Travel-fuelled films at the London Film Festival
Cinema offers us a window to the world. It dares us to take risks and discover new possibilities. And when it comes to these five films, all set to screen at this year’s London Film Festival (6-17 October), says Clarisse Loughrey, it might just inspire us to pack our bags and set off on an adventure
Last Night in Soho
The ultimate lesson of Edgar Wright’s vibrant horror may be that too much nostalgia is bad for the soul, but Last Night in Soho can’t help but have its cake and eat it – it’s an enticing throwback to the Swinging Sixties as seen in one of its great cultural epicentres, London’s Soho district. A young fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie) finds herself stepping back in time and into the world of wannabe chanteuse Sandie (The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy), as she performs at the (now-closed) Café de Paris. And while much of Sixties Soho has vanished in the passing decades, Wright’s film is a reminder of the history steeped in its brickwork. You can still walk in the footsteps of rock stars and fashion icons by taking a trip down Carnaby Street or visiting The Toucan pub, which cameos in the film.
The Power of the Dog
New Zealand’s Central Otago plays the role of cowboy-era Montana in the big-screen adaptation of Thomas Savage’s beloved novel, The Power of the Dog. And it’s utterly convincing, providing the harsh shadows and craggy outcrops needed for Oscar winner Jane Campion’s brooding tale of desire and despair – as cattle rancher Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) grows resentful of his young brother’s (Jesse Plemons) new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and stepson. Cumberbatch delivers a revelatory, brutish turn as a man who seeks power above all things, torturing his family in the process. But, though Campion’s film feels bracing and modern in its approach, many of her visuals are drawn from the near-mythic legacy of classic westerns, such as Giant and The Searchers. Central Otago is special in that respect, balancing its ruggedness with an ethereal beauty – these are the same landscapes made famous by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, after all.
Memoria, directed by one of the most acclaimed denizens of the arthouse circuit, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is the first of his films to be shot outside his native Thailand. It’s also his first to feature a recognisable, international star, Tilda Swinton, playing a British expatriate living in Medellín, Colombia, who travels to Bogotá in order to visit her ailing sister. One night, she wakes up to the sound of a sonic boom. She hears it again. And then again. It becomes clear that, whether it exists only in her mind or not, she’s the only one who can hear this strange, hypnotic noise. Weerasethakul chose to set Memoria in Colombia partially because of an indescribable, emotional attachment to the place – and much of the film sees Swinton simply wander through the city’s lively, colourful streets and the tropical jungle that surrounds them. He’s also revealed that Memoria is, at its core, a film about self-healing. And, as Swinton’s journey proves, there’s a power in losing yourself completely to a new, unfamiliar place.
Fårö lies precisely one plane, one car ride and two ferries away from the Swedish mainland. But any dedicated cinephile would tell you that it’s worth the trip – the remote island now serves as a living shrine to filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, whose intricate dramas have probed the human psyche like no other. When Bergman initially visited Fårö, in 1960, he was taken by its windswept textures and stark beauty, later describing his experience as “love at first sight”. Much of his best work was shot on the island, including Persona (1966) and Scenes from a Marriage (1973), and he continued to call it home until his death in 2007. On top of an annual ‘Bergman Week’ filled with screenings, performances and lectures, artists have regularly taken up residence on his estate in order to draw inspiration from the landscape. One of these individuals is writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve, whose new film, Bergman Island, tells a story of personal and creative emancipation set within the bounds of this extraordinary place.
The Lost Daughter
In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, based on the Elena Ferrante novel, a woman named Leda (Olivia Colman) checks into a lighthouse retreat on the luxurious island of Spetses, Greece. But her pile of beach reads goes untouched – she’s become entranced by the sight of a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and daughter frolicking in the sands nearby. The pair remind her too much of her own turbulent experience of raising children. It draws her back into her memories. Gyllenhaal’s intimate, deftly woven film finds an ideal backdrop in Spetses. It’s such a peaceful place – private automobiles aren’t even allowed within the town limits – that the sounds of waves and chirping cicadas blend together into their own gentle symphony. Spetses, as Leda discovers, is where you go when you need to rediscover yourself.
The London Film Festival runs from 6-17 October 2021 at the BFI Southbank and across the UK. Book tickets here.
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