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What’s on at the London Film Festival

by
01 October 2021

Stephen Brown makes his selection from this year’s programme

Jeremy Irvine as Ivor Novello and Jack Lowden as the young Siegfried Sasson in Benediction. More photos in the gallery

Jeremy Irvine as Ivor Novello and Jack Lowden as the young Siegfried Sasson in Benediction. More photos in the gallery

THERE are plenty of faith-filled movies at the London Film Festival (6 to 17 October). Cinemas countrywide are also participating, and films are being made accessible online via BFI Player.

Religious differences provide the core of several movies. Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast reflects on how in 1969 sectarian violence flared up between Roman Catholic and Protestant families hitherto living peaceably in the same street. In Two Friends, a pair of Indian boys (Hindu and Muslim) strive to maintain their relationship in a country torn apart when the iconic Babri Mosque is destroyed.

Hellbound covers similar themes: how fanatics in South Korea exploit religion to arouse widespread fear in the population. The Hole in the Fence examines the explicit divisiveness, aided by fundamentalist faith, in a Mexican summer camp for privileged boys.

As in Heaven is set in 18th-century Denmark, where it is hard to distinguish Christianity from superstition. Both reinforce female oppression. Lise is a young teenager trying to throw off the shackles of a duty-bound existence.

The eponymous protagonist of Clara Sola is valued for her “Virgin Mary-bestowed” healing power, but when she dares to respond to her own longings, control is swiftly exerted in a battle of wills.

Fortunately, the evil manipulation of faith is counterbalanced by other offerings. Historya Ni Ha is a fable about a ventriloquist and his dummy, Ha, accompanying a nun, a prostitute, and a teenage boy en route to an island that promises gold. This becomes a pilgrimage in which the redemptive properties of art make new people of them all.

In Nana Mensah’s comedy Queen of Glory, a Ghanaian-American woman’s lifestyle is challenged when she inherits her mother’s Christian bookshop. Laura Samani’s film Small Body is set early-20th-century Italy. It depicts the odyssey of a young mother trying to save the soul of her stillborn baby and in the process questioning (long before the Roman Catholic Church officially did) any doubts of exclusion from heaven.

Victoria Fiore’s much lauded debut documentary Nascondino is described as a mythological and spiritual portrait of a Neapolitan community’s hopes and regrets.

Benedetta examines the life of a controversial 17th-century nun. Paul Verhoeven, the director (Starship Trooper, Showgirls), is also a lay member of the Jesus Seminar study group, even writing a book about Christ. Benedetta’s sexual activity and the view of Christianity which it represents may well disturb some. Suffering is rarely far away in films, as in life.

A room in a church is the location for Mass. Two sets of parents attempt to come to terms with the death of their respective sons, one the killer, the other his victim.

Benediction explores the tortured life of Siegfried Sassoon, who became a Roman Catholic. The director, Terence Davies, himself a lapsed RC, cannot leave religion alone. His film pursues a blessed hope after which he continues to crave.

It will be interesting to see what Joel Coen, from a Jewish perspective, makes of The Tragedy of Macbeth, a work seen either as abounding in Christian imagery or “signifying nothing”. It’s an apt choice with which to close a festival that entertains so many philosophical views.

whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff

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