London BFI film festival: ten films to watch out for

From enigmatic Japanese love stories to the comic side of a one-woman show. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Booking is now open to the public for the BFI London Film Festival, which runs from 10-21 October 2018. And, in picking ten highlights from the programme, I have to confess to some lingering rules, long-established prejudices, and arbitrary stipulations. How else are we supposed to find our way through a programme of 225 features (30 per cent of them by women) and assorted shorts?

I try not to spend time on those movies that already have release dates, or at least those opening within a month or two of the festival: no slight at all on the likes of the opening film, Steve McQueen’s new take on the 1980s Lynda La Plante thriller Widows or on Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, both of which are released in early November, or on Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, for which Olivia Colman just won the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival (that one’s out in January). I also give a wide berth to films that the brochure describes as “delightful” or “a meditation” on anything. Arbitrary rules, yes, but without them we surely risk full societal breakdown.

Here is a handful of titles, though, that look likely to steer viewers into uncharted waters or thereabouts.

1. Asako I & II 

Enigmatic Japanese love story about a woman who falls for her ex’s double. 

2. La Flor 

Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video installation The Clock at Tate Modern may currently be the longest game in town, but Mariano Llinás’s 14-hour La Flor – a story of four actresses, which apparently veers between thriller, musical, B-movie, film-within-a-film and silent movie – isn’t far off.  

3. Florianópolis Dream 

Holiday-gone-wrong movies teeming with social awkwardness? Okay, this isn’t Joanna Hogg, queen of the genre, but still: count me in. 

4. The Green Fog 

Arch innovator and mischief-maker Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg) fashions a tribute to Vertigo, and to San Francisco.

5. Happy As Lazzaro 

Great claims have been made for this odd and indefinable story of life in an Italian village cut off from modern society. Winner of this year’s Best Screenplay prize at Cannes.

6. The Queen of Fear

Comedy co-written and co-directed by Valeria Bertuccelli, who also stars as a performer balancing a demanding home life with the challenge of a one-woman show. They had me at “co-written by Lucretia Martel’s assistant, Fabiana Tiscornia”.

7. Ray & Liz 

The film of the book – the book in question being the photographer Richard Billingham’s indelible, influential Ray’s A Laugh, which documented his parents’ life in a Black Country high-rise.

8. Rue Cases-Nègres

There are some outstanding titles in this year’s Treasures section, including Hector Babenco’s mighty Pixote and Mae West and WC Fields in My Little Chickadee. Top of my list is this restoration of Euzhan Palcy’s powerful 1983 coming-of-age tale set in 1930s Martinque.

9. Suburban Birds 

Two stories intertwine – one tells of an engineer who discovers a young boy’s diary while investigating sink-holes, the other of the boy himself – in this Chinese drama.

10. Support the Girls

Breaking my own journey-into-the-unknown rules slightly for this comedy by established indie auteur and former mumblecore figurehead Andrew Bujalski, who is as close to a safe bet as it’s possible to get – unless you count the endlessly alert 88-year-old documentary maker Frederick Wiseman, who is also in the festival with Monrovia, Indiana. At just under two-and-a-half hours, it’s practically a short by Wiseman’s standards.

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 and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.