Film: Glasgow Film Festival 2019

An underrated jewel in the cinema calendar, the Glasgow Film Festival continues, year-on-year, to deliver a vibrant, frequently leftfield celebration of celluloid. Shrugging off the semi-disastrous snowfall that crushingly hampered the second half of last year’s festival, the 2019 edition proved to be an emphatic statement of the organisers’ determination to come back stronger.

Mid 90’s 2019 Glasgow Film Festival

Opening on Wednesday 20th February with Jonah Hill’s delirious celebration of youthful spirit MID90S and drawing to a close on Sunday 3rd March with the pulsating monochrome adaptation of Kieran Hurley’s award-winning play BEATS, the festival offered up a cornucopia of delights, from special event screenings of THE MATRIXALIEN and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to the annual Surprise Film – unveiled, this year, to be Sebastián Lelio’s Julianne Moore/John Turturro-starring dramedy GLORIA BELL.

Diving between screens for the best part of ten days, we’ve put together a potted review of our highlights, from unexpectedly profound documentaries we stumbled upon on a quiet Thursday afternoon to blood-drenched classics we dragged ourselves out of bed early to catch on a stormy Sunday morning.

Fighting with my Family 2019 Glasgow Film Festival

Getting us underway on brilliantly feelgood form, Stephen Merchant’s FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY – starring the sensational Florence Pugh as WWE Diva’s Champion Paige, Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, GoT’s Lena Headey and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (as himself) – mightn’t have offered the highbrow interest some festivalgoers seemed to be looking for, but for everyone else it’s a heart-warming treat. Merchant has spoken, recently, about the middle-class bias against professional wrestling in Britain. Although one pivotal hard-nut character’s assertion that he spent his formative years in prison for “mostly violence” won’t do much to placate the white-collared masses, the classic sports-movie arc proves surprisingly affecting.

From warming hearts to chilling spines, Lee Cronin’s potent Irish horror THE HOLE IN THE GROUND mercilessly ramps up the atmospherics. Continuing the recent trend in casting embattled mothers as horror heroines, we find Seána Ker­slake recoiling from her own son in an engaging retelling of the changeling legend. Following on from the likes of Wake Wood and The Lodgers there’s a boom in dark genre cinema coming out of the Emerald Isle at the moment and this is one of its most convincingly creepy offerings yet.

The Sisters Brothers 2019 Glasgow Film Festival

Picking up again on Saturday evening, it’s a packed-out showing for Jacques Audiard’s offbeat western THE SISTERS BROTHERS over at Cineworld. StarringJohn C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as the titular assassin brothers, Jake Gyllenhaal as lead-man John Morris and a fascinatingly-cast Riz Ahmed as their target: revolutionary chemist Herman Kermit Warm(not to mention the legendary Rutger Hauer in cameo as shady Kingpin ‘The Commodore’) it’s a strange, elegiac vision of rustic brotherhood and America’s Old West coming to terms with everything from science to industrial revolution to the new dawn of personal hygiene. Led brilliantly by the still-improving Reilly, it’s a dusty, bittersweet delight.

Starring Dev Patel and boasting the title HOTEL MUMBAI, there seems to be a little confusion amongst some ill-informed cinemagoers over what to expect from Anthony Maras’ latest. Far from a sequel to Patel’s retirement comedy hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel indeed, Hotel Mumbai retells the story of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Featuring a stellar cast including Armie Hammer (the big-hearted, loud-mouthed American), Nazanin Boniadi (his wife, the Muslim millionaire battling prejudice on all sides after being caught up in the attack) and Jason Isaacs (devouring the scenery as a leering, mysteriously hard-nosed Russian) the film is apparently destined to go direct to streaming services. Possessed of a gut-wrenching grittiness and some eye-catching performances, though, it deserves to be seen on the silver screen.

Audience singalongs for major musical hits are all the rage nowadays, but there’s something of an untapped demand for boozy midnight quote-alongs. Screening Roland Emmerich’s 1992 ‘classic’ UNIVERSAL SOLDIER close to midnight with the GFT’s beer-taps working overtime, though, is a real stroke of genius. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as Vietnam veterans re-animated as the U.S. Army’s latest top-secret supersoldiers, the action-thriller might only score 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, but the relish in the room as the screening spews out one-liners like “I’m all ears…” [WITH BIG DOLPH WEARING A NECKLACE MADE OF HIS ENEMIES’ SEVERED EARS!] proves that UniSol’s legacy of having blown so many adolescent minds more than endures even as those fans career towards middle-age.

It’s a slice of Monday madness, next. Finally following-up stunning 2014 sleeper hit It Follows, director David Robert Mitchell returns with gleefully abstruse neo-noir UNDER THE SILVER LAKE. Like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive viewed through a slacker lens, we follow Andrew Garfield’s aimless-but-affable protagonist Sam on an odyssey of bemusement around a deliciously off-kilter Los Angeles – in pursuit of the beautiful neighbour (Riley Keough) who mysteriously vanishes in the middle of the night. Almost painfully cool, it’s a freewheeling film that refuses to bend to conventional narrative constraints and ends up testing the patience as much as dazzling with aesthetic appeal. Critics seem split between loving it and hating it, but we’ll just insist it’s a movie to make your mind up on yourself.

ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE
Another Day of Life 2019 Glasgow Film Festival

Based on legendary Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s seminal account of his bloodstained experience of three months at the beginning of the Angolan Civil War, the absolutely sensational ANOTHER DAY OF LIFEproves to be our unexpected highlight of the festival. Stumbling into the GFT at a loose end on Thursday afternoon, we discover a feature redolent of the combination of animation and documentary footage used in Waltz With Bashir. ADOL’s mosaic recreation of the chaotic, gruellingly traumatic events Kapuściński experienced in the 70s beginnings of a conflict that would eventually rage on to 2002 manages to be achingly beautiful, shudderingly brutal and heart-rendingly touching all at once.

Following on, YouTube sensation Bo Burnham is in attendance for the Scottish Premiere of his feature-length debut EIGHTH GRADE. Starring the sensational Elsie Fisher as 13-year-old Kayla on the cusp of her transition from U.S. middle-school into high-school, the film has already garnered rave reviews and armfuls of awards following its release stateside and its easy to see why. Although the chasm-like gap between eight and ninth grade isn’t one with which Scottish (or wider UK) audiences easily relate, the universal languages of early-teenage awkwardness and social self-doubt resonate with real poignancy. It’s genuinely refreshing, too, to see a coming-of-age movie unaffected by scatological humour and the average protagonist’s desperately cliched mission to get laid.

Next up, we have the 12 movies of GLASGOW FRIGHTFEST 2019. A marathon of suspense and splatter through which we gleefully endured every moment, we’ll be dropping a separate feature to celebrate that.

Entering the final straight, there’s a free, breakfast-time showing of Sam Peckinpah’s seminal THE WILD BUNCH as part of the festival’s 1969: End Of Innocence season. A watershed moment in the ‘realistic’ depiction of onscreen violence, the film’s bloody depiction of its antiheroes’ journey towards churningly inevitable self-destruction remains as powerful now as it was on release 50 years ago. There’s extra value, too, for viewers who’ve played through last year’s videogame masterpiece Red Dead Redemption 2, in seeing the genesis of so many of that story’s key themes.

It’s an utterly packed house over at the GFT for the final-day showing ofdirector Robbie Fraser’s FINAL ASCENT portrait of legendary Scottish mountaineer and safety specialist Hamish MacInnes. The film’s legendary narrator Sir Michael Palin is in attendance, supporting the friend he first met back when filming for Monty Python & The Holy Grail in the Scottish Highlands, and the story itself is punctuated by other starry appearances from the likes of Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood to the real-life Himalayan adventurers. It’s in the feature’s more grounded moments, though – charting MacInnes’ work with Glencoe mountain rescue and his recent committal into psychiatric care when a UTI was mistakenly misdiagnosed as dementia – that provides the emotional spine around which the kaleidoscopic story is assembled.

As Palin hangs around after the showing, it’s clear that the connection with Scotland and its real cinemagoers is perhaps the most important element that sets GFF apart. It’s an event on the up, and those looking for a cinematic experience outside the norm should really book the end-of-winter trip for 2020.

SAM LAW

Freelance writer and editor based in Glasgow, Scotland. Major fan of punk rock and cult cinema. Can normally be located at the nearest midnight movie marathon or in the mosh pit…

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