell. Another film for art-lovers is My Kid Could Paint That the story of 4-year old Maria Olmstead who shocked the art world when her paintings were compared to works by the globally-renowned artist Kandinsky.

Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) tells the rewarding true story in Talk To Me of the life of Radio DJ Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene (played thrillingly by seasoned pro Don Cheadle) who with the help of a producer Dewey (Chiwetel Ejiofor) became a crucial voice to the black community in Washington DC for over two decades. It shows Greene at the height of his powers but also how he fell from grace too, arguably his finest hour on the radio being around the time that Martin Luther King died when Greene became the crucial black voice appealing for calm during the riots that followed.

The music world is also at the heart of Italian film Don't Think About It about a fading rock and roll star who returns to his family in Rimini and the Israeli film The Band's Visit, a debut feature for Eran Kolirin which did well at Cannes and tells the tale of a small Egyptian police band who become stranded in Israel on the night of the Shabbat.

Brit films

In the British section this year, besides the offering from Nick Broomfield, there's a new film by Sir Richard Attenborough Closing the Ring which reunites Dickie with Shirley Maclaine in a warm romance that spans five decades and co-stars Christopher Plummer and Mischa Barton. Look out too for In the Shadow Of The Moon, a fascinating documentary from David Sington about the Apollo Space programme showing re-mastered footage of the space missions during the late Sixties to early Seventies and including footage from all surviving Apollo crew members.

Also decidedly interesting is Penny Woodcock's Exodus which inspired by the Old Testament, contains a chilling view of the future through the re-creation of the Bible book of Exodus in Margate. Bernard Hill (well cast for this sort of thing) plays Pharoah Mann, a local politician who sets up a ghetto in Margate for immigrants.

Another chiller is Michael Haneke's American remake of Funny Games co-starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. It's about an affluent family who have the misfortune to run into two local men who have a dark agenda. It's certainly not for the faint-hearted.

The original Funny Games provoked walk-outs in Cannes when it was first shown provoked by its bleak view of brutality. Another film which produced similar actions at Sundance and Cannes this year and is showing in London is Robinson Devor's Zoo which centres on a story from 2005 when in a small town in Washington state, a man was delivered to a local hospital with a perforated colon. An investigation led Police to videotapes that showed the man had had sex with a horse and was part of a group indulging in acts of bestiality. Zoo as you can see is not going to be for everyone.

Laura Linney brings her latest

A more wholesome choice would be The Savages which sounds like a horror title but is in fact a worthwhile film about brother Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and sister Wendy (Laura Linney) having to put their middle-aged lives on hold, to care for their ailing father. Both Hoffman and Linney give distinctively natural performances in a film beautifully nuanced by director Tamara Jenkins who goes for a refreshingly unsentimental approach towards would-be writers who have to become carers overnight. Laura Linney will introduce the film with Jenkins.

Lynch on meditation

Laura also appears live in one of the TCM live interviews at the NFT, along with Ben Affleck, Wes Anderson and Robert Rodriguez. They will be interviewed on stage and audiences get a chance to ask questions too. Actor Steve Buscemi and director Harmony Korine have also agreed to take part in Masterclass and Script factory events (19 and 28 Oct respectively) and there's also a collaboration between director David Lynch and musician Donovan on 23 Oct at the NFT, when Lynch will talk about his new book and his new foundation (get this) 'bringing stress-reducing transcendental meditation to at-risk school children' whilst Donovan plays some of his greatest hits to celebrate his collaboration with the foundation.

World cinema section

From the world cinema section there's the Cannes Palme D'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days about two women living in an all-female dormitory in Eighties Romania, there's City of Men the South American film taken from a spin-off series inspired by City of God, there's the Egyptian film Chaos a tale of corruption, love and revenge directed by veteran director Youssef Chaine, from France, there are two literary adaptations, Francois Ozon's Angel a rags-to-riches melodrama taken from a novel by Elizabeth Taylor and starring Sam Neill, Charlotte Rampling and Romola Garai and Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress, a radical review of the femme fatale taken from Barbey d'Aurevilly's 1850's novel in which decorum will go straight out of the window. Asia Argento plays the lead.

There's also a scary look into the occult in Island of the Lost Souls a Danish chiller from Nikolaj Arcel, you might fancy the South Korean film No Mercy For The Rude about a hitman who's a hopeless romantic into bullfighting and seafood and new films from famed Czech director Jan Sverak, Empties, Spanish director Julio Medem, Chaotic Ana and from Japan, The Mourning Forest directed by Naomi Kawase, which won the runners-up prize at Cannes.

A few less obvious choices to look out for, which with other aforementioned titles like The Savages and Sicko show a trend for new films focusing on the frailty of human health. Julian Schnabel's affecting tale The Diving Bell and the Butterfly stars versatile French actor Mathieu Amalric playing the French Vogue editor-in-chief who suffered a major stroke in his Forties. There's Russian Roulette With Two Revolvers which sounds like a Guy Ritchie film, but is in fact a decent documentary about the differences in European neurosurgery between the East and West. There's also Mike Mills' documentary Does Your Soul Have A Cold? about the widespread use of anti-depressants in present-day Tokyo.

Finally, there's a film nominated for this year's Sutherland Trophy, La Influencia directed by Pedro Aguilera about a single mother going off the rails in present-day Madrid and shows how others react to her growing instability.

Hollywood stars

If you're after Hollywood A-listers, they pop up in abundance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford. It's a western, of course - starring Brad Pitt (who won the Best Actor prize in Venice for his role), Casey Affleck and Sam Shepherd.

If you're after a late-nighter, look no further than Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, if you're into footie, get along to Substitute since it follows French footballer Dhorasoo's exploits on the French bench during the 2006 World Cup Finals, and if you need a kids' movie, there's Dreamworks 3D animation hit Bee Movie with the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick and Renee Zellweger.

Offbeat and date movie

If looking for a curiosity, Hal Hartley's back with Fay Grim, and if you want a good couples movie, book quick for Things We Lost In The Fire directed by Susanne Bier and delivering great performances from the likes of Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry, with Halle appearing live to introduce the evening performance with director Susanne Bier.

Finally don't forget the "Surprise" Movie, always a sellout, in which a packed cinema of Londoners pay not knowing what they're about to see.

It should be the usual mix of the fantastic, the thrilling, the glorious and the bizarre, so keep an eye on the website (especially for changes) and start booking tickets, because lots of others are.

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