BFI LFF 2019: Festival briefs

Roundup briefs

by Alexa Dalby


Pablo Larrain‘s (Jackie, Neruda) Ema builds up to its punchline in unexplained fragments – the flame thrower, the fires, the reggaeton street dance routines, the theatre show, the school class. And most of all Polo, the adopted child who’s the catalyst for bisexual dancer Ema’s (Mariana Di Girolamo) anguish. Gael García Bernal has a strangely passive role in unflattering dungarees. But it’s a long wait until the mystery at the film’s heart is revealed.

Ema premiered at the Venice Film Festival and screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 11 and 12 October 2019.


Starring all the usual British suspects – Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher, David Mitchell, Asa Butterfield, Shirley Henderson, Asim Chaudhry – and directed by Michael Winterbottom, Greed is a robust, unforgiving satire on exploitation of workers in the garment industry and the shyster, tax-dodging businessmen who become billionaires living a life of excess in tax havens on the back of their labour. It’s closely based on the life of disgraced chairman of Topshop Philip Green. Its scattergun approach also takes in scripted reality tv series and the migrant crisis, as the extravagant birthday party in the luxurious beachside villa on Mykonos that forms the plot of the film takes place next to destitute Syrian refugees camping on the beach.

Greed screens at the BFI London Film Festival as the Headline Gala on 9, 10 and 13 October 2019 and is released on 20 February 2020 in the UK.


Scales by Shahad Ameen is a feminist film from Saudi Arabia that’s based on a fishing community legend – female babies must be sacrificed to appease the sea goddess and ensure good catches for the fishermen. Shot in black and white, shot in the cliffs of Doha, the photography is stunning, creating a timeless zone where Hayat (‘Life’), a young girl played by Basima Hajjar, refuses to conform to the female stereotype imposed on her and she may be turning into a mermaid.

Scales screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 9, 10 and 12 October 2019.


Directed by Julius Onah, Luce is a debate-provoking drama about the dilemma of white liberal parents in America (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) who have adopted a former Eritrean child solder, renaming him Luce (‘light’) (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and making him their project. But as he approaches adulthood, how far can they trust him? Is he the outstanding student in every respect that he seems to be? Could he in fact still be politically subversive because of his early years? Or is he guilty of some other crime that has been covered up? Why is his inspirational teacher (Octavia Spencer) so suspicious of his intentions? And, as a black student, what are the additional pressures on him to excel in order to achieve what white students take for granted?

Luce screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 6 and 7 October 2019 and is released on 8 November 2019 in the UK.

Knives Out

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper), Knives Out is a clever riff on the country-house murder-mystery thriller conventions. It’s full of twists right up to the end and its all-star cast, gathered together for the family patriarch’s birthday which turns fatal, look as though it was a hoot to work on. Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, LaKeith Stanfield and Ana de Armas, with Daniel Craig as the Poirot-ish private detective, manfully manipulating an extraordinary Kentucky-Fried accent.

Knives Out screens at the BFI London Film Festival as the American Express Gala on 8, 9 and 13 November 2019 and is released on 25 November 2019 in the UK.

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