FIRST WIVES AND BAD BLOOD AT LONDON'S 40TH FILM FESTIVAL

The Eye on Film

There's bad blood at this year's London Film Festival between the British Film Institute (the festival's parent body) and outgoing director Sheila Whitaker, who is being retired as part of a BFI policy of "cultural renewal". If that has a slightly Stalinist ring, then Whitaker seems to have sneaked a satisfyingly public retort into the programme. Where a gap yawns in place of the usual splashy opening night gala, the director has penned a philosophical note which begins "Whoever said running a festival was easy?"

Despite the last-minute scramble for an opener, Whitaker has come up trumps with glossy revenge comedy, The First Wives Club (Thur 7 Nov), which took a surprising $20m in its first weekend in America. It stars Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton as women getting their own back on the ex-husbands who have traded them in for younger models.

Another hot preview is Barry Levinson's Sleepers (Fri 15), based on Lorenzo Carcaterra's best-selling book of the same name. A "true story" of child abuse and adult retribution, with Dustin Hoffman on excellent form as an alcoholic lawyer, Robert De Niro playing a priest, and Brad Pitt, desperately out of his depth among such talent. The film faced controversy in the States when the veracity of Carcaterra's "semi-autobiographical" story was challenged, but with an emotive, issue-based storyline and the unprecedented pairing of method masters De Niro and Hoffman, the film is a fairly safe bet for some Oscars.

Kansas City, Robert Altman's latest epic (Wed 20), completes this trilogy of American blockbusters, with Jennifer Jason Leigh over-egging it as a 1930s broad, in a performance apparently modelled on her heroine, Jean Harlow.

Although these films have been booked up in advance, there are always tickets available half an hour before the performance. And if you don't manage to squeeze in, you can explore the international movies on show. Curiosities include Earth (Fri 8) from Julio Medem, Basque director of The Red Squirrel, and the Japanese film Organ (Sat 16), which follows two detectives who go undercover to investigate underground organ dealers. Great importance is attached to a plate of grilled kidneys in the French film Le Bonheur...(est dans le pre) (Thur 21), but this "coarse fairytale" is chiefly interesting for its casting of poet footballer, Eric Cantona.

Oh, and US indie kid Steve Buscemi claims his first directing credit for Trees Lounge (Fri 22), typecasting himself as a weedy suburban loser.

All in all, London's 40th Festival offers rich pickings for cineastes and a long goodbye from Whitaker who will be replaced as NFT director next year by Adrian Wootton.

Film Festival box office (0171-420 1122)

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