After two years of pandemic turbulence, the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) has firmly returned to its full format. A dynamic and vibrant programme of 164 feature films from around the world, with all films screening to UK audiences for the first time, including 23 world, six international and 15 European premieres.. 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:
Hailed as “the Spanish film of the year”, and the first such movie in four decades to win the much-coveted Golden Bear (the last one being Mario Camu’s La Colmena, in 1983), Alcarras portrays the tribulations of the Solé family as they face the biggest challenge of their lives. They live in a large farm in the titular Catalonian municipality, and their existence is entirely devoted to growing peaches. The trade is as deeply rooted into the heart of the family as the fruit trees into the fertile soil of the mountainous region. Various generations inhabit one single farmhouse at the heart of the plantation. Their traditions are decades-old. Perhaps centuries-old. But this is all about to change.
Alcarras is also pictured at the top of this article.
2. Emily the Criminal (John Patton Ford):
Plaza plays the titular Emily, a low-paid service worker trying to move up in the world. Due to criminal charges, the high-paid work is seemingly closed off for her. The predicament depicted is sadly far too common for many Americans. She gets offered a chance to make some extra income by doing a very low-level crime where she uses a cloned credit card to buy an expensive TV, getting $200 from the sale. Gradually she starts doing more, and doing it more often, and becomes closer to taskmaster Youcef (Theo Rossi).
The film completely hinges on Plaza’s performance, and she knocks it out of the park. She skilfully portrays a woman who is frustrated by an all-too-familiar situation that has her trapped. She isn’t necessarily likeable, but she has an edge that makes you root for her in the end. It’s the kind of role Gena Rowlands would’ve absolutely killed in during the ’70s. Just lie Rowlands’s best performances it feels very lived-in.
3. Meet me in the Bathroom (Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern):
Based on the eponymous book by Lizzy Goodman, Meet Me in the Bathroom documents the oral history of the New York indie-rock scene between the late ‘90s and the mid ’00s.
There was little going on in the way of rock music in the last ’90s. Some underground was being played at the anti-folk venues such as the SideWalk Cafe; it included artists such as Mouldy Peaches and Jeffrey Lewis. Until The Strokes arrived. They gathered a quick following for playing loud, slightly punky rock n’ roll. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem and Interpol soon followed. After 9/11, these bands reached their pinnacle. People were overjoyed: it seemed like real rock’n roll bands were finally reappearing.
4. Pacifiction (Albert Serra):
Albert Serra has steadily gained a reputation as a filmmaker to watch. Provocatively, he has mixed the high and the low, no more explicitly as in his Cannes shocker Liberté; and yet there was frequently the suspicion that there was more ambition than effect. Like someone poking you sharply in the ribs to gain your attention only to forget what he had to tell you.
Pacifiction might well be his first out and out masterpiece. Visually stunning via the cinematography of Artur Tort, there is barely a shot or moment in the film that is not worthy of absorbed contemplation. Benoît Magimel plays De Roller, the high commissioner for France of Tahiti in French Polynesia. As he likes to remind people, he is the representative of the State. He shamelessly employs his power to garner his business interests and give himself access to the local nightclubs. In his double-breasted white suit and perpetual sunglasses, he could have slipped from between the mound mottled pages of a Graham Greene novel.
5. Passengers of the Night (Mikhael Hers):
There’s a certain serenity and magic that comes over me while listening to the radio late at night. It can often feel like you’re the only one listening to the radio host while the rest of the world has gone to sleep. Named after a late-night show that accompanies truckers on long-distance journeys, Passengers of the Night has a similar kind of soft energy. Director Mikhaël Hers transmits this personal-feeling story to us as if he’s talking alone in a radio booth, creating an ode to both the bonds of family and reminiscences of the era in the process.
Like a lot of French films, it takes a broad, novelistic approach, taking us on a journey through the 80s, a golden age for the left, opening on François Mitterrand’s election on 10th May 1981 and ending with his decline. Hers shoots on film, mixing hazy, muted images with archive footage, creating a nostalgic feel for the time, further accompanied by classic 80s bands like Television and Lloyd Cole & the Commotions. Paris, photographed from all sides, looks particularly dreamy here, with Eric Rohmer films playing in Marquee cinemas, people playing tennis against buildings, and punk parties by the Seine.
6. One Fine Morning (Mia Hansen-Love):
One Fine Morning centres on the young single mother and interpreter Sandra (Léa Seydoux). She lost the father of her now eight-year-old daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) five years earlier, and – despite her stunning looks, somewhere between young Jane Birkin and Tilda Swinton – has not had any romantic encounters since. One day she “accidentally” kisses her friend Clément (Melvil Poupaud) and they immediately start a passionate romance, despite the fact that the male is married and with a child of a similar age. Meanwhile, she helps to cares for her 60-something father Georg (Pascal Greggory), who suffers from a rare degenerative disease called Benson’s Syndrome.
Georg’s condition quickly degenerates, forcing his daughter and his somewhat absent partner Leila to place him in a nursing home. Just a year earlier, he was a fully active philosophy professor, but now he can barely see and recognise people. His memory is also failing him: he asks his daughter about her “children” despite the fact that she only has one offspring. It suddenly dawns on Sandra that her father is no longer entirely there. In fact, she feels his presence more intensively when she’s surrounded by his books than when she’s in his company. “The books are his soul”, she explains to the little and yet very clever Linn.
The great Austrian director Ulrich Seidl returns with another masterpiece, a character portrait of a man simply too big for one film to contain. Ritchie Bravo (Michael Thomas) is the kind of loveable, broken rogue that you can’t help but love. He calls his casa a pirate ship; he dons a huge “sealskin” jacket; and he always provides a bon mot on the right occasion, especially in front of the ladies. But beneath the armour, the persona, the legend, is a man, adrift in a miserable seaside town, covered in snow and blanketed in cloud.
Touching on themes of race, identity, belonging, sexuality and more within its runtime, it nestles various ideas within its simple seeming style; resulting in a touching, intellectually rich and at-times hilarious portrait that I would simply love to watch again. Thankfully for us, Ulrich Seidl has already wrapped on a continuation of that same world. I will be first in line: Ritchie Bravo is too big for just one film.
8. Sick of Myself (Kristoffer Bogli):
Move over, The Worst Person in The World (Joachim Trier, 2021). From the same beautiful city of Oslo comes the genuine worst person in the world: Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp), a woman so self-involved, so breathlessly shameless, so incredibly terrible, you can’t help but root for her to succeed.
That’s the thing with narcissist conmen, stretching from Tom Ripley to Jordan Belfort to the gang of Ocean’s 11 (Steven Soderbergh, 2001): they can get away with anything, because ultimately they seem so charming. While Signe, with beach-blonde hair, darting, nervous eyes, and a mischievous look, has little of the smoothness of traditional conmen, she shares that same compelling desire to rise above her station and to have the whole world know her name. She’s awful and hilarious in equal measure.
9. Winter Boy (Christophe Honore):
Seventeen-year-old Lucas (Paul Kircher) lives with his family in a small town somewhere in rural France. The high school boy (incidentally, that’s the literal translation of the French film title Le Lycéen) has a very close relationship to his father (Christophe Honoré). His elderly provides him with useful life advice during a car journey that nearly ends in an accident. It comes as a shock to Lucas, his brother Quentin (Vincent Lacoste) and his mother Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) that the man would be fatally injured in yet another car crash shortly after the first one. The tragedy leaves the three people in emotional ruin, with each one of them resorting to very different coping mechanisms. While the mother suffers mostly in silence and alone on her bed (she later confesses that she blames her late husband for “leaving” her), Quentin resumes his life as normal in Paris, and Lucas moves to the French capital in order to to live with his brother and his friend flatmate Lilio for a while. But the City of Lights has a few surprises in store for him.
10. The Woodcutter Story (Mikko Myllylahti ):
Our idiot, in the classical, literary sense, is Pepe (Jarkko Lahti), who, as the name of the film suggests, works as a woodcutter somewhere deep in the Finnish forest. Snow is everywhere in this film, caught in gorgeous widescreen images that seem to almost subsume the film’s characters. He’s not the kind of person to worry about his fate; when a convoy of sleek, black cars turns up and the suits start firing everyone in favour of building a new mine, he seems to be the only worker who thinks there has to be a good reason for such capitalist greed. The rest of the film tests his worldview against a world that is slowly fading from view.
Director Mikko Myllylahti, following up his screenplay for The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki with his first feature behind the camera, uses this catastrophic event to explore the nuances of this small village and its weird inhabitants. Violence, betrayal and plain strangeness occur one after the other, all told in a similarly reserved, slow style, bringing to mind Twin Peaks and its own collection of oddball townsfolk, or the Coen Brother’s Fargo (1996).