Three to see at LFF 2016 if you like... arthouse cinema

Geoff Andrew recommends three hot tickets at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut, and a wild card.

Geoff Andrew
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The new film from an established director…

Paterson

Paterson (2016)

Paterson (2016)

What’s it about?

A week in the mostly unremarkable life of a bus-driver called Paterson (Adam Driver) who also happens to write poetry and live – with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) – in Paterson, New Jersey, a city associated with poets William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg. He works, walks the dog, discusses life with Laura, friends and colleagues, observes the world. That’s it.

Who made it?

It’s written and directed by the dependably distinctive Jim Jarmusch, famous for genuinely ‘indie’ films that are (like this one) modest in scale but massively rewarding in their resonance and beauty. The characteristic low-key tone is admirably served by the titular turn from the remarkably versatile Adam Driver (everything from Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis to Lincoln and Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

What’s special about it?

Arguably Jarmusch’s most perfectly achieved film (and that’s saying something) since Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (1999), this wowed critics at its Cannes premiere with its gentle humour, its glowing visual splendour (courtesy of the great Fred Elmes, who also shot Night on Earth and Broken Flowers) and its unforced, unpretentious humanity.

Like the films of Jarmusch favourite Yasujiro Ozu, Paterson proves that ‘small’ can be not only beautiful but profound. As recounted in Jarmusch’s engagingly episodic narrative – more reminiscent of a poem or a musical theme and variations than of most American cinema – the everyman protagonist’s mundane but entirely engrossing everyday experiences make for a wise, witty meditation on love, friendship, creativity and the nature of life itself. 

The breakthrough…

Hedi

Hedi (2016)

Hedi (2016)

What’s it about?

Hedi, a rather listless young Tunisian, is due to marry in a week’s time. Sent by his overbearing boss to drum up car sales in another town, he meets and finds himself attracted to Rim, a free-spirited tour-guide and dancer who couldn’t be more different from the bride his mother has selected for him. What’s to be done?

Who made it?

This is the first feature written and directed by Mohamed Ben Attia, and the first film appearance by Majd Mastoura, who is on screen virtually throughout the entire movie as a highly conventional young man tempted to break with convention. Hedi won both the best first feature and the best actor prizes at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

What’s special about it?

It’s not just Mastoura’s beautifully restrained performance or Ben Attia’s lucid, economic direction (at times just a little reminiscent of the work of the Dardenne brothers, who are among the film’s producers) that make this such an impressive first feature. It is also distinguished by an unsentimental honesty. None of the characters is romanticised or demonised, and everyone has his or her reasons, however compromised.

Hedi’s personal dilemma also reflects subtly but illuminatingly on the social and political issues confronted by contemporary Tunisian society. Tradition and modernity, loyalty and betrayal, obligation and responsibility: these and other themes are brought into play with the lightest of touches, ensuring that we never feel this is a contrived, lukewarm allegory. Indeed, the wholly plausible problems pressing upon Hedi, his family and the women in his life always feel vividly real, urgent and immediate.

The wild card…

Sieranevada

Sierranevada (2016)

Sierranevada (2016)

What’s it about?

A Bucharest couple just back from holiday drive to take part in an extended family gathering; though his wife’s not keen on staying too long, Lary insists they must do more than merely put in an appearance. It’s just one of many differences of opinion that will arise during a tense and difficult day…

Who made it?

Writer-director Cristi Puiu has established himself not only as a highly influential figure in the ‘new Romanian cinema’ but as one of the most interesting filmmakers working anywhere today. With critically acclaimed, award-winning films like Stuff and Dough (2001) and The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005) he pioneered a rigorous, radical yet highly accessible approach to cinematic realism.

What’s special about it?

A film which takes place over several stressful hours of a lunch that never quite gets started and which is set almost entirely within the cramped confines of a rambling, crowded apartment may not sound like engrossing cinema. However, Puiu’s extraordinary expertise – both in creating credible characters, dialogues and events, and in choreographing the complex comings and goings in a clump of corridors and rooms – makes Sieranevada’s three-hour running-time almost fly by. Few recent filmic accounts of family life have felt so authentic.

Still more impressively, the conversations and actions all add up to a supremely evocative picture of a particular society at a particular time in history (it’s set days after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris). Funny, touching, revealing, this epic excursion into cinematic intimism may be set in a Bucharest flat, but it resonates widely to touch upon social and ethical issues that are relevant far further afield. One of the very finest films at this year’s Cannes film festival.

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