10 Underrated Movies To Watch At London Film Festival 2018
We've already covered the biggest movies at London Film Festival 2018, but what about those that might fly under your radar?
As one of the biggest public movie events in the world, there’s a lot to see at the London Film Festival. With just under 300 films playing over 11 days, it is easy to become completely overwhelmed. With Toronto and Venice breakouts playing at the festival, multiple potential awards contenders such as Widows and Roma will be the must-see events, as already covered on this site. But what about those films that might go unseen?
Don’t worry, we have you covered on the best films that have gone under the radar over the past year. With many of them yet to secure distribution, this could be your only chance to see them. From Czech road movies to Dominican coming-of-age stories, Kenyan lesbian romances to sunbaked Sardinian dramas, here are the ten underrated gems that I saw at Berlinale, Cannes and Karlovy Vary that you simply can’t miss at London Film Festival.
1. The Wild Pear Tree
Turkey’s national treasure, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s recent films have focused on long conversations, long static takes and even longer runtimes. Yet while the three-hour length of The Wild Pear Tree may look forbidding, it is actually a deeply accessible and relatable tale of a young man during that summer after university has ended. Ceylan takes us deep into the life of its main character, allowing us to see the world through his eyes as he bristles against the local authorities, novelists he supposedly admires and his gambling addict father. Allowing dialogue scenes to run way longer than nearly any other director, Ceylan really makes us listen to his characters, making for some of the most memorable conversations and ideas to be committed to screen in recent memory. Easily the best film of the year.
2. Winter Flies
The official Czech submission for Best Foreign Language film, Winter Flies is an unorthodox road movie slash coming of age film featuring two young teenagers traversing across the country in a stolen Audi on the road to nowhere. Flipping the genre on its head by setting it during the colder months instead of during the heat of Summer, Winter Flies makes the most of its amateur cast in its unsentimental, humorous and unashamedly horny depiction of dissatisfied youth. Focusing on the magic bond of teenage friendship, it may tread familiar ground, yet feels fresh thanks to the peculiarity of its setting and the sharpness of its characterisation.
3. Miriam Lies
Set in the days and weeks leading up to its titular character’s quinceañera, Miriam Lies is a damning indictment of Dominican society wrapped up in a coming-of-age tale. Telling the story of a young biracial girl who doesn’t want her white family to meet her online boyfriend because he’s black, Miriam Lies draws its power from the nuanced debut of Dulce Esther Rodríguez Castillo, able to depict the difficulties of teenage self-doubt with remarkable ease. A brutal yet vital story, it allows its central themes to speak for themselves by remaining almost totally fixed on its central protagonist’s plight.
4. I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians
The exhausting to pronounce yet brilliantly rendered I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians may just be the most important movie released all year. Telling the story of one women’s attempt to stage the Odessa massacre in front of an unwanting Romanian audience, it’s an unwieldy, even unclassifiable work of self-reflexive fiction that asks difficult questions of how we remember history. Since its premiere at Karlovy Vary, where it won the Crystal Globe, a day has yet to gone by when I haven’t thought about it. Along with Touch Me Not winning the Berlinale, this has been a good year for the still-ongoing Romanian New Wave.
Timur Bekmambetov’s unlikely return-to-form after the disaster that was Ben-Hur and making two instalments of the Yolki franchise (Russia’s equivalent of Love Actually) is one of the best comeback stories in cinema. While the first Screen-Life (in which the entire film plays out on a computer screen) movie he produced, Unfriended made very few waves, its sequel and the John Cho-starring Searching have proved it is much more than a mere gimmick. Profile, directed by the man himself, may be the best of the lot, depicting one journalist’s attempt to infiltrate ISIS by posing as a potential war bride. Using its banality as a deceptive front, this is a completely absorbing deep dive into the darkest recesses of the web.
6. The Green Fog
Now presumably at the end of its festival run (it premiered in April last year at the San Francisco International Film Festival), The Green Fog sees Canadian auteur Guy Maddin at his most playful. Reconstructing Vertigo almost beat-for-beat using clips from films and TV shows set in San Francisco (although sadly no footage from The Room), The Green Fog is a dazzling post-modern experiment that digs into both the popularity of the city in film and the enduring power of the original Hitchcock classic. Preceded by the equally ambitious Accidence, a one-take diorama of an apartment block that tells multiple stories at once.
7. In The Aisles
Toni Erdmann proved Sandra Hüller was one of the most charming actresses in arthouse cinema. In The Aisles, which sees her as a love interest in a wholesale supermarket, proves she can possibly do anything. She plays opposite Franz Rogowski in as German a romantic comedy that you will find, alternating between Ostalgie-tinted sentimentality and deep humanist drama, using its lengthy two-hour run time to really absorb us into its characters. While a relatively strong hit in its own home country, it has yet to gather any international appeal. But if you’re a fan of love stories that don’t want to play it safe, In The Aisles is definitely worth a watch.
Despite all the buzz at Cannes, Rafiki has gone under the radar in recent months. While perhaps not the best film in terms of narrative construction, Wanuri Kahiu’s teenage lesbian drama remains a vital step forward for queer African representation in film. Unfairly banned in its home country, thus also rendering it ineligible for Best Foreign Film consideration at the Oscars, Rafiki boldly sees lesbian love as something to be celebrated in a country where the odds are stacked against it succeeding. With fantastic unforced performances courtesy of the two leads, and a powerful message against hatred, Rafiki is a must-see tale.
9. Figlia Mia
Alba Rohrwacher may have had a lot of critical buzz for her role in her sister’s Happy As Lazarro, yet her turn in Figlia Mia is just as accomplished. Telling the story of a young girl torn between her birth mother (who she doesn’t know is her real mother) and the woman who adopted her, it uses the most of its sun-scorched Sardinian setting to really stress the harshness of patriarchal society. A complicated and ultimately morally ambiguous tale, it asks hard questions about the nature of motherhood and femininity without giving out any easy to digest answers.
Sergei Dovlatov was one of the greatest Russian-language writers of the 20th century, yet few people outside of his home country have even heard of him. Alexei German Jr.’s unconventional imagining of his life takes us through seven days in 1971, using moody tracking shots to capture somebody stifled by a system that doesn’t care for him. Featuring a polished performance by Serbian actor Milan Maric (who learned Russian for the role), the story of Dovlatov, although couched within a very Russian sensibility, has a strong universal ring to it, and should provide inspiration to struggling writers everywhere.