London Film Festival 2017

Posted on: 10 Oct 2017 by Philip Wyn Jones

I began my latest London visit at the British Museum. Their Scythians exhibition, co-produced with Russia’s Hermitage, is magnificent. Then it was time to view my first film at this year’s festival. I had selected eight films in all, each one from a different country.

To start off I travelled to France for Ava (Lea Mysius, 105 min). Ava is a very unhappy teenager. She is rapidly losing her sight, hates her fun-loving mother, and teams up with a rogue of a lad who’s on the police wanted list. The film is beautifully photographed, emphasising as it does what Ava will soon lose; heightened colours and the contrast between total darkness and bright lights. Sadly, however, it’s fatally compromised by two long and irrelevant scenes, one of which takes the form of an amateur music video. They slow down the film and make it seem much longer than it actually is.

We cross over to Italy for Equilibrium (Vincenzo Marra, 83 min). A young priest is a great success in Rome but feels restless there. His life presents no challenges, so he returns to his hometown, Milan. He soon finds himself at a crossroads. Should he look after his prosperous and very popular church or venture out into the wider and sorely troubled community. His decision will change his life for ever. The priest’s dignity in adversity reminded me of Montgomery Clift in Hitchcock’s I Confess and the problems he confronts recall Linus Roache in the British film, Priest.

To Australia next for an extremely violent film, 1% (Stephen McCallum, 92 min). Gangs roar about on their motorbikes and spend their whole time fighting. It’s gang against gang, brother against brother and civil wars within the gangs themselves. The homophobic big boss is, of course, gay and blames his recent sojourn behind bars for that! This is a difficult film to watch but it’s totally convincing.

We’r off to Mexico now, for April’s Daughter (Michel Franco, 103 min). April is  approaching middle age and resents that. Indeed she looks younger than her eldest daughter! When her youngest daughter, still in her early teens, becomes pregnant,  April  takes over in a manner that rather worried the Mexican film censor.  This delightful film will be a treat for fans of Ozon and Almodovar.

The notorious wall doesn’t impede us and we cross to the USA for The Light of the Moon (Jessica M Thompson, 95 min). The film has only just started when a young professional woman is raped. From then on we witness her reaction and that of her colleagues and close friends. This is no representative case study. The woman is a striking, and often unpleasant, individual who attacks those people who are trying to help her. It makes for a powerful , cliché-free film.

Denmark invites us next, for Word of God (Henrik Ruben Genz, 108 min). No, this is not a religious film. We meet a family comprising mother, father and three sons. The father rather fancies himself as a writer and teacher and has drawn up a set of rules which he expects the family to follow without question. One of them concerns his wife and declares that they will have sex every Tuesday and Friday. He also appears to approve of the eldest son’s record-breaking attempts in his bedroom. The hilarious comedy notwithstanding, this is also a very touching film.

We return briefly to the British Isles for my penultimate film, Beast (pictured, Michael Pearce, 107 min). This murder mystery lacks originality. Set in Jersey, it concerns a young woman with a troubled past. Just when a succession of young women are murdered, she befriends a handsome young stranger who is not of her elevated social class. Surely, he must be the murderer. Can she save him from a prison sentence? What if he really is guilty? The creaky plot and some risible dialogue make this a tedious film. The scenery is glorious but this is not a travelogue for the local tourist board – or is it?

And so to Iceland for my favourite film at this festival, Rift (Erlingur Thoroddsen, 111min). At 3am, a man is woken up by a frantic message from his former gay partner.  Something terrifying has happened. He travels overnight to find out what’s going on. He finds out and so do we.  What then is this film? A dissection of a failed gay relationship? A ghost story? A horror film? It’s all three and brilliantly done. Go to see it, but don’t expect an undisturbed night’s sleep afterwards.

Philp Wyn Jones


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