Well, the Glasgow Film Festival has come and gone for yet another year and it was another triumph for the team involved in putting it together. I didn’t get to see as many films as I would have liked – there were a few much talked-about flicks that I was disappointed not to get the chance to catch, including Audience Award Winner Radiator and pretty much all of the FrightFest stuff – but I still managed to see my fair share of great films, homegrown and beyond.
There were a handful of films that I absolutely loved and will definitely enjoy revisiting down the road. The highlight of the entire run for me was, coincidentally, the festival’s Opening Gala: Noah Baumbach’s dramedy While We’re Young. Starring a never better Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts and rising star Adam Driver, among others, it was a touching, witty, observant and often downright hilarious film that celebrates growing up and accepting yourself – whatever your age (full review here).
Other highlights were the brilliantly surreal Swedish tragicomedy A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, which was a funny and gleefully oddball look at the various facets of human existence through a series of increasingly strange vignettes (full review here). Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore as a woman suffering from early on-set Alzheimer’s disease, was an extremely touching, powerful and affecting drama featuring a stunning and complex performance from Moore for which she rightfully won an Oscar (full review here).
The grisly but utterly gripping documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper saw prolific Brit documentarian Nick Broomfield explore the case of the notorious LA serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper, who is said to have killed more than 100 women over a 25 year period between 1985-2010. It’s positively disturbing at times but an important story of social injustice told thoroughly, emotionally and intelligently (full review here). One of the most charming and endearing films of the whole festival was The Grump, a Finnish comedy-drama from director Dome Karukoski which focused on a grumpy old man set in his ways and at odds with the modern world who has to go live with his son and his family after an accident. It was a delicate, funny and observant film about the universally relatable generational gap (full review here).
One of the oddest and boldest films I saw at the fest was the nightmarish German-language horror Der Samurai, about a young police officer whose dedication to protecting and serving the community is put to the test when he happens across a mysterious man wearing a white dress and carrying a sword. Bold, stylish, ferociously unique horror filmmaking that lingers long in the mind. Staying along horror lines, the Iranian film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, about a mysterious hijab-wearing girl who stalks the streets of the fictional “Bad City” (the reason for which is best left to discover on your own), was a wonderfully unique, supremely atmospheric cinematic experience with an unexpectedly eclectic soundtrack and the ability to constantly surprise.
As always at GFF, there was a strong showing for foreign language films and one of the best was Wild Tales, the Oscar-nominated Argentinean anthology film that explores the theme of vengeance from all angles through a series of six mini-stories. The brilliance of it is how it works just as much as a complete film as it does as delightfully deranged individual tales. Switching languages we had the outlandish Italian crime comedy I Can Quite Whenever I Want, a sort of European Breaking Bad-esque tale of a group of out-of-work university professors who decide to start making and selling drugs that contain a molecule technically not illegal in Italy. It’s a tad on the derivative side but an entertaining, quick-witted watch nonetheless.
One of the biggest films at the festival, mainly because of its two stars and previous Cannes Palme d’Or nomination, was Clouds of Sils Maria, an intensely intimate two-hander drama about a veteran actress (Juliette Binoche) who reflects on her 20 year career when she agrees to star in a revival of her most famous play, helped by her dutiful assistant (Kristen Stewart, who won a prestigious Cesar award for her performance, the first American actress ever to do so).
Another film well worth checking out was Appropriate Behaviour. Written, directed and starring Desiree Akhavan, this Girls-esque character comedy is about a young woman struggling to live up to her parents expectations as “the perfect Parisian daughter” as well as hiding her bisexuality from them. It’s slightly aimless in nature but has interesting characters and a sardonic self-awareness that makes it enjoyable. There was also Wasted Time, a small-scale, thoroughly Scottish drama about a young man sent away to prison after taking the fall for someone else. Receiving a longer sentence than he first thought, he struggles to cope further when he finds out that his father has died. It was a little rough around the edges and far too short for its own good (at a meagre 53 minutes long, it doesn’t give us enough time to truly invest in the characters) but affecting and passionate nonetheless.
As is the nature of a festival in which you’re taking in all kinds of films of all shapes and sizes, there’s bound to be a few that don’t tick the boxes for you and this year’s GFF was no different. Most disappointing was Mommy, the fifth feature film from French-Canadian boy wonder Xavier Dolan (he’s only 25 and already has 5 films under his belt!), about a single mother struggling to bring up her troubled and violent son but finds hope when a neighbour enters into her life. While undeniably bold and stylish, I found Dolan’s latest to be overlong, clawingly self-indulgent and lacking in empathy.
Other letdowns included The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a meta sequel/remake of the ‘70s horror which was certainly ambitious but provided little-to-no scares and ultimately got lost in its own self-indulgent self-awareness (full review here). The Wonders, winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, was a delicate and deliberately paced film that, while well-acted, was a little confusing in its tone and coming-of-age themes. Jauja, a 19th century-set Argentinean man vs. nature existential drama starring Viggo Mortensen, was visually interesting (presented in square framing) but paced like a snail crossing a mountain and had an denouement that was curiously and frustratingly unsatisfying.
That’s it for our round-up of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. Did you attend the festival and if so which were you favourites? Please feel free to share your opinions either in the comments below, on Twitter @TOF_UK and @rosstmiller, or on our Facebook page.
‘Til next year, folks!