The Best Films We Saw At #LFF2017




Looking back at 2017’s BFI London Film Festival and after careful deliberation, we finish our review with the list of the best films we saw at this year’s event. We began our coverage recommending 15 films we had already seen at Cannes and other festivals. A list that perfectly complements this one and whose, at least, first 8 titles (among them, The Florida Project, You Were Never Really Here, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Summer 1993, etc.) deserve to be included in any best-of the festival recap. We also took a look at a selection of the lesser-known titles from the different strands in former posts. But now its the turn for the films that we actually liked the most during the festival. Altogether, they shape up a promising look at some of the best work that (hopefully) will come to our art-house cinemas during the next twelve months.

COLUMBUS (Kogonada)

My discovery of the festival. This Seoul-born director who specialised in essay films, boasts an unique voice in his debut feature exploring the role the spaces we inhabited have in how we relate to each other. The protagonist couple, whose lives are somehow stranded by the situation of their relatives, connect through their mutual passion for Architecture and develop a friendship that leads towards romance. Their intellectually-rich dialogues, though not as detached or intentionally cool, recall the work of Hal Hartley in the 90’s; as does the presence of one of his regular actors, the ever dependable Parker Posey, shaping up one of the most accomplished US indies in years.

ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel)

After nearly a decade long hiatus due to health problems, the Argentinean director’s long-awaited return is a sensually rich and visually striking reflection on colonial malaise, adapting a 1956 existentialist novel by Antonio di Benedetto, about a Spanish empire’s official stuck in Paraguay, longing for a transfer that fails to materialise. Lucrecia Martel was the protagonist of one of the festival’s screen talks, in which she gave a masterclass on the physics and philosophy that has inspired her career, a review of which will be posted here soon.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Luca Guadagnino)

The best romance of the year is this tale of a summer love between the son of an academic and the graduate who comes to help with the professor’s research, unburdened by the guilt or antagonisms that are typical of gay romantic stories. You can read our full review and details of the film’s press conference here.

THE RIDER (Chloé Zhao)

Gorgeous, contemplative Americana, exploring ideas of masculinity and family support through the shattered rodeo dreams of a young rider after falling from a horse. A spellbinding cinematography enhances the depths of its touching story.

THE SHAPE OF WATER (Guillermo Del Toro)

Only a filmmaker as accomplished in mixing reality with fantasy as Del Toro could have linked Amelie with the Creature from the Black Lagoon through the tropes of Cold War espionage thrillers and melodramas. The Shape Of Water is pure film magic and perhaps Sally Hawkins’ career defining role.

ANGELS WEAR WHITE (Vivian Qu)

Superb Chinese drama about the consequences that political corruption and an overtly exploitative society has in the lives of children, told through the case of a young girl who has been sexually assaulted.

THELMA (Joachim Trier)

Trier impresses again! Comparisons to Carrie are inevitable, but the young Norwegian’s director’s incursion into paranormal territory goes beyond the chills and takes an unflinching look at the side-effects of religious and social repression of human desire.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (Martin McDonagh)

After the great In Bruges and the disappointing Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh’s new film is his best to date and recalls the spirit of the Coens by mixing quirky comedy with the aftermath of a dark crime. Oddly crowd-pleasing, it boasts an excellent central performance by Frances McDormand, who could be winning her second Oscar for it.

THE WOUND (John Trengrove)

The winner of the LFF’s best first feature prize tells the story of repressed gay relationship against the backdrop of South African tribal manhood initiating rites in this visually distinctive, hard-hitting drama.

I AM NOT A WITCH (Rungano Nyoni)

The satirical criticism of the government-backed exploitation of superstition as tourist attraction in African countries and the consequences it has for the communities affected are the main themes in this excellent debut by the Zambian filmmaker. The lead child’s performance has a similar long-lasting impact as that of Quvenzhane Wallis in ‘Beasts of The Southern Wild.’

A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Sebastián Lélio)

Daniela Vega gives one of the performances of the year as the transgender woman overcoming social prejudice and the rejection of her partner’s family after he suddenly passes away in this heartwarming comedy that successfully promotes the normalisation of all relationships.

APOSTASY (Dan Kokotajlo)

Intensely personal look at the contradictions of Jehova’s witnesses dogma and the pressures that imposes on its believers. A great debut that shows a largely unknown world of which many only hear about through sporadically tabloid headlines about their rejection of blood transfusions.

CUSTODY (Xavier Legrand)

The French actor who started his career as one of the kids in Louis Malle’s ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants’ has jumped into direction with this accomplished domestic violence drama which earned him two awards at Venice. Read our interview with Xavier here.

THE LOVERS (Azazel Jacobs)

The former mumblecore director’s brilliant dramedy reverses the roles of a dysfunctional married couple with that of their respective lovers with hilarious results. The film also provides Debra Winger with a remarkable comeback role. Both the veteran actress and Tracy Letts as her husband are superb.

SWEET COUNTRY (Warwick Thornton)

The roughness of Australian outback has proven to be a perfect alternative location for Westerns. This one digs deep in the still open historical wounds of Aboriginal exploitation with an extraordinary cinematography and expert use of pace and genre tropes.

MUDBOUND (Dee Rees)

Dee Rees has come a long way from her intimate LGBT drama ‘Pariah’ to this powerful awards hopeful. This saga of two families, the buyers of a piece of land in the Mississippi Delta and the African-American workers living there, benefits from a superb cast and great production design, but the complexities of this literary adaptation about post-WWII racial and social unrest, with is clever use of multiple point of views, could have provided enough material to fill a miniseries.

FOXTROT (Samuel Maoz)

Loss, futility and grief in Israel’s militaristic society conveyed in a laconic, puzzling and uncompromising three-part allegory. One of the most formally dazzling films of recent times that forces you to stay alert until the very end to make sense of its separate pieces.

DARK RIVER (Clio Barnard)

The follow-up of ‘The Selfish Giant’ is an intensely bleak, realist drama about a brother and sister’s rivalry for the tenancy of their father’s farm and the wounds from the past that it opens.

GOLDEN EXITS (Alex Ross Perry)

The third film by the US indie director is not made around a character as cynical or vile as its predecessors, but it is still a complex and very well written look at the shakeup effect on the relationships of a family, caused by an attractive Aussie traveller who temporarily helps the husband with work on their archives. Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz heads an impressive cast that also features great turns by Chloe Sevigny, Emily Browning and Mary-Louise Parker.

ADRIANA’S PACT (Lissette Orozco)

In the same vein of Sarah Polley’s uncovering her family secrets in “Stories We Tell’, after the Chilean director found out one of her aunties was an agent of Pinochet’s infamous secret police, she decided to film this documentary showing her research about her involvement. The auntie denied all responsibility and agreed to be interviewed from her Australian exile in hope the film would clear her name, but the director unveils a disturbing pattern of tortures and killing pointing inexorably to her relative in this remarkable piece of personal investigation and moral dilemma.

LUCKY (John Carroll Lynch)

Quirky US indie elevated by the great, last performance of the late Harry Dean Stanton as the old man scared of what life inevitably has ahead, surrounded by a cast of veteran greats featuring David Lynch and Kris Kristofferson. Funny and moving in equal measure.

DEAD THE ENDS (Benedict Seymour)

One of the standout works from a particularly exciting Experimenta selection, using sci-fi classics and GIF techniques and told from a pre-apocalyptic near future, Dead the Ends time travels to the moments which shaped the financial and political mess we are in with mind-blowing results.

GIANT (HANDIA) (Jon Garaño & Aitor Arregui)

The Basque directing team who brought us the affecting Flowers (Loreak), deliver this ambitious, impressively crafted production, pointing at the many human ways to exploit anomaly in the moving tale of a 19th century Basque man affected by gigantism.

BEACH RATS (Eliza Hittman)

Tales of young, working-class men surrounded by macho environments and forced to hide their sexuality are hardly new. What makes this one special is Hittman’s assured aesthetic sense and a story line that focuses in the the lead character manipulations to keep appearances up by dating girls and ultimately convincing his gang of friends to turn at his internet arranged encounters, with the excuse of scoring drugs.

HERE TO BE HEARD: THE STORY OF THE SLITS (William Badgley)

Excellent documentary about the legacy of the influential girl punk band featuring the dramatic story of lead singer Ari-Up. Slits members’ Tessa and Palmolive came for a lively Q&A and subsequent DJ set at the BFI bar.

And, apart from all those films, among this year’s LFF most memorable moments we can also recall the spectacular IMAX screening of MOUNTAIN, Jennifer Peedom’s follow-up to ‘Sherpa’, an essay about our obsession with Mountains, conceived as a one-off to be screened at Sidney’s Opera Theatre with the music accompaniment of Australia Chamber Orchestra, the event was such a success that it was made into a feature with William Dafoe narrating passages written by Robert Macfarlane; veteran director Barbet Schroeder came for THE VENERABLE W.’s Q&A, his superb documentary on Myanmar’s religious conflict and the monk who perverted the peaceful teachings of Buddhism into violence; Frederick Wiseman completing his trilogy on cultural institutions with EX-LIBRIS THE NEW YORK PRIVATE LIBRARY; the intrepid Thai college thriller BAD GENIUS, inspired by a real Exams fraud case which shocked the whole of Asia or the very disturbing debut of Spanish Ana Asensio, MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND, inspired by her own struggles being an illegal emigrant in the Big Apple.

Hopefully most of them will get a proper release and contribute to build another great year for film.

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