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.

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.