Five to see at the LFF: road movies

Five stories of escape, discovery and murder on the open road at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley
Updated:

Nebraska

Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska (2013)

What’s it about?

A father and son take a road trip from Montana to Nebraska, where grouchy father Woody (Bruce Dern) believes he has $1m in prize money awaiting him. Their journey takes them from small town to small town, where they encounter a string of friends and family to whom Woody owes cash.

Who made it?

Director Alexander Payne has made the road movie genre his own with critical and commercial hits such as About Schmidt (2002), with Jack Nicholson as a pensioner setting off on the open road in a mobile home; Sideways (2004), about a trip through California wine country; and The Descendants (2011), in which George Clooney takes to the roads of Hawaii in the company of his two daughters. Bruce Dern won the best actor award in Cannes, playing the latest of Payne’s roaming protagonists.

What critics are saying

“Payne’s film is a bittersweet elegy for the American extended family, shot in a crisp black-and-white that chimes neatly with the film’s concern for times long past. […] This is a resounding return to form for Payne: there are moments that recall his earlier road movies About Schmidt and Sideways, but it has a wistful, shuffling, grizzly-bearish rhythm all of its own.” Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph

The Do Gooders

The Do Gooders (2013)

The Do Gooders (2013)

What’s it about?

Following in the footsteps of her grandparents, who were aid workers in Palestine, documentary filmmaker Chloe Ruthven sets off by car to research the effects of foreign aid in the region. Her foil is Lubna, a Palestinian woman who becomes her driver and doesn’t mince her words in her criticism of western support.

Who made it?

The Do Gooders is Ruthven’s third feature. Her 2008 debut, Mario and Nini, focused on her efforts to steer two disruptive nine-year-old boys from a life of gangs and crime, while Death of a Hedge Fund Salesman was a tale of the financial crisis told through the tragic story of her first lover.

What our programmer says

“What begins as a quest to better understand her family history turns into a deeply emotional account of two women trying to understand one another. Ruthven’s determination to focus her film on deeply subjective analysis results in a unique joining of the acutely personal and complexly political.” Jemma Desai

Durban Poison

Durban Poison (2013)

Durban Poison (2013)

What’s it about?

Taking its name from a potent strain of marijuana, Durban Poison is a couple-on-the-run thriller inspired by the true story of Charmaine Phillips and Pieter Grundlingh, an outlaw couple who went on a two-week killing spree in South Africa in the 1980s.

Who made it?

Writer/director Andrew Worsdale returns to the director’s chair 25 years after his 1988 UCLA graduate thesis film Shot Down became a cult favourite after it was banned in his home country of South Africa. Durban Poison won the award for best South African feature at this year’s Durban International Film Festival.

What our programmer says

“Durban Poison offers a profound insight into the outlaw lovers and the marginalised white South African working class, with a standout performance by Brandon Auret as the brutal Pieter Grundlingh.” Keith Shiri

On My Way

On My Way (2013)

On My Way (2013)

What’s it about?

Disconsolate after she learns that her lover has taken up with a 25 year-old, Bettie (Catherine Deneuve), a former Miss Brittany now in her 60s, gets into her Mercedes to go and buy some cigarettes – though she gave up smoking years ago. But once behind the wheel, she just keeps on going, heading out on a journey of discovery through rural France.

Who made it?

French actress Emmanuelle Bercot, recently seen in Polisse (2011), also occasionally steps behind the camera, focusing on young female protagonists in films such as Clément (2001) and Backstage (2005). For her latest, she switches her attention to a sexagenarian, creating at once a portrait of an ageing nobody and a loving tribute to the star who embodies her: the inimitable Catherine Deneuve.

What critics are saying

“This road movie about five lost days in the life of a small town restaurant owner, unabashedly steps into every single cliché it can find on its way, jumps with both feet – like a delighted little child in a puddle of water – and yet manages to come out dry. Bercot’s film should also please all the legions of Catherine Deneuve fans who will appreciate her stepping bravely into the third age, even satirising her past glamour, while holding her head high and never batting an eye.” Dan Fainaru, Screen Daily

Side by Side

Side by Side (2013)

Side by Side (2013)

What’s it about?

At risk of being split up when their grandmother guardian becomes ill, Lauren and her younger brother Harvey set out on the road in search of their long-lost grandfather.

Who made it?

Arthur Landon’s career began in music videos and advertisements before a series of short films. Side by Side is his debut feature, produced for NewTide, the production company he set up in collaboration with Sarah Giles.

What our programmer says

“This beautifully shot British debut is part family drama, part coming of age story and a road trip that nods towards some of the greats of children’s literature. The young leads give compelling and moving performances that make for an emphatically British family film that’s refreshingly free of even the hint of a franchise.” Justin Johnson

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