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Top 20 films to see at Cambridge Film Festival

By Mark Liversidge

The Killing of the Sacred Deer
The Killing of the Sacred Deer

Film lovers rejoice! The Cambridge Film Festival (October 19-26), supported by the Cambridge Independent, is almost upon us.

The Wound
The Wound

It will be my eighth year attending the festival, and I still have the same reaction whenever I see the programme announced: a heady mixture of excitement, anticipation and mild bewilderment.

The festival's traditional mix of early previews of big releases, the best of modern world cinema and some classics back on the big screen remains intact, but with more than 100 features and programmes over eight days and half a dozen venues, working out what to see can be a challenge.

So, if you'd like to try something out but can't make your mind up, allow me to help with a few suggestions to get you started.

These aren't the only worthwhile films in the programme, far from it, but if none of these take your fancy hopefully the breadth and depth shown here will inspire you to have your own dig in to see what you can find.


There's a host of other events from VR screenings to free Family Film Festival events as well.

And if you really can't decide, this smorgasbord of cinematic treats also has a tasting menu. Pick a Short Fusion programme and see five or six short films for the price of one, ideal for the truly indecisive among us. (Is that me? I'm not really sure.)

1 120 BPM

Latest from Robin Campillo (The Class, Eastern Boys) showing the fight against AIDS in 90s France on a social and a personal level. Fierce political drama skilfully woven around touching relationships.

2 A Fantastic Woman

A singer and waitress struggles to come to terms with her elderly lover's death in the latest from Sebastian L'lio (Gloria). Daniela Vega is superb as the woman facing prejudice because of her trans status, and moments of fantasy shine light through the drama.

3 The Ballad of Shirley Collins

It feels odd trying to sell a film about Shirley Collins to the home of Cambridge Folk Festival, but this documentary about her life and works uses reconstructed 16mm footage and follows her return to recording. Deeply uplifting.

4 The Breadwinner

Beautiful animation about life under the Taliban from Nora Twomey (The Secret Of Kells) based on Deborah Ellis' novel. A girl must dress as a boy to help support her family, while she tells them a folk tale to ease their troubles. One to discuss with (older) children afterwards.

5 Electro-Pythagoras (A Portrait of Martin Bartlett)

Turner Prize winner Luke Fowler returns to the Microcinema strand (where cinema meets art) after 2012's All Divided Selves. All Microcinema events are free to enter this year.

6 The Florida Project

Sean Baker made his last film, Tangerine, on an iPhone; this time he's turned up the brightness on a group of misfits at a motel led by six-year-old Moonee. Willem Defoe as the motel manager helps put the sparkle into childhood.

7 Journeyman

Paddy Considine writes, directs and stars in the tale of a boxer dealing with the effect of a head injury on his wife (Jodie Whittaker) and child. Strong drama that you may even wish was 10 minutes longer.

8 The Killing of A Sacred Deer

Heart surgeon Colin Farrell is forced to confront demons from his past with wife Nicole Kidman in the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) that again mixes heavily mannered delivery with dark themes; hugely satisfying for Lanthimos fans, utterly distressing for everyone else.

9 Loveless

Andrey Zvyagintsev (Elena, Leviathan) has made another reflection on Russian life, this a tale of two estranged parents whose son disappears. Suspenseful and disturbing, it also looks at class divides and politics in modern Russian life to superb effect.

10 The Net

The London Korean Film Festival had Train To Busan and The Handmaiden at last year's festival; their pick this year is Kim Ki-duk's tale of a North Korean fisherman accidentally drifting south.

11 The New Fire

Emmy winner David Schumacher's new documentary looks at the potential role of nuclear energy in climate change and how a new generation of engineers hope to avert global catastrophe rather than creating it.

12 Rift

The Lates strand returns again, including this Icelandic thriller set in a deserted outpost that riffs on horror classics from The Haunting to Don't Look Now.

13 Shiraz: A Romance of India

Part of a new season called India Unboxed, this 1927 restoration was shown at the London Film Festival and here has John Sweeney's live piano accompaniment.

14 The Square

The big winner at Cannes this year, taking the Palme D'Or. Chaos descends on an art installation in a Swedish palace, as Ruben 'stlund (Force Majeure) directs Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West.

15 The One-Eyed King

The Camera Catalonia strand feels timelier than ever, and its seventh year includes this pleasingly dark comedy about a dinner involving a policeman and a victim of brutality.

16 This is our Land

As this country grapples with Brexit and an increase in nationalist sentiment, this French film feels very close to home. It caused controversy with its political satire, especially the Marine Le Pen-esque party leader.

17 Untitled

Some films demand to be seen on a big screen and the stunning visuals in this documentary are a case in point. Michael Glawogger's deliberately aimless year-long odyssey in Europe and Africa has been expertly finished by Monica Willi after he died of malaria mid-voyage.

18 The Wages of Fear

The supremely tense 1953 classic about four men transporting nitro-glycerine to a drilling site is one of a series of new restorations, including Mildred Pierce and My Fair Lady.

19 The Wound

South Africa's entry for the Oscars next year is a masterclass in taut film making, looking at male initiation and sexual relationships made with a cast of mostly non-actors from first-time director John Trengove. Showing in the African Film Festival strand.

20 You Were Never Really Here

The closing night film is also the culmination of a retrospective of Lynne Ramsay's work; Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher and We Need To Talk About Kevin are also showing. Joaquim Phoenix heads up what's being described as a '21st century Taxi Driver.'

Venues for the festival include Emmanuel and Downing colleges, Parker's Piece and the Picturehouse. More information and ticket ?booking is available online at cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk.


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