London Film Festival 2020 Highlights | Festivals & Awards

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I particularly enjoyed “The Salt in Our Waters,” a narrative film about a Bangladeshi artist named Rudro (Titas Zia) from the big city who travels out to the Bangladeshi Delta to live and work in a fishing village. His modern notions of gender parity, artistic expression, and scientific prediction clash with the community’s traditional sensibilities, leading to conflict and more than a few brushes with death. It’s a wonderful meditation on modernity, climate change, family, and love.

Yet while the film is beautifully acted and boasts a story that resonates across language and culture, what particularly struck me about “Waters” is how meticulously it’s shot. Cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj captures every scene with a sense of silent majesty. In one scene, the mise en scene is framed by the propellers of an enormous beached ship, shrinking Rudro and his companions against the beachfront as they flee pursuers. In another, she casts her camera’s gaze wistfully across an array of downed trees, soon to become timber for the village’s fires and shelters. It’s artists like Chotrungroj whose work is so indelible you can’t help but follow them excitedly from film to film; I cannot wait to see what she gets up to next.

It was a joy to return to the wilds of the Emerald Isle with Tomm Moore. Wolfwalkers is a fitting conclusion to his thematic trilogy about Irish folklore and is a marvel of animation. The film’s peaceful moments revel in the deep greens and autumnal browns of hand drawn forests and landscapes, shattering suddenly when conflict arises. Gone are the mystical trees and bushes that dot the background as humans enter rabid contests with the wolves; amid the bloodshed, they are replaced by violently abstracted colors and shapes. Moore leans heavily into environmental themes this time which helps give “Wolfwalkers” a new spin on his latest story about a clash between human invaders and the spirits of nature. After 2017’s moving and decidedly mature “The Breadwinner” from Moore’s collaborator Nora Twomey, it looks like their studio, Cartoon Saloon, is on track for a fourth knockout.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round,” which once again pairs the storied director with both the inimitable Mads Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larsen’s sonorous baritone. It’s a thoughtful movie exploring masculinity, aging, and inhibitions, although for me it never quite reaches the heights of Vinterberg’s unforgettable 2012 outing, “The Hunt.” Meanwhile, the black and white “Shadow Country” (from director Bohdan Sláma) struggles to find something to say as it ponders through a both sides narrative about a Czech village suffering under the control of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Yet maybe the most confounding film that I came across at the festival was Christian Petzold’s “Undine,” a tragic romance that’s too weird to be read linearly but too normal to say anything of particular interest. By the time the film’s credits rolled, I found myself both bewildered by its messaging and disinterested in puzzling any of it out. I doubt I’d even remember the film’s plot at all if I hadn’t taken studious notes.

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