Looking at the key themes filmmakers are showcasing in their work at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.
The BFI London Film Festival provides a platform for filmmakers to showcase their work from all corners of the world. Films are categorised into over 15 strands, from the ‘Experimental strand’ which features new ways of experiencing productions to the more traditional ‘Family strand’ which brings the latest animated and family-friendly stories to the big screen. This year, within all strands, we saw a variety of films that solely focused on the strained relationship between families going through hardship.
‘The Son’ directed by Florian Zeller
As a part of the headline gala, Florian Zeller’s follow-up to his Academy Award-winning drama The Father (2020) is The Son. A film adaptation of Zeller’s own play of the same name, The Son stars Hugh Jackman as Peter, who is settled with his second wife Beth (played by Spotlight member Vanessa Kirby) and their newborn child. All seems well until Peter’s son, Nicholas (Zen McGraph), from his first marriage, turns up at their door and expresses his desire to live with him and his new family. Nicholas’ mental health takes a turn for the worse and his father has to make some difficult choices.
Exploring parent/child relationships is something that Zeller strives to do throughout his work as a playwright and continues to do so well through film. After receiving rave reviews from Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, The Son has continued the trend with a warm response from critics and audiences alike at the BFI London Film Festival.
‘The Whale’ directed by Darren Aronofsky
Keeping to the same emotional storytelling style as The Son, is Darren Aronofsky’s latest feature The Whale. This devastatingly raw drama tells the story of a 600 lb man who in the wake of receiving a fatal diagnosis decides to rebuild his relationship with his estranged teenage daughter.
Leading the cast as Charlie is Brendan Fraser in a groundbreaking and, some might say, career-defining role. He’s strongly supported by Sadie Sink, who portrays Charlie’s teenage daughter Ellie, and Hong Chau, who takes on the role of Charlie’s best friend Liz. Adapted from the play of the same name, Aronofsky explores the tiresome reality of the depression that has led Charlie to become the man he is and delves deeply into the strained relationship between father and daughter.
‘Women Talking’ directed by Sarah Polley
Both The Son and The Whale look at the differences between parents and children when thrown into a difficult situation, Women Talking also explores the tension between family members but from the perspective of sisters and mothers trying to protect their families.
London Film Festival newcomer, Sarah Polley, writes and directs this powerful period drama which tells the confined story of a group of women living in an isolated religious community who are subject to abuse from the men they live with. After a string of attacks takes place, they reach a breaking point and have to make the joint decision of whether to leave or fight.
Claire Foy and Rooney Mara star as sisters Salome and Ona who have very different opinions on the situation, with Jessie Buckley coming in as Mariche, the force behind the notion of them leaving and never looking back. The strength and determination of the women living in a time when they would have been silenced are showcased through their on and offscreen relationships through the implications of the horrors that they have faced. The power of sisterhood is a slightly unconventional family dynamic but without a doubt one of the strongest.
‘White Noise’ by Noah Baumbach
Filmmaker Noah Baumbach last attended the London Film Festival in 2019 with the Academy Award-nominated Marriage Story which received outstanding reactions from critics and general audiences alike. This year Baumbach returns to the capital with his new feature film White Noise.
Based on the novel of the same name, White Noise tells the story of a contemporary family in North America who go through everyday problems which amount to something much bigger than they could have ever imagined. The cast is led by Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig and Raffey Cassidy. Driver’s character Jack is married to Gerwig’s Babette and from previous marriages, they have a blended family of step-children which instantly draws on the strains and difficulties of their day-to-day life. When the family gets dragged into a catastrophic event and are forced out of their home, they have to pull together and put aside their differences in a bid to stay together no matter what.
Despite the comical elements of the film, and the much lighter tone compared to that of The Whale and Women Talking, White Noise touchingly draws attention to the importance of family and the strengths between child and parent.
‘Aftersun’ directed by Charlotte Wells
Normal People star Paul Mescal leads the cast of Aftersun, an emotional drama filmed in Scotland about a young father battling with depression as he takes his six-year-old daughter, Sophie, on a holiday to Turkey where they get to spend some much-needed time together. Paired with flashforward scenes of Sophie as an adult, we are taken through the devastating story of Calum (Mescal) as he tries to hide his depression from his young daughter and does everything in his power to ensure she has the summer of a lifetime despite his financial hardship and broken relationship with Sophie’s mother.
Aftersun is another stunning example of the power of parent/child relationships and the power of storytelling. This quiet, calm and endearing drama helps to navigate the audience’s involvement in the story whilst leaving it ambiguous enough to allow viewers to interpret it as they wish. Directed by first-time filmmaker Charlotte Wells, Aftersun may be a difficult watch for some but it screams with importance and emotion.
‘Pinocchio’ directed by Guillermo del Toro
Alongside the variety of live-action films that delve into parent/child relationships is Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, a stunning new adaptation of the classic fairy tale told through the medium of stop-motion animation.
In this dark fantasy retelling, Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) has a real son that he tragically loses in the midst of the Great War, resulting in depression and addiction, which leads to him building a wooden puppet boy (voiced by Gregory Mann). This creative new adaptation is powerful and emotionally compelling, whilst being funny and bright for the younger audience.
Most of the films showcased at this year’s BFI London Film Festival will be released in cinemas or coming to a streaming service in the coming months.
We’re in for an exciting year of films. From the likes of Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery to films like romcom Living (starring Spotlight members Bill Nighy and Amy Lou Wood), it’s safe to say that no matter what the rest of 2022 brings, we can rely on film and TV to keep us entertained!
Charlie works at Spotlight in the Membership Support team. Alongside work, she is a film critic for a number of outlets including The Film Magazine, CinemaSavvy and Filmhounds, all of which are featured on her blog. In addition to these ventures, she has just finished her Masters in Film and On Screen Media at Birkbeck University.
Production still of ‘The Whale’ is courtesy of A24 Films. All rights reserved.