Eight Highlights from Asia at the BFI London Film Festival

Woman dishing up with couple at table
The Bagri Foundation team is extremely excited for the BFI London Film Festival going hybrid this year – 7 October until 18 October.

It is the first time ever that the films will be made available to everyone in the UK, online via the BFI Player. The democratisation of this form of cinematic experience is a great direction for film audiences, with huge numbers of viewers able to access the content more freely.

We’ve put together a selection of eight films hailing from all over Asia, that are being streamed as part of the festival this year. Many of them are selected by some of our very own esteemed partners and colleagues, including the Director of the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival Cary Rajinder Sawhney; Curator of the Poetry In Motion series, producer, curator, filmmaker and founder of Hakawati, Elhum Shakerifar; and Judge for the film category for At Home in The World and film curator for the Korean Cultural Centre UK, Hyunjin Cho. Mark your calendars for some of these exciting premieres!

7 October at 9pm via BFI Player

Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane
Produced by Vivek Gomber
Written by Chaitanya Tamhane
India 2020

Having wowed international festival audiences with his acclaimed debut Court (LFF2014), Chaitanya Tamhane returns to the LFF with his mesmerizing second feature, presenting a radically original view of Mumbai where streets ebb and flow to the mesmeric sounds of classical ragas. Aditya Modak plays the student of an elderly sage (Arun David) who teaches a form of Indian classical singing. The old man pushes his apprentice to improve his voice and informs him that to achieve greatness he must forgo ego and a material life. This worldview troubles the student and it conflicts with the mindset of a city where, for many, the desire for fame and success is everything. Aided in no small part by lush cinematography and an unforgettable score, Tamhane’s drama offers up a compellingly complex examination of tradition, discipline, ambition and the creative impulse.
-Cary Rajinder Sawhney

7 October at 9pm via BFI Player

Directed and Written by Tsai Ming-Liang
Produced by Claude Wang
Taiwan 2020

A middle-aged man suffering from chronic pain hires a young male masseur: two figures meet, share a moment together and then separate. The older man is played by the magnetic Lee Kang-Sheng, without whom Tsai has never made a film in his three-decade career. Lee once again embodies a type of solitude that is never tragic yet allows one to engage with the passage of time in all its painstaking richness. Tsai’s meticulous framing celebrates the quiet actions (shredding a cucumber, oiling a body) which narrative cinema often considers too prosaic to matter. Here minimalism is manifested as a deliberate political act which invites us to see cinema. In doing so, Days slowly materialises Tsai’s particular vision of filmic realism.
-Hyun Jin Cho

9-12 October via BFI Player

Directed and Written by Farnoosh Samadi
Produced by Ali Mosaffa 
Iran 2020

Tragedy strikes at the heart of a wedding in the mountains overlooking Tehran. Its impact highlights the oppressiveness of what is often left unsaid. The film’s title is a cinematic principle for maintaining spatial balance between two characters on the screen. Through this prism, Samadi’s lens brings into focus the dynamics of human relationships, both in a fraught marital home and between a trusted teacher and her vulnerable student. As grief casts its shadow across the wide web of one family, secrecy looms and allegiances colour the notion of what is right. Sahar Dolatshahi gives an extraordinary performance – subtle, searching and profound – emphasising the violence of patriarchal, social and legal strictures endured by mothers. Her silence speaks volumes and its impact is devastating.
-Elhum Shakerifar

Woman dishing up with couple at table

10 -13 October via BFI Player

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Produced by Tokushi Hasegawa, Tsutomu Fujiwara, Ami Takada, Kumiko Ishizaka
Written by Sakura Higa
Japan 2020

Episode 1
When Kasumi Arimura is given an unexpected day off, she returns home to visit her mother, who delights in showing her famous daughter off to friends and neighbours. Playfully exploring the relationship between truth and fiction, this intimate domestic portrait is rich in detail, and – like so much of Kore-eda’s big screen work, from Still Walking and Our Little Sister to Shoplifters and The Truth – explores family dynamics with a perfectly-pitched balance of humour and humanity. This 45-minute episode is the first of an 8-part series that aired in Japan earlier in the year and provides a unique opportunity to discover the Palme d’Or-winning director’s television work, so rarely seen outside of his home country
– Rowan Woods

Three people on a rowing boat on water. Black and white image.

11 October – 14 October via BFI Player

Directed, Written and Produced by Lav Diaz
Philippines 2020

Taking leave from their jobs at a gold mine, three workers journey to their home village on foot through the spectacular yet unforgiving wilderness of the mythical island of Hugaw. As time passes and their conversations intensify, buried histories emerge and a sense of psychosis invades the scene. As ever, Lav Diaz’s exquisitely subdued black & white images and patient rhythm lend a Brechtian register to the drama; almost always filmed from the same fixed distance, each scene is an immaculate tableau vivant. Behind the film’s folkloric façade, Diaz once again taps into the collective memory of defiant struggles against the tyranny of both contemporary Filipino society and colonial brutality, centred on the timeless image of men walking – one of the key traits of Pan.   
– Hyujin Cho

Man from behind, viewing a lanscape

11 October at 8:30pm via BFI Player

Directed by Ameen Nayfeh
Produced by May Odeh
Written by Ameen Nayfeh
Palestine, Italy, Sweden 2020

Every night, Mustafa says goodnight to his children by flashlight – signalling across the 200 metres that keep them apart, on either side of the encroaching Israeli-constructed wall. But when his son is taken to hospital, the distance that separates him from his family becomes a vast ocean. Via bureaucracy, heavily-policed checkpoints and smugglers, his odyssey collides fatefully with others – from a young boy simply trying to find work, to a naively defiant Palestinian returning home for his cousin’s wedding with his camera-ready German girlfriend. Whilst the wall fragments Palestine itself, it is the subtle and labyrinthine ramifications of everyday life that Ameen Nayfeh brings into frame, highlighting the ingenuity and dignity of Mustafa’s attempts to withstand the situation.
– Elhum Shakerifar

A group of villagers in brightly coloured garments

13 October – 17 October via BFI Player

Directed and Written by Rezwan Shahriar Sumit
Produced by Rezwan Shahriar Sumit and Ilann Girard
Bangladesh, France 2020

Debut director Rezwan Sumit collected numerous awards, including a Spike Lee Fellowship, to produce this exquisite Bangladeshi drama, set on a remote coast afflicted by climate change. Soon after the death of his coastguard father, young Rudro travels to a far-flung fishing village to find some closure. He rents a hut and starts to work on his figurative art. A young local woman inspires his work and secretly falls in love with him, but the rigid traditions of the village forbids any possible relationship. When the fish shoals the fishermen rely on suddenly disappear, Rudro and his blasphemous sculptures are blamed. And with a cyclone approaching, social and physical storms threaten the artist’s way of life. 
– Cary Rajinder Sawhney

Two men standing next to train tracks

16 October

6:30pm – 9pm via BFI Player

Directed by Wei Shujun
Produced by Liu Qingling
Written by Wei Shujun, Goa Linyang
People’s Republic of China 2020

In his final year at film school, talented yet frivolous sound recordist Kun would rather be anywhere than in class. Instead he drives around Beijing in his old Jeep – an embodiment of shabby free-spiritedness – goofing-off and dreaming of visiting Inner Mongolia. From the opening scene, where Kun abandons his driving test in a fit of rage, we embark on a journey marked by restlessness and absurdity, calamity and joy. Inspired by Wei Shujun’s own experiences, this intuitive, unpretentious and contemplative snapshot of contemporary China resonates with sensory details, amplified by the stunning lead performance of Zhou You. Reminiscent of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s exhilarating early films from the 1980s, this idiosyncratic road-movie is as refreshing as a breeze through an open car window.
-Hyun Jin Cho

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