The programme for this year's London Film Festival was released last week. I would love to go but sadly at least this year I will be at home attending vicariously through my favourite critics and friends who will be travelling for parts of what is a diverse, interesting programme of film.
If I was going though here are some picks outside of the big galas that appear tailor made for Films and Faith.
1. The Secret Scripture
Jim Sheridan’s first Irish-set film since 1997’s The Boxer finds the director of My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father in a more elegiac mode. Based on Sebastian Barry’s 2008 novel, Sheridan’s richly evocative drama stars Vanessa Redgrave as Roseanne McNulty, an elderly woman committed to the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital 50 years earlier. With the hospital closing, Doctor Grene (Eric Bana) is sent to determine whether Roseanne is fit to be released. The discovery of her bible leads him to uncover the truth behind her terrible fate (revealed to us through a series of flashbacks, with the luminous Rooney Mara playing Roseanne’s younger self). A filmmaker keenly aware of the nuances of human behaviour, Sheridan delivers a paean to his homeland, at once gorgeous in its lush depiction of Ireland’s west coast and dark in its revelation of this divisive chapter in its history. The fine cast includes Theo James, Aidan Turner, and Jack Reynor.
2. The Student
Venya believes the world is nearing its end. He studies the Bible obsessively, incessantly quoting chapter and verse. His refusal to undress for swimming lessons is the unusual first step on a path to religious fanaticism. Conflict with his mother and classmates develops into a confrontation with his biology teacher Elena, as he objects to Darwinian theories of evolution and ‘modern’ teachings on sex and homosexuality. Adapted from Marius von Mayenburg’s controversial play ‘Martyr’, Kirill Serebrennikov’s film transfers the action to contemporary Russia, particularly significant given the introduction of mandatory religious education. The film also leads in other directions – to Venya’s conflicted sexuality, anti-Semitism and accusations of sexual molestation by Elena. Set in the coastal city of Kaliningrad, this scathing and satirical work features strong performances (many by the original Moscow stage cast) and derives additional force through Vladislav Opelyants’ inventive cinematography.
3. Trespass Against Us
A car full to the brim with men and kids hurtles across a field in pursuit of a speeding hare. This is the Cutler brood, a gang of thieves with a thing for fast motors. Pa (a glowering Brendan Gleeson) may be the king of the caravan-dwelling clan, but his heir Chad (Michael Fassbender on sparkling form) now has a family of his own and is torn between two life paths: the outlaw way, where his tightly-honed criminal skills are valued, and something else that might offer a different set of opportunities for his kids. Meanwhile, the cops (led by a weasely Rory Kinnear) are closing in. Director Adam Smith (Don’t Think: The Chemical Brothers) has an excellent music-video pedigree, evident here as he injects thrills into full-throttle set pieces, whilst detailing the pull of familial bonds and the power games that men play with each other. The Chemical Brothers themselves provide the fresh and adrenalised soundtrack.
4. The Innocents
Mathilde Beaulieu is a young doctor working for the French Red Cross in Poland during the winter of 1945. World War II is dragging on and Russian occupiers control the country. A Benedictine nun from a neighbouring convent comes to find Mathilde, pleading for her help. When Mathilde reaches the convent, she discovers several heavily pregnant nuns, petrified by fear and shame. Director Anne Fontaine (Adore, LFF2013) returns with a compelling and powerful drama based on the diary of a young, fiercely atheist French doctor who became the sole hope for the sisters. Stunningly shot in the mostly confined spaces of a snow-covered convent, this is a poignant story of birth and rebirth, shattered faith and female solidarity, performed by an impeccable cast. Lou de Laâge is luminous as Mathilde, while Agata Kulesza (Ida) is a memorable Mother Superior.
The London Film Festival programme always so much great content this year in particular however I wish I could get over there to check it out. You can explore the full festival programme here. Let me know if anything form the programme jumps out at you!
*Film descriptions and images taken from the London Film Festival site