The Glasgow Film Festival is back! Celebrating its tenth year and featuring celebrity appearances from Alan Rickman and Paul Merton. the festival is stronger than ever. Working as a GFF volunteer, I had the opportunity to see a decent chunk of it.
First up was Catch Me Daddy, the bleak feature debut from brothers Daniel and Matthew Wolfe, a Northern-English Western with shades of No Country For Old Men on the Yorkshire moors. Unsentimental to a fault and with an ending like a punch in the gut it’s not for everyone, but given the right audience it’ll resonate like hell. [5/5]
Less promising is White Bird in a Blizzard. Eva Green channels Norma Desmond as a suburban mother but her performance is lost in the jumble of a film that doesn’t know its own strengths. Tries to be ten things at once and fails to be any good. [2/5]
Using fewer ideas to greater effect, Aussie comedy The Mule exists entirely to justify the five minute poop joke at about the hour mark. But the rest of the movie is watchable enough and it’s a pretty good poop joke so what more do you want? [3/5]
A film that does transcend its premise, however, is the Italian Short Skin, the sweetest coming-of-age drama to feature a boy fucking a dead octopus as a plot point. A funny, heartfelt tale about growing up and the (sometimes literal) pains of sexuality. [4/5]
Five films, five different countries! It’s not hard to see why Japan chose melancholy drama The Light Shines Only There as its Oscar candidate, but it’s equally clear why the film didn’t make the Academy’s shortlist. A story of three supremely shitty lives that is solid but only occasionally exceptional. [3/5]
The second Italian bildungsroman of the fortnight, The Wonders doesn’t quite have Short Skin‘s humour or heart but compensates with its cast of flawed characters and atmospheric footage of the Tuscan countryside, all shot on slightly scratched 16mm film. [3/5]
Subaqua suspense film Pressure is a bit too paint-by-numbers to recommend, but at least it keeps its watercolours inside the lines. Executes a promising premise with competence but little flair. [2/5]
Easily among the festival’s best is Icelandic ensemble drama Life in a Fishbowl. Following the intertwined fates of an alcoholic writer, a struggling single mother, and a yuppie banker as the country approaches financial collapse, Life in a Fishbowl is tense and moving, dark and funny, and its performance from Þornstein Bachmann as the wino novelist is stunning.[5/5]
From The Craft to Mean Girls, the ‘girl-gang coming-of-age movie’ structure Girlhood uses is nothing new, but there’s enough energy and wit here to keep the formula fresh as it deftly handles issues of class, race and gender in Paris’ outer projects. [4/5]
Similarly, Edgar Allan Poe adaptation Stonehearst Asylum (billed as Eliza Graves) hides a surprisingly smart script under it’s lovably hokey Gothic exterior, with sharp wit and sharper plot twists that elevate a movie that could easily have slipped into tedium to be something quite enjoyable. The stellar supporting cast (Ben Kingsley, Michael Cain, Brendan Gleeson, David Thwelis) helps too. [4/5]
Unfortunately the other FrightFest movie I caught, the Australian Wyrmwood, was not so bright: a braindead zombie movie that shows the genre at its most amateurish and juvenile. [1/5]
Long thought lost, the rediscovered 1983 documentary Burroughs: The Movie is the only documentary on the Naked Lunch writer filmed before his death, which grants it an unmatched level of access to the controversial figure it takes as its subject. The film avoids easy answers and deals even-handedly with the trickier aspects of his life, but Burroughs the man remains an enigma. [4/5]
A very different documentary on a not so different topic, it’s a good thing Alejandro Jodorowsky has devoted his life to cinema because if he wanted to start a cult he totally could. It’s something about his eyes, and his infectious confidence in his own words, no matter how mental they are. Jodorowsky’s Dune is the incredible story of a film that could never have existed, but don’t tell that to Jodorowsky. [5/5]
Closing out the festival for me was Chinese tearjerker Coming Home, a beautifully rendered portrayal of the spectre of the cultural revolution in 1970s China that manages to be sad without being cloying, bolstered by a beautifully textured look and great central performances. [4/5]
And so ends another year of the Glasgow Film Festival, and all in all it was a blast. Volunteering here is something I would strongly recommend to anyone with more than a passing interest in film – they have some great movies, and the atmosphere in the GFT and the CCA is something special. The festival itself will return in February 2016 but if you can’t wait that long the GFT continues to screen a similar variety of foreign and independent cinema all year round, including many of the films that debuted at the festival as they get wider releases over the next few months.