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Glasgow Film Festival 2021 – Days 4 and 5

This two-day streak of the Glasgow Film Festival had some of the best films yet, as I enjoyed almost every film that I watched. There are seven films for me to review, so there is no time to waste.

Here are my reviews of the films that I saw on days 4 and 5 of the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival.

Father

Director: Srdan Golubović
Writers: Srdan Golubović, Srdan Golubović
Starring: Goran Bogdan, Boris Isaković, Ljubomir Bandović

Synopsis: Nikola’s children are taken away from him after social services decide that he is too poor to provide them with a decent living environment. He sets off on foot to lodge a complaint in Belgrade.

Father is a film I have heard talked about, mainly because of the distinction between the release of the film close to one of The Father, but I do wish more people were talking about this one. This is a major surprise of a film and one that is incredibly powerful. This is a story that is so moving and leaves with major impact, due to the fantastic screenplay and performances.

The film is not afraid to jump right in, no need for elongated exposition or character development. Instead, there is an opening scene that has high risk, is bold and immediately shocks the audience, before getting a bit of information afterwards to help clarify the situation. It is incredibly impactful and immediately grabs your attention, something the film never lets go of throughout.

I don’t want to say much about this film, because it is something that I found rewarding to go into quite blind. This is one incredible experience though, and something that I found to be perfectly balanced, heartfelt and emotive. The tone was really effective, the tension never dropped from the story and it was so easy to connect with our leading character on this journey. This is one of the easiest recommendations I can give from the festival.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Da Capo

Director: Shim Chan-yang
Writer: Shim Chan-yang
Starring: Hong Isaac, Jang Ha-eun, Seo Young-jae

Synopsis: Tae-il, who is writing a song about the sea but can’t complete it, goes to a country village to meet Jiwon, who had been in a band with him in the past. He meets her working at a music academy there and a rock band of middle school students she teaches. Spending time with the students who are clumsy but full of passion for music and Jiwon who still has sincere affection towards music, he recalls the happiest past time with music.

Many people have already made the comparisons between Da Capo and some other music-centred films such as School of Rock (2003) and Sing Street (2016). It is easy to see the inspirations for this film, yet I found that the narrative was not aiming to be a copy. Whilst the films previously mentioned very much focus on the present, Da Capo is a story that takes a look at the past. It has a sweetness to the narrative, with this sentimentality that lies between the characters and the relationship that is clear from the first few scenes.

Of course, it is not a music-based film without some music, and the songs in here are so wonderful. The songs within it are songs that would be played on Spotify without the link to the film, especially with the K-pop trend that has grown in the past few years. Not only that, but the film shows the progression of the songs and their creation, making the writing feel authentic. The progression helps the audience establish the characters’ abilities within song-writing and performance, and the performances themselves are done in a way that feels real. There are no fantasy musical sequences, no need for over-the-top staging or lip syncing. The simple production and letting the focus be on the song itself and the musicians being in the moment helps set the tone for the film.

There are two main storylines with this film, and it is actually the subplot that is the more engaging of the two. Whilst Tae-il is visiting Jiwon, he has some time to watch her students perform and grow as musicians. Watching Tae-il interact with the students, watching the creative process between them when developing some songs, as well as seeing the students grow in confidence and where they end off, is incredibly rewarding and is handled extremely well. In contrast, the main storyline of Tae-il and Jiwon’s relationship does lose momentum throughout the story. For what is otherwise such a strong script, the film would have benefitted from having an extra twenty minutes to further expand on this relationship, given the clear impact it has on the narrative.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Poppy Field

Director: Eugen Jebeleanu
Writer: Ioana Moraru
Starring: Conrad Mericoffer, Alexandru Potocean, Radouan Leflahi

Synopsis: Poppy Field follows the struggle of a young Romanian gendarme, Cristi, who tries to find the balance between two apparently opposing parts of his identity: that of a man working in a macho hierarchical environment and that of a closeted gay person who tries to keep his personal life a secret. While his long-distance French boyfriend, Hadi, is visiting him, Cristi is called in for an intervention at a movie theatre, where an ultra-nationalist, homophobic group has interrupted the screening of a queer film. After one of the protesters threatens to out him, Cristi spirals out of control.

This film is one that focuses on such an important subject matter, and I appreciate the director Eugen Jebeleanu for tackling. This is a directorial debut from Jebeleanu, and to pick a subject matter like this is bold. The concept of the story itself, having our leading character be interrupted by a display of homophobia gives the film a great narrative to go through and one that is compelling for the audience, knowing that Cristi is gay and having to break away a group of homophobes.

Jebeleanu has all of these great ideas for a compelling narrative, but sadly the film does fall short in placing all of the pieces together. There are great individual sequences, such as the moment when Cristi first walks into the movie theatre and sees the intervention taking place, but they don’t flow together cohesively. It feels like there are missing pieces of the story, helping us further connect with Cristi and establishing fully his relationship with his co-workers.

There is a lot that occurs in the opening of the film, jumping from exposition to exposition in order to understand the significance of the intervention for Cristi. Unfortunately, the pacing takings a grinding halt once we are at the intervention as the audience is kept at the location for a long time. This would be fine if there was more development or action within this, but there is simply little to keep your attention held. The film would have benefitted from not rushing straight to this scene and giving the audience more time to warm to Cristi and Hadi as a couple.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Underplayed

Director: Stacey Lee

Synopsis: Filmed over the summer festival season, Stacey Lee’s uplifting documentary examines gender inequality in the electronic dance music scene.

Whilst it might seem like women are finally making a statement in the music industry, from stars like Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande growing in popularity, many women who are DJs are still struggling to break through in the industry. It is something that is really apparent but is hardly spoken about in the genre. This documentary gives a good insight into being a woman in the industry and the struggles with it.

The documentary gives a good look into numerous female DJs who are trying to make it into the industry and are able to give them all a good amount of screen time. The film covers a variety of topics within the industry, such as the treatment of women by social media as well as the push for equality within festival line-ups. This is all powerful stuff and is done effectively, never feeling forced or out of place.

I do wish we got more time to learn about each musician’s personal style and how they perform. There are a few clips of the musicians performing, but they are usually used in the background. This felt like a good place to have some promotion for each artist, but aside for simply wanting more women representation in the genre, I never felt truly motivated to go and look any of the artists up and follow them. However, this film is a good representation of the issues within the industry and I do hope it inspires change.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Jumbo

Director: Zoé Wittock
Writer: Zoé Wittock
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Sam Louwyck

Synopsis: Jeanne, a shy young woman, works as a night guard at an amusement park and has a close relationship with her mother. While no man can compete with this opposed duo, Jeanne begins to develop strange romantic feelings for Jumbo, the latest attraction at the theme park.

It is actually easy to buy the relationship in this film due to the wonderful leading performance by Noémie Merlant. After her stunning work in Portrait of a Lady on Fire in 2019, it is no surprise that once again she nails it. This is an incredibly tough role to pull off, given the nature of the material and the emotions our lead character, Jeanne, goes through. Instead of making the audience concerned about her relationship with the amusement park ride, we instead are able to care about it and understand Jeanne’s feelings.

One way that director Wittock helps establish the relationship is through the stunning cinematography, particularly in the night sequences. Having worked at an amusement park myself, I particularly know how beautiful the LED lighting and motion of these rides can look at night, and the cinematography picks all of that up. There is a certain magic that comes with the moment that Jeanne first sees Jumbo lit up and moving at night. Wittock is also able to show the personal and sexual relationship that Jeanne has with Jumbo without making it completely graphic, which is handled beautifully.

Zoé Wittock gave herself an incredibly tough task when making this her feature directorial and writing debut. For a lot of audience members, they might have never heard of objectophilia before and might be confused as to why this is a thing. Wittock does a wonderful job of selling this main storyline and whilst I do wish there was a little more meat on the bones of the characters and the sub plots, I found that the main storyline was incredibly effective and engaging to watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Black Bear

Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Writer: Lawrence Michael Levine
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon

Synopsis: At a remote lake house in the Adirondack Mountains, a couple entertains an out-of-town guest looking for inspiration in her filmmaking. The group quickly falls into a calculated game of desire, manipulation, and jealousy, unaware of how dangerously intertwined their lives will soon become.

A film that is structured in two parts, I am not sure how well the two parts do connect to each other. However, it is easy to admire the ambition of the story like this and overall, the film is incredibly effective and led with some fantastic performances from Audrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott.

The film has this unsettling tone running throughout, even though the film never delves fully into the horror or thriller genre. Instead, this unsettling tone has a major impact on the narrative, looming over both parts in the film. The narrative itself is not anything revolutionary, but the way that it is presented is fresh and gives a good look into the craft of making a film.

This is certainly not going to be a film for everyone, and I can accept that. However, it is one that I am craving a second watch for as I want to see how effective the film is knowing the structure and ending of the story. On a first watch though, it is gripping and takes you on a journey unlike any other film I have seen at the festival. Make sure to keep your eyes out when it officially releases later on in the year.

Apples

Director: Christos Nikou
Writers: Christos Nikou, Stavros Raptis
Starring: Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovassilli, Anna Kalaitzidou

Synopsis: Aris, a solitary man in his late thirties, becomes a victim of an unexplained surge of memory loss disorders in his city and is forced to confront his severe amnesia through an experimental new treatment.

First off, I want to say that the concept of this film is fantastic. There is a need for stories like this to be told more often, and I feel like we are slowly seeing more representation of memory loss in films over the past few years. There is such a compelling narrative with stories like these, but they can also be used to help educate people on memory loss and the struggles that come with the diagnosis, so I appreciate director Christos Nikou for telling this story.

Nikou has fun with the direction of the film, feeling inspired by the works of Yorgos Lanthimos at times with the fun nature of the narrative. However, the film still manages to have a real heart and emotion through that narrative, and that is down to the wonderful performance from Aris Servetalis. This is a character piece if any, and he has a lot asking of him here and pulls it off wonderfully.

Sometimes the film is a little subtler than I would like, as the impact doesn’t fully hit in several sequences. I also wish that there was more impact at the end of the film, as it feels like this entire journey had little impact on our leading character. However, for a directorial debut, this is impressive and I can see the style that Nikou will like to continue to take. Whatever he decides to do next, I will certainly be watching.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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