Looking Back at The BFI's 63rd Edition of the London Film Festival (2019)

For three weeks, the BFI’s 63rd London Film Festival took place across multiple cinemas in the city, presenting some of the most exciting work at the forefront of film culture. After the build-up of various films shown and celebrated at previous festivals, including Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire at Cannes and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story at Toronto International Film Festival, it was with genuine fervour and interest that individuals from all areas of the film industry came together to watch and experience cinema.

Queuing for many of the morning press screenings at 7am somehow added to the enjoyment of the experience, as the city and Leicester Square were quiet still, themselves just waking up. But equally, going alone to these screenings allowed for many conversations to strike up with other cinema lovers. Above all else, these conversations revealed a universal sentiment—cinema will simply never get boring.

Image: The Irishman, dir. by Martin Scorsese (Allociné.fr)

Blackbird

For me, the festival began with Blackbird, directed by Roger Michell, with a stellar cast including Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska. Unfortunately, though, it fell into the dangerously dull depths of predictability. Apart from some lightly entertaining performances from Sarandon and Rainn Wilson—who comes across as a happier version of The Office's Dwight, I couldn’t help the film would break the fourth wall at any given point. Particularly, the dialogue and plot are both equally as flat as each other, with the setting itself being as bland and unnecessarily upper-class. If the point here was to underline that pain knows no bounds, it was badly made.

The Lighthouse

Next on my viewing schedule was Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. This was definitely quite the experience at 8 in the morning, but was one that visually marked me, and it only got better with hindsight and time to settle. This film caused many polar opposite opinions, and with reason; it is about everything and nothing, depending from which angle you choose to look at it. It is at once a story about spirituality and purpose, and the story of the fragility of one’s sanity and sense of reality. Eggers has made his way to becoming one of the most exciting and fresh voices of contemporary horror, and Pattinson yet again adds to his quickly growing qualitative repertoire as a truly talented artist. And of course, Dafoe as an old suspicious sailor is the pièce de résistance that hooks you into seeing this film in the first place if nothing else.

Honey Boy

Receiving widely positive reviews from Sundance in January 2019, Shia LaBeouf’s Honey Boy was my next hugely anticipated screening. Taking place early in the morning, this made for a much more visceral viewing experience due to its delicate emotional rawness. Child actor Noah Jupe gave a stunning, sincere performance as young Otis, a character based on Shia himself. The central focus of the film is Otis’ relationship with his awkward, outcast, emotionally abusive father (beautifully played by LaBeouf, which brings the film’s emotional impact to a whole new level). Honey Boy is a deeply intimate act for LaBeouf, as by exposing his wounds he is ultimately attempting to heal himself and begin a process of forgiveness. Lucas Hedges may be slightly type-cast as the emotionally traumatised teenager, but that is because he is a master of the nuances that kind of performance involves. Overall, Honey Boy is an essential story that belongs on screens and that we are lucky to have apart of our cultural arsenal.