• BFI London Film Festival 2021 takes place from 6-17 October in London, across the UK and on BFI Player. Tickets go on sale on 20 September (BFI Members book early).

As well as a healthy batch of world premieres, films first seen at Sundance, Berlin, Rotterdam, Cannes, Locarno and Venice will be touching down in the UK for the first time at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Here are some of the best that our critics have already laid eyes on.

1. Ahed’s Knee

Ahed’s Knee (2021)

“Nadiv Lapid’s fifth film is combative from the off, with an edit that jitters between scenes and a camera flitting in staccato motion between faces, or suddenly jerking away towards the sky.”

— Caspar Salmon

2. Ali & Ava

Ali & Ava (2021)

“The romance of Clio Barnard’s fourth feature Ali & Ava has a naturalism rarely captured in cinema. The genre’s standard is to frame lovers in a bubble, setting them apart from other characters. Here, the boisterous multicultural city of Bradford in West Yorkshire is woven into the terms of engagement.”

— Sophie Monks Kaufman

 

3. Azor

Azor (2021)

“Imagine if Graham Greene rewrote Apocalypse Now, replacing the jungle with the superb hotels, racecourses, ranches and gentlemen’s clubs favoured by the ruling Argentinian military junta of the early 1980s, and you’ll have a polo park idea of how intriguing a conspiracy thriller the Swiss-Argentinian-French production Azor is.”

— Nick James

4. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc, 2021)

“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is another dismal state-of-the-nation report card [from Radu Jude], but a more riotously bonkers one, as he throws decorum in the trash to reveal the hypocrisy of the powerful as the true vulgarity.

— Carmen Gray

5. Benedetta

Benedetta (2021)

“[Paul] Verhoeven’s attitude to the church is similar to his attitude towards the military in Starship Troopers (1998): he enjoys the paraphernalia and the aesthetic while satirizing the ideology.”

— John Bleasdale

6. Compartment No. 6

Compartment No. 6 (2021)

“[Juho] Kuosmanen has created a rich emotional journey and a witty, comic road movie, if a film set on a train can be called such. The humour is rooted in [Yuriy] Borisov and [Seidi] Haarla’s note-perfect performances”

— John Bleasdale

7. Cow

Cow (2021)

“The film’s value as a deeply embedded, searingly realist portrayal of modern animal husbandry, and the authenticity of Arnold’s passionate empathy for her subject’s bovinity are never in doubt.”

— Jessica Kiang

8. Drive My Car

Drive My Car (2021)

“Much of this latest film takes place in its eponymous car – a red Saab, to be precise. Precision is key for Hamaguchi [Ryusuke]’s tragicomedies of manners and for the Murakami Haruki short story of the same name upon which this film is based. The film adheres closely to Murakami’s text, though it makes its own detours.”

— Becca Voelcker

9. Faya Dayi

Faya Dayi (2021)

“Jessica Beshir’s lyrical Faya Dayi is an ode to an Ethopia searching for escape, whether through the spiritual (and chemical) highs of khat, the country’s most lucrative crop, or across the seas where new opportunities may lie.”

— Caitlin Quinlan

10. Flee

Flee (2021)

“Tender and evocative, this animated documentary by Jonas Poher Rasmussen finds deep compassion in a refreshing new format.”

— Caitlin Quinlan

11. The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch (2021)

“If The French Dispatch isn’t the best Wes Anderson film, it’s certainly the most Wes Anderson film, arguably the purest distillation of his singular aesthetics, storytelling and predilections.”

— Leigh Singer

12. A Hero

A Hero (2021)

“Just as A Separation’s riveting anatomy of a divorce was tilted by local law and etiquette, A Hero’s fable of self-canonisation – Iranian style – feels like it could play out a hundred different ways in a hundred different places, even as it’s pushed and pulled by the globally topical factors of social media warfare and fake news.”

— Guy Lodge

13. Hit the Road

Hit the Road (2021)

“Eventually what comes into focus is a tale of family flight and survival, sudden loss and stoic perseverance… aided by the superb performances of [Panah Panahi’s] central cast, stage actors Hassan Madjooni and Pantea Panahiha as the parents and long-lashed natural Rayan Sarlak as the firecracker kid.”

— Leigh Singer

14. Landscapes of Resistance

Landscapes of Resistance (2021)

“Despite looking back at one of the darkest parts of history and viewing it from the vantage-point of this trepidatious period, Landscapes of Resistance stands out as a genuinely hopeful film.”

— Cathy Brennan

15. Luzzu

Luzzu (2021)

“Filmmaker Alex Camilleri’s work is most impressive when the boat is at sea, the glossy, multicoloured paint job a deeply symbolic beacon amidst the shimmering waves.”

— Thomas Flew

16. Memoria (a special presentation in association with Sight and Sound)

Memoria (2021)

“Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s gift for exquisite empathy remains fully intact in his first feature to be shot outside Thailand and include a major star.”

— James Lattimer

17. Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday (2021)

“A sensual, time-splintered adaptation of Graham Swift’s acclaimed 2016 novella, French director Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday is certainly not the BBC Sunday night TV comfort viewing version one might have feared. It’s a bold casting off of the aesthetic corset that so often renders heritage dramas tasteful yet sedate.”

— Leigh Singer

18. Mr. Bachmann and His Class

Mr. Bachmann and His Class (2021)

“In her sprawling, observational examination, there is something of Frederick Wiseman in [Maria] Speth’s approach, though she is less interested in institutional systems than the drama of human personalities, even while staying acutely aware of the economic and ethnic hierarchies that weigh heavily on the students’ lives.”

— Carmen Gray

19. Petite Maman

Petite maman (2021)

“An extremely small and exactly perfect film, Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman might at first appear dwarfed by her last title, Portrait of a Lady of Fire. But come closer – and this is a film that beckons like a forest path – and there is much that is similar.”

— Jessica Kiang

20. Red Rocket

Red Rocket (2021)

“Despite its loose-limbed, casual rhythm there is something tight and sad at the heart of Sean Baker’s Cannes competition comedy, Red Rocket. On the surface it’s similar to Baker’s last two films, Tangerine (2015) and The Florida Project (2017), in also being a contradictory mix of joyful and despairing: exuberant lo-fi filmmaking delivering caustic social observation.”

— Jessica Kiang

21. The Souvenir Part II

The Souvenir Part II (2021)

“[Joanna] Hogg relishes drawing up a range of unsentimental peers, each complete with their own desires and impulses, no one reduced to being a supporting act in Julie’s emotional drama. [Honor] Swinton-Byrne brings a new poise to her role, marking her progression from a doe-eyed naif to a determined young artist capable of taking routine blows to her self-esteem while moving forwards.”

— Sophie Monks Kaufman

22. Spencer

Spencer (2021)

“The Chilean director [Pablo Larraín] brings an outsider’s eye to a peculiar institution while Kristen Stewart gives a portrait of a woman coming to pieces that is intimate and at times touching.”

— John Bleasdale

23. The Storms of Jeremy Thomas

The Storms of Jeremy Thomas (2021)

“This is at once a road movie, a filmed interview and a critical overview, starting from a place of respect verging on adoration, since Cousins isn’t alone in reckoning that Thomas stands as a bulwark against the cultural homogenisation of today’s Hollywood studio fare.”

— Trevor Johnston

24. Titane

Titane (2021)

“After the hit cannibal horror Raw (2016), expectations were high for [Julia] Ducournau’s follow up. In Titane, she has met and surpassed them. The film looks and sounds gorgeous, with Ruben Impens’s day-glo cinematography giving way at times to something more naturalistic, and Jim Williams’s score accompanying the fervid action with its own fever dream rhythms, alternating between techno and something more operatic.”

— John Bleasdale

25. The Tsugua Diaries

The Tsugua Diaries (2021)

“All this meta-waggishness is very self-satisfied, to be sure. And yet, through the thick blanket of irony gradually emerges genuine feeling, and the inverted chronology builds to a celebration of community that is heartfelt and poignant after the experience of the last year and a half.”

— Giovanni Marchini Camia

26. Users

Users (2021)

“A science fiction of our time, Natalia Almada’s documentary is a standout piece of stunning nonfiction cinema… The landscape of Dave Cerf’s sound design and the beautiful soundtrack by Kronos Quartet is otherworldly. Layered and haunting, it is as crucial to the storytelling as the alien lens of the film.”

— Sophie Brown

27. The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground (2021)

“Just as [I’m Not There] exploded stable notions of the biographical film, so does The Velvet Underground put standard, tribute-style music documentary to shame by plunging headlong into the cultural fusion that fueled the band.”

— Nicolas Rapold

28. What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (2021)

“To say that Koberidze aspires to be a poet of the cinema might sound cloying, but he certainly thinks in variations, rhythms and echoes, rather than dramatic arches or characters.”

— Ela Bittencourt

29. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)

“What if things were different? Although this film’s charm is in its resolutely domestic, romantic subject-matter, arriving on our (home) screens this year it inevitably presents an allegory for larger forms of speculation.”

— Becca Voelcker

30. Wild Indian

Wild Indian (2021)

“The debut feature from Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. is a deceptively simplistic take on a history of violence, embodied in the ruthless Makwa… It’s pretty special to see [Michael] Greyeyes in a role as textured and contemporary as this.

— Kelli Weston

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