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The Boy and the Heron Hayao Miyazaki
The Boy and the Heron, 2023(Film still)

The 10 films you need to catch at BFI London Film Festival 2023

Featuring Hayao Miyazaki’s swansong, a subversive love story set in Senegal, and a dark comedy charting a runaway teen girl’s journey across America

From Miyazaki to Kaurismäki, the London Film Festival offers pretty much everything you’ll want to see that’s coming out in the next year – but squeezed into a fortnight. With £5 tickets available for those under 25 (if you’re over 25, just lie, and fake offence if they ask for your ID), October 4th to 15th is the time to be in Zone 1, running between cinemas, and learning which shops won’t kick you out if you sit around waiting for the next film to start.

After all, you know what it’s like at home. You scroll through Netflix, feel overwhelmed by the choices, and then get logged out anyway because you’re using an ex’s account. Well, with the London Film Festival, you choose your own adventure. Want tickets to the hits so that you can spoil the twists to work colleagues months in advance? Or do you fancy the esoteric arthouse oddities that may never get UK distribution – or, if they do, go straight to a streaming service, and this is the only chance to see them in a cinema?

Here’s a handful of films we recommend you catch at this year’s festival, or at least get FOMO over when they sell out and are logged by your friends on Letterboxd. Tickets are on sale now, but more get released on September 28. What else are you going to do – wait for the traditional release like a normal person and everyone who doesn’t live in London?


Studio Ghibli’s plan was that audiences watch what’s likely to be the 82-year-old anime legend’s final film completely cold. No trailers, no knowledge of the plot, not even a single image. Since Japan’s theatrical release, though, information has started leaking out (there’s a boy, and possibly a heron), and it’ll only intensify by the time it plays the London Film Festival and annoying people talk about it ad nauseum. Make sure you’re one of those annoying people with the film’s first UK screening. 


Unfolding in 1910, 2014 and 2044, Bonello’s sadistic sci-fi stars Léa Seydoux and George MacKay as strangers who believe their connection spans lifetimes. That’s right, it’s a sort of messed-up literalisation of Past Lives, complete with MacKay’s 2014 character as an incel who recreates Elliot Rodger’s YouTube videos. Cameos include Dasha from Red Scare, Xavier Dolan, and Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers on a laptop.


Films are often described as transcendental, but Patiño’s experimental docudrama truly does promise to be a movie like no other. Following a soul from a Buddhist temple in Laos to a beach in Zanzibar, the trippy, philosophical feature questions what invisible, spiritual forces surround us. What’s more, the viewer is asked to shut their eyes for 15 minutes – a peculiar request given that Samsara is screening at BFI IMAX.


Defiantly single, Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) lives by her own solitary routines in Georgia, until, at 48, a near-death experience serves as a catalyst for a sexual fling with a salesman. During their encounter, Etero reveals she was, until now, a virgin, prompting a drama of self-discovery for a woman who may – or may not – seek a new outlook on life.


In Senegal, two youngsters, Banel and Adama, are a couple looking to break the rules. Banel defies what’s expected of her gender, while Adama refuses to become their village’s chief. More problems arise when global warming causes a drought and kills off the cattle. Amidst it all, Sy’s feature, nominated for this year’s Palme d’Or, takes on a dreamy, hazy stance to emulate the central love story.


A surprise sequel to 2000’s 1970s-set Together, the confusingly titled Together 99 follows Göran and Klasse after their Stockholm communion has been reduced to just two people. From the beloved director of Fucking Amal (a lesbian coming-of-ager that did more box-office than Titanic in Sweden), Moodysson’s comedy is a return to his crowdpleasing roots, taking on sexual politics, age gaps, and hilariously petty squabbles.


As audacious as ever, Breillat’s French-language remake of Queen of Hearts sees Léa Drucker as a married lawyer in her 50s who embarks on an affair with her 17-year-old stepson. As expected, the provocateur behind Fat Girl and Abuse of Weakness delights in exploring taboos and the messiness of human behaviour, all of it building up to a fiery explosion when dark secrets are exposed.


In Lithuania, Elena is a dancer who expresses herself through wild, vivid body movements. To an extent, so does Dovydas, except the sign language interpreter is asexual, leading to complications when the pair embark on a romance. Or does it? Awarded a prize for directing at this year’s Sundance, Kavtaradze’s very modern love story challenges what it means to be in a relationship in 2023. 


On a road trip, a teen girl played by Talia Ryder encounters a litany of perverts and criminals. What could go wrong? Directed by the cinematographer of the Safdies’ Good Time and Heaven Knows What, this mischievous comedy satirises fame and conspiracy theories, while boasting supporting roles from Jacob Elordi, Ayo Edebiri, and Jeremy O Harris.


Likely to be the year’s saddest, funniest romcom, Kaurismäki’s comeback exemplifies everything you adore about the Finnish auteur – as well as Jim Jarmusch, given that he names Kaurismäki as a major influence. In Helsinki, two lowly paid workers bond over a shared passion of Jarmusch as a rep cinema, then battle alcoholism and financial difficulties to keep their love alive. Expect dogs, deadpan one-liners, and the minimalistic beauty of Timo Salminen’s cinematography.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from October 4 to 15. Tickets are on sale now, with more going on sale on September 28. More information can be found here.