A scene from Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's "In The Basement".
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2014 London Film Festival preview: French house music, Austrian basements and the British Harmony Korine

Our film critic Ryan Gilbey previews the 58th London Film Festival, which opens next month.

Next month brings the 58thLondon Film Festival, and the press launch this week threw up more than a handful of interesting propositions. You know the drill so I won’t detain you here much longer: I recommend a lucky dip of highlights, avoiding where possible those which already have distributors, and especially those which are being released imminently. Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, for instance, is a wonderful film, but there’s not much point shelling out for a gala festival ticket when it will be in a cinema near you three weeks after its LFF unveiling. On the other hand, you might just want to brag on social media about having seen it first, in which case—be my guest.

Booking opens to BFI members next Thursday 11 September and to the public a week after that. Here is my selection of sixteen titles that I’m particularly looking forward to:

Altman

Did you really think I could resist recommending a documentary about the director of my favourite film (McCabe and Mrs Miller), not to mention one of the most innovative of all US filmmakers?

August Winds

This fiction debut from the Brazilian documentary maker Gabriel Mascaro charts the romance between a young couple in a village threatened by global warming.

Bypass

As an admirer of Duane Hopkins’s gruelling but visually arresting Better Things, I’m excited to see this belated follow-up, especially as it stars the excellent George Mackay (Pride) as an ailing young man living in straitened circumstances on a council estate.

Eden

After Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love, the writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve is the closest thing you can get to a sure thing. Her latest is a fictionalised portrait of the rise of the French house music scene that spawned Daft Punk.

The Falling

Anyone who saw Carol Morley’s semi-documentary Dreams of a Life, about a woman whose body lay undiscovered in her north London flat for three years after she died, is likely still thinking about it to this day. This fiction follow-up about hormonal hysteria at a 1960s girls’ school suggests shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The Goob

Approving reviews have trickled through from the Venice film festival for this debut drama from the British director Guy Myhill, set in the Norfolk countryside but infused with a renegade spirit that has been likened to Harmony Korine.

Guidelines

I saw this excellent documentary about a provincial Canadian school when it screened at the Berlin film festival earlier this year. Think of it as Être et avoir: the High School Years.

In the Basement

A creepy documentary from the fearless Ulrich Seidl, director of the Paradise trilogy, about Austrians and their beloved basements and cellars? Count me in.

It Follows

David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth of the American Sleepover, a gentle but insightful coming-of-age movie, was one of the great US debuts of recent years. His next film, which earned rave reviews from Cannes, sees him moving into horror.

Leviathan

The new film from Andrey Zvyagintsev, director of the unforgettable Elena and The Return, about a man resisting the purchase of his property.

L’il Quinquin

The most unlikely words heard at the LFF launch announced this, “a knockabout comedy from Bruno Dumont.” As anyone who has seen the taxing L’Humanité or La Vie de Jesus will know, that’s like a fey period romance from Quentin Tarantino or a monster movie by Woody Allen. Still, I have it on good authority that is properly funny and entertaining. Colour me intrigued.

Pasolini

Abel Ferrara’s film has Willem Dafoe as the legendary Italian poet, director and firebrand Pier Paolo Pasolini in the hours immediately prior to his murder in 1975.

Phoenix

The always fascinating German director Christian Petzold (Yella, Barbara) is reunited with his regular collaborator, the hypnotic Nina Hoss. She plays a concentration camp survivor who undergoes cosmetic surgery and searches for the husband who betrayed her.

The President

The great Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar, A Moment of Innocence) relocates to Georgia about a president who sparks revolution in an unnamed country.

The Tribe

I’ve heard terrific things about this entirely dialogue-free drama set among the criminal fraternity at a Ukranian boarding school for young deaf people.

White God

A girl and her dog: that’s the misleadingly innocuous-sounding starting point for a shocking, visceral film that won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes this year.

The 58th London Film Festival runs 8—19 October.

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.

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.