Gilbey on film: What can we expect from this year's London Film Festival?

Incoming Festival Director Clare Stewart shows signs of having created a properly dynamic programme.

Another year, another London Film Festival — though this one distinguishes itself from its immediate predecessors by starting earlier than usual (October 10), running for 12 days rather than the usual 16, spreading out across more of the capital than ever before (reaching Hackney, Islington and Shoreditch), sharing some of its gala screenings with audiences across the country (the opening night attraction, Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated horror Frankenweenie, adapted from his own 1984 live-action short, will be screened simultaneously at other UK cinemas) and incorporating a competitive element that brings it more in line with other major film festivals. This new broom is wielded by the incoming Festival Director, Clare Stewart, former head of the Sydney Film Festival. Stewart will have quite a job filling the shoes of Sandra Hebron, but early signs are that she has concentrated on making the shape and content of the programme properly dynamic.

Now the tricky part: speculation. Looking back at the sorts of festival titles I’ve suggested in past years has thrown up the occasional embarrassment (I was as disappointed as you probably were by Rampart and This Must Be the Place). But not for nothing is the LFF known as a best-of-the-fests affair, rounding up the cream of Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Sure enough, the 2012 programme includes this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Michael Haneke’s celebrated Amour; Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, about the downfall of a kindergarten teacher, for which Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor prize at Cannes; and the same festival’s Best Director recipient, Carlos Reygadas, for his audacious drama Post Tenebras Lux. The Taviani brothers also return with their Berlin Golden Bear-winning Caesar Must Die, in which a group of prisoners stage Julius Caesar.

If it’s a surprise that neither Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master nor Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder have made the journey to London from their recent Venice premieres, perhaps that means they are in the running for a different kind of surprise—the LFF’s Surprise Film.

Here are ten other selections from the LFF programme, along with the reasons why I think they could be worth your time and mine:

 

In the House (Dans la maison)

Because François Ozon, great at camp (Potiche, 8 Women), is even better at psychological thrillers (Regarde la Mer, Under the Sand, Swimming Pool), and this study of the relationship between a teacher (the always excellent Fabrice Luchini) and his talented pupil looks full of promise. Kristen Scott-Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner co-star.

 

Seven Psychopaths 

Because no one writes like Martin McDonagh. He also directs here for the first time since In Bruges, with a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell.

 

Everyday 

Because the premise of Michael Winterbottom’s drama about a family coping with the long-term imprisonment of one of its number is elevated by its execution: it was shot on-and-off over five years, the better to capture the authentic changes in its cast members.

 

Hyde Park on Hudson 

Because Bill Murray plays FDR. What more reason do you need?

 

For No Good Reason

Because it’s a documentary about the great, savage illustrator and cartoonist (not to mention NS contributor) Ralph Steadman.

 

The Central Park Five

Because it promises to be a powerful analysis of a miscarriage-of-justice case in New York City in the late 1980s.

 

Reality

Because Matteo Garrone’s new film, about a fishmonger who yearns to be on Big Brother, is his first since the extraordinary Gomorrah.

 

Paradise: Love 

Because Ulrich Seidl (Import/Export, Dog Days) is a continually daring and abrasive director, and this film about sex tourism, the first in a trilogy, would suggest he hasn’t yet defected to the romcom.

 

Obsessive and Compulsive 

Because this programme of shorts on the theme of obsession includes Up the Valley and Beyond, about Russ Meyer, and Picture Paris, directed by Brad Hall and starring his wife, Seinfeld/Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as a woman hooked on Paris.

 

Mekong Hotel  

Because while it may be only an hour in length, it’s also by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who made Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), a filmmaker who crams more treasure, pleasure and meaning into a few frames than most directors do into an entire career.

 

Booking opens to BFI members on 13 September, and to the public from 24 September.

Photograph: Getty Images

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

Photo: Getty
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The End We Start From imagines London underwater

Megan Hunter's fictional apocalypse is a tender one. 

It is six months after the flood. The nameless narrator of The End We Start From is a new mother and a refugee, and by the midpoint of the novel we have followed her and her baby from the “Gulp Zone”, where their London flat was swallowed, to a safe house that proved to be not safe enough, and then refugee camps, every move stripping life a little closer to the essentials. First what can be fitted in a car as you flee to safety, then what can be carried in your arms; first porridge, then only gruel.

Halfway through, the narrator and her baby make it to an island under the guidance of another new mother she befriended in the camps. Here, a family has established a small life of plenty. The narrator has left behind a “place of not-enough”, but here there is food to spare. Seeds grow into vegetables. The baby “likes to eat butter in chunks”. But where has the butter come from? There’s no mention of cattle on the island, no bucolic descriptions of churning. We’re told there is no electricity. So how do they have butter and why is it not rancid?

It’s a small thing, but an outsize irritant in a book whose prose is pared back to match the minimal existence it describes. Every detail feels weighted with significance because it was chosen over something else. Megan Hunter is a poet (this is her first novel), and her poetic instincts are underlined by the TS Eliot-referencing title, borrowed from Four Quartets: “What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.”

Apocalypse and rebirth are central to Hunter’s story. Butter aside, it invokes a thoroughly plausible end of the world. Like Emily St John Mandel’s luminous Station Eleven, or Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, you read it with the conviction that this is what it would be like. (These stories are told from the perspective of the resourceful fortunates who make it through. Apocalypse literature kindly dodges the reality that, if it came to it, most of us would die whimpering in a dirt hole.)

But realism is not the only dictate here. The End We Start From is also deeply invested with symbolism. It begins with the narrator going into labour: “Finally I am waterless, the pool of myself spreading slowly past my toes.” Maternity is a kind of apocalypse, an end to being one kind of self who lives one kind of life, and the beginning of another. Names, like everything else here, are cut back to the barest essentials, becoming just initials. The narrator’s husband is R, her in-laws are N and G, and her baby Z – an alphabetical end who is at the beginning of his life. Anyone who has welcomed the catastrophe of a newborn into their lives is likely to feel sympathy for this parallelbetween infant and Armageddon.

There is a cost to the allegory, though, and it comes through in moments when Hunter sacrifices the merciless logic of calculating survival in favour of giving play to her metaphor. Milk is, as it would be for a new mother, a theme. The milk in the narrator’s breasts that keeps her baby alive becomes an analogue for all sustenance: “As for food, I have started to think of it all as milk,” she says. “I wonder how long we would survive, how quickly human milk runs out in famine.” Perhaps it’s inevitable, then, that the unexpected gift of security and nourishment the narrator and Z find on the island should be represented through dairy; but it also punctures a world you could otherwise believe in utterly.

Hunter’s apocalypse is a tender one. There is violence and disorder at the start: one of the most affecting uses of Hunter’s spare style is when the narrator’s mother-in-law fails to return from a brutal trip to gather provisions, and the narrator simply announces: “No G.” But while R chooses isolation and suspicion of others, leaving his wife and child to make his own way, the narrator chooses humanity. She tells us how she “falls in love”, deep and quick, with those with whom she forms alliances. To borrow again from Four Quartets, “The houses are all gone under the sea” – but The End We Start From promises the possibility of life afterwards. 

The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Picador, 127pp, £9.99

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear