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Our top 10 dirty picks from the 2019 BFI London Film Festival

Check out 10 dirtylicious films from the upcoming BFI London Film Festival, including the latest features by Martin Scorsese Francois Ozon and Kleber Mendonca Filho, plus a little treat from Pablo Larrain!

The 63rd BFI London Film Festival, the biggest and the oldest film festival in the UK, takes place between October 2nd and 13th in a number of prestigious venues in Central London. The event will showcase 225 films from both established and emerging talent from every corner of the planet. This year, the Festival will host 21 world premieres, nine international premieres and 29 European premieres. In total, there will be 46 documentaries, four animations, 18 archive restorations and seven artists’ moving image features.

So where to begin? Below is a list of 10 dirty movies that you shouldn’t miss. We have seen the majority of these films (as they premiered in Berlin, Cannes and Locarno earlier this year), so we can vouch for our list, which is teeming with thought-provoking, innovative and downright filthy gems. Don’t forget to click on the film title in order to accede to our exclusive dirty review (where available). The films are sorted alphabetically.

You can click here in order to purchase your ticket now!


1. Adolescents (Sébastian Lifshitz):

Charting the lives of two girls from thirteen to eighteen, Adolescentes is an immersive documentary depicting the vicissitudes of youth. Five years in the making, filmed twenty-four days a year and composed from 500 hours of rushes, it has the flow of a fine naturalist drama, standing nicely alongside Young Solitude (Claire Simon, 2018) and Belinda (Marie Dumora, 2017) as yet another brilliant French documentary about the complexity of growing older.


2. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonca Filho, Juliano Dornelles):

The little town of Bacurau has been erased from the map. Literally. Locals can no longer locate it on the various online applications. Someone (or something?) is killing the locals. There have been seven murders in one day. Small UFOs monitor the town from above. The locals are prepared to fight back for their survival. They also wish to protect their their identity and cultural heritage. They cherish the Bacurau Museum, a small building where town’s invaluable artifacts are stored. The local doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) is some sort of matriarch. Men, women and children are ready to take arms. Bacurau is a resistance movie against the rise of fascism in Brazil.


3. By the Grace of God (Francois Ozon):

Francois Ozon is best remembered for his psychological dramas, psychosexual thrillers and twisted comedies. He has now moved into an almost entirely new territory: Catholic faith and paedophilia. The outcome is nothing short of magnificent. The director paints a profoundly humanistic portrayal of the sexual abuse victims of real-life priest Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley), thereby denouncing the silence and the complacence of the Catholic hierarchy.

By the Grace of God follows the steps of 40-year-old father-of-five and respectable professional Alexandre (Melvil Poupard). He decides to confront Father Preynat, who abused him 30 years earlier, upon finding out in 2014 that the priest still working closely with children. The problem is that the crime took place in 1991 and it has now prescribed (exceeding the 20-year threshold for legal action), and so Alexandre searches for more recent victims of Father Preynat, in a Goliath versus David battle against the extremely powerful and millenary Catholic Church.

By The Grace of God won the Silver Bear prize for Best Film in Berlin earlier this year. It shows in a thrill gala as part of the BFI London Film Festival.


4. Ema (Pablo Larrain):

“Every new Pablo Larraín film is a miracle of imagination, invention and insight into human behaviour. And Ema may be his most lyrical and poetic yet – a character study of a beguiling woman who is ruled by heart and impulse. In a vivid collage of scenes shot by Sergio Armstrong, with an expressive score from Nicolas Jaar, Larraín paints a picture of talented contemporary street/reggaeton dancer and teacher Ema. We learn of a recent trauma and her fiery relationship with her slightly older husband (Gael García Bernal), who is both a choreographer and her creative collaborator. Their recent adoption of a troubled child has gone badly, for which they are harshly judged. They, in turn, blame one another. Writing with Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno, Larraín’s film intersperses explosive, intoxicating scenes of dance within dramatic moments that are fractured in time.” (Tricia Tuttle)

Ema shows in strand gala section of the BFI London Film Festival.


5. The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao (Karim Ainouz):

This is as close as you will ever get to a tropical Douglas Sirk. Karim Ainouz’s eighth feature film and the second one to premiere in Cannes (after Madame Satain 2001) has all the ingredients of a melodrama. The 145-minute movie – based on the eponymous novel by Martha Batalha – is punctuated with tragic relationships, epic misfortunes, fortuitous separations and untimely deaths. All skilfully wrapped together by an entirely instrumental and magnificent music score.

The film, which is also pictured at the top of this article, won the Un Certain Regard award for Best Film in Cannes earlier this year.


6. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese):

In Martin Scorses’s latest movie and ninth collaboration with Robert de Niro, a labour leader and the infamous head of the Teamsters union, whose connections with organised crime were wide ranging, his career ended with a conviction for jury tampering, attempted bribery and fraud, but he was pardoned by President Nixon in 1971. Not long after, he disappeared. Declared legally dead in 1982, various theories have circulated as to what happened to him. Few are as convincing as that told by Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran.

Written by Gangs of New York collaborator Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), Scorsese’s The Irishman weaves an engrossing and intricate web of connected events, audaciously cutting back and forth across decades. It is the closing film at the BFI London Film Festival.


7. Maternal (Maura Delpero):

hat constitutes motherhood? Is it something that is hereditary or something that can be earned? This is the question wrestled with in Maternal, which slyly reimagines the story of the Virgin Mary for modern times. A deeply Christian tale, both in its sense of empathy and its themes, Maternal is a precise chamber Italian-Argentinean co-production that wrestles with the meaning of motherhood, finding no easy answers yet imploring the viewer to bring their own faith and meaning to each scene.


8. Piranhas (Claudio Giavannesi):

Adapted from the eponymous novel by Neapolitan writer and Camorra expert Roberto Saviani (who also wrote the screenplay), Piranhas follows 10 adolescents in Naples who set up a gang in order to make money and enjoy an unbounded and hedonistic example.

Fifteen-year-old Nicola (Francesco di Napoli) is the gang leader. He convey a very disturbing type of masculinity at a very young age. He takes “protection” money from locals in order to buy drugs, attend expensive clubs, buy branded clothes and posh furniture. Thousands of euros flow like water. He smokes marijuana and snorts cocaine, and circulates locally with the confidence of an adult. He loves to show off his newly found power and wealth. He has a beautiful girlfriend called Letizia, and he also hire prostitutes. He terrorises the narrow alleyways on his scooter.


7. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma):

The he story takes place in 1770 in rural Brittany. An Italian aristocrat (Valeria Golino) has found a wedding partner for her beautiful young daughter Heloise (Adele Haenel), who just returned from a convent to live with her mother is her enormous estate house. Her husband-to-be lives in Milan, and Heloise has never met him. Her mother commissions Marianne (Noemie Merlant) to paint her daughter in secret because Heloise would never consent to it (presumably because the picture will be sent to her prospective husband). Marianne pretends to be Heloise’s mere companion, working alongside the housemaid Sophie (Luana Bajrami). Heloise’s sister has recently committed suicide, likely due to the prospect of a similar marital arrangement. This means that the burden on Marianne is enormous. Could Heloise too attempt to take her own life?

This is a film almost entirely made by women. The writer director is female, and so is the cinematographer (Claire Mathion). Virtually all the characters are female, too. Men are only seen in the end of this 119-minute movie, in entirely secondary roles. Yet this is a film about men and the subtle ways that they oppress women. Heloise regrets having to marry a man whom she has never met, while Marianne is not allowed to become a fully-fledged painter because the artistic establishment prohibits her from studying male anatomy.


10. So Long, My Son (Wang Xiaoshuai):

Across four decades of turbulent Chinese society, Wang studies a married couple, using the death of their son as a focal point around which to subtly explore the single-child policy and the impact of the Cultural Revolution.

The unconventional structure zips back and forth through different time frames, gradually moving along a central timeline. The story occurs in episodes which each have the feel of their own short story, but which fill in the details of the other things we have seen. Wang leans heavily on dramatic irony, raising the tension as we wait for truths to emerge. One wonders if he couldn’t have found a way to cut 15 minutes or so from the run time, so languid are the first two hours. It isn’t until the final 50 minutes that So Long My Son really pays off every beat he’s set up. Like a Koreeda film, revelation is piled upon revelation, disarming you with one bombshell and then slapping you with another. Wang even uses the flashbacks to abet this by undercutting the outcome of one scene with the reality of the past or present.

By DMovies' team - 09-09-2019

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