In one of the most bustling cities the UK has to offer, the Glasgow Film Festival brought together a delectable array of cinematic treats for 2013, its ninth year of delivering the best in mainstream and independent film. Over its two-and-a-bit weeks of greatness were some of the most anticipated movies for 2013; Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, native Scottish indie Shell, hotly-tipped Spanish hit Blancanieves, and all culminating with Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (no less the UK premiere, and attended by the man himself). Unfortunately FilmOnTrial couldn’t quite cram in quite all the big screen buzz that was on offer, but our discoveries – which are bountiful- are covered below. Here’s to another year for the Glasgow Film Festival, and for more years of quality cinema to come.
Chock-full of naturalistic performances and a pervading sense of reality behind its ludicrous situations, Compliance conveys the most chills because of its ‘based-on-real-events’ mantra. It’s a deeply troubling account of what we do when under the duress of obedience, in this case the innocent staff at a fast food joint who fall under the dominion of an apparent police officer via increasingly creepy phone conversations. The fact that the events that transpire in this movie have some basis in real life makes this even more disturbing to sit through, and for a film that doesn’t need any more reason to have you squirming in your seat, it’s a tall order to swallow it all – but thanks to naturalistic lead performances from Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker, what transpires as disgusting fiction comes across as chilling documentary.
Far from the world of such gritty realism, I Wish is the jubilant tale of two Japanese brothers, one of who hopes that the magical energy released by two passing bullet trains will grant him a wish; to reunite his family. A strong, dreamy current of familial ties runs through Hirokazu Koreeda’s work, which takes such cues from Ozu but without its inherent stateliness; while the pace is languid, I Wish shines the same way a child’s smile does, and takes a nostalgic view at childhood and all the endless possibilities it entails. It’s already certain to be a foreign-language hit with similar praise currently being showered on it.
Also moving (surprisingly) is Indie Game: The Movie, charting the highs and very, very lows of a handful of independent game developers while they wax melancholy about the stale state of mainstream gaming, and the struggle to continually push your own creative vision. These fellows may initially exude man-child inclinations, but that becomes exactly their draw; in tirelessly building their own virtual worlds, they hope to better this one. It’s a bare-bones study that works in due part to its committal to only four or five talking heads – any more, and the deeply personal quality, which is painful to watch at times, would be lost. This is documentary filmmaking that employs minutiae as a juncture of emotional investment, and when these alternative souls eventually unleash their personal projects on the world, you feel at least a fraction of the same relief they do.
It’s a shame something similarly positive can’t be expressed toward Dormant Beauty, an Italian drama that purports an articulacy on familial trials and tribulations with its potent set pieces, but falls vastly short of tugging anywhere near the same number of heartstrings. Set during the final days of Eluana Englaro’s life, a real person who was in a vegetative state for seventeen years, the controversy surrounding her life including the call for euthanasia and its opposition, makes for a lovely framing metaphor for Dormant Beauty; it’s almost hilarious how far director Marco Bellocchio misses the mark for making any kind of powerful statement, even when given this potent subject matter. The performances possess the essence of something good, if melodramatic, but they’re suffocated by the kind of stiff situation-placing that they can’t help but feel lost in. It’s cinematic posturing of the worst kind – and it appears to be digitally shot by someone with no concept of depth or light levels, just to further nail home its failure.
Gangs of Wasseypur, thankfully, blows wide the foreign language category as something that can be sprawling and thrilling in equal measure. Split into two parts, Gangs is a five-hour plus van ride through the streets of hardest India. Rivalries gestate over decades, forming intense bonds that eventually tense and crack, opening up the dirty streets that hold them with gunfire and backstabbing. It’s been called the ‘Indian Godfather’, and to a certain extent that’s a valid comparison; it’s insane that it piques interest throughout nearly all its absurd running time, despite its slowly unfurling scroll of characters and plots. It’s a stunning feat of modern epic filmmaking that happens to not be Hollywood for once, and a testament to all directors out there willing to create tangible worlds of their own.purports an articulacy on familial trials and tribulations with its potent set pieces, but falls vastly short of tugging anywhere near the same number of heartstrings. Set during the final days of Eluana Englaro’s life, a real person who was in a vegetative state for seventeen years, the controversy surrounding her life including the call for euthanasia and its opposition, makes for a lovely framing metaphor for Dormant Beauty; it’s almost hilarious how far director Marco Bellocchio misses the mark for making any kind of powerful statement, even when given this potent subject matter. The performances possess the essence of something good, if melodramatic, but they’re suffocated by the kind of stiff situation-placing that they can’t help but feel lost in. It’s cinematic posturing of the worst kind – and it appears to be digitally shot by someone with no concept of depth or light levels, just to further nail home its failure.
One of the highlights of Glasgow Film Festival was The Place Beyond the Pines, the latest collaboration from Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling (their last being the achingly good Blue Valentine). This is a complex totem of contemporary father-son relationships, remarkably potent as its beautiful cinematography ripples with heavy thematic weight. The screenplay juggles genres without either straying from its autumnal tones, and evocatively ruminates on the vast gulfs (and ties) we find between different generations. At pivotal, unforgettable moments, Cianfrance pulls the rug from underneath you, and as you spiral through the air afterward, it’s the greatest feeling.
Greetings from Tim Buckley exhibits a prosaic method of dealing with the same patriarchal themes, and while it’s a mostly unremarkable attempt at realism, there is a tenderness in which it handles its central real-life music stars that biopics rarely achieve. It’s a quiet, metaphor-free dictation (as opposed to exploration) on Jeff Buckley’s inner demons as he battles with the idea of participating in a tribute concert for his late (and famous) father, Tim. It’s bathed in the same hushed light of the nineties (watch any dour 1990-1995 indie video for a comparison) which is commendable, and eventually gently slips into its own flow – but a bit too late.
Also a man out of time, Frank Langella returns to the leading man fray with Robot & Frank, and it’s an emotionally resplendent, rewarding watch. Retired jewel thief Frank is restless in his unspectacular life, grasping for the same excitement that he was part of during his days as a criminal. But along with old age, there’s another formidable obstacle standing in the way: his degenerating memory. When his worried son presents to him a housekeeping robot, what begins as an uneasy animosity turns into something that resembles a friendship – when Frank realises he can use his new high-tech friend to help in a few illegal activities. What begins as a laugh-splotched caper disarmingly evolves into a touching rumination on memory, and keeping those you love close to you. It’s feel-good without the syrup, and Langella is reliably excellent; so is the robot, in fact.
Ending the festival on a low is Welcome to the Punch. For all of director Eran Creevy’s affable energy and visible longing to give London its own Hong Kong crime picture, is a senseless and ultimately boring mess. James McAvoy and Mark Strong stare at each other concernedly for almost its entire ninety-nine minutes, a poor substitute for the Heat-style rivalry that is clearly supposed to exist somewhere in the script, and apart from a couple of standout situational scenes, the dialogue is banal at best, the acting uninspired even from these established gents, and the script static and void of flair. There are moments of interest, but ultimately this is a poor second feature whose previous work was the lauded Shifty. Sadly, it’s less a British Infernal Affairs and more a stock-Statham movie, one that is shot and directed with a vibrant urgency but is forgotten almost immediately after.