The London Film Festival

By Green, Laurence | Contemporary Review, January 1998 | Go to article overview

The London Film Festival


Green, Laurence, Contemporary Review


A total of 180 feature films and 75 short films from around the world were featured at the 41st London Film Festival held at the end of last year at the National Film Theatre and various venues. Although this marked the first under a new director the format was the same as in the past few years. The 17-day festival lacks the glitz, glamour and excitement of other international European festivals such as Cannes. It is a non-competitive event, drawing some of the best from other festivals around the world as well as premiering the latest works by new and established film makers and acting as a barometer of trends in international cinema.

The major criticism is the sheer volume of films shown. Quantity today seems more important than quality. This is all very different from when the event began as a 'festival of festivals', a small but beautiful festival conceived at a dinner party hosted by that eminent film critic, the late Dilys Powell. Of the 15 films screened in its inaugural year, there were works by Kazan, Kurosawa, Fellini, Visconti, Bergman, Clair, Wajda and Satyajit Ray. Not bad for a beginning. Yet now 41 years later you would have difficulty in finding from the vast number of films screened film makers you could put in the same category whose work will be revered nearly half a century later. Indeed one of the highspots of the festival was a tribute in his centenary year to one of the greatest directors of Hollywood's Golden Age - Frank Capra - with a screening of two of his best known films - It's A Wonderful Life and The Matinee Idol and an informative documentary on his life and career. Another notable event was the first screening in 65 years of the 'lost' Michael Powell film, His Lordship, an eccentric comedy of manners with lively, surreal musical interludes. But returning to the new films there were still discoveries to be made as well as disappointments and delights.

Sexuality and religion, freedom and constraint and love and transgression is the heady brew that fuels Udayan Prasad's My Son the Fanatic, written by Hanif Kureishi, which is built around a crisis - the crisis of a man realising that he has not been living the life he has wanted to live, but the life expected of him, a good, dutiful life, that of an immigrant wanting to establish himself in a country that he never feels entirely part of. Set in Bradford, the film is a contemporary comedy in which generational and cultural clashes disrupt the equilibrium of a British Asian household. Parvez (celebrated Indian actor Om Puri giving an excellent performance here) is a taxi driver who, after many years of living in Britain, gradually becomes alienated from his wife (Gopi Desai), family and community. His regular fares include a number of local prostitutes, one of whom (Rachel Griffiths) he has a particularly close friendship with and whom he introduces to a wealthy German businessman. Parvez's son (Akbar Kurtha) is becoming increasingly hard-line in his religious beliefs and, rebelling against what he sees as his father's immorality, he invites a religious elder to stay in the family home. Fundamentalism, thus, meets western hedonism over the kitchen table.

Although rather rough round the edges and slow at times, this is a timely and thought-provoking film that manages to be both funny and moving by turns and presents a lively view of the British Asian community and the problems of immigration and integration. The film opens commercially in the UK on February 27.

In a varied selection of New British Cinema two films in particular of contrasting merits are worth mentioning. Ironically the British Cinema Centrepiece was Simon Donald's dreary The Life of Stuff. Willie is a would-be big shot who uses his misfit mob of thugs, thieves, and no-hopers to try and scam Glasgow's top drug dealer 'Mad' Alex Renton. After putting part of his plan into operation, Willie and his argumentative associates are holed up in a crumbling dance hall. …

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