Strictly Come Dancing

Parisa Taghizadeh/The BFI London Film Festival; right, The BFI London Film Festival

Lovers Rock/If It Were Love (2020)

The power of the body to express emotion is something we normally take a little for granted. In these upsetting lockdown days, it’s becoming ever more valuable. Groups of people dancing together? It’s so unthinkable at the moment as to be pornographic. “Lovers Rock,” one of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” ensemble, is the fictional story of a house party in 1980s West London. “If It Were Love” is a documentary by Patric Chiha about a Swiss modern dance ensemble creating a piece, under the choreography of Gisele Vienne, about a 1990s rave. The two are not quite halves of the same coin, but they are interested more in music and movement than stereotypical plot, and as a film festival double bill they work extremely well together.

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Art Irritates Life

Guy Courtecuisse/The BFI London Film Festival

The Salt in Our Waters (2020)

Rudro (Titas Zia) is perhaps a little slow on the uptake. He is an artist, with his entire life and work in a wooden shipping crate, installing himself in a remote village at the invitation of his friend Bashar (Ashok Bepari). There he plans to work on his sculptures in an inspirational, generally unmolested and very cheap setting. But things don’t run smoothly. His crate is not released from the port in Chittagong without a bribe being paid. The villagers, primarily fishermen who spend long days at sea, are not delighted by having a city mouse in their midst. The village is controlled by The Chairman (Fazlur Rahman Babu), who’s generally a reasonable mayor only everyone knows he plays favorites in disputes. Rudro is a cheerful guy who expects everyone will see things his way. Life in the village is about to teach him a new lesson.

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Scotch Red Tape

The BFI London Film Festival

Limbo (2020)

The strange new world these men find themselves in is strange by design, and they all know it. The four main characters – Omar (Amir El-Masry), Farhad (Vikash Bhai) and brothers Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) – are sharing a house in a remote part of a remote Scottish island while they wait in the titular limbo for their asylum claims to be assessed. Until they are, they are forbidden to work and given only a very small amount of money with which to stay alive. Unsurprisingly, time hangs heavy on their hands, despite the spectacular beauty of the place. The thrice-weekly arrival of the postman is a major event. It’s an attempt to break them of course, to make them lose heart and volunteer to be returned to from whence they came. Of course, none of them really have homes to return to. And as Abedi observes to Omar, they have already been to hell.

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Fossil Duel

Agatha A. Nitecka/Neon

Ammonite (2020)

Kate Winslet has always been one of our wildest and most courageous actresses, with a bad tendency to choose parts that curtail her courage and wildness. Fortunately in “Ammonite” she comes roaring back at full power with a refreshing reminder of what a star she is, and what her star power can do. We even see her having a wee onscreen – she hasn’t done that since “Holy Smoke,” her reaction to the corset “Titanic” put her in. If that’s anything to go by, she is back!

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Drunk on Life

Henrik Ohsten/The BFI London Film Festival

Another Round (2020)

The most shocking part of this movie is that they are teachers: Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) is the gym teacher and soccer coach; Peter (Lars Ranthe) is the music teacher and piano player; Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) is the psychology teacher, the youngest of the group, and a father of three exhausting young sons; and Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is the history teacher, for whom life is entirely gray. He and his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), hardly speak anymore, his sons don’t even make eye contact, and the P.T.A. calls a meeting to tell him how concerned they are about his level of teaching. The four men go for a blow-out dinner for Nikolaj’s 40th, at which Nikolaj tells Martin, “I think you lack self-confidence and joy.” Normally, anyone expressing this to the man who’s been the nation’s leading movie star for a quarter-century would be laughed over the border. But as Martin, Mr. Mikkelsen has crumpled, and his friends set about clowning around until they cheer him up. The fun they have at the dinner gives them all a terrible idea.

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When We Were Kings

Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

One Night in Miami . . . (2020)

As a set-up, it’s almost too good to be true: After Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) won the heavyweight boxing title over Sonny Liston in Miami in February 1964, his afterparty was with singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), American football superstar Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and revolutionary Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). The movie is an almost-real-time exploration of an hour they (may or may not have) spent together in Malcolm’s hotel room before going out to the diner where the well-known picture of the four of them was taken. The screenplay is very obviously based on a stage play (both by Kemp Powers), but director Regina King uses her camera and the space available to show us an entire world.

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Notting Uphill Battle

Des Willie/The BFI London Film Festival

Mangrove (2020)

“Mangrove” is a beautifully made film directed by an experienced auteur who has finally gotten the perfect marriage of his interests and material, and which also speaks directly to the zeitgeist. It is a deeply unusual experience for something so well made to also be so right for the current moment. But everything Steve McQueen has made has built to telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine, and my god, he does it justice.

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Away From Him

The BFI London Film Festival

Supernova (2020)

It’s always interesting to see how art speaks of unspeakable things. “Supernova” handles its particular difficulty – in this case, dementia – in the most basic and facile way: by making everything as easy as possible. Tusker’s (Stanley Tucci) only obvious symptoms are the occasional failure of memory. He does not have outbursts of violence or inappropriate behavior. His hygiene is perfect, his clothes are clean and appropriately on his body. His complaints about England are that of any grumbling old codger and not the explosive, frightened frustrations of an immigrant far from home. He doesn’t get disorientated, and when he does, his husband, Sam (Colin Firth), finds him easily. They are an arty middle-class couple – Sam a semi-retired pianist and Tusker a successful novelist – who have a family that love them and a large circle of friends. But it’s the circle of friends the truest tell that something’s a little off. All the well-fed middle-class people at the party are not just all straight, but all English. A gay, half-immigrant couple at the center of English society as welcome participants instead of outcasts on the margins? You are having a laugh.

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Fucked by Police

The BFI London Film Festival

Ultraviolence (2020)

There is not much more contemptible in documentary filmmakers than using the pain of others for their own aggrandizement. Ken Fero’s “Ultraviolence,” which is being marketed as an expose of deaths in British police custody from 1995 to 2006, does exactly and only this. Presumably it has been pushed to market these days in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movement and the recent high-profile murders carried out by police in the United States. Do not be fooled – it is nothing of the sort. It’s merely a testament to the ego of the director, who felt entitled to cobble this travesty together because he went to the same school as one of the men whose memory he cannibalizes.

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Hunting Like the Wolf

The BFI London Film Festival

Wolfwalkers (2020)

“Wolfwalkers” is “Avatar” for little girls: The colonized teach the colonizer how to appreciate the natural world so the colonizer can be the savior the colonized need. If that wasn’t bad enough, most of the smaller plot points are derivative from other animated movies – for example, the pet falcon is called Merlin, presumably as a shout-out to “The Sword in the Stone.” Even the wild red hair is a straight lift from “Brave.” But what isn’t forgivable is the movie’s sexism. While directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart were making this film, who cooked their dinners? This is an important question because the film expresses significant contempt for the daily chores of cleaning, washing and cooking young Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey) must do instead of playing hunter in the woods. She doesn’t do those chores for her father Mr. Goodfellow (voiced by Sean Bean), but only when forced to by the Lord Protector (voiced by Simon McBurney). Robyn’s mother is absent, presumably dead, and the Goodfellows are part of the colonizing English force in the Kilkenny of 1650. But it’s an animated movie! There are cool-looking creatures in a gorgeous woodland to befriend!

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