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October 2020

It's Gotta Be the Shoes

The BFI London Film Festival

One Man and His Shoes (2020)

Neither Nike nor Michael Jordan participated in the making of this film, which is surprising, until you realize the ending director Yemi Barimo is building toward. The point of this documentary, which examines how Air Jordans became and remain the ne plus ultra of shoes and the backbone of a billion-dollar industry, is to accuse the marketing of these shoes as the cause of death within the Black American community and hold Michael Jordan responsible for at least one murder.

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Radio Head

The BFI London Film Festival

Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes (2020)

It must be quite a millstone, to be so famous for only one thing. And the millstone must be even heavier when you weren’t publicly credited for the one thing you were famous for until 12 years after your death. The Britain is revisiting the history of Delia Derbyshire, the composer of the unmistakable theme song to the juggernaut TV show “Doctor Who.” This documentary has been billed as a “phantom collaboration” between some newly discovered works of Derbyshire’s and that of legendary performance artist Cosey Fanni Tutti (one of the founders of Throbbing Gristle). It is that, but it is more about the limits of exploring a largely undocumented life, and where imagination can, or cannot, fill the gaps.

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It's Still the Same Old Story

The BFI London Film Festival

Zanka Contact (2020)

It’s Moroccan slang for street fighting, the title. And right from the beginning, the movie pulls no punches. We first meet Rajae (Khansa Batma), in a red dress with a pentagram-chain collar, as she steals a taxi from a man in religious dress (while a cover of “A Man of Constant Sorrow” plays, no less) and then cheerfully tells the driver an obscene joke until the taxi crashes. In the other crashed car, a limo actually, is Larsen Snake (Ahmed Hammoud), a former rockstar of global renown and current hardcore junkie on the run from two baddies – and writer-director Ismaël El Iraki makes a very funny point here, by having the baddies be the broadest stereotypes of Englishness imaginable. But they are not the point. The point is what happens after that crash, when Rajae wipes some broken glass out of her hair, necks a small bottle swiped from Larsen’s minibar and collapses into his arms.

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Another Weekend

The BFI London Film Festival

Cicada (2020)

A cicada is an insect that remains buried for 17 years, but then explodes out of the ground singing its very loud song. Ben (Matt Fifer, who also wrote and co-directed) has a fair few secrets, made obvious from the start as he pansexually shags his way around Manhattan in the aftermath of a break-up. But eventually he has a meet-cute with Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) at the carts outside The Strand bookstore. The relationship that unfolds between the men means that not a lot will remain buried for long.

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We Are Family

Aidan Monaghan/The BFI London Film Festival

Wildfire (2020)

Kelly (the late Nika McGuigan) is obviously trouble. She is a foot passenger on the ferry into Belfast, so visibly rough-looking that her bags are searched. The border patrol come back with her passport and the news that she was reporting missing over a year ago. Kelly squares her shoulders and says that they can’t keep her, and hitchhikes her way across the country to a front door. It’s opened by Sean (Martin McCann), her brother-in-law, who is not perfectly thrilled to see her. But he welcomes her in, and goes to pick up Lauren (Nora Jane Noone) from work with the news, even though she begins shaking with fear when she sees him. He reassures her that all is well and brings her home. Well, of course, being a relative term.

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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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