Words by Jimmy Dougan (to follow him on Letterboxd click here)
Brummie cinema lovers rejoice. The BFI London Film Festival (LFF) returns to Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) on Wednesday, 4 October with a curated line-up of some of the year’s most hotly anticipated releases – screening exclusively before they hit cinemas and streaming platforms.
There’s no atmosphere on the planet quite like that of a film festival. And don’t just take my word for it. David Baldwin, Producer – Cinema & Screen at MAC, told Birmingham Review: “A fair few of these films won’t even have a trailer yet, so you can go in completely uninformed and immerse yourself in brand new cinema from across the globe.”
He’s not wrong; Lukas Dhont’s Close is one of the most singularly devastating films I’ve ever seen, and I went into it knowing nothing more than the title. What an experience.
But festivals can also take a bit of planning, even leaving you feeling daunted by the number of films screening or at how much it will all cost. But no need to panic, read on to find out Birmingham Review’s three unmissable picks as the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) returns to MAC.
Saltburn – Wednesday, 4 October at 7:30pm
This year’s Opening Night Gala slot has been awarded to Saltburn, directed by Emerald Fennell. Depending on who you ask, Fennell’s 2020 film Promising Young Woman was either a feminist call to arms against patriarchal lad culture or a catastrophically misguided dud, advocating suicide to overcome trauma. I was in the latter camp, though was smitten with Carey Mulligan’s sensational central performance and the snappy, pop-drenched soundtrack.
Saltburn tells the story of university student Oliver (Barry Keoghan) and his increasingly desperate infatuation with classmate Felix (Jacob Elordi). Keoghan’s chops are in no dispute – he was crushingly sweet in The Banshees of Inisherin – and the principal allure of Saltburn is finally getting to see him in a leading role. Let alone the fact that Elordi starred in Euphoria and the stacked supporting cast includes Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, and Richard E. Grant.
Call this critic cautiously optimistic.
Saltburn – official trailer
For more on Saltburn showing at MAC as part of the London Film Festival visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk/event/london-film-festival-saltburn
Eileen – Wednesday, 11 October at 8:00pm
One of the films that has me most intrigued is William Oldroyd’s Eileen, co-adapted by Ottessa Moshfegh from her own intoxicatingly nasty novel of the same name.
Thomasin McKenzie stars at the titular character, a miserable and lonely young woman who works as a secretary at a prison for sex-starved teenage boys. When an alluring new psychiatrist called Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) arrives, Eileen finds herself sucked into a swirling vortex of sexual fantasy and violent catharsis.
Moshfegh is one of our most exciting literary talents, and the novel Eileen is a bleak and funny tale of twisted empowerment. That said, it isn’t Moshfegh’s strongest (that would be 2022’s Lapvona) and it doesn’t have the popular appeal of 2018’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, so I’m fascinated to see what darkness Oldroyd, McKenzie, and Hathaway – who described it as “Carol meets Reservoir Dogs” – spin from it.
Eileen is a violent and pulpy tale with a suffocating atmosphere courtesy of cinematographer Ari Wegner, and a plot twist for the ages: brace yourself for a plunge into the abyss.
For more on Eileen showing at MAC as part of the London Film Festival visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk/event/london-film-festival-eileen
How to Have Sex – Saturday, 14 October at 5:30pm
A necessary – incendiary, even – examination of sex and consent comes in the form of Molly Manning Walker’s already acclaimed debut, How to Have Sex. Easily the film I’m most excited for, and winner of Cannes 2022’s ‘Un Certain Regard’ award; buzzy is an understatement for this film.
How to Have Sex follows three teenage girls on a rite-of-passage holiday to Malia. The focus of the trip is sex and drinking, something which weighs heavily on Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) who is yet to lose her virginity.
Manning Walker worked initially as a cinematographer on short films, before gaining acclaim for her work on the music video for A$AP Rocky’s ‘Sundress’. More recently she worked on indie-hit Scrapper, a colourful and vivid depiction of a father-daughter relationship that wasn’t afraid to push into darker territory. It deftly critiqued the failing welfare state and a disinterested social service, with two stunning performances from Lola Campbell and Harris Dickinson.
While How to Have Sex may draw superficial comparisons with 2022’s superlative Aftersun simply for being set in a typically British holiday destination, expect a topical and profoundly melancholic meditation on teenage self-image, consent, and hopefulness.
How to Have Sex – official trailer
For more on How to Have Sex showing at MAC as part of the London Film Festival visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk/event/london-film-festival-how-to-have-sex
These are Birmingham Review’s pick of three films we think are ‘must-sees’, but the full LFF at MAC programme is a varied and exciting line-up of some of the most exciting works contemporary cinema has to offer. There’s something for everyone of all ages, proving that there’s never been a better time to be going to be going to the movies.
As David Baldwin adds: “October is literally the most wonderful time of the year for cinephiles.” Cheers to that.
What films are you excited to see at this year’s LFF screenings at MAC? Did we miss anything you feel is a ‘must see’? If you see Birmingham Review at any of the screenings during LFF at MAC make sure to let us know.
BFI London Film Festival screenings begin at MAC on 4 October and run until 15 October, with tickets for all films and events on the programme now on sale. For full listings and links to online ticket sales visit: www.macbirmingham.co.uk/london-film-festival-2023
To read more about the BFI London Film Festival go to: www.whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff
For more from MAC, including all events listings, visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk