After two years of hybrid versions, London Film Festival was back in full force. But I still felt uncertain about attending in person; fighting my way through the crowded Underground and standing in endless queues at Picturehouse Central just didn’t appeal. And while I’d miss the in-person conversations and moving image installations (a little heart-breaking), not having to be in London when you don’t earn London loading on your annual income is its own kind of cultural blessing. A film festival isn’t only the sum of its programmed parts. Supported by National Lottery funds, LFF is BFI’s flagship cultural event, which also has a vested interest in the economic growth of the city as well as the moving image arts. 

Given the current crushing impact of British politics on the British economy – we’ve had no fewer than three prime ministers in 2022 (one of whose tenures only slightly outran the duration of the festival) – confidently spending money on travel and entertainment is difficult at best. Tory policies that span privatisation and endless austerity are also responsible for the industrial action behind repeated rail strikes (and strikes in the health, education, mail and other sectors) and a cost-of-living crisis so debilitating that there are genuine apocalyptic undertones to the familiar ‘Sorry out of use’ yellow signs on petrol pumps and the rolling ‘Out of stock’ signs on Kleenex. So, while cinemas are rebuilding audiences and offering screen culture and a heated room for a couple of hours – well, some are; the news broke on day two of the festival that Edinburgh International Film Fest and Filmhouse Cinema would cease operations immediately as their parent charity Centre for the Moving Image went into administration1 – I opted for another online/at home experience. 

One element of the hybrid festival model that LFF has thankfully continued with is its partner venue initiative whereby regional cinemas screen a small selection of festival films. And while I didn’t, it was great to know that I could have attended the big titles at my local (partially) National Lottery BFI-funded independent cinema, Watershed. The BFI’s remit is national, so events and activity outside of London is key for achieving their aims of reaching wider and presumably more diverse audiences across the UK (whilst also enabling their partially funded partner venues to deliver on those same aims, and on which they report back to the BFI). What’s on offer are advance previews of films by revered filmmakers that have already premiered at major fests (Cannes, Venice, Toronto). But, as my critical intention is simply to write this report, there was little motivation to go see the likes of Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin or Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery when they will most likely have already been covered by other writers in other reports. Plus, I’m wan to rush to the cinema for something that’s coming to Netflix. 

My overwhelming apathy towards festival-going, coupled with a general feeling of social and political malaise, made Ami-ro Sköld’s impressive drama on labour politics, The Store, a most fitting film for me to watch. Using both live action and stop-motion animation, The Store offers two views of its protagonists. The first is dramatic and involving. The second is of animated figures standing-in for people, which, each time it cuts into the live action, reduces the characters to raw materials who are sculpted, redeployed and manipulated at the will of a higher up; they are mere toys for someone to play with. Moreover, their facial features are distorted and the type of modelling clay they are made with has a waxy, almost melted appearance that reflects the film’s central theme of labour exploitation. 

The story begins with Eleni (Eliza Sica) handing over the reins to her duty manager role in a chain supermarket to go on maternity leave. But, when she comes back to visit her team, babe in arms, it’s only to discover that her replacement isn’t quite cutting it. Also: if she wants the job long-term, then she’ll just have to work while being a mum. Pressure from above to increase productivity and performance – which can only come at the cost of her employees’ break times, social interactions and general morale – begin to push and prod Eleni into the well-moulded shape of a Store Manager, on track to deliver business that bolsters the bottom line whilst contributing to illness, exhaustion and poverty amongst its employees – many of whom were once her friends. 

The Store

Becoming ever-more prescient in its perfect reflection of my emotional and mental state of being, Eleni’s plight of facing a career setback at best and future unemployment at worst for simply attempting to take maternity leave amidst unstable and unsustainable economic structures and employment practices, held a painful resonance. Sat breastfeeding my own three-month-old baby (breastfeeding, thanks to a recent Insta-meme, has been tallied as equivalent to its own full-time job)2, contemplating why I am continuing my own part-time employment, which, though it isn’t in retail like Eleni’s, is similarly precarious. But even as Eleni takes on the language and attitude of her bosses – perpetuating the cycle of exploitation and inhumanity – I empathise with her: capitalism is a system built upon the myth of winning, and for every win there must be loss. I understand and empathise with Eleni even as she shouts at her employees for taking bathroom breaks or lashes out at them for pausing to talk with the customers instead of speed-scanning their items. And the reason I do is because the system is wrong, unfair and unjust. But, also, because Eleni is under mental, physical and emotional duress: trying to pump milk while stressed, away from her baby for long stretches (which can lead to a depleted milk supply, alter hormone levels and contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression). Eleni is a victim of neoliberalism, too. 

Her own experiences, then, make it twice as painful when her colleague and friend Miriam (Sarah Viktoria Engman) is discriminated against for being pregnant. Being pregnant may contribute to a woman having to slow down at work but it should never form the basis of a decision as to why someone loses their shifts. Having struggled with exhaustion in the third trimester of my most recent pregnancy, I wish Eleni would ease up on the KPIs. Despite their abilities to provide (somewhat) financially for their families it really doesn’t look like Eleni or Miriam are embodying the feminist dream by working themselves to the bone. And even now, as I write this festival report, it is 1am, and I am working instead of sleeping, because I can only do so in between night feeds while my baby (and my toddler) sleep.

What The Store does, extremely well, with its almost docu-verité aesthetic of calmly observing the hurried employees as they toil under increasingly inhumane working conditions, is visually explicate the ways in which these structures persist: those in power calmly and passively observe the urgency with which those in precarity actively operate. Exploitation of labour requires an active to passive power dynamic from its work force and in highlighting with both the filmmaking and the viewing experience. Passively, we watch the very real and arduous labour put into filmmaking, extra especially so with the use of painstaking stop-motion animation, whose figurines with distorted features only adds to the spectre of alienation. Through this imbalance, Sköld really hammers home just how out of alignment product-producing labour and its consumer ends are. 

There are some scenes where The Store drags and I had wished for a less indulgent edit, but even as it followed some of the less fascinating minor characters, or itself laboured a little too hard to hammer home a point, I held a great deal of respect for its commitment to both the issue and also the mimetic pace of the daily grind, which is not always pretty, its relentlessness excruciatingly and agonizingly kind of the point.

Sick of Myself

The thematic focus on pain carried through my personal experience of the fest, from the satirical physical extremes of Kristoffer Borgli’s Sick of Myself to the real-world suffering of addiction as depicted in Alex Fry, Rebecca Lloyd-Evans and Lisa Selby’s documentary Blue Bag Life. Though Sick of Myself already had its moment at Cannes, its focus on our obsession with cultural currency was enough of a pull for me to digress from my intention to watch only world premieres. 

Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) is a narcissist and compulsive liar. Enamoured by small-scale scamming those around her – whether that’s stealing armchairs with her artworld-adored boyfriend or pretending to have a peanut allergy to attract attention at an otherwise dull dinner – Signe takes things a step too far in deliberately ordering and ingesting excessive doses of an unsafe medication imported from Russia via the dark web. Her hope is that the painful scarring and bleeding that it causes will elicit attention from both her boyfriend and their circle-jerk of vapid friends. Though the motivations behind Signe’s actions are far more superficial and self-serving than those of the YouTubers convinced they suffer from a mysterious parasite called Morgellons, I was reminded of Penny Lane’s The Pain of Others (2018); the performative nature of Signe’s suffering is the true illness at play. 

Breastfeeding in the middle of the night can be both boring and lonely, which sounds wrong because you’re sustaining a life. But the baby doesn’t really ‘wake’ to feed, they just make movements with their open mouth until they find a nipple. In my boredom, I often look at Instagram, doom-scrolling my way through the early hours, which is surprisingly preferable to my other overnight hobby of obsessively reading the news. Then I put my phone down and give my baby a cuddle, concerned for her future, the way the world is.

Being a mother can be scary: there’s literally everything in the world to be afraid of. But as Lisa Selby discovers in her docu-portrait Blue Bag Life, through handwritten questions, recorded phone calls and Insta-filters, becoming the (m)other she never had means accepting the fragments as they are. Despite its rough and ready aesthetic – sometimes Selby frames her cleavage and underarm simply because that’s where her phone is positioned when she hits record – Blue Bag Life holds the kind of catharsis that comes from collecting the broken fragments of a precious object and it centres around a single, powerful learning: “I collect memories because I don’t remember,” she says. 

Abandoned at a babysitter’s house when she was just ten months old, Selby talks about how her mother, Helen, was a drug addict. Unable or unwilling to stop and care for her child, possibly suffering with postnatal depression, Helen lived a life of parties and pals while her ex raised Selby alone, in poverty. It’s difficult to empathise with Helen, who took her partner’s debit card, left him in £10,000 of debt when she ran off, and never paid a penny in child support, but Selby is as patient as they come. Reflecting on how much she adored her mother when she was a child, it’s difficult not to wonder how she might heal as she approaches her own journey into motherhood. Unable to spare herself further heartache, Selby falls for an addict, who we see experience sobriety, relapse, prison, recovery. Pain is a constant in her journey through life. The lo-fi look of the film, which consists of Selby’s own digital archive (what is left of it as most of her hard drives are now lost, she laments), reflects the overall tone of mourning and melancholia that frames her story and marks her life. 

Blue Bag Life

It was months after the festival finished (and only days before writing this) that I finally got around to watching Laura Poitras’ documentary All The Beauty and the Bloodshed. The doc follows Nan Goldin and her work with P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now). It also screened at LFF, and as a similarly heady mixed tape of personal and political narratives, it feels apt to connect the two. Selby is an artist, with an estranged mother, a relationship to addiction – through both her mother and her partner – and a desire to piece together fragments of a frazzled life in order to press on. Goldin has much of the same – though her art is more famous, her addiction her own, and her fragments form a series of agit prop protests against the Sackler family. The Sackler’s are, for Goldin, the mythical Morgellons, the dark web itself and the incentive that made a (m)other. Their legacy is not limited to the plaques that plastered their names across wings of some of the world’s most famous art galleries and museums including The Met, the Guggenheim, the Louvre and the Tate, but also because their legacy is the dependency and death of Americans via over-prescription of Oxycontin. Goldin, and others, blame them for spearheading America’s opioid endemic through their companies Purdue Pharma and Mundipharma. With All the Beauty, Poitras attempts to weave every aspect of Goldin’s devastating pain into moving images, but Goldin’s own portraiture is still – stuck. The juxtaposition of the two forms Goldin’s own legacy; unable to find fluidity, doped into stasis, forever searching for a truth that’s either ahead of or behind her. 

By all accounts – or at least through Insta-filters and other onlinables; images of famous faces on the red carpet, press coverage, et al – it seems LFF had a successful return to cinemas in 2022, no small feat amid the rest of the country’s economy going to hell in a handbasket.

BFI London Film Festival
5 – 16 October 2022
Festival Website: https://www.bfi.org.uk/


  1. Mona Tabara, “Edinburgh International Film Festival to cease trading as parent charity enters administration”, Screen Daily, 6 October 2022
  2. Danika Danker, “Breastfeeding is a Full-time Job”, Flagstaff Mom Collective, 26 August 2022

About The Author

Tara Judah is an editor at Senses of Cinema and a postgraduate researcher at the University of the West of England, researching the role of independent cinema in the age of on-demand culture.

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