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Plenty of spirituality about

17 October 2014

Stephen Brown surveys the 58th London Film Festival


THE 58th London Film Festival, which finishes on Sunday, showcases films to look out for, not least for those with a religious frame of mind. Beware, though, of titles such as The Salvation, Leviathan, Hard to be a God, which aren't necessarily of a spiritual nature - whereas a film such as Excuse My French is.

A Coptic boy lands up in a Muslim-dominated school and colludes with their assumption that he is one of them, leading to amusing consequences. It is heartening to know how popular the film has been in Egypt, where Christian-Muslim relations have been so tense. In Snow in Paradise, a teenager actually converts to Islam to fit into a gang of East Enders. This true story is proof positive of Agnes Allen's Law: almost anything is easier to get into than out of. Intense spiritual and moral dilemmas ensue.

Cheerfulness and faith are not inevitable partners. In Silent Storm, the church minister (Damian Lewis) on a Scottish island is austere. His long-suffering wife (Andrea Riseborough) is not.

Christophe Honoré's thought-provoking Metamorphoses gives Ovid a contemporary setting. Orpheus becomes a hot-gospelling preacher on a council estate, and the father of the gods is a belligerent lorry driver.

Abel Ferrara, no stranger to controversy, re-envisages the Italian director's last day in Pasolini. This includes seeking the place of Jesus's birth amid a gay orgy and a Dante-like descent into hell.

I'm looking forward to seeing La Sapienza by Eugène Green. The Portugese Nun (Arts, 28 January 2011) was a fine contemplative piece, and his latest getting of wisdom by way of architecture, love, and music promises much.

A priest faces the difficult task (From What Is Before) of helping parishioners keep their faith. Already living in squalid conditions, these Filipinos are besieged by mysterious disasters threatening their livelihood.

Poverty is hardly the issue in Gett - The Trial of Viviane Ansalem. An Israeli woman spends five years of legal wrangles in a rabbinical court trying to get divorced. Faith is as much at stake as justice.

What constitutes sacrilege is The Dead Lands' concern, a Maori-language thriller. An adolescent boy seeks vengeance for his father's murder, but pursuing the guilty party would involve a route through forbidden holy ground. Ending on a lighter note, Villa Touma also deals with who has rights to occupy certain land. Three maiden aunts, devout Palestinian Christians, believe that marriage is the only form of security for their niece. In a series of comic vignettes, they take her church-hopping, only to encounter a world from which these patrician women have previously been sheltered.

Many of these films have yet to obtain a future UK release date; so look out, at least, for DVD and Blu-ray versions in due course.

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