BFI LFF 2019: 8-13 October

The Whistlers (La Gomera) by Corneliu Porumboiu is a Romanian crime thriller with a twisting plot, lots of corruption and a black comedy feel.

Sing like a Canary

by Alexa Dalby

The Whistlers

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Whistlers is a Romanian crime caper set mainly in the island of La Gomera in the Canaries. It’s a convoluted plot of police and criminals double crossing each other. Communication among gang members is based on an obscure, traditional island whistling code (silbo), which sounds like birdsong, that’s intended to be a secret language that will prevent police from intercepting their communications. At the root of all the shenanigans is a mobster’s hoard of money hidden in mattresses and shady Bucharest cop Vlad (Vlad Ivanov). It’s a twisty, hard-to-follow crime thriller, but there’s clearly lots of corruption to be satirised and a rather silly black comedy feel.

The Whistlers premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 9 and 10 October 2019.

Deerskin (Le Daim) is an oddball, quirky comedy about a suede jacket with killer propensities by Quentin Dupieux.

On the Fringe

by Alexa Dalby

Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Georges (charismatic Jean Dujardin, a low-key loser here) spends his savings on a vintage fringed deerskin jacket. His ambition is to be the only jacket wearer in the world. The seller (Albert Delpy) throws in a video camera and Georges reinvents himself as a film director in the small town in the mountains where he takes up residence in its only hotel. He persuades bemused locals hopeful of being in the film he purports to be making to throw away their jackets despite the fact that it’s snowing. His obsession with jackets and deerskin garments and footwear grows alarmingly and it becomes more violent. The local barmaid (Adèle Haenel), an amateur who is seeking to get into the film industry, edits his footage which seems to show serial killings. Can she tell if it is documentary or fiction? How much worse can the bloodstains get?

Deerskin premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 11 and 13 October. It is released on 8 May 2020 in the UK.

Algo-Rhythm by Manu Luksch is a 14-minute-long hip-hop musical with Senegalese artists performing intricate political rhyming.

Digital Africa

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Shot in Dakar, male and female rappers and musicians deconstruct the threats to human rights resulting from the use of algorithms in social media: this is digital Africa in the 21st century.

Algo-Rhythm screens in The Culture short film programme at the BFI London Film Festival on 11 and 13 October 2019.

So Long, My Son by Wang Ziaoshuai movingly traces the consequences of China’s one-child policy though decades and generations of a couple and their family.

One-Child Family

by Alexa Dalby

So Long, My Son

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Like Mountains May Depart and many other Chinese films in recent years, So Long, My Son seeks to reassess modern China in the context of its history since the Revolution. These films span decades, showing how the repercussions of political policies work themselves out through several generations. Imposing a policy such as ‘one child’, originally intended to control the burgeoning population, had cruel unintended consequences for individuals in the way it was enforced, sometimes ruining lives. And on the macro level it created problems that were never thought through such as population imbalance making marriage difficult and creating selfish, indulged only children and the burden of an elderly care crisis.

So Long, My Son follows one family from the Cultural Revolution, where they are poor workers in a factory having to cope the effects with a forbidden second pregnancy, though the many changes both in their own lives and in Chinese society as a whole – from the Maoist ideology of the Cultural Revolution to the prosperous, consumerist present day. All this is set against the background of outward modernisation: old buildings are ruthlessly torn down to make way for shopping malls and motorway intersections so that old neighbourhoods where people used to know each other become unrecognisable. Inevitably, some family members know how to profit from change and ‘better’ themselves and others do not. Are human values are more important than prosperity? Will they win though in the end?

So Long, My Son is an absorbing insight into the rapid changes in Chinese society over recent decades though the changing fortunes of a couple and their extended family.

So Long, My Son premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 12 and 13 October and will be released by Curzon in the UK.

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