Wednesday, 19 February 2014

GFF: Five Picks From the Festival

The Glasgow Film Festival kicks off tomorrow night with Wes Anderson's new 'un The Grand Budapest Hotel. Over the coming couple of weeks, i'll be writing some official blogs for the festival as well as reviews and articles for the Skinny's festival rag the Cineskinny. To start, five films from the brochure that i humbly suggest are worth a punt...


Your spreadsheet proved to be more trouble than it was worth, your gut has revealed itself as decidedly less instinctive than you’d hoped, and if you keep throwing darts at the brochure you’re only going to damage it. Truly, there are better ways to resolve the dilemma of what to plump for at this year’s bumper Glasgow Film Festival.

However you go about it, make haste. The longer you dither the more restricted the choices are going to become: vacancies at The Grand Budapest Hotel are long snapped up and further enquiries about the Goodfellas Streetfood cinema screening will be met with a resounding ‘fuhgeddaboudit’. Which only leaves a few hundred more events to choose from – events like these:

Touki Bouki plus A Thousand Suns

When Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty died in 1998, the body of work left behind was relatively slender, his filmography numbering just two full-length features and a scattering of shorts. But Mambéty’s reputation as one of African cinema’s most important filmmakers was already long-secured thanks to his landmark, nouvelle vague-inspired debut Touki Bouki – described by Mark Cousins (one of the film’s numerous champions) as 'the most innovative African movie of its time'. Like so much of its home continent’s film heritage, Touki Bouki has been, for many cineastes in the northern hemisphere, a movie more read and talked about than actually watched, so this opportunity to see a restored print first-hand is exciting in and of itself. What makes the screening a must is the accompanying UK premiere of A Thousand Suns, directed by Mambéty’s neice Mati Diop. Neither wholly documentary nor fiction, it reportedly sees Diop pay tribute to her uncle’s work whilst meditating on its legacy, revisiting Touki Bouki’s principal actors forty years on and extending their characters’ story.

Stranger by the Lake

A late addition to the schedule but a very welcome one, writer/director Alain Guiraudie’s garlanded psychosexual drama has crossed la manche on a wave of accolades: best director and Queer Palm awards at Cannes, a top 10 placing in last year’s Sight & Sound poll, the top spot in Cahiers du Cinema’s equivalent list and a slew of Cesar nominations to boot. Its handsome trailer elegantly evokes summertime noirs like Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher or Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool, combining sex, sunshine and skulduggery as a young man falls for a potentially dangerous Adonis at a picturesque lake-side cruising spot. Like the waters on the shores of which the narrative plays out, there’s no doubt plenty going on beneath the surface of this lusty tale.


A Japanese remake of the Oscar-winning revisionist western of the same name, Unforgiven is but the latest example of a longstanding, two-way exchange between the jidaigeki and western genres; a back-and-forth that encompasses Yojimbo’s refashioning as A Fistful of Dollars, the John Ford echoes of Seven Samurai (later repatriated by The Magnificent Seven), and the more recent irreverent reversals of Takeshi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django. Transposing Clint Eastwood’s celebrated original to 19th century Hokkaido, director Lee Sang-il (who’ll be in attendance on the night of the screening) adapts the central tale of vengeance to fit a fresh cultural backdrop, casting the reliably excellent Ken Watanabe as a remorseful former samurai coaxed back into action to provide for his children. The visually striking results appear to have retained the source material’s gloomy tenor, but the film promises more than a straightforward re-tread, with key alterations to the central character’s past (from cold-blooded outlaw in the original to conflicted warrior in this new take) offering plenty of scope for its themes of honour and redemption to resonate in new and distinct ways.

A Spell to Ward off the Darkness

An experimental triptych that journeys from an Estonian commune to a neo-pagan black metal gig via a stint wandering the Finnish countryside, this anticipated collaboration between artist filmmakers Ben Rivers and Ben Russell is likely to be one of the more challenging (but also, hopefully, rewarding) films of the Festival. Neither Ben is a stranger to GFF, with the 2012 edition hosting shorts by both, alongside Rivers’ debut feature Two Years At Sea – a film in which very little happens to curiously mesmerising effect. A Spell to Ward off the Darkness looks to be similarly bewitching, the trailer’s mysterious collage of burning buildings, scenic wilderness and black metal offensives suggesting an immersive hybrid of ethnographic documentary, contemplative video art and niche concert footage. The latter aspect has the distinct potential to stick in the craw of those with less extreme musical tastes, but Rivers and Russell are trusted guides worth following.

Night Moves

An eco-terrorism thriller from a filmmaker better known for small-scale character studies may seem an incongruous match, but that’s precisely what makes Kelly Reichardt’s fifth feature such an attractive proposition. Penned with regular collaborator Jonathan Raymond (who has written or co-written all of Reichardt’s films from Old Joy onwards), Night Moves stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard as a trio of radical environmentalists plotting to blow up a hydroelectric dam – though given Reichardt’s past tendencies it seems safe to assume the dramatic emphasis will be more psychological than pyrotechnical. When you consider the wrenching emotional mileage wrung from Wendy and Lucy’s lost dog tale, it’s tantalising to imagine what Reichardt will achieve with a drama of considerably higher stakes – though as she proved with claustrophobic frontier drama Meek’s Cutoff, working within a familiar genre doesn’t necessarily entail playing by its rules.

And if none of those appeal: maybe try the darts technique again?

[written for the GFF]

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