Hansel and Gretel

52nd London Film Festival

15-30 October 2008

Various venues, London


The last major event on the festival circuit, the BFI London Film Festival showcases some of the best films of the year, celebrating diversity rather than big budgets and red-carpet stars, unrestrained by the high-profile awards ceremonies that dominate coverage from festivals like Cannes and Venice.

Under the umbrella of ‘history, memory and politics’, the 52nd edition of the festival kicks off with the world premiere of Ron Howard’s latest film, Frost/Nixon, an adaptation of Peter Morgan’s successful play revolving around the legendary interview granted by the disgraced Nixon to a young, ambitious David Frost. While the parallels with Bush’s own ignominious eight years in office are plainly clear, Oliver Stone’s latest tragicomedy W. hits the nail more squarely on the head. Starring Josh Brolin as George W Bush, the film charts his rather inglorious career from drunken college kid to president of the United States.

Shifting the spotlight to the Middle East, one of the festival’s undoubted highlights is the powerful, brilliant Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s animated documentary about the nightmare futility of Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon. This film should not be missed. The exploration of history, memory and politics continues with two highly anticipated films that delve into the radical terror groups that sprang out of Germany and Japan in the 1970s: veteran TV director Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Koji Wakamatsu’s United Red Army, a hit at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

The themes of retribution and redemption appear in Austrian director Gí¶tz Spielmann’s Revanche, about an ex-con seeking revenge for the death of his girlfriend in a bungled robbery. Matteo Rovere directs an Italian film noir in A Game for Girls, centered on a teenage femme fatale, while Denmark’s The Candidate is a taut and suspenseful thriller about a desperate man hunting down his blackmailers. Moving away from Europe, Hansel and Gretel is an eerie fairy tale-based thriller directed by South Korea’s Yim Phil-sung. More politically charged, Indonesia’s The Secret is a metaphysical thriller set on the mean streets of a brutal police state as two men hunt down a phantom killer.

Several noteworthy UK films are making an appearance at this year’s festival. Gerald McMorrow explores an intriguing (and stylish) alternate reality in his sci-fi film Franklyn, starring Ryan Phillippe and Eva Green. Two other British debuts are devoted to pop music culture: Nick Moran’s Telstar charts the rise and tragic fall of the influential music producer Joe Meek, while 1 2 3 4, directed by Giles Borg, is another pop-enthused film about an aspiring indie band that promises a great soundtrack.

The indie aesthetic is also at the heart of the documentary Beautiful Losers, which celebrates a loose collective of DIY artists who did their own thing on the fringes of the New York art scene in the early 90s. Another highly anticipated documentary is American Teen, something of a real-life Breakfast Club directed by Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture), while Not Quite Hollywood by Australian director Mark Hartley delves into the ‘ozploitation’ films of the 1970s.

The Experimenta section of the festival offers a rare opportunity to see two 35mm films by the Situationist leader Guy Debord, one a 1959 anti-documentary on the Situationists and the other Debord’s final film, an attack on both society and cinema made in 1978. For a lighter treat after such revolutionary fare there is The Good, the Bad and the Weird, a homage to Sergio Leone set in 1930s Japanese-occupied Manchuria from director Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life); and screening in the French Revolutions section is Louise-Michel, the follow-up to the outrageously funny, bad-taste road movie Aaltra.

There are countless other films with intriguing storylines screening at the festival and the only challenge will be finding a way to see them all. The festival starts on October 15 and public booking is now open.

Sarah Cronin