As it may have been gathered from my LFF preview article, I was very excited for this years’ London Film Festival. As a recent film graduate, striving to find work in an more-than-ever populated job market, to be part of a small team of writers sent to England’s largest film festival to watch films and speak to filmmakers is a dream. As many of my friends try to navigate the murky waters of finding work in creative industries, I am lucky to have Directors Notes as my outlet. A place to use my voice and take part in film culture through engaging with the best filmmakers who are making work on their own terms. In short, London Film Festival may not seem like a big deal to many, but it is to me and I feel grateful to be given the opportunity to attend as a member of the press.

Onwards to the movies…

My first screening of London Film Festival began last Monday with Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits which is perhaps the New Yorkian auteur’s most confident and reflexive film yet. It’s a dark, comedic family-dynamic tale of relationships in New York. Alex Ross Perry is often compared to his contemporary Noah Baumbach, both for their wrought depictions of middle class New Yorkers, but Golden Exits feels more akin to Maurice Pialat or even John Cassevetes in its formal structure and thematic basis, particularly as said depictions meander between characters with no regard for traditional forms of structure and resolution, instead what is on display is a more rounded exploration of how the introduction of new people can regurgitate and enflame family and work-life tensions.

Next up, Hlynur Pálmason debut feature The Winter Brothers (Vinterbrødre). An interesting sibling-drama featuring one of the more memorable scenes from the festival; a naked fight between the brothers with their appendages swinging like Newton’s cradle.

My third day of the festival was spent consuming as much of the online viewing library as I could, with plenty of shorts and features from around the world focused on a mix of eclectic subjects. A stand out, which I’m hoping to chat to filmmaker Marta Prus about, was Polish 30 minute, one-take class-drama Hot and Cold (Ciepło-zimno). Which, aside from being a genuinely impressive piece of practical filmmaking, is subversive and subtle with its feline depictions.

Another highlight was Robin Comisar comedy Great Choice, about an actress stuck in an advert for seafood restaurant Red Lobster. It’s a rib tickler which turns into a reality bending mind bend and I’m dying to know how they got Red Lobster’s permission. Expect an interview for this one in the coming days.

After performing the rookie error of turning up to a matinee showing of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest creature feature The Shape of Water 10 minutes prior in hope to get tickets, I caught Italian coming of age drama A Ciambra. Which in turn, was a decision well made. A Ciambra is a long, rewarding tale of a young Italian boy growing up in the poor Romani region, with a focus on how both nature and nurture affect his psyche a develop his ideal of a man. It’s a powerful second feature from Jonas Carpignano with an immersive form that leaves you feeling as though you’ve lived with Pio and his family for weeks.

Next up, and one of the most publicly anticipated films of the festival, was DN favourite Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Without spoiling much of the film, as I believe it’s much better tasted with a lack of presumptive understanding, it’s as striking as it is provoking which you’d hope from a director known for his absurdity, and if the gentleman sat next to me was anything to go by, you too may well be visibly squirming and swearing in your seat throughout (pretty much) the whole film. Also, Barry Keoghan’s performance is exceptional as twisted teenager Martin.

That was followed up by DN podcast alum Azazel Jacobs’ The Lovers – an affair drama which both MarBelle and myself liked but felt was more the kind of film you’d like to happily stumble upon on a Sunday afternoon when looking to relax and find something solidly written that hits the beats.

And finally that day was Sean Baker’s Tangerine follow-up The Florida Project, featuring Willem Dafoe and a raft of first-time actors. We spoke to Sean about his feature Starlet at LFF back in 2012 but in regards to The Florida Project, well, more to be said on that later…

My final full day of the festival began with Tides, a low-fi British film about four friends sailing down a river in a narrowboat. It’s a confident debut from Tupaq Felber, and one in which it’s grounded, subversive story bubbles under the surface until its cathartic finale.

The last press screening of the festival for me this year was the exceptionally anticipated You Were Never Really Here. It’s been 6 years since We Need To Talk About Kevin, and then hype had been built around Lynne Ramsay and her latest feature after it premiered to a rave reception at Cannes earlier in the year. Fortunately, the hype was justified as it’s both accomplished and experimental, with the dialogue kept to a minimal – it’s definitely to be experienced rather than read about. I spoke to a friend afterwards and she described it saying, “You would have run away is there’d been a Q&A, it’s one of those types.”

This examination of the festival is through my newbie, still learning eye. So, I thought that it was important that this piece encompassed DN’s experience at the London Film Festival in a more general form. Therefore, I asked each member of the site attending the festival (including myself) to give their Top Pick of what they believe our audience should seek out and why. Thanks for following us during the festival and expect more interviews to roll out in the coming weeks, there’s still plenty to discuss.

LFF 2017 Directors Notes Top Picks:

Amber: Foxtrot – Samuel Moaz traps us in a cocoon of unease as he explores how random and inept life is in his engrossing blend of tragedy and slapstick comedy. The performances are superb, with Samuel employing no cuts between the takes, “I shoot until the actors don’t care any more, I squeeze their souls to expel grief and take the scene beyond acting.”

MarBelle: Good Time – The Safdie Brothers run us through an unremitting gauntlet of bad decisions and desperate moves in this taunt tale of crime and fraternal loyalty.

Rob: Joy in People – Filmed at the 2016 European Football Championships in France, Oscar Hudson’s short about happiness, belonging and football crowds left me elated, devastated and needing a hug… not bad for a 15-min short.

James: The Florida Project – A subtle, clever and entertaining depiction of surviving at the bottom of the world. Sean Baker is a filmmaker whose empathy for these characters and the actors who portray them needs to be absorbed by everyone.

For more, be sure to check out DN’s full 2017 London Film Festival coverage

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