Fortune favours the brave, and so does the Dare Strand. If you like films that are in your face, up front, unapologetic and take you so far out of your comfort zone you’re not sure what you’ve let yourself in for, then you’re in the right place. From a re-working of Arabian Nights in contemporary Portugal, to talking hamsters in Canada, all night drug-fuelled parties in Berlin to puppets depicting the birth of a European nation, these are films that will bend your mind, disturb you and make you think. So roll up, buy a ticket and take your seat, I dare you!
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK-Ireland-Greece, 2015)
In the not too distant dystopian future singledom is outlawed, anyone who isn’t loved up, or at least paired up, must report to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find a mate, or else be turned into an animal of their choosing. This is a fate that divorcee David (Colin Farrell) faces, after choosing to become a lobster for their long life-span and fertility, David decides to flee and take his chances with The Loners. The Loners are a strict forest-dwelling group who have rejected society and its forced companionship. Bleak, surreal, hilarious and completely absurd, The Lobster is a thoroughly modern love story – with claws.
Arabian Nights: Vol 1-3 (Miguel Gormes, Portugal-France-Germany-Switzerland, 2015)
Portuguese director Miguel Gormes set out to create a new version of the classic Arabian Nights, but became wracked by anxiety and guilt at undertaking such an epic project given the current economic state of Europe. So in order to remake Arabian Nights and examine the crisis in his country, and many others across the continent, Gormes took ideas from the Arabian Nights collection and entwined genies, magic carpets and camels with stories of housing projects, palaces, bailiffs, punk rockers and princesses. The end result is a hugely powerful trilogy of fantasy and reality in modern Europe.
Blood of My Blood (Macro Bellocchino, ItalyFrance-Switzerland, 2015)
(Sangue del mio Sangue)
In 17th century rural northern Italy, a nun is on trial in a monastery, accused of tempting a priest which resulted in his suicide. As part of her trial she is forced to face a number of barbaric tests in the presence of the monks of the monastery and the brother of the dead priest, an aristocrat who is both repelled and aroused by this unconventional trial.
Skip forward a few centuries and the monastery is now down to a single occupant, a count, who also happens to be a vampire, and he must protect his home from a Russian developer. Drawing on gothic horror, and commenting on political and social issues these two seemingly different stories are intertwined by theme, location (director Marco Bellocchio’s hometown) and characters.
Body (Malgorzata Szumowska, Poland, 2015)
Exploring the ideas surrounding the body as a physical entity and as a manifestation, Body weaves together the stories of three people, interconnected but all completely different: criminal prosecutor Janusz whose constant exposure to dead bodies has left him numb, his daughter Olga who is (not) dealing with her self esteem issues and eating disorder, and Olga’s psychiatrist, who may be able to communicate with spirits on the other side. Each of them is crippled by the grief at the death of a loved one and struggling to cope with everyday life, but a trip into other realms might just be the way for them all to work out what exactly is wrong.
Chemsex (William Fairman, UK, 2015)
There is a trend growing in a small sect of London’s gay scene called Chemsex, taking drugs such as Crystal Meth, GHB or methadone to lower inhibitions, increase libido and engage in wild (usually group) sex, orgies that can last for days. But Chemsex has some other side effects, not only the usual health risks associated with drug use, but also a rise in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and an increase in the use of apps that enable users to find someone to hook up with for a night or two of crazy, drug-fuelled sex. Chemsex meets those who have been affected by this growing trend, from sex workers to sexual health workers and others in between, more than a sensationalist expose trying to drag the entire gay community through the mud, it offers a real insight into what has the potential to become a major problem.
The Chosen Ones (David Pablos, Mexico-France, 2015)
Opening with a tender sexual encounter between two 14 year olds, at first glance The Chosen Ones is not particularly daring in a society where teenage pregnancy is greeted by reality television cameras. But this underage tryst leads her not into the arms of love’s young dream, but rather an altogether seedier, twisted, painful adult world. Unbeknown to Sofia, her young lover Ulises has been tasked with ‘recruiting’ her for his family business – a brothel specialising in young girls. Sofia’s fate seems to be sealed, a rescue attempt by Ulises doesn’t go quite according to plan, and any and all hopes of true love disappear in an instant.
Closet Monster (Stephen Dunn, Canada, 2015)
Artistic, sexually-confused teenager Oscar is troubled by strained relationships with absent mother and volatile father, and desperate to escape his hometown. His problems cause him to retreat into his own world where his anxieties take on physical forms, such as conversations with his pet hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini).
But if talking hamsters wasn’t enough, Oscar’s life becomes more confusing than ever with the arrival of a new boy at his work, whom Oscar falls for. Oscar eventually realises he has to learn to make sense of the world in order to be happy in this authentic, offbeat coming-of-age film about growing up as an outsider.
Der Nachtmahr (AKIZ, Germany, 2015)
Whiling away the summer nights exploring, partying, drinking and trying drugs with your best friends in Berlin, it sounds fairly appealing when you’re a 17 year old who feels indestructible, like Tina and her friends. But what starts out as the perfect summer for the group of adventurous girls, some becomes something entirely different. When translated into English Der Nachtmahr is ‘The Nightmare’, and that is what Tina’s life becomes, after one too many come downs she is visited by a strange horrifying version of ET that embodies her anxieties. As she tries to hide her visions and fears, the lines between reality and nightmare become more and more blurred.
Leave your inhibitions at home, and dive into this fast paced cautionary tale of teenage rebellion, curiosity and paranoia.
The Endless River (Oliver Hermanus, South Africa-France, 2015)
After 4 years in prison a man returns to his small South African hometown, but struggles to settle back in to civilian life, in particular reconnecting with his wife Tiny. On the other side of town French ex-pat Gilles is left devastated by the murders of his wife and children, and struggling to cope.
United in their pain and grief, Tiny and Gilles form an unlikely bond, turning to and supporting the other as they both try to move on with their lives, in this exploration of the emotional impact of two very different types of pain.
Entertainment (Rick Alverson, USA, 2015)
In a picture challenging the notion of what ‘good taste’ is, an aging, wash-up comic is making his way through a series of small, desolate venues in the Deep South, with his own brand of shock jock humour. But as his audience numbers start to dwindle, and his relationship with his daughter is strained, his stand up routine becomes less shock jock and more full on insulting and abusing his audience as he finds himself falling further into oblivion.
Father (Viscar Morina, Germany-Kosovo-Macedonia-Albania, 2015)
In 1990s pre-war Kosovo, unrest is growing and 10 year old Nori and his father Gesim just scrape by living hand to mouth selling cigarettes. Gesim dreams of a better life in Germany, while Nori is terrified his father will run off and abandon him, just like his mother did. Nori’s fears are proven right when his father disappears, but the devastated young boy is determined to be reunited with the father who left him, and sets out on a dangerous journey to Germany to find his father.
Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere (Diep Hoang Hguyen, Vietnam-France-Germany-Norway, 2014)
(Dap Cahn Giua Khong Trung)
17 year old Huyen has escaped her small rural hometown in search of an urban education, but she finds herself stuck midflight when her passionless relationship with slacker boyfriend Tung results in her falling pregnant. When Tung squanders the only money Huyen has for a termination, she turns to her transgender roommate Linh for help in Diep Hoang Hguyen’s debut feature offering a different take from the usual teen pregnancy storyline.
Flocking (Beata Gardeler, Sweden, 2015)
In recent years incidents of ‘slut shamming’ on social media and victim blaming of sexual abuse/violence victims has risen dramatically, so too has the debate surrounding the issue. Flocking explores this modern phenomenon through the story of 14 year old Jennifer who is raped by a student at her school. Jennifer’s tough exterior and the fact that she refuses to be embarrassed about being a victim of rape lead to many questioning her story, before the mother of the accused begins an online smear campaign against Jennifer and her family. Director Beata Gardeler looks at how information is gathered by users of social media, and how we come to judge victims, as well as the mass social complacency required for this to keep on happening.
Happy Hour (Ryusuki Hamaguchi, Japan, 2015)
The film may be called Happy Hour, but it’s more like 5 happy hours in this epic feature from Ryusuki Hamaguchi which examines the lives of a group of female friends living in the city of Kobe, Japan. Throughout their adventures together the four friends: a café worker, a nurse, a curator, and a housewife, all in their 30s, talk frankly about their lives and loves, revealing various problems and drunken confessions that will probably leave you blushing, in this painfully honest yet intelligent film about female desire and sexuality that hits close to home.
Homesick (Jakob M Erua, Germany, 2015)
Ambitious classical cellist Jessica moves into with her boyfriend Lorenz, at first their new apartment seems the perfect home and the perfect practice space for Jessica as she prepares to represent Germany in a prestigious music competition. But as the competition draws ever closer Jessica becomes more and more distracted by the old lady in the apartment above, whom Jessica suspects has very dark intentions. Beginning as the perfect life of a young couple, Homesick turns into a claustrophobic thriller as the apartment becomes a prison of Jessica’s own making.
Kothanodi (Bhaskar Hazarika, India, 2015)
Most of our favourite fairytales started out as disturbing fearful folktales, Kothanodi tells four traditional Indian folk stories, exploring the different layers of these stories and the female protagonists who are driven to the edge of sanity by their male counterparts. In his debut feature film Bhaskar Hazarika entwines the story of a housewife who plots her step daughter’s murder while her husband, Devinath, is at work with that of a woman who has given birth to a strange vegetable, who Devinath vows to help solve this mysterious birth. In another village a rich mother prepares for her daughter’s arranged marriage to a python, hoping the union will being her even more wealth, and another mother in the village resolves to save her newborn baby from her husband, who buried their three previous babies alive in the jungle.
Lucifer (Gust van den Berghe, Belgium, 2014)
Filmed in tondoscope, (black screen with a circular cut-out, think of the early black and white films’ ways of zooming in) the final instalment of Gust van den Berghe’s theology themed trilogy, Lucifer takes as its inspiration from Joost van den Vondel’s 1654 book of the same name.
When a ladder appears from the sky in a Mexican village and a man named Lucifer arrives, the villagers hope this mysterious newcomer with be the one to make their dreams come true. Instead however Lucifer leaves a trail of destruction and misery in his wake in a story rumoured to have been the influence of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.
Madame Courage (Merzak Allouache, Algeria-France, 2015)
Madame Courage is the nickname given to Artane tablets, an increasingly popular drug amongst Algerian youths which, when taken recreationally, result in a feeling of invincibility. Omar fuels his addiction to Madame Courage by snatching necklaces from women in the street, but when he encounters Selma, whose necklace he snatches walking down the street, her gaze moves him. Omar begins following her to try and get another glimpse, but Selma knows he’s following her and she is both curious and cautious. But Omar’s actions do not go unnoticed by Selma’s brother, who sees him as a threat to his younger sister.
Madonna (Shin Su-won, South Korea, 2015)
A pregnant, comatose Jane Doe, nicknamed Madonna, is admitted to an exclusive hospital, where she is quickly marked out as a heart transplant donor for a corrupt businessman who will stop at nothing to keep his chairman father alive.
New nurse Moon is given the task of investigating Madonna’s life and background, but her findings cause Moon to face some moral dilemmas of her own as she uncovers a lifelong series of personal and professional disasters and humiliations. Part intense thriller, part intimate character portrait and laced with black humour Madonna is a passionate stand against exploitation and a boundary pushing look at sexuality, prostitution and the human body.
A Monster With A Thousand Heads (Rodrigo Pla, Mexico, 2015)
(Un Monstruo de Mil Cabezas)
Having long since proved himself as one of Latin America’s most political filmmakers, Rodrigo Pla returns to London Film Festival once again, collaborating with regular screenwriter Laura Santullo, exploring the cost human cost of institutional corruption, in a big screen adaption of her 2013 conspiracy thriller novel of the same name. A Monster With A Thousand Heads brilliantly captures the extremes and excesses of corporate greed and corruption through the story of Sonia, a woman whose husband is diagnosed with cancer. Fortysomething Sonia is forced to watch her husband die from this disease as she is past from pillar to post trying to get their medical insurers to pay for his treatment he is entitled to. But as the company stop answering her calls, Sonia reaches breaking point and takes matters into her own hands.
Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil-Uruguay-Netherlands, 2015)
In a small rural community of North Eastern Brazil, Iremar works at one of the local traditional rodeos, known as Vaquejadas, preparing the bulls before they are sent out into the ring. But Iremar has other ambitions. Living in a ramshackle home with dancer Galega and her young daughter, he creates beautiful costumes from the materials he finds around the rodeo and farm, in this provocative tale of sequins and sawdust that challenges traditional thinking about sexuality, masculinity and class, with humour and frankness.
Nicola Constantino: The Artefacta (Natalie Cristiani, Argentina, 2015)
(Nicola Constantino: La Aftefacta)
One of Argentina’s most controversial artists, Nicola Constantino draws inspiration from her father’s work: cosmetic surgery. Disturbing, macabre and at times downright befuddling, Constantino’s work includes moulds of human skin and soap made from her own body fat, and as she prepares to represent Argentina at the 2013 Berlinale, Natalie Cristiani’s documentary captures the artist’s craftsmanship, as well as her reflections on life, identity and mortality.
Notfilm: A Kino-Essay by Ross Lipman (Ross Lipman, USA, 2015)
Ross Lipman’s passion project Notfilm explores the literary, cinematic and personal history behind Samuel Beckett’s only screenplay for cinema, experimental feature FILM (1965) starring Buster Keaton. Open to interpretation the film has been met with both approval and dismay by critics and cinemagoers alike, FILM was considered a failure by Beckett himself but, by contrast, star Buster Keaton was mystified by the whole project.
Old Czech Legends (Jiri Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1952)
Marking 103 years since director Jiri Trnka’s birth, Old Czech Legends gets it restoration premiere at the London Film Festival as part of the Dare Strand and the Treasures Collection, digitally restored from the original nitrate negatives that had been preserved in the National Film Archive in Prague. Filmed nearly 40 years before Czechoslovakia became two independent nations, the film intertwines 6 old Czechoslovakian folk tales, told using puppets, beginning with Forefather Cech, the founder of the Czech nation.
One Floor Below (Rudu Muntean, Romania-Germany-France-Sweden, 2015)
(Un Etaj Mai Jos)
Sandru and his wife are a normal couple who make a living expediting car registrations for people, but when their new neighbour Vali hires their services, their ordinary lives start to get very complicated. Sandru believes his new client is responsible for the death of a young woman who had lived in an apartment below them, in this gripping psychological thriller that studies ethics and morality, and the concept of its not what you know but who you know, as we are kept guessing at what the two men know about each other and why they are both acting suspiciously.
Parabellium (Lukas Valenta Rinner, Argentina-Austria-Uruguay, 2015)
Why go on a plain, old, boring spa trip, when you could go on a spa trip that has massage treatments fitted in around survival training for the impending apocalypse?
A group of strangers travel from Buenos Aires to a luxury spa retreat that also specialises in the aforementioned impending apocalypse survival training. There is little dialogue between the guests, but the radio reports of unrest (Zombies? Aliens? War? Who knows?) create a creepy atmosphere full of relentless dread. As the vague unrest increases, the guests must put their new skills to the test, making their way through the Tigre Delta, as well as dealing with the threats from nature and each other they must also battle their own mental health.
Poet on a Business Trip (Ju Anqi, China, 2015)
(Shi Ren Chu Chaile)
In this documentary, shot in 2002 but only edited and completed in 2014, director Ju Anqi captures the life of young, grungy poet Shu, as he travels through China’s Xinjiang province, on a self imposed business trip. Hitching rides, dossing down in hostels, Shu’s adventures and the people he meets are strung together using the 16 poems he writes on his business trip. Ju Anqi creates an intimate portrait of a rapidly changing country and its people at a specific point in time.
Queen of Earth (Alex Rossi Perry, USA, 2015)
In a study of mental breakdowns and dysfunctional/abusive power dynamics found in friendships and relationships, Queen of Earth follows two best friends Catherine and Ginny who come together after Catherine’s father commits suicide and her boyfriend leaves her.
Schneider vs Bax (Alex Van Warmerdam, Netherlands, Belgium, 2015)
Like most people, suburban father Schneider doesn’t want to work on his birthday, his wife is planning a glamorous dinner party to celebrate, but nevertheless he finds himself travelling to the countryside to kill novelist Ramon Bax. For experienced assassin Scheider it should be a simple enough job, and then back home to enjoy his birthday, but nothing in this oddball tale, least of all Bax, is easy to execute. Bax’s daughter turns up, Scheider acquires an unwanted passenger, and the distractions just keep piling up as this thriller turns into a farce and the rug is pulled from under the audience’s feet at every twist and turn.
Sunrise (Patho Sen Gupta, India-France, 2015)
Patho Sen Gupta’s no nonsense neo-noir thriller follows Joshi, an inspector whose life has been bent out of shape beyond recognition after the abduction of his 6 year old daughter. During the day Joshi does his best to attend to police duties, but always returns to his own investigation into his missing child, by night he does his best to look after wife Leela whose only way of coping is to retreat into a fantasy world where their child is still with them. But after discovering there is a child trafficking ring operating out of the sleazy Paradise Club, Joshi takes the law into his own hands.
Take Me to the River (Matt Sobel, USA, 2015)
Ryder is asked by his mother to hide his sexuality from his conservative grandparents. When he and his parents arrive in Nebraska from California for a family reunion, Ryder’s nine year old cousin Molly takes him out to the barn to look at a bird’s nest. But what happens in the barn behind closed doors makes Ryder the target of his family’s suspicion, after Molly runs from the barn screaming and covered in blood, and unearths a long hidden family secret.
Take Me to the River starts out as a dysfunctional family narrative, but takes a few twists and turns and becomes one of the strangest and most alarming family dramas of the decade so far.
Under Electric Clouds (Aleksei German Jr, Russia-Ukraine-Poland, 2015)
(Pod Electricheskimi Oblakami)
Set against the cold backdrop of wintery Russia, Under Electric Clouds takes place 100 years after the October Revolution, in 2017, where Russia appears to still be stuck between the past and present. Travelling throughout this vast nation, Aleksei German Jr’s latest film looks at how the younger generation with no memory of communist era live, compared to the older generations who worked and suffered under its harsh leadership. Told through the stories of 7 people including an immigrant worker, an oligarch who has been framed and an architect reflecting on success, examining the way in which past and present live side by side and how people are open to revisionist history.
Wave vs Shore (Martin Strba, Czech Republic-Slovakia, 2014)
(Vlna Vs Breh)
In the 1908s a group of photographers made an impact when they disturbed the normalised world of communist Czechoslovakia. The Slovak New Wave played with irony, and the freedom of staging and gestures. Award winning cinematographer Martin Strba’s directional debut brings international attention to this significant and innovative cultural movement, focusing on the photographers themselves and their relationships, their tragedies and their attempts at genuine freedom in a time not very long ago, but so very different.
Women in Love (Ken Russell, UK, 1970)
This newly restored version of Ken Russell’s classic Women in Love, based on D.H Laurence’s novel , was scanned and restored to former glory by the BFI under the watchful eye of the film’s cinematographer Billy Williams himself. The film is also presented as part of the Treasures Collection, taking a lyrical look at love, life and death in rural Britain during the First World War. Two couples find themselves torn between convention and desire to explore a bohemian lifestyle, in their search for love and trying to find out what that means.
35mm: The Quays Meet Christopher Nolan (Various, Various, 1986-2015)
Stephan and Timothy Quays have been refining their own specific cinematic creation, blending stop-motion and puppetry. These unique shorts have attracted a cult following, including many high profile admirers such as Christopher Nolan. 35mm is a collection of the Quays’ short films that have been restored from the original 35mm prints, along with a short film by Nolan that goes inside the studio and shows how they create their unique celluloid masterpieces.
Family at War (Various, Various, 2014-2015)
Families are very complicated affairs, this compilation of short films from across Europe takes a look at different family relationships and dynamics. From those who get on extremely well to those who fight constantly, absent relatives and overbearing ones, non-traditional and the one who are trying to break away from convention, Family at War covers them all.