With eleven nominations each, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast and Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point would seem to be running neck and neck in the race for this year’s British Independent Film Awards. A second glance, though, reveals that Barantini’s single-take heart-stopper has the edge over Branagh’s black-and-white ode to the city of his childhood. Boiling Point is in the running for best film, director, and screenplay. Belfast is not.
Barantini, a writer, director, producer, and actor whose face you may recognize from such prestigious series as Band of Brothers and Chernobyl, has turned his 2019 short into a full ninety-minute feature. He has Matthew Lewis’s camera follow Andy (Stephen Graham), the head chef at an upscale London restaurant, for one continuous shot on the last Friday night before Christmas. Hungover, Andy arrives to discover that the evening has been overbooked; his culinary mentor has shown up unannounced with his partner, a renowned food critic; and a health inspector is roaming the kitchen.
Boiling Point roils with “a dizzy array of courses, characters, and subplots that range from plausibly high-stakes to wildly contrived,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety. “Even at its most far-fetched, however, Boiling Point retains an essential sense of integrity thanks to the honest, urgent presence of star Stephen Graham. Utterly compelling as an overburdened head chef whose mood swings and spiraling breakdowns never tip over into performative, Ramsay-style showboating, Graham evidently relishes biting into a rare big-screen lead worthy of his talent.”
Set in the summer of 1969, when tensions between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists turned to violence, Belfast won Toronto’s People’s Choice award in September and is widely seen as a strong contender in this year’s awards season. “Some may feel that the film is sentimental or that it does not sufficiently conform to the template of political anger and despair considered appropriate for dramas about Northern Ireland and the Troubles,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “But this film has such emotional generosity and wit and it tackles a dilemma of the times not often understood: when, and if, to pack up and leave Belfast? Is it an understandable matter of survival or an abandonment of your beloved home town to the extremists?”
Three films, all directed by women, have each scored nine BIFA nominations. Two are debut features. In Aleem Khan’s After Love, Joanna Scanlan plays Mary, a middle-aged Muslim woman in Dover who discovers that her recently deceased husband, a ferry captain, was having an affair with a woman in Calais. “It’s a soap opera set-up, but in the hands of writer-director Khan, After Love becomes something weightier,” writes Pamela Hutchinson for Sight & Sound. The film “scrutinizes bereavement as a mental health disorder, diving into not just the sorrow but the derangement of grief.”
Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor is set in 1985, when “video nasty” hysteria was peaking in Thatcher’s Britain. Enid (Niamh Algar) is working for the national censorship board when she comes across a horror movie that may offer clues as to what has happened to her missing sister. “Importing material from Bailey-Bond’s preceding short, Nasty (2015), Censor expands its filmmaker’s perennial curiosity towards the morbid and tender moments in which cinema viewing grazes personal or socio-cultural memory,” writes Katherine Connell for Another Gaze. “More potent still, is the film’s treatment of cinephilia as a particularly intense relationship, through which the images, places, and stories of films spill over into our corporeal lives.”
In Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II, also set in Thatcher’s Britain, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) processes her grief over the loss of her lover, Anthony—unforgettably played by Tom Burke in The Souvenir (2019)—by making a film about their brief but intense romance. “The strict attention Hogg’s movies pay to her characters’ violent need to dramatize allows her to create a tension in her films whereby each moment, prop, or gesture bears the possibility of rupture,” writes Blair McClendon for Artforum. “A certain kind of cigarette or a pinstripe jacket worn in the right dining room feel like bombs going off if you know they are relics from a lost love. In Hogg’s films, objects don’t represent; they radiate. The effects of the dead linger. The artist picks them up, rearranges them, and puts them down again. When we’re lucky, it might look something like this.”
On November 18, the BIFAs will announce a second round of nominations—the craft categories. The awards ceremony, often a breezier affair than the BAFTAs’, just as the Independent Spirit Awards are simply more fun that the Oscars, is slated for December 5.
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