BFI LFF 2019: Previews 3-7 October

Beanpole showcases Kantemir Balagov’s major talent in his second film, a disturbing story of damaged people in the aftermath of World War II.

Walking Wounded

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Beanpole charts the intense relationship of two women in a devastated Leningrad after the end of the Second World War, who are, like so many other Russians, emotionally damaged by their experiences. Iya (Viktoria Mironshnichenko), nicknamed Beanpole, so tall and blonde that she almost looks like an albino, works in the hospital for wounded ex-soldiers, some of them so mutilated and disabled that they would rather die. They are the physically damaged victims of the war but others in the film are emotionally damaged.

Iya is still traumatised by her experiences as a soldier. She is joined in her one room in a house shared by numerous families by her friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), in army uniform, demobilised from the Front, who has during the course of the war become amoral and manipulative.

The intensity of the two women’s symbiotic relationship amid the ruins of their country and their lives is difficult to watch as it focuses on the fate of the child of one of them, and the manipulation to achieve another child that’s part of the desire for healing. Beanpole constantly surprises, scenes are cut sooner than you expect so you fill in the ends, it reverses what you had accepted as the truth, and absorbs you into an almost unbearable vicious circle of pain that all the characters, major and minor have to live with.

Beanpole premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize. It screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 3 and 4 October 2019 and is released on MUBI on 11 October 2019.

Lucky Grandma by Sasie Sealy is a feel-good, very enjoyable romp starring a wonderful Tsai Chin as a transgressive elderly woman running from the triads.

The Roulette Wheel of Fortune

by Alexa Dalby

Lucky Grandma

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Tsai Chin, now a shabby grandmother rather than the glamorous ingenue of The World of Suzie Wong, dominates the film with her engaging portrayal of a truculent, transgressive, chain-smoking elderly Chinese woman who loves gambling living in New York’s Chinatown. When she ‘finds’ a bag full of cash that turns out to belong to one of the triads that rule Chinatown, she’s resourceful and wily enough to try to pit one triad gang against the other in her bid to hand onto the money – which she feels she deserves after a lifetime’s hard work with nothing to show for it. She even hires a bodyguard, Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha), a late-period Elvis lookalike. It’s great fun to see stereotypes both exaggerated and subverted in what is basically a feel-good, very enjoyable romp.

Lucky Grandma screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 4, 6 and 13 October 2019.

Nimic (2019) and White Girl (2019) are two of the new short films in a programme When You Think You Know How It Ends that defies the normal.

Tales of the Unexpected

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

This short film programme is headed by a 12-minuter by Yorgos Lanthimos. Shot with his trademark fisheye lens that turns normal into weird, Nimic an elliptical, almost impenetrable riff on duality, set in a German city. White Girl by Nadia Latif is an urban nightmare in London’s multicultural night-time streets, following the encounters of an innocent-looking young girl as she wanders alone.

Nimic and White Girl screen in the short film programme When You Think You Know How It Ends at the BFI London Film Festival on 6 and 8 October 2019.

Zombi Child by Bertrand Bonello (Nocturama) is a fascinating drama that correlates the allegedly real zombies of Haiti and Haitian voodoo in France.

Living Dead

by Alexa Dalby

Zombi Child

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

A Haitian schoolgirl Melissa (Wislanda Louimat) at a prestigious French girls school recounts to her school friends how zombies are created and used in Haiti, through the story of her grandfather – though this creates, rather than plays down, suspicions about what she is herself. One of the French girls tries voodoo herself with Melissa’s cousin, a voodoo priestess, to win back her boyfriend. But she is appropriating a culture she can’t possibly understand, with unpredictable and dangerous results. Zombi Child has fascinating detail of the Haitian ceremonies and lifestyles that enable zombieism to be a part of life and death there intercut with unexpected fear and horror they bring to disturb the routine lives of the bourgeoisie in France.

Zombi Child premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 6, 7 and 11 October 2019. It is released on MUBI 18 October 2019.

Based on real events, Bad Education by Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds) stars Hugh Jackman, magnificent as a many-layered educator.

Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense

by Alexa Dalby

Bad Education

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Hugh Jackman is superb as kind, dedicated, charming school district superintendent Frank Tassone, loved by staff, parents and students alike. Nothing is too much trouble for him, he goes many extra miles for his students, and he has raised his base, Roslyn High School, to stellar heights in the Ivy League university admission league tables.He is ably assisted by his longstanding deputy administrator and head of accounts Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney).

But then a student reporter for the school newspaper (Geraldine Viswanathan), encouraged by Frank to be a real journalist and write an investigative article, starts to uncover some uncomfortable facts about how the school has been run and suddenly a far-reaching scandal unfolds.

Based closely on a true story Bad Education is hugely enjoyable as it unrolls into a compulsive personal and political thriller, where nothing and no one are as they seemed at first. Jackman and Janney are a brilliant double act.

Bad Education screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 7, 8 and 9 October 2019.

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