Hit The Road Wins ‘Best Film’ At 2021 BFI London Film Festival

Tonight the 65th BFI London Film Festival will close with Joel Coen‘s The Tragedy Of Mcbeth. Today the BFI announce Panah Panahi’s Hit The Road has won Best Film Award in the festival’s Official Competition.

Like every great road movie, Panahi’s drama is all about the journey. In the chaotic claustrophobia of the car, an energetic child (Rayan Sarlak) clambers over his surly father (Hassan Madjooni) whose broken leg – and mood – take up considerable space. In the front, mother (Pantea Panahiha) fusses over her other son in the driver’s seat (Amin Simiar), whose sullen face stays fixed on the deserted horizon. Nobody mentions where they are going, but knowledge of their unspoken destination causes concern, turning despair into affection and some very eccentric behaviour. The car stutters along to a bold, brilliant soundtrack of 1970s Iranian pop, full of heart, nostalgia and the melancholy of separation.

Deftly navigating a sea of conflicting emotions, Panahi’s debut heralds an exciting new talent. This journey along the dusty road of life is a treasure that might just break your heart.

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The official competition President Malgorzata Szumowska remarked on the win “The Best Film Award recognises inspiring and distinctive filmmaking that captures the essence of cinema. The essence of life!

At all times in cinema history, but perhaps during a pandemic especially, we are looking for ways to connect to life. Our choice is for a film that made us laugh and cry and feel alive.”

In other winners news, Laura Wandel’s Playground has won the Sutherland Award given to filmmakers directing their first feature. The harsh world of playground politics is seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl in a gripping debut from Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel. The original title, meaning ‘a world’, suggests that a school is a self-enclosed universe with its own customs and abuses – and a microcosm of the injustices outside.

Nora ( newcomer Maya Vanderbeque) arrives in a new school, nervous about leaving her dad and yearning for the protection of big brother Abel (Günter Duret). In fact, it’s Abel who faces bullying – and when Nora tries to help him, his ordeal only worsens. Laura Wandel’s extraordinary debut is a triumph in terms of focus and concision, with the action restricted to the school premises and the camera held exactly at Nora’s child’s-eye height. Arguably one of the best films ever made about childhood; without doubt, one of the most gripping, and lucidly truthful.

First Feature Competition president Isabel Sandoval commented “It’s an intimate film that everyone can identify with and connect with, and yet has a striking and singular voice, with a courageous commitment to its vision. It has a visceral ability to capture beautifully and clearly how we are shaped by our experiences, and through an insular setting shows us a microcosm for the human condition, laying bare the power dynamics of people. It left us wanting to see more from this bold, audacious filmmaker.”

The Sutherland Award jury also gave a Special Commendation to Small Body, directed by Laura Samani: “We want to give a special mention to Small Body for its intense naturalism and fable-like qualities, that immersed us in another world.”

Other winners include Documentary Competition (Grierson Award) which went to Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?) Becoming Costeau. Duncan Speakman‘s Only Expansion in Immersive Art and XR Competition, Short Film Competition winner went to Diana Cam Van Nguyen‘s Love, Dad, Audience Award went to Mounia Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon.