EIFF 2015: The Highlights

Our film team have decompressed after 11 fun days at the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival. Here are the nine flicks we enjoyed most at this year's festival

Feature by Jamie Dunn | Josh Slater-Williams | George Sully | 07 Jul 2015

45 Years (Andrew Haigh)

45 Years is a ghost story, but the spectre haunting Geoff and Kate (expertly played by Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling), the middle-age couple at the heart of the film, isn’t made of ectoplasm. It’s a memory, of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, who died on a climbing holiday 50 years ago. When Geoff’s mind (and possibly heart) seems to be wondering back to this memory of his first love, who’s body has recently been discovered perfectly preserved in ice and has remained similarly frozen in his consciousness, Kate feels like it’s her turn to fall into a crevasse.

Writer-director Andrew Haigh cleverly keeps most of Geoff and Kate’s resentments under wraps – and it’s these unspoken feelings that echo loudest. This is the kind of quietly devastating relationship drama of which Ingmar Bergman would’ve been proud. [Jamie Dunn]

Chuck Norris vs Communism (Ilinca Calugareanu)

Can movies change the world? Chuck Norris vs Communism suggests they can, even those low rent ones for which logic and acting skills aren’t required. Using first-hand testimonies and wonderfully noirish reconstructions that could’ve been lifted from The Lives of Others, this lively doc immerses us in the surreptitious world of the illegal film nights of 80s Romania, where dozens would congregate in the apartment of their one neighbour with a VCR (at the time, in the Eastern Bloc, they cost the equivalent of a car) to watch bootlegged missives of American imperialism starring the likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme. Reagan-era capitalism and crap films never felt so radical. [JD]

Dope (Rick Famuyiwa)

In Rick Famuyiwa’s subversive coming-of-age comedy, three high school “90s hip-hop geeks” get mixed up in contemporary drug trafficking and learn some lessons along the way. Doe-eyed lead Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friend Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) give effortlessly charming big-screen debuts, while third amigo Jib (Tony Revolori, last seen as young Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel) is underused but supplies a few gags.

Overall, thanks to a smart bag of references to both modern meme culture and bygone music and movies, Dope succeeds, not as pastiche nor misty-eyed nostalgia, but as a fresh take on the familiar misadventure narrative. [George Sully]

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a vibrant and intimate look at adolescent female sexuality, often uncomfortable but never exploitative, and funny without any mockery. It's a much-needed shot in the arm for a perspective grossly underrepresented in American cinema.

Blending the comedic sensibilities of Noah Baumbach and Terry Zwigoff with the sexually frank European nature of Catherine Breillat, Marielle Heller’s 70s-set directorial debut offers stellar turns from rising British star Bel Powley and True Blood hunk Alexander Skarsgård. Maybe avoid the trailers floating around, which paint an inaccurate portrait of the film as a safe, sentimental foray and overemphasise its animated flourishes. [Josh Slater-Williams]

Inside Out (Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen)

Uncontested artisans of the CG flick (aimed at little ‘uns but beloved by adults), Pixar again press all the right buttons with Inside Out. Depicting two parallel but interdependent storylines, the film charts the emotional upheaval of moving house and changing schools, for both 11-year old Riley and her parents, and for the personified emotions in Riley’s head.

The alchemical balance of humour and heart, the interplay between the two narratives, and the level of care and detail put into the representation of thoughts and memories as their own micro-dramas, make this picture an overwhelming triumph. [GS]

Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad)

Too many music biopics so easily fit the mould of the likes parodied in 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Love & Mercy, based on the life of former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, thankfully avoids most of the usual tropes, with director Bill Pohlad’s film offering a much more intimate and formally ambitious portrait of an artist than we’re used to.

It’s not as bold as Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan movie I’m Not There, but Pohlad and screenwriters Oren Moverman (who co-wrote I’m Not There) and Michael A Lerner’s choice to intersperse a focus on two distinct, decades apart periods of Wilson’s life, and the gambit of casting different actors as young and older Wilson (Paul Dano and John Cusack, respectively), pays off tremendously. [JS-W]

Makeup Room (Kei Morikawa)

A low-budget comedy from director Kei Morikawa, Makeup Room is definitely the funniest film ever made that’s set entirely within the makeup room of a Japanese porn shoot (unless that’s actually what Duck Soup was about, it’s been a while). As well as dabbling in the horror genre, Morikawa apparently has some experience directing adult content in Japan (The Skinny must go on record as not having researched the latter), and his witty and often outrageous script – in words only, there’s no actual sex in this – seems well-informed by his past experiences. There’s a chance it may also be the best workplace comedy film since Office Space. [JS-W]

The Stanford Prison Experiment (Kyle Patrick Alverez)

It’s 1971, a time when college kids wanted to make love, not war. Throw a group of those same kids in a mocked-up prison and randomly assign half of them roles as prisoners, half of them as guards, and an uglier side of human nature emerges. Kyle Patrick Alvarez dramatises the real life experiment of the title, and with great skill makes its incredulous turn of events credible.

The slickness of Alvarez’s filmmaking is matched with the humanism he showed in Easier with Practice and C.O.G., shooting in close-up so that we too feel like we’re in the experiment’s psychological tinderbox. Among the great cast, which includes pretty much every up-and-coming male actor in Hollywood, Michael Angarano, as a smirking hippie who quickly embraces his sadistic side, is the standout. [JD]

The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle)

The Wolfpack is the documentary feature debut of New Yorker Crystal Moselle, and its subject is at times so unsettling, so bewitching, and so improbable, you can scarcely believe it’s real. Seven kids, raised and homeschooled in their Manhattan apartment, have rarely been permitted to go outside under the strict rule of their father. Movies then provide the brood with escapist entertainment, as they reenact their favourites with homemade props and hand-typed scripts.

It’s hard to watch, in places, as your heart goes out to these isolated boys, but their candid politeness and resilient good humour (captured by Moselle’s keen eye) maintains an optimistic tone. [GS]

Edinburgh International Film Festival took place 17-28 Jun
For more of The Skinny’s reviews and interviews from EIFF, go to www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-festivals/film