My last day of writing about the London Film Festival has certainly instilled a bittersweet feeling within me. Not that I’ll be missing writing about several films a day; I am looking forward to spending the immediate future finishing my dissertation (“looking forward” being very generously applied here) or stepping away from the plethora of films I saw this year, some of which I was unable or uninterested in writing about. But with this final selection of films, all in some respects about social outcasts navigating an often inhospitable status quo, I had to bid goodbye to this year’s selection with a quiet degree of satisfaction in knowing that, regardless of when a film is screened, there’s always the potential for a truly great film to reveal itself at LFF.
My penultimate day with the London Film Festival was full of films disparately dissimilar from one another. My viewings of these films ranged from tranquil to frazzled, along with everything in between. If there is one shared trait between these entries, it could be a polyvalent display of human communion and either the bonds it strengthens or rends in tattered, even bloody pieces. What today only reified was my long-held belief that despite dire fears about the industry’s standing, the eclectic breadth of cinema is as adventurous as it’s ever been. That’s a comforting thought, even if some of these films were anything but comfortable to watch.
There has perhaps never been a more vivid example of the dynamic between collective solidarity and selfish individualism than in the last year. I was thinking a lot about these aspects when watching the otherwise incongruous films from LFF on this fifth day of reviews, their disparate visions of isolation and engagement inducing a swathe of emotions within me. These varying depictions of hope and futility subsequently tap into the best and worst we have to offer for one another in a global society, and the uncompromising intelligence of these films speak as clearly to a COVID-era longing for stability as anything else I’ve seen at the festival.
In discussing the prison-industrial complex, a major talking point (as well as a firmament in the argument for prison reform by activist groups) is the disproportionate number of people of color who have been incarcerated. But what often tends to slip through the cracks in these discussions is the effect on family members of those serving time. The documentary, Time, sheds light on that experience, creating an empathetic portrait of a family attempting to overcome obstacles the law throws at them and reunite with a husband and father doomed to live a life behind bars.
Looking at the films highlighted on the fourth day of the London Film Festival, you’d be hard-pressed to find a clear connection between all three. Though two of them share similar subject matter, their formal and narrative qualities provide such marked contrasts that they have just as much in common with, say, a love story about a mermaid than they do with each other. But this trio of films gradually branched out in scope, from an intimate chamber drama to a rambunctious ensemble piece. From the individual to the communal, an absence which drives an inarticulable yearning provides the emotional spine of today’s remarkable, emotionally earnest lineup.