The 2020 Mostly British Film Festival kicked off last weekend in San Francisco with great films from the UK and beyond, including The Delinquent Season, Hearts and Bones, and Sorry We Missed You.
San Francisco’s annual Mostly British Film Festival, a celebration of all things cinema in the Commonwealth and Commonwealth-adjacent (UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand are its ongoing foci), kicked off this weekend. The festival has a strong history of screening sneak previews of English-language gems — Their Finest, Peterloo, A Royal Night Out, Shadow Dancer, Journey’s End, ‘71 — as well as terrific films that you’ll never be able to see theatrically otherwise, or perhaps even locate on DVD, including Mammal, London Road, Goldstone, and The Riot Club. In other words, if the Mostly British Film Festival has programmed it, the film is in all likelihood worth your time.
On Saturday, the festival hosted its spotlight on Australian cinema, which included the Indigenous marriage comedy Top End Wedding, a highlight at last year’s ImagineNative Film Festival. The festival also screened Hearts and Bones, which tells the story of a war photographer, Dan (Hugo Weaving), who meets a man, Sebastian (Andrew Luri) from one of the massacred villages Dan memorialized. Both men suffer from PTSD because of their experiences, and both have a tendency to hide their traumas from their partners, although Sebastian takes this to an extreme. Their friendship helps both of them heal and confront their pasts, while also raising questions about who has the right to tell stories. Dan sees his job as making sure the rest of the world cares about atrocities far away; Sebastian’s wife (Bolude Watson) thinks those images are without context, often capturing people at their worst, when they wouldn’t want to be memorialized. With strong performances from the entire cast and a sensitive look at two very different marriages, the film is well worth a watch despite some clunky sections.
On Sunday, The Delinquent Season screened as part of the festival’s Irish spotlight, a film that features some of the best performances of 2018 but never actually hit cinemas (it is available on VOD!). Cillian Murphy stars as Jim, a stay-at-home father who is extremely passive about everything in his life, which makes him a frustrating husband and also one easy to stray. When Yvonne (Catherine Walker), also married, makes a pass at him, he passively accepts it and embarks on an affair. Murphy is fascinating as a well-meaning man who is regularly a jerk, and the film slowly excavates his psychology; Murphy is especially still in this, as other people orbit around him and push his life in various directions. Andrew Scott has a lovely supporting role as Yvonne’s dying husband who is a more overt version of toxic masculinity than Jim — yet still a well-rounded character — but the film is smart about how Murphy’s Nice Guy persona is an act that he may not even be aware of.
Still to come this week are several excellent British dramas, two of which look at the systemic issues that create poverty and make it impossible to climb out of it: Sorry We Missed You (screens Tuesday) and Greed (screens Thursday; the closing night film). Loach’s Sorry We Missed You tackles similar territory as I, Daniel Blake, this time about a middle-aged father trying to secure his family’s financial future by participating in the gig economy — which ends up sucking him dry in more ways than one. Although he is a decent man, the pressures of financial hardship causes rifts in his relationship with his wife and children and causes him to behave in an ugly manner. While I, Daniel Blake asked us to sympathize with a man’s plight because he was decent, Sorry We Missed You charts how decent people turn cruel and desperate when they’re stuck with no financial options.
By contrast, Michael Winterbottom’s Greed introduces us to the disgustingly rich as a means of showing how the selfish cruelty of the one at the top can trickle down to affect how capitalistic systems are designed — hurting people that the head honcho will never see or care about. Steve Coogan stars as fictional fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie who made his fortune by forcing others to cut their margins. The film is set during the preparations for Richard’s birthday party, an outrageous and ostentatious event that requires building a coliseum on the Greek Island Mykonos, and a show involving a live lion. Chronicling this is Richard’s official biographer, and he’s surrounded by an entire industry of people employed to cater to his own needs, from a lion trainer, to his executive assistant, to the celebrity lookalikes being hired to make the party seem more cool. One of his assistants, Amana (Dinita Gohil) has a personal connection to one of his factories in Bangladesh because her aunt was laid off in an attempt to cut the corners McCreadle required, and went through enormous hardship afterward. Though the film sometimes bites off more than it can chew in its story of white privilege, like every Michael Winterbottom film, it’s fascinating to watch even when it’s hard to like.