The excitement in the air was palpable as cinephiles and industry professionals from around the world gathered to celebrate the magic of cinema at the 66th London Film Festival. As a guest writer for our website, Mehrva Arvin had the privilege of attending this prestigious event and capturing the essence of the festival through her insightful observations.a

BFI  London Film Festival opened on October 5th with “Ronald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” the latest by Mathew Warchus. The film stars Emma Thompson as the frightening schoolmaster and an incredible cast of young child actors, especially Alisha Weir as Matilda. The opening scene in the hospital automatically prepares you for what is to follow. If you are a musical fan you will love this great production.a

The Festival continued till the 16th of October with 16 different categories that entertained us with Laugh sections, made us think with Dare and Cult sections, and took us on voyages with Journey, Thrill, and Cult sections.a
This year the festival included immersive art and extended reality programs, which were launched in 2020.a

The festival closed this year’s event with GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY.a

Many interesting and challenging films were presented at the festival and some of my favorites are included here. First and foremost was the co-produced Austrian film CORASAGE with a memorable performance by Vickey Krieps which in fact won her best actress award in Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year. Director Marie Kreutzer shows the nuances of the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Her role as a decorative figure in the court is suffocating her and she tries various means to escape her role and required image. As a rebellious act, the director chooses to use the music of Camille, a contemporary singer as the soundtrack to this engaging and subtle story of the struggle of a royal woman in a clearly defined role.a

The WONDER by Sebastián Leilo a UK-Irish production was another wonderful film. Story of an 11-year-old girl who has not eaten for 4 months and is said to be a living miracle. A nurse is called from London, played by Florence Pugh and a local nun to observe the girl to see what is the truth of the matter. Our nurse does not give in to religious beliefs and continues to search for scientific explanations. The film is beautifully photographed and touches on emotions of loss and salvation. Pugh’s performance is incredible and the storytelling of Leilo is memorable.a

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN by Martin McDonagh is a gem of a  film. Simple but yet complicated, funny but yet sad at the same time. The wonderful witty script along with outstanding performances make this a must-see for all. a

In the special presentation section of the festival, Ali Abbasi’s film HOLY SPIDER was a fascinating story based on true events that happened in Iran in early 2000. The holy city of  Mashhad in the northeastern part of Iran is the center of the action where a serial killer informs the local paper about the bodies and their whereabouts. The journalist assigned to the story is a young woman from the capital who is supposed to make a report on the 16 murders of sex workers in this religious city. She is confronted with a lot of problems in her work environment but tries to pass through to the issues at hand. She realizes that some people think that the work of the serial killer is not necessarily bad since he is getting rid of the filth of society. Abbasi tries to touch on the topic of what is the true meaning of justice in different parts of the world. Zar Amirebrahimi ‘s performance as a journalist got her the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival this year.a

Syrian director Sally El Hosaini’s SWIMMERS, is also based on a true story, the struggle of 2 sisters to reach their dream, or is it their dream or their fathers’? The film deals with war, the struggles that people have in trying to get themselves to safety and in turn hope to be able to achieve what they were hoping for when back home. el Hosaini is successful in portraying the emotions and struggle of her protagonist wonderfully acted by real sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa. The film is certainly a mood lifter with positive emotions.a

Another film to mention in this section was MY POLICEMAN, an English film dealing with a love relationship between 2 men and a woman but this time she was the one stepping aside for this love, denial, and punishment film, to come to life. Nowadays as we watch films from that period which was the 1960’s in Brighton it seems so far and yet so close to what was forbidden and punished. Very touching film.a

One of my favorite films this year indeed was TRIANGLE OF SADNESS by Ruben Östlund. The beginning of the film will give you a taste of what is to come. The film is funny and witty. The relationships are more and more based on money and control. The young couple in the film are influencers who are offered a free luxury cruise and dealing with different characters they keep figuring out ways to survive. It is about money and power and authority that corrupts all.a

Sarah Polley’s WOMAN TALKING is a story of women’s struggle to choose to stay or leave or fight with their men. Loosely based on the story of a community of Mennonites in Bolivia in 2010, the women of the community have very little time to decide what to do. The discussion and arguments bring out a lot of issues engaging the small community that is struggling with the decision. The direction was more theatrical and that was the weak point of the film for me.a

In the LFF awards sections, THE DAMNED DON’t CRY by Fyzal Boulifa from Morocco is a story of the poor of the poor, about tradition, sexuality, and of course integrity. Story of a mother and a young son who go from one city to another in search of work life and happiness. You are involved in their lives, their pain, and their acceptance of reality.a

Another title dealing with war was NAZOUH by Soudade Kaadan, Syrian director. The story of a mother and young daughter who decide to leave their home after almost everyone has left the city. The story of the coming of age of the young Zeina who can see the stars and imagine her life when encountering Amer, neighbor’s son literally through the hole in her ceiling. Kaadan has been able to put the pain of war and displacement in another light.a

Visually the most beautiful film of this year for me was GODLAND, by Hlynur Pàlmason. A Danish Icelandic story of a priest who is interested in photography in the mid-19th century and his journey through the astonishing rough landscape of Iceland. It truly is a visual treat and joy for the soul even though the story is as hard and harsh as the landscape.a

In the first feature competition section, a few films caught my attention. Manuela Martelli’s 1976, is a sublime story of a wealthy Carmen who is exposed to the revolutionaries during the time of Pinochet with all its suffocating practices in the country. Carmen is played brilliantly by Aline Küppenheim as a chain smoker, pill-popping,  elegant rich housewife.a

JEONG-SUN is a South Korean film about digital sex crimes in that country. Our protagonist is a middle-aged female factory worker who is rejected by everyone including herself when a video of her singing in her underwear goes viral. She is devastated by the event and can not manage all that is happening to her. The film is shot such that you see her shame and sadness in many frames. The friendship and support of other women are shown very nicely.a

In the Love section of the festival WINTER BOY by Christophe Honoré was a heartwarming self-discovery of the sexuality of a young man amidst the tragedy of the loss of his father. The performances by the cast especially Juliette Binoche are commendable.a

In the Laugh section of the festival couple of films got me by surprise. First a Thai film called FAST & FEEL LOVE, the story of a young man who wants to become the fastest person stacking plastic cups in the world! The story starts at school where the students are asked what they want to do when graduating. The story of growing up and facing the realities of life even with high prices paid. The film is fun and entertaining as well with the best plastic cup stacking players on board.a

SICK OF MYSELF by Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli is one of the most disturbing films I have seen in a while. Signe, the main character will do anything to seek attention. Through the film we see her going down the path of self-destruction to no end. She succeeds in a strange way. This truly is a black comedy and represents what are some of the values we have in our society today which is absolutely crazy.a

in the Thrill section, my choice was a film by Tarik Saleh, the Swedish director titled BOY FROM HEAVEN. The story of a young village boy who gets a scholarship to attend one of the top Sunni universities in the world in Cairo. The film shows the corruption of the government and clerics in Egypt. Great storytelling and suspense throughout the film.a

All and all I enjoyed the festival this year after being away for 3 years of Covid and looking forward to the next year’s event.a

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