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Looking Back at BFI London FIlm Festival

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Youth Arts Online takes a look back at some of the most surprising, creative, thrilling, funny, heart-warming  and powerful films on of the BFI London Film Festival this year. What are you most excited about seeing?

Most Surprising Film: Kill Your Darlings
The film followed the life of young American poet Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) in the 1950’s, as he enters university for the first time. Ginsberg’s university life is explored by showing how he became so heavily influenced and inspired by the people and culture he was exposed to; namely by Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). The film covers how Ginsberg and his peers founded the Beat Generation, which directly led to the inevitable death of David Kammerer. DeHaan brings us an eerily compelling and charismatic character that unsurprisingly swept Ginsberg off his feet, and introduces him to an entirely new world of poetry and deeper meanings to life. The film explores the core poetry influences of the Beat Generations founders, and the creative lifestyle they led. We watch Ginsberg and his peers reach the very edge of their creativity, racing past the limits of what they should be capable of. It was only natural that things would end in tragedy, and we got to see all of the build up and all of the fallout displayed with such powerful performances.

Most Creative Film: The Double
The Double is Richard Ayoade’s second film in which he writes and directs. The double is a very creative and unique piece of filmmaking unlike all other films out today. It’s refreshing to see something clever, dark, and slightly disturbing on screen with such an unorthodox and creative approach. Based on the novel of the same name by Fydoor Dostoyevsky, The Double is about a uninteresting boring character of Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), who goes through his methodical, highly routine, mundane, and creepy life without much else in terms of excitement happening. He’s more or less trapped in a cycle. The only interesting thing in the characters life is the crush of his (Mila Wasilkowska) who lives across from him and works in his building. Due to his lack of confidence and lack of charming qualities, he has a very hard time making himself be noticed or acknowledged by Hannah in the way he desperately wants. One neighbourhood suicide later, Simon decides to make some changes and attempt to re-establish himself as a somebody. This seems like a plausible idea to implement, until his doppelganger, James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), decides to take up residence in his life, invading everywhere Simon currently exists and overshadowing his existence entirely. James is everything Simon isn’t, and everything Simon wants to be.

Most Thrilling Film: Captain Phillips
A powerful and suspenseful, thrilling experience. Tom Hanks delivers a heartfelt performance that takes us along his dramatic ordeal around the horn of Africa. From early on in the film, Phillips is portrayed as a no-nonsense veteran of the sea who wants to complete his mission as smoothly as possible, while being all too aware of the dangers they could face. His crew are not as by-the-book as he is, but obviously it pays off for them in the end that Philips was so prepared. It’s a thrilling journey from very early on once the Somali pirates are in sight, and you’re not really sure what’s going to happen or who will come out safely. We also get some insight into the pirates themselves, and understand why they’re doing what they do. They’re fighting for survival in their own way and will do what they can to better their lives the only way they know how. Captain Phillips’ journey goes further than protecting his ship, as he has to continue to fight to protect his own life even after fighting with everything he could to protect his crew. He’s put into a situation where he can’t so easily take control of what he has around, and we see it take its toll on him. He does his best, and keeps in control of himself the best he can. Until the very end his protective and survival instincts keep him alive and it’s not until the very end he allows himself to release, relax and breakdown.

Most Relatable Film: Blue is the Warmest Colour
Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2) is a French film which recently débuted at Cannes earlier in the year. The story follows the life a young girl in high school who is just learning about herself and her sexuality for the first time. Ever since a chance passing by the blue haired girl, she becomes intrigued by her until she finally had the chance to meet her in person. They soon become friends, which then leads to more, until they finally form a relationship. The film explores in great detail what teenagers usually go through in high school and how those issues carry through to early adulthood. It’s an in depth look at young people, their relationship, sexuality, the good and the bad, and doesn’t hold back.

Most Laugh-Out-Loud Film: Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first feature film written, directed, and starring himself. It’s a solid comedic drama with a clear artistic and narrative vision in mind. The film features JGL’s character Jon ‘Don Jon’ Mertello Jr., the depths of his dedication to pornography, and how it impacts his life and his relationship with Scarlett Johansson’s character of Barbara Sugarman. The film had a strong creative vision and a satisfying message at the end. Don Jon is essentially a meat head who is contempt with the routine of his life; his family, his body, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. He doesn’t have a problem with either aspect of his life and fulfills his desires to keep them around. There’s some classing when he gets involved with Barbara Sugarman, but his classmate (Julianne Moore) helps him to re-evaluate what is important to him and why. We see Don Jon go on an arc of self discovery and he comes out better, and perhaps healthier, than he was at the begining of the film.

Most Stunning Film: Gravity
Alfonso Cuarón bring us a beautiful space thriller, unlike anything attempted before. Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, we see two astronauts fighting for their lives against the harsh reality and vastness of space. After a freak accident in the Earth’s orbit, the Hubble Telescope gets destroyed, leaving the astronauts stranded with no way immediate way back to Earth. We follow the astronauts and their opposing reactions to the situation. Clooney is the veteran, calm, and collected astronaut who focuses his mind and and body in even the most dire situation. While at the same time, he has a warm and positive personality to keep himself afloat. Bullock’s character is naturally very straightforward and precise, but isn’t capable of keeping in control of herself when in such an impossible situation. Clooney’s character essentially has to teach her balance herself out. The film explores the back stories of both astronauts, giving us in insight into who they are and why they do what they do. Bullock’s character is the one we focus on the most, and so she is the one who goes through the most change. The film literally put her above and beyond what humans are capable of enduring, and she must learn to develop and adapt over the course of the film. We watch her go on a journey to restore herself back to being a fully functioning human in more ways than one.

Most Powerful Film: 12 Years a Slave
Probably the most powerful film shown in the festival for me was 12 Years a Slave by Steve McQueen. The film presents the harrowing true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who lived with his wife and young children in Washington in the mid 19th century. The story follows Solomon as he is torn from his family for 12 long years after being tricked and sold into slavery by two corrupt circus performers who originally collaborated with him. The film follows Solomon’s gruelling years of torment most effectively by showing us how he clings on to the hope of seeing his family again, but bombarding us with the unimaginable horrors carried out to the slaves around him. The film shows us the physical and mental torture the slaves had to endure, but made it clear that Solomon was not the only one who was suffering. The film even takes the time to show us that despite what is happening to Solomon, despite how much he clearly loved his family, and despite how obviously good natured he was, he was still slave to his own circumstances and does thing she isn’t proud of. We are made to fully relate the Solomon and the other people he encounters throughout the film. Every as step of the way we are supposed to understand just how defeated he is, despite his dimming hopefulness. We even stick with Solomon when his hope finally runs out and he’s at his lowest point, which only makes it all the more satisfying when he’s given back at least some of what he’s been fighting for all this years.

Most Heartwarming Film: Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks was a magical insight into the minds behind the beloved 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins. The film explores the how the fantastical and imaginative aspects of the Mary Poppins came to be seamlessly blended in with the reality Pamela Travers had in mind for the original story. Tom Hanks gave a perfect portrayal of Walt Disney, embodying the playful and child-like imagination he fed into all of his films. It was very easy to understand why such creative storytelling was important to him, and more importantly, why it was important to children. While the film does heavily delve in to the darker aspects of Pamela’s life that directly inspired the creation of Mary Poppins, the film never failed to hold on to the heart and soul of what Disney originally saw in the story.

Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Pamela Travers was the perfect foil to Hank’s Walt Disney. She was very calm, cool, collected, straight to the point, and a perfectionist to the highest degree; echoing character traits of Poppins herself. Walt was almost a child in the body of a businessman and storyteller. He wanted the very best for the film, and what his own and Pamela’s vision to be seen by children across the world, and would adhere to any and all of Pamela’s demands to produce it the best he could. Over the course of the film Pamela has to realize that the people she thought had in fact missed the point of her story, did also resonate with it in ways perhaps different than children from around the world. The idea of a magical woman who appears through the window with a talking umbrella that she produced was more powerful than she at first realized. There are plenty of moments to laugh and cry throughout the film, resulting in an overall heart-warming experience.

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