My phone buzzes with the 6:30 am alarm, I blearily sit up in bed, slowly unfurling myself from the duvet to brace myself for the cold, October morning. After throwing a haphazard lunch together head off to central London.
Between the 5th and 15th of October, the mornings are packed with London film festival’s biggest titles, ranging from White Noise to Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Today I am racing to a screening of Jafar Panahi’s No Bears, a smart, self-reflexive set of doomed love stories. Panahi compellingly charts the tragic fallout of overarching, inhumane government policy, he tests the idea of state borders and leaves the audience aching from its blunt, inflexible force.
By 11 am I am usually either running to the next screening or seizing the pocket of time to write a review in the Picturehouse Central café. Today is the London press and industry premiere of Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, a stormy romance which feels distinctly Hitchcockian in its perspective and focus.
It’s a packed screening, I file out with the crowd, taking a seat in the foyer so I can quickly eat a packed lunch and fire off a few emails in the 40 minutes before the showing of Saint Omer. After an early morning, the post-lunch desire to have a nap is overwhelming so I weigh up the desire to stay awake against the potential of a panic attack. At this point in the festival the amount of caffeine consumed daily slips between 1 to 5 lattes. It’s an ephemeral number that manages to escape me, something to felt rather than counted. I decide to get one, regardless of the risk, and sit down for Saint Omer.
It has been well-recommended, this kind of buzz is always worth being wary of coming out of a festival, it can stack up an increasingly unstable set of expectations, but Saint Omer is truly masterful. Wielding a fixed gaze with the precision of a documentarian (which Alice Diop is,) the film spins around a single glance in an almost mythical pattern.
After Saint Omer I have a few hours to eat some dinner and work on my review for Piaffe, the debut feature from German director Ann Oren. The film is a sensory feast, laden with striking 16 mm shots and boasting in an emotionally considered lead performance, however, the review isn’t easy to write. It’s a story of a foley artist who develops confidence after growing a horse’s tail. After a few hours of working on the review, I take a break to grab sushi for sustenance.
My last film is one I won a ticket for in the daily public screening ballot. Tori and Lokita is playing at the Curzon Mayfair at 9:10 pm, so I wonder over, past the glaring hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus. There is nothing that will exhaust you more than trying to navigate yourself across the crowds of London's tourist attractions.
Fortunately, I am deeply moved by the film’s unwavering focus, by the generosity extended to these two first times performers with every directorial choice. I didn’t realise before showing up that directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne would be in attendance for a post-film Q&A. I am consistently impressed by their films, by the effective, careful way they integrate their own radical politics into their art.
I wonder out of the cinema towards the Green Park tube station, I am weary and relieved, excited by a day of thrilling, unique cinema.