Still from Hand of God (2021)

London Film Festival: credits roll and curtains close

As the applause fades on a great – and thankfully IRL – edition of the LFF, capped by rapturous reviews for Denzel Washington’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, we present our highlights of the 12-day cinematic feast.

The Harder They Fall

What do you do when the old time enemy who murdered your parents is released back into the wild by his ride-or die-gang? Outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) reunites his crew – including former bae Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) – with deadly intent when he hears that lifelong nemesis (Idris Elba) has been sprung by his old cronies.

The audience rode along eagerly at The Harder They Fall, LFF’s Opening Night Gala. Directed by London’s own Jeymes Samuel and co-produced by Jay‑Z, the Black excellence they offered during this Black History Month is not limited to behind the screen. Introducing the film at the Royal Festival Hall, Samuel and Elba marvelled at their journeys, from sneaking into screenings at the LFF to now premiering their own feature film within the same walls.

With tunes from greats like Barrington Levy and Fela Kuti remixed and remastered on the soundtrack, helping drive a propulsive storyline, you’ll leave the film with a serious playlist and guaranteed to be in your feels.

The Hand of God

Paolo Sorrentino powers back with this drama set in 1980’s, football-obsessed Naples. A teenage boy endures heartbreak and liberation as the will-he-won’t‑he debate about the arrival of Maradona at Napoli grips the city. Through Sorrentino’s signature swaying camera movements, crisp-cut visuals, episodic structures and mocking humour, he detaches himself from being pigeonholed. A moment of tragedy forces adolescence into an intense coming-of-age tale, but one that also offers relatability for every viewer – not to mention a career-making turn from young Filippo Scotti in the lead. Watch this space.

Quant

At THE FACE, we appreciate self-expression in all its forms. Everyone’s personal style is an outward expression of their lifestyle and personality. But what happens when you can’t explain the layers to your layered outfit? Introducing Quant, part-fashion documentary and part-character portrait of the great British fashion designer Mary Quant. Popularly viewed as the inventor of the mini-skirt, she helped kickstart London’s Swinging Sixties by raising blood pressure, eyebrows and hems.

My 19-year-old daughter didn’t have a clue who Mary Quant was,” recalls director Sadie Frost, an admission which sparked a need in the onetime model and actor to bring Quant’s story to the masses – especially the younger generation – in a way that would honour the visionary designer’s work through a modern lens. Good job, mum.

King Richard

Ready for a feelgood movie for all the generations? The LFF brought us Will Smith in one of his most emotive performances yet, in this biopic of the father of Venus and Serena Williams. It’s a story of family ties, wilful and intentional upbringing, and determination in pursuit of fantastic(al) success. Richard is the doting father, hanging onto belief, but hard on his daughters as he knows the world is harder still. Watch as a young Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) personify the quote by Charles H. Spurgeon: Begin as you mean to go on.”

Some viewers might say they are reduced to giddy, innocent beings with the sole purpose of playing tennis. But we’re seeing Black children just as they are – children – while also being offered so much more. King Richard explores the mastery of incredible natural talent, while also leaving room for a sister-sibling bond to shine – one that humanises such well-known characters.

Petite Maman

Parenting can be a complex topic to navigate on film, but Céline Sciamma depicts this brilliantly in Petite Maman. The French writer and director (who also co-wrote another LFF stand-out, Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District) leaves you with an obligation to decentre yourself from the relationship with your parents.

The film showcases how, as triggers peel back old wounds, the average person succumbs to their inner child, inevitably causing you to face your deeply buried traumas. As eight-year-old Nelly assists her parents in cleaning out her mother’s childhood home after the loss of her grandmother, she ventures off to explore the memory-filled home and encircling woods.

Then her mother, Marion, disassociated and heavy-hearted, suddenly leaves one day. Nelly, confused, seeks out to play exactly where her mother built the treehouse she only heard in stories. Unexpectedly, she builds a relationship with another eight-year-old girl she discovers… building a treehouse out back. Her name: Marion. A ghost of the past? Of the present? The future? That’s for you to decide.

All My Friends Hate Me

Are your friends really your friends? You’ve probably asked yourself this question and your paranoia is probably correct.

When you find a comedy-horror film somewhat relatable, you should be a little worried. Undoubtedly intense, this British indie homes in on the psychological warfare Pete endures as he reunites with old university friends at a birthday party.

Audience anxiety is assured as the film becomes dark and awkwardly funny to its very end. Director Andrew Gaynord speaks to today’s introverted millennials’ worst nightmare, as upper class thirtysomethings (set against Pete’s working class background) take turns playing mind games we’re all too familiar with in some social settings.

Neptune Frost

Afrocentric cyber-musical Neptune Frost does not centre Western ideals. Developed by America’s Saul Williams, the politically poetic wordsmith and artist, and Rwandan actress and playwright Anisia Uzeyman, an artist intuitive and considerate of intersectionality, their remarkable collaboration intensely intertwines subdued, paranoid thriller and celestial love affair.

By focusing on the exploitation of labourers in Africa, the realisation arises that, without their backbreaking toil, global communication would cease. Following the plot may be a task for some. But those of the African Diaspora and their analytical allies will get the point. In the words of one of the film’s heroes, Martyr Loser King: Their fire is our breath.”

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