The Glasgow Film Festival is over for another year. Blake Backlash and Matthew Turner reflect.
‘Ooh, brace yerself,’ said the bloke in the row behind me, with a nervous chuckle. It was the second-last day of the Glasgow Film Festival and near the end of Steffano Sollima’s Suburra. A title card had just warned us that we were about to see ‘The Apocalypse’. Now, the film had started by telling us it was November 2011 ‘seven days till The Apocalypse’ – so we knew this was coming. But since then we’d seen a drug overdose; a stabbing; a nasty car accident; at least one suicide; someone being set on fire then whacked with a shovel for good measure; and an tense, well-executed assassination attempt and shoot-out in a suburban shopping centre (well-executed by the film-maker I mean, the execution by the would-be assassins was, uh, problematic).
So I could understand where that nervous chuckle came from. After all that, how much more apocalyptic could things get? (Answer: somewhat). Suburra starts with the Pope (one of those just-the-back-of-the-head shots they used for the American President in old films) so we start about as high-up in Roman society as one can get. What follows introduces us to politicians, fixers, dodgy builders, and gangsters both big and wee (and wannabe big). It’s Rome as a backdrop for political manoeuvring, crime, and sex-scandals, drawing on 70s Italian thrillers and, maybe, The Wire (Netflix funded the film and they’re going to make it into a series). Most of the characters are fairly cruel and venal but it’s done with enough verve that I found enjoyable rather than dispiriting. I especially liked Elio Germano, as a party-boy schmoozer getting in over his head – he’s the exact mid-point between Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way and 1980s Peter Mandelson. He even has the Mandelson moustache.
Suburra’s pessimism might be particularly Italian, maybe even a particularly Roman. But I saw a few films at the festival where society was made up of disconnected, slightly weird people who were only really united in bad-sex and violence. There were a lot of anonymous hotel rooms. The day after I saw Suburra, the Festival ended with Anomalisa – a gloomy portrait of alienation and narcissism, almost entirely set in a characterless hotel that’s rendered so vividly, you can almost feel the chill of the overly-enthusiastic air-conditioning on your skin. Anamolisa has fairly downbeat ending (albeit one that might contain a suggestion of hope, if you squint). But other films were more excessive, even in their pessimism. When things go wrong in High Rise, it’s kind of thrilling. And it’s hard not to want to enjoy Suburra’s apocalyptic climax – after all, the whole film has had you counting down the days till it arrives.
Jerzy Skolimowski’s 11 Minutes has you counting down as well, as the title suggests. You are introduced to various Varsovians, many of them as desperate and dodgy seeming as Suburra’s crooked-politicians and hoodlums. You meet: a would-be armed robber; a Hollywood producer with infidelity on his mind; a drug courier; a bloke getting out of jail after a night in the cells; a hotdog seller who may be a paedophile; and (most desperate and dodgy of all) some giggly nuns. Everything we see takes place (more or less) in the same eleven minute period, and everything we see is leading up to… well, I won’t spoil it.
The way Skolimowski handles and weaves together the various parts of this fractured day is gripping in its technical accomplishment – the use of sound especially. And there are some good off-kilter surreal and frightening moments: a mysterious static shrouded figure appearing on televisions; a strange black shape that some of the characters see in the sky. The view of Warsaw seems as bleak as Suburra’s view of Rome. But again, when things do go wrong, it’s kind-of liberating and spectacular. As such, the end of the film, the last of those eleven minutes, is probably worth the ticket price all on its own.
Now I could try and draw some conclusions about all of this: the gloomy worldviews, the apocalyptic endings. Bring in the financial crash. But, after all, my Festival was not the same as anyone else’s, and what I saw probably says more about my taste in films than some global trend. So it’s probably best to end our Glasgow Film Festival coverage with a second opinion. Our contributor Matthew Turner was also in Glasgow and this is his report on the Festival and his favourite film. Brace yourself.
Matthew Turner writes…
One thing I have to say about this year’s Glasgow Film Festival – it had an absolutely phenomenal hit rate. I saw 30 films over the course of 9 days and only one of them disappointed (I’m not saying which one – it doesn’t seem fair). Also, the fact that the GFF cherry-picks the best films from other festivals meant that it had at least three films (Evolution, Anomalisa and High-Rise) that will almost certainly feature in my Best of 2016 list. Personal highlights for me this year included getting to see Julien Duvivier’s 1946 thriller Panique (surely an influence on Vertigo, what with its climactic roof-top chase and dangling-off-the-gutter scene) and a thoroughly enjoyable Disney double-bill of Lady and the Tramp (a treat on the big screen) and Zootropolis (which a friend memorably described as “a Richard Scarry neo-noir”). So. My Glasgow Top Five:
4) Man vs Snake
2) Sing Street
… and my favourite film was April and the Extraordinary World, a French animated steam-punk adventure based on a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, who also wrote the source material for The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (my favourite fim of 2010). Set in an alternate universe where steam is the main source of power because the world’s greatest scientists were all kidnapped before they could invent things like electricity, the film focuses on April (voiced by Marion Cotillard), the daughter of a pair of missing scientists, and her talking cat, Darwin (Philippe Katerine), who find themselves plunged into an adventure involving a pair of talking lizards who plan to take over the world.
Co-directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, the film features gorgeous hand-drawn animation (mimicking Tardi’s “clean line” style) and is packed full of wit and invention, as well as a multitude of delightful visual touches, such as steam-powered gramophones, a house that escapes on robotic legs or the fact that Eiffel built a second tower, turning the two towers into a steam-powered cable-car station for the Paris-Berlin route. In fact, it’s probably the most fully realised depiction of a steam-punk universe I’ve ever seen on screen, and every frame is filled with clever little details.
On top of that, the characters are complex and interesting (even the lizards’ master-plan actually makes a lot of sense) and the film delivers proper old school adventure-style thrills, whether it’s daring escapes, dramatic rescues or laser-fights with an army of trigger-happy lizards in robo-suits. I can’t wait to see it again.