Review: Eleven Of The Best Films We Caught At The 2015 BFI London Film Festival

on Friday, November 06, 2015
BFI London Film Festival (7-18 Oct '15) // Words: Lauren Johnson-Ginn & Saam Das

The 59th BFI London Film Festival drew to a close last month, opened by Sarah Gavron's feminist drama 'Suffragette' and closed by Danny Boyle's 'Steve Jobs'. Lauren Johnson-Ginn and Saam Das were on the ground to catch as many films as we could - keep on reading for eleven of our favourite films (in alphabetical order) from the 2015 BFI London Film festival.

Newcomer Ondina Quadri makes an impressive debut in 'Arianna', a coming-of-age drama that explores themes of sexual discovery, gender and identity. On the cusp of adulthood, Arianna (Quadri) is preoccupied by her body, and strangely alienated from her peers and the typical teenage experience. As she learns about herself on a family visit to the countryside, meeting old friends and exploring her sexuality, secrets begin to unravel. Director Carlo Lavagna handles the under-explored (but important) subject matter with sensitivity and grace and Quadri delivers a raw, compelling performance.


Not to be confused with Hou Hsiao-Hsien punishingly slow yet visually arresting fellow LFF film 'The Assassin', Choi Dong-hoon's period-drama-with-a-difference channels Tarantino, with particular reference to 'Inglorious Basterds'. Set in Japan-occupied Korea in the 1930s, this resistance-led action piece is confident and energetic, with healthy doses of humour administered on a regular basis.

Taking a deep dive into Boston’s murky 1980s underworld, 'Black Mass' charts the rise of one of America’s most infamous career criminals - Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp). With excellent left-field casting, gripping pace and a clever script, director Scott Cooper has made a film that’s far more engaging than your typical mobster movie.

'Burn Burn Burn'

Director and writer duo Chanya Button and Charlie Covell have created a wonderfully uplifting story about friendship, love and family, which follows two close twenty-something friends (Chloe Pirrie and Laura Carmichael) as they take a madcap road trip around the UK to scatter a friend’s ashes. Their friendship is thoroughly tested as each grapples with their own personal quarter-life crises. Deftly balancing moments of poignant sadness with laugh-out-loud quips (helped along by hilarious cameos from Alice Lowe, Julian Rhind-Tutt, and Sally Phillips) this is that rare thing: an intelligent, genuinely moving comedy.

'Carol' (UK Release: 27 Nov '15)

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara make a mesmerising pair in this glamorous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel 'The Price Of Salt'. The atmosphere is dreamlike and magical throughout, aided by sumptuous costume design, a lush Manhattan setting and assured cinematography from Edward Lachman. While the novel’s lesbian content was considered scandalous at the time of publication, director Todd Haynes takes a tasteful, tentative approach to telling the story on film – with Blanchett delivering an intense (and possibly Oscar-worthy) performance.

'Chronic' (UK Release: 19 Feb '16)

Writer-director Michel Franco's school-bullying drama 'After Lucia' was one of the most haunting and affecting efforts at the 2012 LFF, and he continues to demonstrate a masterful ability to create an unseemly atmosphere. Tim Roth shines as David, a careworker whose behaviour ranges from the saintly to the sociopathic. An intriguing character study, which also shares the director's penchant for a notable ending.

'The Fear Of 13' (UK Release: 13 Nov '15)

David Sington's wide-eyed 'In The Shadow Of The Moon' was one of the finest documentaries to appear in the last ten years, and he's followed up with an equally impressive effort - albeit in a very different context. 'Fear Of 13' focusses on the life of a Death Row prisoner, who perhaps surprisingly is himself the driving force of the film. His story is ambitiously delivered via monologue but the execution is superb - moving and exhilarating.

'He Named Me Malala' (UK Release: 6 Nov '15)

A suitably triumphant celebration of the life of teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head in her Pakistan schoolbus by the Taliban in 2012. Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim ('An Inconvenient Truth') combines the usual array of voxpops with wonderful animated flourishes, vividly bringing Yousafzai's heritage to life.

'King Jack' (UK Release: 26 Feb '16)

Director Felix Thompson makes his feature-length debut this emotionally rich study of the effects of cyclical bullying. Charlie Plummer is wonderful as Jack - a sullen but adorable fifteen-year-old who his schoolmates derisively refer to as ‘Scab’, and who is routinely victimised by the local older bullies. When Jack’s stoic younger cousin Ben (an excellent Cory Nichols) comes to stay for the weekend, Jack is forced to confront his persecutors and learn compassion himself, in a nuanced, funny and heart-warming coming-of-age story.

'Room' (UK Release: 16 Jan '16)

Brie Larson solidifies her big screen dramatic acting chops she demonstrated so well in 'Short Term 12' in Lenny Abrahamson's introspective tale. Exploring a mother-son relationship that has developed in unusual circumstance, within the confines of a tiny room, effectively in captivity. Indeed, the confined location gives the film an atmosphere that few others can match.

'Steve Jobs' (UK Release: 13 Nov '15)

It's hard to imagine a project that combines the might of director Danny Boyle, writer Aaron Sorkin, Oscar nominated actor Michael Fassbender, and Oscar winner Kate Winslet being anything other than fan-bloody-tastic. 'Steve Jobs', the latest biopic of the Apple marketing guru, meets the high expectations. Sorkin's whip-smart script is accompanied by a dynamism provided by Boyle, and the result is positively vibrant.

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