Big names, acclaimed films at Lux City Film Fest


Frances McDormand stars in Oscar frontrunner Nomadland, which opens this year’s Luxembourg City Film Festival.Photo: Cor Cordium Productions-Hear/Say Productions-Highwayman Films 

Established stars Pedro Almodóvar, William Friedkin, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, acclaimed talent like Yukiko Sode from Japan and Shahram Mokri from Iran, and a slew of awards season favourites feature in this year’s Luxembourg City Film Festival.

The 2021 Luxembourg City Film Festival programme is a veritable smorgasbord of mouthwatering feature films and tasty documentaries, dressed with a flourish of special screenings and retrospectives. We pick a few highlights.

Unveiled on Thursday lunchtime, the festival’s 11-day run from 4 to 14 March, kicks off with Oscar frontrunner Nomadland. Directed by Chloé Zhao and starring Frances McDormand, the hybrid feature-documentary examines the new breed of modern-day nomads who wander around the United States seeking part-time work.

Like McDormand, Andra Day has been nominated for the Golden Globe best actress in a drama award for her titular role in Lee Daniels’ The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which is the film being screened at the Luxembourg festival’s awards ceremony.

And talking of Black icons, Spike Lee’s latest joint is American Utopia featuring a stunning live concert performance from David Byrne. It will be screened on the opening Sunday of the festival.

The festival this year pays homage to two distinguished directors. William Friedkin, best known for The French Connection (which is 50 years old this year, though not shown here), The Exorcist and the criminally underrated To Love and Die In LA, will receive the festival’s lifetime achievement award. And Terry Gilliam, last in Luxembourg at the Cinénygma festival in 2001, will be the subject of a retrospective featuring some of his most memorable films including Brazil and 12 Monkeys.

Classy competitions

The festival’s loyal fans, however, are probably more interested in the two competitions for best feature and best documentary. This year’s line-up is truly a cracker.

The best feature award will be fought out between eight films from all over the world, including Angola, Mexico, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Russia. We’ll take a look at them in depth as the festival approaches, but if we pick just two contrasting highlights for now they would include Careless Crime by Shahram Mokri from Iran.

The director’s third feature is a thoroughly engaging, time-twisting thriller, but also a thesis on the power of film, based around the burning down of the Rex cinema in Abadan prior to the Iranian Revolution, killing 478 men, women, and children.

The Aristocrats by upcoming Japanese director Yukiko Sode. is a beautifully elegant exploration of Japanese social mores, expectations of how women should behave, and the strength of friendship and finding a kindred spirit.

Six films were selected for the documentary competition including two from South America, a continent that continues to provide some of the most interesting cinema around. The award winning The Mole Agent from Chile is a moving and sometimes charming film about an octogenarian spy in a retirement home. Once Upon A Time In Venezuela examines local politics writ large in a small lakeside village that faces corruption and environmental disaster.

Special screenings

Festival goers will also have a unique opportunity to catch Pedro Almodóvar’s elegantly dressed 30-minute film The Human Voice, featuring a stunning solo performance on a sound stage by Tilda Swinton. It will be screened alongside mesmerising experimental Last and First Men, a remarkable film directed by the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and featuring narration by Swinton.

Other special screenings include documentary Frank Gehry: Building Justice, which sees the legendary architect team up with architecture students to re-envision the future of incarceration. The screening, a partnership with Paperjam Architecture+Real Estate, is followed by a debate with guests including justice minister Sam Tanson.

Another debate and doc event features a screening of The 8th, which traces the campaign in Ireland to remove a constitutional ban on abortion.

Luxembourg films

Although the number of local productions completed over the last year has been drastically cut, the festival still has managed to get some Luxembourg films into its programme. They include cross-generational Holocaust awareness documentary Les Temoins Vivants and transmedia project An Zero, about the consequences of a nuclear accident on the grand duchy. And the evening of short films made in Luxembourg--always one of the most popular events at the festival--is also on the programme.

Check out the full programme and details of how to get tickets for both cinema and home screenings at the Luxembourg City Film Festival website.

During the festival, Delano will be publishing daily recommendations. Duncan Roberts is on the selection committee of the festival.