A preview of some of the films showing on Monday 15th October, Day Six of the BFI London Film Festival 2018. Tickets can be purchased from the festival website here.
Set in mid-1990s Belarus, Crystal Swan follows aspiring house music DJ Velya as she dreams of moving to the Chicago music scene. After writing a random phone number on a forged visa application, Velya has to track down the number’s origin and find a way to rope the owners into her scheme. Crystal Swan is, in abstract, a low-stakes story, an intimate indie odyssey with a hint of farce, before the story takes a darker tonal swerve about two-thirds in. Beneath the initially slight story lurks a cynical and complicated examination of Belarus’ socio-political issues, of gender and sexual assault. Alina Nasibullina is brilliant as Velya, spirited but trapped, a prisoner within her own existence, frantically trying to stop the escape tunnel caving in.
“You know what they call trees in a forest fire?” Jeanette Brinson asks her son in Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife. She answers her own question: “Fuel.” Adapted faithfully from a novella by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Richard Ford, Wildlife is an artful, quintessentially American story about fires, and the trees they consume.
The melodrama and vivid imagery of Ford’s novella seem, on paper, perfect for cinema; in translation, it feels at times over-written and novelistic. One of the film’s very best moments, a shot of Joe that pans upwards to gradually reveal the massive extent of the forest fire, is a terrific example of page-to-screen adaptation, taking a powerful image (if a little on-the-nose) and giving it full, electric life. Another scene with great visual potential – the dramatic climax of the book – is, however, rushed and squandered.
Cleo spends her free time going on dates with Fermín, the friend of a mutual friend, until she discovers she is pregnant. The bulk of Roma is set over the course of her pregnancy, covering the transition from 1970 into 1971 and her life in Mexico City. In the background of the film lurks the violence and upheaval of the wider world; we see snatches of discontent and trouble throughout, culminating in a terrific, shocking scene in which Cleo is in the city centre during the infamous Corpus Christi massacre of student protesters.
It might not be Cuarón’s best film – Children of Men is pretty much prophesy as far as I’m concerned – but Roma is his most complete. It is a visually breathtaking, often sad story about familial love, with a keen sensitivity to class and Mexican history. No longer the big-spending wannabes, Netflix have now produced their first masterpiece, a lyrical and personal film from a huge filmmaker returning to his roots.