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London Film Festival 2008


By Matthew Arnoldi - Posted on 15 October 2008

In London cinemas, audiences are about to forget the credit crunch and pitch up for a frenetic fortnight of glitzy Gala, World and European Premieres in London's glorious annual movie party.

The London Film Festival (15 to 30 October) opens with the world premiere of a film adaptation of a successful London stage play Frost/Nixon. Directed by Ron Howard it depicts an historic encounter with Richard Nixon, the disgraced U.S. President, who agreed to be interviewed about his time in office by TV celebrity David Frost in the summer of 1977.

Howard, using a screenplay from Peter Morgan, has stuck to the original theatre casting of Tony award-winning Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost, with an impressive supporting cast that includes Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen and Oliver Platt. Ron Howard, Michael Sheen and David Frost are all due to be at the opening screening.

The closing film this year, like last year's, is set in India. A modern love story, Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is based on Vikas Swarup's bestselling novel 'Q & A' and adapted for screen by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty). It's a warming upbeat story about Jamal Malik, an 18 year old orphan from the poverty-stricken streets of Mumbai who finds himself one question away from winning a fortune on India's equivalent of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Politics is in

Films confronting historic political issues dominate many of the Gala screening slots this year. The Centrepiece Gala for instance is the much-talked about animated film in Cannes, Waltz With Bashir (24/27 Oct) which under the writer-direction of Ari Folman provides a unique take on the first Lebanon War of the early Eighties.

Oliver Stone's W (23/24 Oct) with a script by Wall Street co-writer Stanley Weiser, stars Ellen Burstyn, Josh Brolin and James Cromwell in a focus on George Bush or George Dubya, looking at his rise to power and first term in office. It offers the chance to see Brolin playing Bush, Thandie Newton playing Condeleeza Rice, Scott Glenn Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Dreyfus Dick Cheney.

There's also the Time Out screening of Hunger (19/20 Oct) by artist Steve McQueen which looks at the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike led by Bobby Sands in Belfast's notorious Maze Prison.

Benicio Del Toro, appearing in a screen talk during the festival, stars in Steven Soderbergh's Che, a study of Che Guevara's campaigns in the late 60's in Cuba and Bolivia which has been made as two films, part one in Cuba and part two in Bolivia, and both films together running to a 252 minute length. You can see both on Sat 25 Oct or part one on 27 Oct and part two on 29 Oct.

There's also The Baader Meinhof Complex (26/28 Oct) a film directed by Uli Edel showing the Red Army faction, a German left wing militant group founded out of the children of the Nazi generation who in the 70's fought an international terrorist campaign against US imperialism and the West German establishment.

Finally there's Heart of Fire (22/25 Oct) which looks at the upheaval in Eritrea in 1981 when forces fought a war of independence against Ethiopia, directed by award winning documentary filmmaker Luigi Falorni.

Domestic Bliss - forget it!

Away from politics, films tackle difficult family issues. Michael Winterbottom's Genova (22/26 Oct) starring Colin Firth and Catherine Keener looks at a family trying to rebuild after a tragedy.

Un Conte de Noel (A Christmas Tale) (19 Oct) is Arnaud Desplechin's poignant tale of a family coming to terms with a mother's (Catherine Deneuve) diagnosis of cancer and the deliberations of who should be a suitable bone marrow donor. The film is a tad overlong (at 150 minutes) but the always watchable Mathieu Almaric gives a lively performance in a strong cast.

Also trying to hold her family together at Christmas is a blue collar Mom in wintry New York in the Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner Frozen River (23/24 Oct) directed by Courtney Hunt.

Finally Jonathan Demme's latest film Rachel getting married (16/17 Oct) sees Anne Hathaway returning to the family home for the wedding of her younger sister in a drama of family tensions synonymous with the films of Robert Altman.

School's Out

Classroom teacher issues can be found in Atom Egoyan's new film Adoration (20 Oct), and in Laurent Cantet's The Class (18/20 Oct) which is an observational study of how a classroom might behave in a Parisian junior high school through one whole term, the film winning this year's Cannes Palme D'Or ahead of more eye-catching opposition.

College romances are tackled in Christophe Honoré's La Belle Personne where a modern-day adaptation of Madame de Lafayette's novel La Princesse de Cleves follows the impact of a newcomer Junie (Léa Seydoux) on a group of students. Junie ends up dating a fellow pupil Otto whilst also attracting the attention of a young lothario in the form of her Italian teacher.

Classroom bullies are encountered in the fictional Spanish film Cowards (19/22 Oct) a thoughtful look at the bullies and the victims, and bullying is also at the heart of edgy Italian crime movie A Game for Girls (16/18 Oct) directed memorably by newcomer Matteo Rovere about three young rich girls who graduate up from playground pranks to hardline terror against teachers.

School sports are at the heart of Sugar (23/24 Oct) a film about baseball directed and written by Anna Boden (Half-Nelson) and Max Minsky and Me (19 Oct) sees a young girl transforming herself into a Basketball player in order to get to championships where a dashing Prince she has had a major crush over, lives.

Let's Rock

Heavy Metal positively seeps out of the celluloid in the excellent and beautifully hilarious Anvil! (21/23 Oct) a documentary which shows the rise and fall of rockers Anvil who led the Heavy Metal movement only to see other artists like Metallica and Def Leppard nick their ideas and rise to dizzy heights whilst Anvil's career spiralled spectacularly downhill. Director Sacha Gervasi directs this real-life Spinal Tap story with both amusement and tenderness towards the cause to the point where metal rocker or not, you'll love Anvil as a band and so want them to succeed.

Music is also at the heart of Giles Borg's new brit film 1 2 3 4 (17/24/25 Oct) a warm spirited tale about making it in the world of indie rock, with a soundtrack that includes the likes of The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and The Pixies.

Finally, Nick Moran's Telstar (25/28 Oct) co-stars Con O'Neill, Kevin Spacey and Pam Ferris in a dazzling directorial debut about the life of late 50's independent pop producer Joe Meek taken from a stageplay that Moran also wrote.

Women and adversity

There are some great films this year that show women in gutsy situations. Among the best is The Silence of Lorna (27/29 Oct) directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. It's the dispassionate tale of a young Albanian woman being used by a gang for the nefarious activity of getting hitched in arranged marriages for the purposes of getting legitimate immigration documents. Lorna is paired with a junkie called Claudy and even though she has a partner and treats Claudy with cold disdain, gradually Lorna's position changes and her loyalty to the gang becomes challenged.

Equally good is the Argentinian film Lion's Den (28/29 Oct) where a young woman Julia is sent to a harsh South American prison following the death of a man in a flat where she lived. Julia may not have committed the crime but its her word against another man. In a commendably realistic film about bringing up a baby in prison, director Pablo Trapero brings out a great performance from leading actress Martina Gusman backed up by many prison staff and inmates who were used as extras.

The Brit Component

The British selection this year includes Nicolas Winding Refn's portrait of UK's most violent prisoner Charles Bronson in the film Bronson (17/24 Oct) with Tom Hardy and Amanda Burton.

There's also Justin Kerrigan's I know you know (25/26 Oct) a father and son study starring Robert Carlyle, Arron Fuller and David Bradley.

The harsh housing estates just outside Edinburgh are the backdrop for an edgy thriller New Town Killers (28/30 Oct) directed by Richard Jobson and starring James Anthony Pearson and Dougray Scott.

Finally you could take a look at Shifty (24/26 Oct) a young streetwise reunion drama directed and written by Eran Creevy about youngsters Chris and Shifty who grew apart but get reunited over a crazy 24 hours. It's a study of social realism with a real heartbeat made for a pittance through Film London's microwave scheme out of a shoot that lasted just 18 days and it's due a proper cinema release following its appearance in the fest.

Hot tickets

Films that should be booked immediately include the likes of Tyson (17/21 Oct) a study predictably of Mike Tyson's boxing career in a revealing documentary directed by James Toback.

There's also James Gray's Two Lovers (20/21 Oct) a film about taking that extra step in a relationship which will sell on the back of an impressive cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow and Isabella Rossellini.

Hamlet 2 (26/28 Oct) the comic hit from Sundance, is a curioso satire on American Conservatism, starring Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener and David Arquette and co-written by Pam Brady (South Park) and 007 is also a hot ticket with one Daniel Craig playing the slick Bond in the latest in the spy series The Quantum of Solace (29 Oct) which forms the Film on the Square Gala.

Charlie Kaufman's debut as a director Synecdoche, New York (28/29 Oct) is sure to draw in the crowds on the back of his splendid work as a writer. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theatre director trying to produce his masterwork and a decent cast includes the ubiquitous Catherine Keener and Samantha Morton.

Look out too for Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona (21/25 Oct) starring Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson and Javier Bardem, there's also Richard Eyre's love-story-thriller The Other Man (17/19 Oct) starring Liam Neeson, Antonio Banderas, Laura Linney and Romola Garai to name but a few, and there's The Brothers Bloom (27/28 Oct) the American Airlines Gala movie in which Brick director Rian Johnson directs a cast including Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Robbie Coltrane, Mark Ruffalo and Maximillian Schell in a film that sounds like a sequel to The Grifters given it's about deception, cons and swindles known to the deceptive Brothers Bloom.

Finally, the hottest ticket of them all is probably going to be the Surprise Film (26 Oct, 8.30 pm) where director of the Fest Sandra Hebron fills a whole cinema with an audience not knowing what they're about to see but hoping to get a sneak preview of a real hottie in the flicks stakes. Last year's choice No Country for Old men from the Coen brothers surely can't have disappointed fortunate enough to get a ticket.

World Cinema choices

As always at the London Film Festival, there's a large selection of World Cinema films.

Among those that stand out is Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town (23/24 Oct) a film from Thailand which takes as its backdrop the re-building going on following the Tsunami in 2004. An outsider comes to town and starts up a relationship with the local hotel receptionist, a move which doesn't go down well with the locals.

A film that graced the Berlin Film Festival, comes from the grass roots of Kampala in Uganda. Divisionz (20/21/24 Oct) directed by Yes that's us and funded by the Uganda International Film Federation, shows the efforts of 4 residents to escape the confines of an inner city slum existence. The directors make the most of their low budget, not only telling a convincing story about betrayal but also showing through neat editing, the environment, daily pressures and family cast distinctions faced in downtown Kampala.

Joko Anwar's film from Indonesia The Secret (16/17 Oct) looks to be a gritty thriller film noir that traverses different genres, featuring police brutality, bureaucratic cover-ups and vigilantes in a dark story from the heart of Jakarta that has echoes of the work of Costa-Gavras.

There's also Teza (30 Oct) a story about a young Ethiopian who returns from West Germany as a postgraduate during the period of the Cold War and working for a health institution, witnesses a murder and then finds himself at odds with the gangsters running the country at the time. It's got the makings of a decent political drama written and directed by Haile Gerima.

Other Events

Look out for free films being shown in the open air in Trafalgar Square; there are free events such as a Panel discussion on the ethics of screen violence involving several film directors on 23 Oct at 8.30 pm at the NFT delegate centre; there are screen talks with Danny Boyle and Robert Carlyle together with several Script Factory masterclasses as well as the Experimenta and Short Film sections and Treasures from the Archives.

All the detail, information about booking and news of the host of stars attending this year's festival, can be found at the website www.bfi.org.uk/lff or through phoning 020 7928 3232.

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