Sunday 22 February 2009

Glasgow Film Festival Review

The fifth Glasgow Film Festival drew to a close tonight with the UK premiere of Last Chance Harvey, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, and I can honestly say that the Festival’s 11 days have been an unqualified success. Despite growing significantly in reputation and importance in the last 12 months, the Festival has stayed true to it’s unpretentious and audience-friendly beginnings, and thanks to expert guidance from co-directors Allan Hunter and Allison Gardner GFF is now surely established in the UK’s cinema calendar.

I managed to catch quite a few films through the week; here’s a round-up of those that I would recommend looking out for. Top of the pile is Eternal Sunshine writer Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York (pictured), starring the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman and some of the best actresses working today including Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener and Emily Watson. The story is Kaufman’s most ambitious yet, and is packed with so many ideas about art, death and self-centredness that I think at least one repeat viewing will be necessary. Also really enjoyable is Fermat’s Room, a Spanish thriller about a group of mathematicians who are invited to a mysterious gathering and find themselves imprisoned in a room whose walls are closing in, and the only way they can put off being crushed is by solving consecutive logic puzzles! If it sounds a bit silly, it is, but I found it gripping and very well written, tightly plotted with a satisfying explanation at the end of it all.

In a totally different vein is Song of Sparrows, an Iranian film that follows proud husband and father Karim as he loses his job as an ostrich farmer and is forced to go in search of new work. The film’s easy pace and light tone belie the important and universal themes under its surface; Song of Sparrows is life-affirming in the very best way. Second World War dramas continue to prove popular, and there was no shortage at the Festival with Viggo ‘Aragorn’ Mortensen in Good (well-titled) and Mads ‘Bond Baddie’ Mikkelsen in Danish resistance thriller Flame & Citron (better than Good). I also really liked Flash of Genius, a true-life story featuring a great performance from Greg Kinnear as an inventor done out of earnings he deserves by the American car industry. It’s a heartening story of individual triumph against the corporate machine, well played by all involved.

The Festival also ran a hugely popular retrospective of Audrey Hepburn films, and in amongst the favourites I managed to catch one of her forgotten films, The Children’s Hour, a serious drama from 1961 starring Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine as teachers in a girls’ school who are scandalously accused of being lovers. It’s a very good little film with both actresses on top form and excellent support from James Garner.

As well as all this there were some great parties, an uncommonly good series of Short Film programmes from The Magic Lantern, and a genuinely surprising Surprise Film (O’Horten, an odd but lovely film from Norwegian director Bent Hamer). All in all it was a worthy successor to last year’s Festival, and judging by the packed audiences and positive atmosphere I can only imagine next year will be even better. Needless to say, you should be there.

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