October 21 2016
Below are the Asian, African and other centred stories from this year’s London Film Festival…
City of Tiny Lights
BY THE LOOK of things, this has much going for it on paper – Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper and Roshan Seth and adapted by Patrick Neate from his own novel about how groups form and eventually come apart in London. The love story between Ahmed as ‘Tommy Akhtar’ and Piper as ‘Shelley’ is the very beating heart of this film and all that keeps it going.
Akhtar is your archetypical Private Investigator (PI), addicted to fags, bourbon sherbet, and the femme fatale. It’s set in the late 1990s but there’s no obvious signposting.
Back to Ahmed and Piper – when they are on screen together, this crackles – and the first time they fall for each other is beautifully depicted – teenagers trying to find themselves in a difficult and awkward world. Somehow this isn’t the sum of its parts, but Ahmed and Piper and their teenage alises, raise this film by a notch or two and give it originality and a compelling reason to stay the course. You could make a whole film around the (East End) teenage blonde bombshell falling for the shy, but smart, streetwise Asian kid. ‘Sh*t happens’ as they say…
ACV rating:**½ (out of five)
Queen of Katwe
IN ESSENCE, this is Mira Nair’s love letter to Uganda. For many (East) Africans there will be a sense of nostalgia and pride and rightly so. It’s a beautiful story and Nair brings her gifts generously and tellingly to the table. There is a remarkable performance by Madina Nalwanga as as the real Phiona Mutesi at the centre of it.
The stars are excellent, especially Lupita Nyongo’o as Phiona’s mum – it may be another Oscar winning performance.
If you don’t know the story, it’s about a young girl from an impoverished family making her way to becoming a chess grand master.
There is help along the way most noticeably from David Oyelowo’s character, Robert Katende, and moments of great tension and strife. Adapted from a newspaper article and book, Nair has produced a tale of great warmth, inspiration and hope. It is an ode to Africa. It might be a bit too Disney (the company produced it) for some but it is a sign that this is the sort of movie (with a child at the centre of it) in which Nair’s direction excels (who can ever forget her “Salaam Bombay”?).
ACV rating:*** ½
Hema Hema Sing Me a Song while I wait
DIRECTOR Khyentse Norbu is a talent and despite being from the small Himalayan country of Bhutan, sandwiched between India and China, this film is his fifth and possibly his most arresting. Made with crowdfunding as explained by producer Pawo Choyning Dorji at the Lumiere screening on Sunday (October 16), Khyentse has made the film he wanted, without compromise. What we get is a beautiful, and unflinching exploration of Bhutanese culture and mores as seen through the eyes of a single character. We don’t really get to know him that well and by the end, a certain disdain and contempt has been created. Stylish and distinctive, our central character attends a fictional festival where all the participants wear masks, skirts and short tops – it is hard to distinguish anyone’s gender. A traumatic incident takes place and the whole film revolves around this one act. But for its beautiful cinematography and unique setting (in Bhutan), the central premise seems uncomfortable and unnecessary. Perhaps this critic has got his characters under the mask confused but it left a slight aftertaste when the actual consumption was good at the time.
ACV rating: *** (would have given another ½ if the central character had not been so objectionable).
HUGELY enjoyable, informative, and well-constructed, “Fonko” is a musical documentary, charting the development of music from sub-Saharan Africa – but it is also about much more.
At the centre and core is Fela Kuti, the continent’s great voice in so many ways. In this, it’s not his music but his political and philosophical musings. Recovered from his family and in archive and used throughout as the binding narrative (in homage to Asif Kapadia’s style of documentary making, where the subject of the investigation provides the primary voiceover). It’s superbly done, though some may find the graphics a bit annoying. Quite a few of the musicians themselves refer to Kuti, providing a suitably circular film. There’s some great music, some great characters but what really emerges is the spirit and intelligence of those battling for change through their own music. Politics and politicians and the military in many cases may have failed their own people but the music and the musicians are a source of hope and joy…Well done Lamin Daniel Jadama, Lars Lars Lovén and Göran Hugo Olsson for making it and Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland for funding it. It deserves a wide audience.
ACV rating: ***
(Reviews: Sailesh Ram)