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Wednesday 18th
posted by Morning Star in Arts

MARIA DUARTE reports on the London Film Festival, where features dealing with gender issues, love and sexuality were to the fore

THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN scandal may have threatened to overshadow the 61st BFI London Film Festival but, even so, the powerful line-up of films dealing with LGBT issues made their mark.

They were headed by Battle of the Sexes, which depicts the legendary 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone, on formidable form) and Bobby Riggs (a fantastic Steve Carrell), which the latter pitched as “male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist.”
It's a gripping film about King's fight for gender equality, her impact on gender politics and her battle in coming to terms with her own sexuality. Sadly, it is a reminder of how little things have changed.

Sebastian Lelio's A Fantastic Woman is a poignant portrayal of the transphobia faced by transwoman Marina (Daniela Vega) after her lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies suddenly one night. Vega gives a virtuoso performance as the singer and waitress who, raw with grief, has to fight off Orlando's heartless and prejudiced family who treat her like dirt.

Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name is a delightfully touching and seductive tale of young love and gay awakening, set against the gorgeous backdrop of northern Italy. Timothee Chalamet is captivating as 17-year-old Elio whose summer break is rocked by the arrival of the handsome and charismatic Oliver (Armie Hammer, in a career defining performance) at the family home.

Angela Robinson's Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is a fascinating depiction of the extraordinary back story of Wonder Woman and her creator, psychologist Dr William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), and his long-term polyamorous relationship with the two women (Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote) who inspired her. Mind-blowing.

Equally extraordinary is Guillermo del Toro's affecting and profoundly moving — but surprisingly creepy — romantic fairytale The Shape of Water. It's set during the height of the cold war where, in a secret US laboratory, a young mute woman and cleaner (Sally Hawkins) bonds with what looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Channelling 1950s sci-fi B-movies, it's as visually stunning as it is heart-wrenching and Del Toro's best work since Pan's Labyrinth.

But the accolade (?) for weirdest film has to go to Yorgos Lanthimos's follow-up to The Lobster. The Killing of a Sacred Deer stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell in a surreal and absurd Greek tragedy/horror film which makes about as much sense as The Lobster, but without the laughs.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell bring the intense romance between Hollywood star Gloria Grahame and her much younger lover into passionate focus in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. Bening never disappoints, while Bell is a true revelation as they capture the lovers' extraordinary emotional and physical connection.

A real surprise was Pablo Berger's deliciously dark supernatural comedy Abracadabra, starring the wonderful Maribel Verdu as a housewife who struggles with her bullying husband (Antonio de la Torre) when he becomes possessed by a ghost at a family wedding. Hilariously funny, yet wonderfully macabre.

The child actors in Sean Baker's hugely compelling The Florida Project steal your heart — and the film from under Willem Dafoe — in a tale about childhood innocence set against the US's failed economy.

Andy Serkis's compelling directorial debut Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, opened the festival. It's based on the inspirational true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, the parents of Jonathan Cavendish, one of the film's producers, while festival-closer Martin McDonagh's black comedy-drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri features an unforgettable performance by Frances McDormand.

There were 242 feature films screened this year and Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless, a disturbing and eloquent drama about a Russian couple on the verge of divorce who team up to search for their missing son, was named best film, while John Trengove's The Wound, on conflicting Xhosa concepts of masculinity in South Africa, won the best first feature award.