Glasgow Film Festival 2017: Best of the Fest
Our film team take a look back at this year's Glasgow Film Festival
While Hurricane Doris caused havoc across the UK, film fans in Glasgow – which was unseasonably balmy for late February – entered the calm serenity of the cinema screen for Glasgow Film Festival. Although what was on screen wasn’t always that serene.
After a tepid start with opener Handsome Devil, a queer coming of age story that seemed embarrassed about its central premise, things really heated up. An early highlight was Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome, which managed to breathe life into the tired backpacker-abroad kidnap thriller. The film follows modern day flâneuse Clare (Teresa Palmer), an Aussie tourist whose interest in GDR architecture has brought her to photograph Kreuzberg. There she catches the eye of Berliner Andi (Max Riemelt), who seduces and traps her in one of her beloved, abandoned Soviet buildings. From this familiar setup, proceedings don’t play out as planned in this gruelling but formally beautiful thriller. Shortland’s film was so popular it was revived for GFF’s second weekend when boxing drama Jawbone dropped out of the programme.
Also getting us hot under the collar was the kinky, funny and frequently ridiculous The Ornithologist. João Pedro Rodrigues’ erotic exploration of man and nature follows a birdwatcher on a slow odyssey through Portugal’s Douro Valley. When the titular twitcher’s kayak is overturned in rapids his trip takes a turn for the weird as we watch him skulk around the stunning landscape half-naked and with the mannered brutishness of a domesticated animal adjusting to the wild.
Many delights came from GFF’s country strand True North, which paid tribute to the cinema of Canada. The Demons, from Philippe Lesage, was an exquisitely controlled study in dread as seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy trying to make sense of his surroundings in suburban Montreal. Bruce McDonald delivered his most joyous film yet with Weirdos, a loosy-goosy road movie shot in beautiful high-contrast black and white. And Crime Wave, a wild comedy from 1985, was full of eye-popping invention. On the final day in the press office we heard people raving about ice hockey movie Hello Destroyer too, so the strand clearly had strength in depth.
It was a strong festival for local talent too. The Levelling, a poetic drama from Edinburgh-based filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach sunk us into the mire of family secrets and resentments when a veterinary student returns to her family farm in Somerset following the death of her brother. There she finds a shifty father living in a caravan, the farmhouse in squalor following a flood, and many unanswered questions about her sibling's death. It’s the type of film that marinades you in its environment. You’ll swear you can smell that tang of manure and feel the squelch of mud beneath your feet as the prodigal daughter (Ellie Kendrick) looks through the debris of the life she’s left behind for answers.
There was some soul searching too in The End of the Game, the latest documentary from David Graham Scott. The subject is Guy Wallace, a dinosaur of Britain's past who looks like he’s stepped off the pages of a Rudyard Kipling yarn. A mutton-chopped colonialist, Wallace has lived his life like a boys’ own adventure, serving in the army across the Commonwealth and blowing away various big game along the way. As he reaches his twilight years he fancies one last hurrah: a Cape Buffalo hunt in South Africa. Scott, a strict vegan since boyhood, follows in what initially looks like morbid fascination.
There are many reasons not to warm to Wallace, not least his antiquated attitudes to race and gender, but Scott’s camera looks hard and finds the good. This walking anachronism is a sharp wit and surprisingly pleasant company. We begin to suspect his anti-PC views to be just an act too. When Wallace uses a racist slur during the hunt in an attempt to shock Scott, the hunter is visibly mortified when he realises a black mechanic working on the jeep they're using on the hunt is in earshot.
We start to identify with the cantankerous old codger so much that the ethics of the shoot we begin to question aren’t Wallace’s, but Scott’s. The most disturbing moment doesn’t come from the Buffalo’s death, but when Scott films an inebriated and distressed Wallace confessing his own fear of mortality. Scott indirectly extends our sympathy for Wallace further by ending the film with a cruel joke at the old man’s expense. It’s no surprise Wallace was greeted so warmly during the post film Q&A.
Scott was clearly confused, and slightly disappointed, with the audience’s reaction. “Honestly I thought there would be a lot of people banging on the racial stuff,” the filmmaker admited near the end of the cosy Q&A. “I really thought we were going to get fireworks tonight with militant vegans versus hunter, but there’s no pitched battles going on.”
GFF’s attendees are clearly no snowflakes, as was confirmed during the screening of Kuso, a film that compelled mass walkouts at its world premiere at Sundance and inspired hysterical reviews claiming it the “grossest film ever made.” The debut feature from Steven Ellison – better known as Flying Lotus – is set in a post-apocalypse LA where the inhabitants are in dermatological distress, and takes the form of a bizarre portmanteau filled with scatological jokes and grotesque sketches.
A man with a breast phobia seeks a cure from a cockroach that lives in a doctor’s anus; a boy who’s tortured by his mother seeks comfort from the world by feeding his own faeces to a forest-dwelling sphincter monster who may be his estranged father; and a couple enliven their sex life by having a three-way with a gay neck boil with a Scouse accent. If you haven’t guessed, Kuso is the kind of film designed to offend. It also happens to be surprisingly sweet and funny as hell. The GFF audience hooted along with delight.
If you were looking for snowflakes, however, you could find them covering the floor of the festival’s least likely venue: Snow Factor. GFF are famed for their site-specific events, but screening 1982 sci-fi The Thing on an indoor ski slope covered in a fresh dusting of real snow might be their most inspired yet. No matter how many times they’ve seen the John Carpenter classic, that audience will never forget the time they watch Kurt Russell’s MacReady and co battle an extraterrestrial in the Antarctic elements while their own breath was foggy and their own eyelashes frosted.
Other inspired venues this year included The Glue Factory for HEXA’s chilling sonic response to David Lynch's Factory Photographs and the ramshackle amusement park M&D's was the location for surprise screening The Lost Boys and made a great stand-in for that film’s seaside fairground where the eponymous teen vampires do most of their hunting.
The festival ended on a high note with Lipstick Under My Burkha, a wistful dramedy that unflinchingly observes the depths of women’s suffering in contemporary Indian society, winning this year’s Audience Award. “I really feel it’s a victory for women’s voices across cultures and nations, so thank you, Glasgow,” said the film’s director, Alankrita Shrivastava, when accepting the award
Braving sub-zero temperatures, showing humanity to confused old colonialists, laughing along to the grossest film ever made and voting a film fighting societal misogyny as their film of the festival, the GFF audience really is the best.
The Skinny’s Top Ten Films at GFF 2017
Berlin Syndrome (Cate Shortland)
City of Lost Z (James Grey) [The Surprise Film]
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
The Demons (Philippe Lesage)
Headshot (Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel)
Lady Macbeth (Lady Macbeth)
My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras)
The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues)
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)
Glasgow Film Festival took place 15-26 Feb http://theskinny.co.uk/film