Our Critics’ Picks for the BFI London Film Festival 2021

Louis Bayman and Halima Hassan preview the BFI London Film Festival of 2021 as it returns to cinemas this year.

In-person screenings and gala events are back at this year’s BFI London Film Festival (6 to 17 October) after last year’s online event. This time, you can watch your festival picks at London’s South Bank and West End cinemas, with a number of viewings expanding across the country. Tickets are on sale now, and The Platform’s Louis Bayman and Halima Hassan are here to tell us what to look out for.

If you’re in the mood for a headliner, there are plenty of star-studded events each year at the festival, and here are four of the big releases we’re looking forward to:

Dir. Wes Anderson (USA)

Described as a “star-studded homage to journalism and literary magazines”, The French Dispatch is also the name of a high-brow magazine that’s reached the end of its run. Sharp, weird and aesthetically pleasing is what I’ve come to expect from Wes Anderson – and from the trailer, it looks like this film will deliver. Granted, there are many ways Anderson’s films may not be for everyone, with odd storylines and unrepresentative casts leaving much to desire. But I don’t need representation all the time and fantasy is fun. – HH

Dir. Pablo Larrain (UK / Germany)

Kristen Stewart stars in this drama about the late Diana Spencer, aka Princess of Wales. Director Pablo Larraìn’s previous films include explorations of Pinochet-era Chile and a recently widowed Jackie Kennedy. That promises to make this a thoughtful and politically astute contribution to the ‘90s nostalgia that has recently been gathering pace. – LB 

Dir. Jeymes Samuel (USA)

I have found myself enamoured with all things relating to the American West. Stories of outlaws and cowboys, operating in a lawless time so vastly different from our hyper-surveilled present. The Harder They Fall is inspired by the real-life stories of African-American cowboys and features an incredible cast (Idris Elba, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield). I am expecting something epic and beautiful and satisfying. – HH

Dir. Diana Rigg (UK)

Although it played to a standing ovation by critics at the Venice Film Festival, I don’t quite know what this sci-fi/horror hybrid by Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright will hold in store. But it promises to get its audience high on style and atmosphere with a time-travel plot that travels back to the Soho clubs of London in 1966. The ensemble cast is worth the price of admission alone, starring Anya Taylor-Joy but also showcasing Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg in her last ever role. – LB


Last Night in Soho (Edgar Wright)
Last Night in Soho (Edgar Wright)

Away from the noise of the red carpet here, are a few personal critics’ choices:

Dir: Sean Baker (USA)

Director/Writer Sean Baker’s third feature’s premise is an uncomfortable one but I’m hopeful considering how his debut (Tangerine) and sophomore (The Florida Project) films are some of my favourites. A once successful LA porn star goes back to his old ways and his ex-wife, and finds himself fixated on an underage girl who he decides should join him for his adult movie comeback. I’m curious to see what this film is about. – HH

Dir. Michelangelo Frammartino (Italy / Germany / France)

This film is in the official competition for an award for best film. While I would think a film about speleology – cave-mapping – is probably a bit too left-field to win, it offers a rhythmic, poetic view from the mountains of southern Italy. Director Michelangelo Frammartino last film, Le quattro volte, was similarly a tale of goat-herding mountain-dwellers that hovered somewhere between documentary and art installation with one single word – ‘grazie’ – in its hour and a half runtime. A bold filmmaker returning with a unique vision. – LB

Dir. Michael Pearce (USA / UK)

Science fiction x Riz Ahmed?! Sign me up. Something strange is afoot and Riz Ahmed’s character, a war-veteran, is in the know and desperate to warn his family of the danger (an impending alien invasion!). – HH

Dir. Joanna Hogg (UK)

An autobiographical tale of her own ‘80s art school experiences and a slow, almost plotless reverie on disappointment, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir wouldn’t really strike us as the typical film to make a franchise out of. The title sounds to me like deliberate provocation from a director whose scrutiny is always on the awkwardness of the deficiencies of the upper-middle classes. Hogg’s attention on the most privileged sections of British society is too narrow a perspective for some viewers, but she always succeeds in wreaking a devastation that is all the more effective for its quietness.  – LB

The Harder They Fall (Jeymes Samuel)
The Harder They Fall (Jeymes Samuel)

Last but not least, we’ve picked a few titles especially for The Platform’s readers. Here are some of the politically conscious films with a global reach at this year’s London Film Festival:

Dir. Khadar Ayderus Ahmed (Finland / France / Germany)

This film is directed by Somali filmmaker Khadar Ahmed and stars a Somali cast. It follows Guled, played by Omar Abdi, a gravedigger whose wife falls ill. To raise the money for her treatment, he is forced to leave his ailing wife in the care of their son to seek the help from his community. Filmed in Djibouti, I cannot wait to see this story set in East Africa, with East African leads. I think it’ll be an exciting and important addition to the African film canon. – HH

Dir. Asghar Farhadi (Iran / France)

Asghar Farhadi is already well known to international audiences, winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2011 with The Separation and then refusing to travel to the ceremony in 2017 for The Salesman in protest against Trump’s Muslim ban. He specialises in family dramas whose moments of acute personal crises still succeed in drawing a broader picture of contemporary Iranian society. This should particularly be the case in his latest film, where a man in debtors’ prison tries to confront his creditor. – LB

Dir. Bing Liu and Joshua Altman (USA)

All These Sons is a documentary about two Chicago organisations, The Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and MAAFA, which recruit young Black men to get them off the streets and tackle gun violence. I’m interested in this documentary from a reform and prevention perspective. – HH

Dir. Jan P. Matuszyński (France / Poland / Czechia)

This Polish film is set amid the military dictatorship in 1983 and concerns the killing of a student by security forces. This will be a new discovery for me, as I am not familiar with its cast and crew. However its historical investigation into not just one act of violence, but the whole system that sustains it, has brought comparisons with classic Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda and that’s enough to get me interested! – LB

The Gravedigger's Wife (Khadar A. Ahmed)
The Gravedigger's Wife (Khadar A. Ahmed)

The BFI London Film Festival takes place 6 to 17 October 2021

HH – Halima A. Hassan
LB – Louis Bayman



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