Film: Ticket to die for: The London Film Festival opens next week at the National Film Theatre. Ryan Gilbey selects 10 of the most interesting offerings . . .

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The Independent Culture
If you thought this was the year of touchy-feely Forrest Gumpness, think again. Whatever you choose from this year's selection of 180 new features at the London Film Festival, there's bound to be a corpse hidden in there somewhere. When Reservoir Dogs played at the LFF two years ago, the concern about, and lust for, violence had just begun to stir with films like The Living End and Benny's Video. Now, with Pulp Fiction in town, not to mention Killing Zoe and Sleep With Me , it's all become too much. With that in mind, and with telephone booking opening today (071-928 3232), here's a preliminary guide to 10 films you shouldn't miss.

Amateur (4 Nov); Barcelona (15 Nov) Two films from the crown princes of American independent cinema. Whit Stillman's Barcelona is a light, character- driven comedy about two American cousins abroad, with some daft running gags refreshingly underplayed. Hal Hartley's Amateur, meanwhile, has Martin Donovan as an amnesiac who has nymphomaniac nun Isabelle Huppert helping him flee the mobsters.

Surprisingly dark, there's even a torture-by-electrocution sequence which makes for uncomfortable comedy, but you could never mistake Hartley for Quentin Tarantino.

A Confucian Confusion (7 Nov) Edward Yang's gentle piece, following the fortunes of a handful of young Taiwanese urbanites, has, not unreasonably, been deemed too uncommercial for release even by the ICA. It's a witty, often bristling, comedy of careers, in a fairly well-worked vein: Woody Allen (and specifically Hannah and Her Sisters) influences the film's slow build toward epiphanic conclusion.

Allen's predilection for irony sharpens many of Yang's observations as well, and it's a cumulative satire which will repay your attention.

Dallas Doll (14 Nov) This dark suburban drama never quite fulfills its early promise, but is quirky, intriguing stuff nevertheless. Sandra Bernhard is Dallas, a golfing teacher who worms her way into the home of the thoroughly respectable Sommers family, opening their eyes to pleasures new. Anna Turner soon runs out of steam but, as a director, she's never less than committed.

Exotica (16 Nov) The master conjuror of Canadian cinema, Atom Egoyan, produces another perverse conundrum of sex, deceit and secrecy. A tax auditor inspects the quarters of a pet shop, frequenting, in his spare time, the 'Exotica' bar where he warms to a dancer dressed as a schoolgirl; his own life is empty since his daughter's disappearance. Egoyan manages to assemble some kind of humanity among all the intellectual game-playing and, if the final connections are a little tenuous, he's still giving his peers a run for their money with this, his best work since The Adjuster.

Heavenly Creatures (12 Nov) Peter Jackson, who masterminded such trash classics as Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles, fares well as the unlikely director behind Heavenly Creatures, a New Zealand feature about two schoolgirls whose friendship, and eventually love, grows so intense that they're driven to murder. Unlikely, but true, and the friendship itself is frighteningly real, thanks to spirited performances, particularly from Melanie Lynskey. The girls have the buzz of recklessness about them, playing secret games, canonising Mario Lanza, tearing through the woods in their underwear. This is finally about nothing as humdrum as murder. Instead, it's for anyone who remembers having a best friend they would have died, or killed, for.

Little Odessa (10 Nov) James Gray's directorial debut is a mature and measured study of violent life. Despite being saddled with a climax which mixes together too many characters and contrivances, Gray frames and directs with the studied cool of a young Cassavetes. Tim Roth plays Josh, an assassin returning to his old neighbourhood and finding his real problems are the old family resentments rising to the surface.

Ryaba My Chicken (12 Nov) A comedy which sees precious light shed on the dour lives of disillusioned Bezvodnoe villagers by the eponymous, apparently magical, bird. It's insubstantial, especially spread thinly over two hours, but it's charming - and, from director Andrei Konchalovsky, better known for the pomp of Runaway Train, refreshing.

Spider and Rose (9 Nov) A bit more passion wouldn't have gone amiss in Spider and Rose, which contrives to have a young punk-ish ambulance driver spending his last day on the job ferrying an elderly grouch home for her birthday. It would be wonderful to tell you that no, they don't overcome their differences to become buddies but, alas, whatever its other disappointments, Spider and Rose gets top marks for non-ageist nudity.

Tales from a Hard City (12 Nov) A documentary on Sheffield folk. Gasp as Wayne, the cigar- chomping Svengali, tries to make bubbly blonde Sarah a star. Shriek as she shows her young son a video of herself performing ('Don't you like to see all those men looking at mummy?'). Cringe as Paul, an ex-boxer, tries to land a job promoting Skodas. Kim Flitcroft lets them all get on with it - there's not an ounce of condescension here. One of those documentaries stuffed so full with cruel ironies you think it just has to be faked.

We will be featuring week-by- week selections from the festival throughout its duration. There are several talks already announced, and it's common LFF practice for major directors to turn up unannounced at screenings of their films. More often than not, you're paying for more than just a screening.

38th London Film Festival, 3- 20 Nov (071-928 3232) (Photograph omitted)