(17/10/07) – Previewing the 49th London Film Festival two years ago for Kamera, I noted that the event hadn’t programmed arguably the two most notable films from the festival circuit that year – David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Now, far be it from me to overplay Kamera’s influence, but I can’t help but notice that the new films from both directors are front and centre at this year’s event, which boasts 184 features and 133 shorts from 43 countries.

Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, which is released nationwide the week after opening the festival on 17 October, looks to be in a similar vein to A History… in that it steers clear of the director’s trademark ‘body horror’ concerns in favour of an examination of a family being ripped asunder – in this instance one that is part of the Russian underworld operating out of contemporary London. Once again Viggo Mortensen stars.

As with Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution won the Golden Lion at Venice recently. But whereas that previous win initiated a global awards bonanza which tripped only on the steps to the podium of the Best Picture Oscar, the critical reaction to the new film has been more ambivalent (‘too much caution and too little lust’, said Variety). Nonetheless, nothing Lee produces is without interest (not even Hulk) and it may be that a festival screening to the converted is the natural home for a Chinese-language film rated NC-17 in the U.S. for its explicit (on American terms) sex and unlikely to break out in the manner of Crouching Tiger.

There was a palpable excitement at the press launch for this year’s festival as clip after clip of almost every significant picture to be released this year or early next was unveiled, and I highlight just a handful below. Arguably the only significant absence would appear to be the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, by general consensus a victim of its own accessibility at Cannes this year. It would appear to be as good a bet as any for the Surprise Film screening in the West End on Sunday 28 October.

The Darjeeling Limited (pictured)

Wes Anderson’s new picture would appear to be in his usual vein – a whimsical, if tougher-than-it-looks comedy of family manners – although the early indications are that it is a more consistent work than the broken-backed The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Three brothers – Adrien Brody and Anderson regulars Owen Wilson and (the film’s co-screenwriter, with Roman Coppola) Jason Schwartzman – travel across India in an attempt at some fraternal bonding. No doubt hilarious/deeply irritating consequences ensure, depending on the viewer’s tolerance level of Anderson’s style, sort of Kubrick with a rotating bow-tie. Myself, I adore both Rushmore and, especially, The Royal Tenenbaums, but found The Life Aquatic too wilfully arch.

I’m Not There

Todd Haynes’ impressionistic biography of Bob Dylan casts six different actors to portray the icon, or versions of him, at notable points in his life and career, from youngster Marcus Carl Franklin as ‘Woody’ riding trains across America to Richard Gere as ‘Billy the Kid’, the equivalent of Dylan in his 70s persona. Christian Bale’s method approach brilliant captures Dylan’s protest singer period but the undoubted highlight is Cate Blanchett as ‘Jude’, in revolt against the folk music establishment as (s)he goes electric. Part of a double whammy assault on the awards season from Blanchett, her performance here and in the Elizabeth sequel, The Golden Age, should have the various academies printing up the ballot papers with her name already inserted alongside the Best Actress and Supporting Actress categories.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

This year’s Palme d’Or winner took Cannes by surprise. Screened early in the festival, it overshadowed more anticipated films with its combination of social realist aesthetic and, by all accounts, distressingly tense drama. Taking place over one night in 1980s Romania, it’s the story of a pregnant woman seeking an illegal abortion, the lengths her friend goes to support her, and the price extracted by the abortionist. It looks very, very short on laughs but precisely the sort of talking point that any festival would welcome.

Silent Light

The new film from festival favourite Carlos Reygadas (Battle in Heaven) comes with an unusual, to say the least, recommendation. An acquaintance of mine, and former contributor to Kamera, believes that it’s the best film he’s seen to have been released in his lifetime. Wow. The clip I’ve seen – a lengthy 360 degree shot of a cyclist riding round in a circle – was like David Lynch attempting a Marx Brothers comedy. Of course, these two observations are not mutually exclusive. Silent Light is set in a Menonite population in Mexico and focuses on a love affair that breaks the strict rules of the community. Again using non-professional performers, Reygadas is, at the very least, carving a niche for himself in festival circles as a unique talent.

The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival runs from today to 01 November. Please follow the link provided on the left for further details.