As we gradually resume some semblance of normality, as do film festivals. The BFI London Film Festival (LFF), which was held almost entirely online in 2020, has firmly returned to its physical format. A programme of 159 feature films from around the world (including 21 world premieres) will screen to audiences in cinemas across London. There will also be UK-wide screenings through LFF partner cinemas and virtual premieres on BFI Player. The Festival takes place between October 6th and 17th.
Below are our top 10 picks from the programme. They are dirty movies that we watched late last year and earlier this year at the Tallinn Black Nights, Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Locarno and the San Sebastian International Film Festival. They are some of the most innovative, provocative and downright filthy that we have seen this year. Of course we haven’t covered every single film in the LFF programme, so stay tuned for more dirty gems throughout the British Festival!
The 10 dirty movies below are listed in alphabetical order. Just click on the film title in order to accede to each individual review:
Romanian director Radu Jude holds a mirror up to the audience, and they might not like what they see, in the film that won the Golden Bear this February. We start with a fairly explicit sex scene, as middle-school teacher Emilia (Katia Pascariu) is in bed with husband Eugen (porn actor Ştefan Steel) doing, well, pretty much what anyone who enjoys sex would do in bed. Marius Panduru’s camera doesn’t shy away, and we would say that the audience won’t avert their eyes from the screen either, although it is rare to see something so graphic, both in terms of the imagery and the lines in Jude’s screenplay.
Jude divides his film into several parts, putting the viewers in Emilia’s shoes and then, in the final part, practically forcing them to become jurors in an obscene tribunal.
A famous writer seeking inspiration starts a new life as a cleaner in Normandy, in this auspicious little drama starring Juliette Binoche. Binoche delivers a very convincing performance as a character who acts (pretends to be someone else). The French actress is no stranger to such roles.
French director Emmanuel Carrère director examines the very nature of the creative process: is it OK for the artist to lie to their subjects? Is art intrinsically exploitative? Is acting synonymous with pretending?
Abandoning his native Venezuela for Mexico, Golden Lion winner Vigas has created a fascinating story of lost families and secret histories, which also premiered in Venice just last month. Hatzin (Hatzin Navarrete) is a orphaned teenager, who already feels at odds with the world. We first see him kicking the wall of a train toilet cubicle until the pounding on the door finally gets him to relent. It is a neat sign that some inarticulate rage burns inside the kid though, for the moment, he will take heed of the outside world.
Vigas’s film, co-scripted by Paula Markovitch, suggests that the moral vacuum at the heart of capitalist exploitation makes it indistinguishable from the drug trade, destroys families and corrodes the society from within.
The French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic is best remembered for her 2004 debut feature Innocence, a highly poetic film following the lives of girls in a gloomy, mysterious and highly secluded boarding school. In her latest feature, just the third one in her career, she remains firmly on feminine, dark and secluded territory, and becomes even further detached to reality.
The story takes place in an undisclosed place and undisclosed time. The clothes and an ancient telephone suggest the early 20th century. A man called Albert (Paul Hilton) cares for a girl called Mia (Romane Hemelears) in a very large house not too different from the boarding school in Hadzihalilovic’s first film. Mia is entirely silent, with strange braces attached to her teeth, and various dentures that demand constant attention. At times, it looks like she is an a torture chamber. She has teeth made of glass.
Old woman left catatonic by a devastating stroke terrifies her doting granddaughter, in this brilliantly subtle and beautifully elegant horror from Spain. Twenty-five-year old Susanne (Almudena Amor) enjoys a stylish lifestyle as a publicity model in Paris. One evening, just as she is about to start a new gig, she receives a phone call informing her that her grandmother Pilar (Vera Valdez) has suffered a brain hemorrhage. Susanne is Pilar’s only living relative, her parents having passed away in a car crash years earlier. She is urged to fly back to her native Madrid in order to care for the older lady, who is left completely silent and unable to look after herself.
Pilar’s figure is the subject of nightmares: her body is scrawny and wrinkly, her face demonic, with pearly black eyes, shrunken lips and mouth wide open most of the time. Her gaze is completely empty. A frustrated Susanne tells her: “you are no longer there, are you?” The old lazy does however walk around the house unaided, often appearing in very unexpected places.
In England, Diego Maradona’s goal in the 1986 World Cup semi-final against England was the epitome of foreign cheating, Latin untrustworthiness and a moment that still gets Peter Shelton shirty. In the rest of the world, it was greeted with a wave of schadenfreude. Maradona’s goal was a plucky finger in the eye against the old empire, an act of revenge for the conquest of the Falklands/Maldives – or as old uncle Alfredo in Paolo Sorrentino’s new film The Hand of God calls it: “a revolutionary act”.
The Hand of God is head and shoulders better than Sorrentino’s most recent films – especially the barely released Loro and the arthritic Youth – and Sorrentino fans will find a lot to enjoy.
One we saw in Locarno earlier this year. This collection of magical tales shows off the breadth, humour and vitality of African. cinema. Three shorts from Nigeria, all based on the concepts of magic and madness. Told in Pidgin English, it’s a bold collection of films examining the ways man can be deceived and the difficulties of establishing personal relationships. Funny, sometimes profound and differing wildly in quality and tone, it acts as a neat West African counterpart to Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021), leaning heavy on the mystical parts of everyday life. Spanning from the snooty upper-classes to the hustlers of Lagos to college students and businesspeople, it also provides a solid panorama of Nigerian identity.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is a mature and fascinating meditation on motherhood, adapted from Elena Ferrante’s novel. It tells the story of Leda (Olivia Colman), a middle-aged woman holidaying on her own on a Greek island. She’s supposed to be working, but though she’s on her own she finds herself increasingly involved with a family of American Greeks. At first, she is repulsed by them. They’re very noisy and rude, and when she is asked if she can move her beach umbrella she obstinately refuses. However, she is drawn to the young mother Nina (Dakota Johnson), whose daughter Elena goes briefly missing. The relationship gets closer as Leda finds the young girl and returns her to her parents.
Gyllenhaal, who also wrote the screenplay, skilfully moves between two timelines, gradually revealing more information and removing layers to reveal emotional strata. Her camera is frequently close to the faces and bodies, watching intently and intimately at people in their most unguarded moments. It has the urgency of a John Cassavetes film, sensitive and alert to the changing weather of the human face.
Joanna Hogg continues her highly autobiographical meditation on filmmaking and grief to outstanding results. She has crafted yet another highly personal and lyrical tribute to filmmaking. When Lucie explains to her tutors that lack of titles and the unusual structure of her graduation film liberate her as an artist, it is obvious that the comment extends to the director Joanna Hogg. They proposed that the young woman abandons her audacious project it in favour of a more formulaic and commercially viable approach. Fortunately for us, neither Lucie nor Joanna heeded their advice. The Souvenir is also a commendable exercise of metalanguage. The vast studio settings appear on television monitors. The very house where Julie lives with her mother resemble her film school. Filmmaking and reality blend seamlessly.
The Souvenir is also pictured at the top of this article.
Making its debut at Berlinale is Japanese drama Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, a triptych of stories about people who meet through remarkable twists of fate. In Episode 1: Magic (or Something Less Assuring), a model named Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) deduces that her best friend’s new lover is an ex-boyfriend. In Episode 2: Door Wide Open, a bitter student blackmails his friend-with-benefits Nao (Katsuki Mori) into seducing a celebrated professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) as an act of revenge. Finally, Chapter 3: Once Again introduces us to Moka (Fusako Urabe), a middle-aged woman who meets a face from the past after travelling to a school reunion.
The Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize this February in Berlin.