Since 2010 the London Film Festival (LFF) has been expanding its showings across the country to allow a wider array of film enthusiasts and general audiences to experience new voices and early access to hundreds of films, be they shorts or full-length features. This year was the first I was able to watch just a small number of films that my local cinema, the Broadway in Nottingham had to offer. Overall they showed a total of 7 feature films and luckily I managed to get to all of them. From the opening night showing of Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical to the closing night spectacle of Rian Johnson’s sequel to Knives Out, the bizarrely but fittingly titled Glass Onion. Each and every film came from very different voices, each saying something unique with the stories they were telling.
Considering the LFF shows close to 250 features each year and over 150 short films, it seems like a drop in the ocean of everything on offer and hopefully in the months to come I can enjoy a few more of the films the festival showcased. For now however, I wanted to write something about the all around experience away from the bustle of London and the mad rush of films.
While the opening night film remained the same, LFF got off to a less than auspicious start with a half empty (half full?) showing of Matilda that embraced the overall fanfare such an opening required but felt like a safe opener for the festival, a perfectly pleasant musical number at the beginning of a big event that feels ever so slightly out of place but is none the less an enjoyable bit of entertainment. Matthew Warchus’ bright film benefits from two vibrant performances by Emma Thompson and Lashana Lynch but lacked a memorable soundtrack, with only the closing numbers leaving a lasting impression, ones often benefiting from Lynch’s performance, a surprisingly honest turn in a film full of enjoyable but distracting exaggeration.
However despite the feature choice, the lack of any kind of starting pistol to the event made it feel like just another film. While the opportunity to see Matilda early and on a big screen was nothing short of a blessing considering the last two years and all its ups and downs, it felt like a missed opportunity to have a little bit of fun along with a feature that actively tries to seek out the inner kid in its audience. Maybe it was the spread out audience in the cinema’s biggest screen but unlike every other showing, Matilda felt like an outsider looking in on all the other films shown.
While I occasionally write (very occasionally these days) about the social elements of cinema or what certain films have to say about society I don’t really participate in the communal side that events like the LFF bring out in its viewers. Being somewhat let down by Matilda I didn’t expect that each subsequent film would bring each audience together more, either through the shared trauma of the graphic murders witnessed in Ali Abassi’s scarring Holy Spider or the satirical lunacy of Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, the latter of which had a second act so outrageous that sometimes it was hard to hear the dialogue amidst the roars of laughter filling the room.
Other times it was the deep silence that was most noticeable. You could hear a pin drop during a tense but entirely captivating showing of Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, a firm favourite for best film of the year, if it ever gets scheduled for a UK release. The same reverent silence was equally affecting during a crammed showing of Living, Oliver Hermanus’ take on Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru. In the quiet of a film that settles you in your feelings and lets you stew on them, it was impossible not to hear the quiet sobs in the audience who were equally as taken with Bill Nighy’s affecting turn as a man suffering of a terminal disease, slowly realising his life has been squandered on petty normalcy.
I’m not sure if it was that fact that everyone was watching something they knew few had seen yet, like they were being let in on some secret nobody else knew about or the fact that the films chosen were just that good but it’s the first time in a while I have sat in a busy screening of anything and actually heard audible gasps, giant guffaws and the uncomfortable shuffling only some truly great cringe humour can cause. It somehow made it easier to lose myself in these stories and really sink into their worlds.
In the moments prior to the curtains coming up, everyone had come for different reasons, before the Whale the two next to me had come from across the country to see at least one of the shows, picking Aronofsky’s latest as the film they were most excited for. The couple next to me for Triangle of Sadness were on a date, one they didn’t realise was going to be full of distasteful moments and plenty of scat humour. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that outside of films shown, there were individual stories just as interesting taking place around that made it that much more personal. I can only hope it lives up next year.
When it all came to an end this Sunday with Glass Onion, it was hard to think how this could live up to the expectations that the preceding films instilled in me but somehow it proved an excellent bookend, a film that is reminiscent of Knives Out but embraces the same kind of touching humour that made Matilda a decent opener. It was slapstick, grandiose and warm in all the best ways and most of all it was fun, never letting a little thing like murder ruin a good laugh. Benoit Blanc somehow seems more settled in a film that plays more like a straight comedy, and I was loving every minute of it and so was everyone else.
While it wasn’t the best film on display during LFF with that honour going to The Whale or Living, it made it clear of outside of the competition at the heart of each and every film festival, LFF was for an audience of everyone. It was inclusive, engaging and for everybody and I cannot recommend it enough.
I look forward to next year and so should you.