Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sight & Sound’s hand-picked selection of highlights in this year’s festival.

As you might expect with a festival in the hands of a new creative director, Clare Stewart, this year’s BFI London Film Festival is so full of surprises that there are several promising-looking films we haven’t yet seen. That only makes us all the keener to experience what’s on offer. What follows, then, is our list of the films we can recommend from experience. It’s a rich enough list on its own.

 The Sight & Sound Gala

Beyond the Hills

Screening Friday 12, Sunday 14 October

Cristian Mungiu
Romania-France-Belgium 2012
With Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuţă
150 mins
UK distribution Artificial Eye

Like his 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (a previous S&S LFF gala), Mungiu’s superstition and myth-haunted film focuses on two young women in a dilemma with authority, only this time the authority is the Romanian orthodox church and, by extension, the Creator himself.

Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) has become a nun serving a hilltop church community. Her former orphanage friend Alina (Cristina Flutur) turns up from Germany to declare her love for Voichita and get her to come back. Voichita strives instead to turn Alina’s love towards God, but the community becomes convinced that Alina is possessed, and so a process of exorcism begins.

This is a powerfully acted piece that fully enters and makes plausible the closed-world consciousness of the nuns until the spell is broken. The increments with which the screws of tragedy turn are finely calibrated. In fact Mungiu’s film would have been practically perfect if not for one too many scenes in which a nun runs in because Alina’s flipped again! The two leads – one all knowing looks and disquiet, the other electric with emotion – thoroughly deserved their shared Best Actress prize at Cannes.

— Nick James, reviewing from Cannes in our July 2012 issue.