London Film Festival 2015 #1 // Flaunt

Flaunt ramps up in preparation for the British Film Institute’s 59th London Film Festival

Teasing us ahead of its sexagenarian anniversary in 2016, the 59th London Film Festival melts into frame this October 7-18–with its usual two-week lead-up for press and industry a slow jog to the starting line when, on opening night, audiences will sit in for writer Abi Morgan’s timely period protest Suffragette.

There’ll be more star vehicles than you can shake a wonky gearstick at–this year’s programme reads decidedly more A-listy, with Blanchett, Fassbender, Depp, Mulligan, Cranston, Farrell (and plenty others) all getting their oars in. Yet it’s the LFF’s eclectic selection of international features that not only more often than not nab the prizes, but also make the most noise here–we’ll bring you the lesser-seen highlights at 2015′s fest.

But before those full days of bleary-eyed press screenings (min. 4-a-day) and 10%-off British Film Institute coffee (min. 6-12-a-day), London film fans have been treated to another, substantially younger festival in the City no less worthy of your attention.

Running in the first week of October, the London Georgian Film Festival now in its fourth year, shows what earnest filmmaking can achieve. Checking out Corn Island on the Saturday night, it occurred to me that on the wrong day, at the wrong festival–this was the right film for an LFF lead-up.

Writer/director George Ovashvili brings a minimalist, stoical tale of man and woman versus nature–and both versus human nature. Each spring the Inguri river just south-west of the Caucasus mountains washes out, depositing heaps of sediment from upstream, creating temporary tillable islands with soil fertile enough to grow a season’s worth of corn–until fall, when the river floods and the islands disappear again for another year.

During that window of opportunity, those islands are home and livelihood both; for one ageing Abkhazian man (Turkish comic Salman) that ephemeral island becomes his very own nation-state, shared with his granddaughter, a developing pubescent girl whose banal loss of innocence is played straight–she survives a harsh reality. The boat and their oars are their only connections to the outside world, until a stranger lands wounded in their cornfield.

With a first-rate performance from newcomer Mariam Buturishvili as the put-upon ‘Girl’ of the piece, its near-silent parable of renewal, hope and loss offers a rare meditative window onto a distant life, at least for British audiences.

Abkhazia is a separatist state recognized by only four other nations, the Abkhaz a people still caught in the aftermath of a deadly conflict over 20 years ago. The old man claims his island amidst this backdrop, creating his own state-of-sorts and co-existing mid-stream between the military presences of Russia and Georgia. Alternately recallingStalker, There Will Be Blood, Bresson and even Signs–on the wrong day, at the wrong festival, perhaps two wrongs do make a right, then.

But back to the matter at hand–2015’s LFF programme is promising on paper; world cinema from the bizarre to the fantastic, with new releases from Attenberg’s Athina Rachel Tsangari whose Chevalier is in competition; JG Ballard getting the cocktail treatment in Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise; The Lobster from the bankable Yorgos Lanthimos; South Africa’s “answer to Larry Clark’s Kids” in Sibs Shongwe-La Mer’s debut Necktie Youth; a surprising cutesy gremlin horror, Der Nachtmahr; Josh Mond’s depress-core, James White; The Witch; something called Bone Tomahawk; and documentaries He Named Me Malala (about gunned down Afghan activist Malala Yousafzai), Something Better to Come (Hanna Polak)–er, you get the picture.

Clare Stewart calls 2015 the year of the strong woman. The Time is Soon. More coverage to follow.

Written by Declan Tan