As always, when it comes to continental cinema at the London Film Festival, the emphasis is on France. Such is the current state of the Seventh Art in Europe, however, that the majority of the Francophone titles in the 61st edition of Britain's biggest screen event are co-productions. Indeed, two of the most noteworthy pictures were produced by overseas directors.

Austrian Michael Haneke has often worked in France before and he reunites with Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant in Happy End, which revisits themes from so many previous pictures that it almost feels like a career summation. Amidst the haute-bourgeois hypocrisy, domestic dysfunction, inter-generational antagonism and casual exploitation, Trintignant's octogenarian Calsis patriarch seeks someone to put him out of his misery, while daughter Huppert becomes engaged to British lawyer Toby Jones while running the family construction business and trying to cope with the fallout from an accident caused by the negligence of her site supervisor son, Franz Rogowski. Meanwhile, under the watchful gaze of Moroccan servants Hassam Ghancy and Nabiha Akkari, Huppert's doctor brother, Mathieu Kassovitz has to take care of estranged 12 year-old daughter Fantine Harduin after her mother overdoses, while welcoming a new son with new wife Laura Verlinden.

The late Abbas Kiarostami also muses on life, death, belonging, nature and Iranian censorship laws in his final work, 24 Frames. Posthumously assembled by his son,. Ahmad, this collection of four-and-a-half-minute vignettes uses digital technology to gently animate a selection of Kiarostami's still photographs, as well as Pieter Bruegel's 1565 canvas, `The Hunters in the Snow'. In addition to colour and monochrome tableaux centring on such animals as horses, deer, birds and wolves, there are also two human interludes, including a snapshot of six elderly Muslim tourists visiting the Eiffel Tower and a moving finale that sees a couple kiss in an old Hollywood film to the accompaniment of Katherine Jenkins singing Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater's show tune, `Love Never Dies'.

Two other features experiment with animation in relating stories that will delight audiences of all ages. Michel Ocelot employs his trademark silhouette style in Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess, which puts a wry spin on fairy tales involving a girl who stands up to a terrifying beast (`The Mistress of Monsters'), a Parisian boy's encounter with a scheming magician (`The Sorcerer's Pupil'), a stowaway's tussle with a pirate captain (`The Ship's Boy and His Cat') and a life-and-death odyssey (`Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess'). By contrast, Patrick Imbert and Benjamin Renner employ a more conventional graphic style in The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, a triptych of amusing farmyard fables that sees a rabbit, a pig and a duck help out a stork (`A Baby to Deliver'), some newly hatched chicks mistake a predator for their mother (`The Big Bad Fox') and some animals seek out a new Santa (`The Perfect Christmas').

Anne Wiazemsky (who died at the age of 70 on 5 October) will always be remembered for her poignant performance alongside the eponymous donkey in Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar (1966). But she also appeared as a 19 year-old in La Chinoise (1967), a career-changing feature by her husband, Jean-Luc Godard, who was 20 years her senior and was going through a personal and artistic crisis during one of the most turbulent periods in recent French political history. Long after their divorce, Wiazemsky drew on her relationship with the enfant terrible of the nouvelle vague for two novels, Une Année Studieuse (2012) and Un An après (2015), and the latter provides the basis for Michel Hazanavicius's Redoubtable, which stars Louis Garrel and Stacy Martin as the newlyweds negotiating choppy waters during the May Days of 1968. The pitfalls of an actor's life are scrutinised in a more fanciful manner by Anne Fontaine in Reinventing Marvin, which follows gay wannabe Finnegan Oldfield from his hardscrabble provincial existence with homophobic classmates and brutal father Grégory Gadebois to a Paris filled with avant-garde theatre directors (Vincent Macaigne), sugar daddies (Charles Berling) and Isabelle Huppert (cameoing as herself). Artist and single mother Juliette Binoche also counts capricious actor Nicolas Duvauchelle among her litany of lovers in Let the Sunshine In. Claire Denis's sophisticated romcomedic reworking of Roland Barthes's A Lover's Discourse: Fragments. Chauvinist married banker Xavier Beauvois, fellow artist Bruno Podalydès, ex-husband Laurent Grévill, new acquaintance Alex Descas and complete stranger Paul Blain also complicate Binoche's existence and she resorts to consulting tarot reader Gérard Depardieu about her prospects, only for him to make a play for her after ditching Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi.

Xavier Beauvois instigates a marked change of pace behind the camera in The Guardians, an adaptation of Ernest Pérochon's 1924 novel about a matriarchs bid to save the family farm while her sons are fighting on the Western Front in the months after Verdun. With sons Cyril Descours and Nicolas Giraud and son-in-law Olivier Rabourdin in the trenches, Nathalie Baye relies on daughter Laura Smet (Baye's own daughter) and local Iris Bry to gather the harvest. But the rustic peace is disturbed when Descours comes home on leave to flirty with Bry rather than intended Mathilde Viseux and Smet is accused of selling herself and her mothers homemade brandy to the Doughboys stationed nearby. Coming more up to date, another war zone drives widowed teacher and father of two Eriq Ebouaney and his philosophy professor brother Bibi Tanga from the Central African Republic to seek asylum in Paris in Chadian auteur Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's A Season in France. The work as a porter in a vegetable market and a doorman while enduring a bureaucratic nightmare. But Ebouaney finds his situation becoming more complicated when he falls for florist Sandrine Bonnaire.

The migrant experience is further explored in Maryam Goormaghtigh's doc-fictional debut, Before Summer Ends, which follows Iranian exiles Arash, Hossein and Ashkan on a meandering motoring tour of France that includes tipsy encounters with musicians Charlotte and Michelle before Arash decides to return to Tehran. Doubtless their antics would infuriate the right-leaning supporters of Catherine Jacob's RNP party in Lucas Belvaux's This Is Our Land, an uncompromising look at the seemingly irresistible rise of the Front National that shows how left-wing northern nurse Émilie Dequenne is seduced by propagandist rhetoric into standing as a candidate preaching intolerance dressed up as common sense. Activism in the face of prejudice also comes to the fore in 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute), as Robin Campillo draws on personal experience in harking back to the 1990s to see how ACT UP members Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Antoine Reinartz and Adèle Haenel challenge preconceptions of HIV/AIDS with a direct action campaign whose passion and fury risks alienating rather than educating its target audience. Some may find the tactics unsettling and the reaction is also likely to be mixed for Léa Mysius's Ava, which follows 13 year-old Noée Abita after she is diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition and decides to make the most of her dwindling sight by defying single mother Laure Calamy on a holiday in the Medoc by hooking up with Spanish teen Juan Cano who involves her in a crime spree and a Gypsy wedding.

This contentious debut has invited comparison with the more provocative outings of Catherine Breillat and François Ozon, and the latter revisits the mischievous malevolence of Criminal Lovers (1999) and Swimming Pool (2003) in Amant Double, an adaptation of Lives of the Twins, a novel that Joyce Carol Oates wrote under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith. Jacqueline Bisset stars as a model with possibly psychosomatic stomach pains, whose consultation with psychiatrist Jérémie Renier also brings her into contact with his twin brother, who takes a very different approach to treatment. Fugitive Paul Hamy also allows his curiosity to get the better of him in FJ Ossang's monochrome thriller, 9 Fingers, as he falls in with a gang that sweeps him out to sea in a boat before forcing him to participate in a heist.

A robbery also proves crucial to Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette's novel, Let the Corpses Tan, as Elina Löwensohn and Stéphane Ferrara stash 250kg of stolen gold in a crumbling hilltop villa overlooking the Mediterranean that is also home to alcoholic writer Marc Barbé, his wife (Sorylia Calmel), son (Bamba Forzani Ndiaye) and maid (Marine Sainsily), and Löwensohn's lawyer lover Michelangelo Marchese. Seemingly no one can be trusted. But cops Hervé Sogne and Dominique Troyes are also on their tails. The waters are more turbulent in Gilles Coulier's Cargo, as Sam Louwyck has to take over a loss-making fishing business when his father lapses into a coma after falling into the North Sea and he has to raise his eight year-old son while coping with siblings Wim Willaert and Sebastien Dewaele, who respectively wish to flit with a secret lover and turn a new leaf after living a life of crime.

Laetitia Dosch is also forced to make a new start when her photographer boyfriend locks her out of their apartment in the debuting Léonor Séraille's Jeune Femme. But, despite cutting her forehead butting the door and having to carry her cat around Paris in a cardboard box, Dosch has the magnetism and the moxie to battle back. And taking opportunities when they arise is also the theme of the final French feature on display, Modi Barry and Cédric Ido's Château, which is set in the working-class district around the Château d'Eau Métro station and centres on hairdresser Jacky Ido's bid to revive the fortunes of Ahmet Zirek's rundown barbershop and see off the competition of an aggressive newcomer.

There's a decidedly American feel to the standout title on the Italian slate at LFF 2017, as acclaimed director James Ivory joins director Luca Guadagnino among the screenwriters of Call Me By Your Name, an adaptation of André Aciman's coming-of-age novel that centres around all-American doctoral student Armie Hammer's summer sojourn in Lombardy with antiquities professor Michael Stuhlberg. Before his arrival, 17 year-old Timothée Chalamet was happy to flirt with girlfriend Esther Garrel. But, as the sun warms his ardour, he develops a crush on his father's house guest. The mood is much darker in Jonas Carpignano's A Ciambra, a second rite of passage that centres on Romani tweenager Pio Amato, who has to take responsibility for providing for his family in the Calabrian town of Gioao Tauro after brother Damiano Amato is jailed. However, his friendship with Burkinabé youth Koudous Seihon puts him at odds with his closed-ranked kinfolk.

Uncomfortably truths also hit home in Vincenzo Marra's Equilibrium when priest Mimmo Borrelli returns to the Terra dei fuoci region near Naples to discover that the Camorra has taken over almost every aspect of veteran Roberto del Gaudio's parish. Consequently, he has a struggle to bring drug den watchman Giuseppe D'Ambrosio to the bedside of dying mother Astrid Meloni and to convince the police to investigate the abuse of Francesca Zazzera's daughters on a no-go estate. A Neopolitan aura also pervades Gianni Amelo's Tenerezza - Holding Hands, an adaptation of Lorenzo Marone's bestseller, The Temptation to Be Happy, which explores the relationships between rascally retired lawyer Renato Carpentieri and his grown-up children, Arturo Musell and Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and the kids of new neighbours Micaela Ramazzotti and Elio Germano, whose childish nature has a tragic impact on the neighbourhood.

Staying in the south, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza put a fairytale spin on a Mafia kidnapping in Sicilian Ghost Story, which takes its cues from the case of 12 year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, who was held for 779 days in the mid-1990s in a bid silence his informant father. However, when Gaetano Fernandez is snatched in the woods, devoted friend Julia Jedlikowska defies her Swiss mother, Sabine Timoteo, to launch a campaign to find him with her best friend, Corinne Musallari. And another young boy finds himself in unexpected peril in Jan Zabeil's Three Peaks, as Alexander Fehling seeks to bond with girlfriend Bérénice Bejo's eight year-old son, Arian Montgomery, by taking him on a day-long expedition during a holiday in the Dolomites. However, panic sets in with a thick fog that causes the intrepid pair to become separated.

The countryside also seems a forbidding place, as we head into Spain for Carla Simón's semi-autobiographical debut, Summer 1993, which joins six year-old Laia Artigas as she is whisked away from Barcelona following the AIDS-related deaths of her parents to stay in rural Catalonia with uncle David Verdaguer, his wife Bruna Cosi and their three year-old daughter, Paula Robles. Verdaguer features in another study in grief, Carlos Marques-Marcet's Anchor and Hope, as he comes to stay on a London houseboat to cheer up best friend Natalia Tena after her cat dies. However, his arrival irks Tena's girlfriend, Oona Chaplin (who teams her with real-life mother, Geraldine), who hits upon a plan to keep the womanising interloper occupied.

A peripatetic tone also informs Aitor Arrewgi and Jon Garano's Giant, in which the Basque duo explore today's celebrity culture and the politics of display through the prism of Mikel Jokin Eleizegi, the tallest man of his day, who was exhibited around Europe as Mr Colossus by his brother Martin after he returned from the First Carlist War in 1836 to discover that the family farm in Gipuzkoa has fallen on hard times. Joseba Usabiaga and Eneko Sagardoy star as Martin and Jokin, while Maribel Verdú and Antonio de la Torre team up on another quixotic quest in Pablo Berger's Abracadabra. Tired of the football-mad De la Torre's indifference to her and daughter Priscilla Delgado, Verdú hopes to have some fun at her cousin's wedding. However, groom José Mota botches a demonstration of hypnotism, with the result that De la Torre is possessed by the ghost of a waiter who stabbed seven victims at the wedding venue in 1983. So, in an effort to restore De la Torre to normal, Mota's mentor, Josep Maria Pou, suggests Verdú joins him in a search for an item that once belonged to the killer.

The mood is more militant in neighbouring Portugal, as documentarist Daniele Incalcaterra organises the workforce at a Lisbon elevator plant to fight its imminent closure in Pedro Pinho's The Nothing Factory, an epic mix of agit-prop, satire, melodrama and music that includes songs by the punk band led by machinist José Smith Vargas. The edgy 16mm imagery contrasts with the widescreen monochrome employed by Turkish auteur Semih Kaplanoglu in Grain, a dystopian sci-fi quest that imagines a future in which genetically modified seeds have ceased to work after wiping out all natural strains and scientist Jean-Marc Barr is sent to find geneticist Ermin Bravo before those crowding into detention centres in the hope of gaining admittance to a protected city.

Václav Kadrnka chronicles a very different kind of odyssey in Little Crusader, which draws on 19th-century Czech poet Jaroslav Vrchlický's `The Little Crusader of Svojanov' to follow medieval knight Karel Roden in his bid to conquer his demons and find young son Matous John, who has wandered off to join the Children's Crusade. Religion also has a part to play in another man's search for answers in Romanian Cãlin Peter Netzer's Ana, Mon Amour, as Mircea Postelnicu visits a psychoanalyst in the hope of piecing together the fragments of his life with Diana Cavallioti, who has become a self-confident career woman in spite of suffering from anxiety and depression.

Another couple face a crisis in Andrei Zvyagintsev's Loveless, as Maryana Spivak and Alexei Rozin try to control the mutual antipathy that has driven them towards divorce in order to find 12 year-old son Matvei Novikov, who has gone missing in Moscow. However, the pair are also distracted by Spivak's nascent romance with the wealthy Andris Keishs and Rozin's need to protect pregnant girlfriend Marina Vasilyeva and keep his separation from an ultra-Christian boss who insists he is married with children. If suspense is a by-product of Zvyagintsev's state-of-the-nation saga, it's very much to the fore in Hungarian Árpád Sopsits's Strangled, which recalls the spate of deaths that took place in the small town of Martfu in the decade following the failed 1956 Uprising. For much of that time, cop Zsolt Anger is unconvinced that the timid Gabor Jaszberenyi killed a girl from the local shoe factory. But, when another victim is found, Jaszberenyi's devoted sister, Szofia Szamosi, urges Anger to ally with new broom lawyer Peter Barnai to overturn the conviction secured by jobsworthy local prosecutor Zsolt Trill.

A crime spree also dominates Spoor, Agnieszka Holland's adaptation of an Olga Tokarczuk bestseller that pits sixtysomething environmentalist Agnieszka Mandat against the aggressively macho hunting community in her small town on the Polish-Czech border after her beloved dogs disappear and she starts to dig around with the help of idealistic neighbour Wiktor Zborowski and visiting entomologist Miroslav Krobot. Passing acerbic comment on the current government's attitude to ecological matters, this allegory finds a companion piece in Birds Are Singing in Kigali, the last film made by the husband-and-wife team of Joanna Kos-Krauze and the late Krzysztof Krauze, which charts the efforts of ornithologist Jowita Budnik to settle back into normal life after she is driven from Rwanda by the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of her Tutsi colleagues in a study of wild vultures and left her responsible for their 23 year-old daughter, Eliane Umahire, who postpones her bid to claim asylym in order to find where her loved ones have been buried.

Back in the present, the theme of clashing cultures recurs in Valeska Grisebach's Western, which examines the impact made on a Bulgarian village of a German construction gang, led by the boorish Reinhardt Wetrek. Reinhardt Wetrek wants nothing to do with provocative acts like flying the German flag and diverting the local water supply. But his tentative friendship with Syuleyman Alilov Letifov is threatened when a borrowed white horse goes missing. Another unconventional liaison is formed in Jakob Lass's Tiger Girl, as streetwise parking attendant Ella Rumpf takes aspiring cop Maria-Victoria Dragus under her wing and shows her how to fight back against the chauvinists she encounters in Berlin. However, Dragus soon develops a taste for meting out her own brand of justice.

Dragus plays another woman acquiring a better understanding of herself in Barbara Albert's Mademoiselle Paradis, a biopic of Maria Theresia von Paradis, a blind contemporary of Mozart who dazzled the courts of Europe with her piano playing. However, she also hopes to see again and places her faith in Dr Mesmer (Devid Striesow), whose experimental methods have a beneficial effect on Resi's eyes and a ruinous one on her artistry. A remake of Rainer Werber Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) allows Nicolas Wackerbarth to explore the notion of artistic power in Casting, as line reader Andrea Lust hopes to impress director Judith Engel as she searches for the right actress to take the title role.

The line between fantasy and reality begins to blur to more shocking effect in Lukas Feigelfeld's film school graduation project, Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse, which is set in 15th-century Austria and centres on Aleksandra Cwen, a twentysomething single mother whose own mother, Claudia Martini, had been branded a witch. Only the eccentric Tanja Petrovsky seems willing to support Cwen. But she has perverse motives that cause Cwen to experience dark imaginings and flesh-eating cravings. By contrast, compatriot Ruth Mader sends us into the near future for Life Guidance, a tale of rebellion that sees seemingly model capitalist Fritz Karl leave model wife Katharina Lorenz to take a course with Florian Teichtmeister designed to improve his attitude. But Karl escapes and finds himself in a refuge for second-class citizens known as the Fortress of Sleep.

A familiar world is presented in a new light in Belgian animator David Claerbout's The Pure Necessity, a redrawn version of Walt Disney's The Jungle Book (1967) that removes the human, narrative, musical and anthropomorphic elements from Wolfgang Reitherman's adaptation of Rudyard Kipling to reclaim Baloo, Bagheera and Kaa as a bear, a panther and a snake. Bullhead director Michael R Roskam lands us back in the real world with a bump, as he teams with Jacques Audiard collaborators Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré on Racer and the Jailbird, which teams Adèle Exarchopoulos and Matthias Schoenaerts as the motor-racing daughter of protective tycoon Eric de Staercke and a dashing daredevil with a penchant for robbery.

Five more males harbour anxieties in Dutch debutant Daan Bakker's boldly ambitious Quality Time, which contains episodes involving introspective photographer Noël Keulen, Norwegian time traveller Thomas Aske Berg (who goes back to his own childhood), nervous musician Steve Aernouts and an invasion of abducting aliens. But the standout is the opening vignette about a large red dot named Koen dreading a family gathering because he knows he's going to get teased. In compatriot Nicole van Kilsdonk's The Day My Father Became a Bush, the sense of unsettling whimsy replaced by the grim reality of a civil war between `the ones' and `the others'. Caught up in the conflict is 10 year-old Celeste Holsheimer, who is happy baking with father Teun Kuilboer. But, when he is called up to fight and it becomes too dangerous to stay with grandma Anneke Blok, plans are made to smuggle Holsheimer across the border to her estranged mother.

Twelve year-old city boy Daan Roofthooft also gets a chance to meet up with mother Sara Somerfield when he goes to spend the summer with the Sami people of Lapland in Meikeminne Clinckspoor's Cloudboy. However, with everyone devoting their energies to the reindeer herd, he finds himself spending time with his half-sister, Ayla Gáren Audhild Nutti, until he makes a reckless decision to go in search of a missing calf. A bleaker picture of country life is presented by Jens Assur in Ravens, an adaptation of Tomas Bannerhed's acclaimed novel that sees farmer Reine Brynolfsson try to coerce birdwatching son Jacob Nordström to take on the failing estate that has taken its toll on his mental health.

There's more suffering for on show in Dane Birgitte Stærmose's Darling, as ballerina Danica Curcic and choreographer husband Gustaf Skarsgård return to the Royal Danish Ballet corps in Copenhagen for a performance of Giselle that exposes the cracks in their personal and professional relationships. While it has its dark moments, the mood is altogether lighter in Henrik Ruben Genz's Word of God, an adaptation of Jens Blendstrup's popular autobiography that takes us back to a post-Chernobyl 1986, as aspiring poet Marcus Sebastian Gert tries to cope with the fact that overbearing father Søren Malling is writing a memoir entitled Mein Kampf and that older brother Clint Ruben is locked in his room attempting to break the world masturbation record.

Another father proves something of a challenge in Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken's Going West, as Norwegian music teacher Benjamin Helstad vows to keep a promise to dying mother Birgitte Victoria Svendsen to do something fun with his father. However, when he shows up on a rusty motorbike and sidecar to take Reidar Sørensen to a quilting contest on a remote lighthouse island, Helstad is surprised to discover that his dad is no longer hiding his passion for cross-dressing. A less cosy sexual awakening preoccupies Joachim Trier in Thelma, as Eili Harboe defies her parents to go to university in Oslo and quickly falls into a lesbian relationship with Kaya Wilkins. But she also starts to experience shuddering convulsions and realises that animals have started to follow her. But the truth about Harboe's traumatising powers will have to remain shrouded for now.

The thrill of risk also strengthens the bond that forms between returning student Janne Puustinen and Syrian refugee Boodi Kabbani when they meet to repair Mika Melender's Finnish lake house in Mikko Makela's A Moment in the Reeds. However, the sparks start to fly when Melender goes to town on business and leaves his son alone with the handsome architect who conforms to no one's idea of a migrant. The results are very different when two more men find themselves alone in a secluded spot in Erlingur Thoroddsen's Rift. Arriving to visit ex-boyfriend Sigurður Thór Óskarsson on his remote family estate, Björn Stefánsson realises instantly that he is having a tough time reconciling himself with the past. But, as the stay continues, Stefánsson begins to be haunted by ghosts from his own youth.

Finally, Icelandic visual artist Hlynur Pálmason debuts with Winter Brothers, a chilly tale about a family feud that sees Danish limestone miners Elliott Crosset Hove and Simon Sears fall out over neighbour Victoria Carmen Sonne. Photographed on 16mm and Super 16 stock, this stark account of backbreaking toil in a forbidding landscape announces the arrival of several budding talents, including Maria von Hausswolff, sound designer Lars Halvorsen and composer Toke Brorson Odin.