May 28, 2023

BFI London Film Festival Strand Reviews – Nocturnal (2019), Be Still My Beating Heart (2019) and #21XOXO (2019)

Nocturnal (UK, 2019) – LOVE

Screening at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival, Nocturnal is Nathalie Biancheri’s debut feature starring Lauren Coe and Cosmo Jarvis (recently appearing in the newest season of Peaky Blinders, 2019). Laurie is a moody 17-year-old runner – fiercely independent with an apparent grudge against the world. Pete, on the other hand, is a 33-year-old painter, stuck in a dead-end life and a broken relationship. When Pete begins conspicuously following Laurie, she uses him as a weapon against bullying and loneliness, eventually falling for him. But here’s the problem: Pete – unbeknownst to Laurie – is her father.

Biancheri delivers a quiet yet intense story, patiently exploring complex themes with polished grace. Though a little slow at time, Nocturnal is an indie flick that opts for subtlety over spectacle. Hazy lighting, a lack of music and sparing dialogue emphasize the pairs internal struggles. Despite Nocturnal’s controversial plot, Biancheri manages to evoke a strong sense of empathy towards her characters; Pete’s gentle disposition and dreary life allow us to understand his questionable motives. The powerful performances and controlled cinematography make Biancheri’s debut a humble piece of indie cinema; the films stillness permitting the events to unfold naturally and without pretension.

Be Still My Beating Heart (UK, 2019) – CULT

Starring Maxine Peake and Elysia Welch, Be Still My Beating Heart is a darkly intense tale directed by Ruth Paxton. Two dysfunctional sisters live a depressing, isolated existence – traumatized by an ominous (seemingly grisly) event. As one becomes physically disabled, she relies on the care of her mentally damaged sister, who cage them in as a twisted form of love and protection.

The short film establishes a strong, intricate character study in a very small space of time (25 minutes). Rather than attempting to cram a swelled cast of vague characters into a short plot, Paxton targets acute focus on her troubled protagonist.  Short, sharp cutbacks to images of gore and death construct a fractured atmosphere, mirroring the characters psychosis. Dim lighting, blurred close-ups and vulgar sound effects all aid in unsettling the audience (the same way the sister’s lives are). Paxton achieves a severe and memorable experience within a tight time-span, using conventions of horror to construct a perversely memorable experience.

#21XOXO (Belgium, 2019) – CREATE

The metaphoric animation by Imge and Sine Özbilge utilizes humour and mockery to call out the obsessive, 21st-century lifestyle. The usual anti-social media allegory is given new life in #21XOXO; a 9-minute experimental with a pop art-infused aesthetic. #21XOXO is bizarre and daring, telling a loose narrative about a woman’s search for online love. Hallucinogenic sequences and flashing lights overwhelm the senses, in the same way society has become overwhelmed with screens.

The Özbilge’s short is offbeat and thought-provoking, crowded with symbolism that could easy be missed in the first viewing. The inside of our protagonist’s mouth replicates the squares of empty .PNG images, denoting the hollowness of peoples lives nowadays. Famous memes, social media icons and a mountain of pop-culture references are presented as the new alternative to real-life. The animation flows impeccably, using new and imaginative ways to move through the story. Imge and Sine Özbilge take us on a surreal journey which – beneath its comical surface – holds a message truer today than it’s ever been.

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