Welcome to GFF Reviews!

This blog celebrates the wide range of excellent films shown at the Glasgow Film Festival, as well as other film festivals shown in Glasgow. Some reviews are long, some reviews are short. All are intended to give you an idea of what you might like to see, and take a chance on something a little different.

The Hole

The Hole is a film set in the 1960s Italian countryside about a cave being explored for the first time by an academic contingent.

First things first. This film is a landscape. It’s not about the people, it’s not a portrait. The entire film the only thing that is subtitled is a piece of television shown before the title card. Human discussion is not subtitled, anymore than the cows lowing or the birds singing would be.

Secondly, the film’s pace is suited for the cave as the main character. This is not a film about human rush and bustle. It is about an event in the life of this cave, and its pacing is of the soft harmony of the valley, and the curious and cautious exploration of the explorers. I tell you this so you will adjust your expectations accordingly, because once you relax into it, this film is quietly beautiful.

The film begins with a shot from within the cave, looking out at the dawning sky. The film is shot from the cave’s perspective, with the humans peering in, rather than over their shoulder peering down into the cave. The film is broken up into the legs of their journey across days and nights. It is not about their chat at camp or their personal interrelationships. When I say the film is about a cave being explored I mean exactly that, no more, no less. This is not the backdrop for a human drama. This is about the cave’s first experience of being documented and mapped by studious visitors.

There is a second plotline following an elderly herder who watches over the valley in which the cave sits. He is unnamed and has no subtitles either, but his inclusion emphasises the small span of human life compared to the land. He is shown going back to his hut in the valley, with no electricity or running water, living a way of life that has remained unchanged for countless generations. People rise and fall like flowers each season, but the cave has remained for thousands of years.

Equally as his twilight dwindles into night, we are reminded of ourselves as part of nature, obeying its times for growth and times for decay. The hole for him is the grave he will soon be in, as natural as the cave formed in the valley below.

As the spelunkers squeeze into the tight coffin-like crevices of the last few feet of the long descent, I held my breath at human fragility. This too could easily be their graves. But this is not about the drama of life-threatening peril, but the ever-present reminder of our own mortality. We are but visitors here. It is what makes their attempt at mapping this ancient structure at once so noble and so hubristic; they are so dwarfed by this enormous and ageless abyss that to try, in its face, to create a record for generations to come, seems so defiantly optimistic.

The Hole is a different kind of film in terms of pacing and tone than you might be used to, but it invites you to just sit and watch, to see a piece of the world, to experience its existence.

Javed Iqbal

Based on the true story of the arrest and interrogation of Pakistani serial killer, Javed Iqbal, this film follows the growing horror as his crimes are uncovered. Iqbal raped and murdered a hundred children, dismembering their bodies and dissolving them in acid, so there wasn’t even remains to return to the families or to identify them.

I was really interested to see a film on Iqbal from Pakistan itself. The film touches on the implications of larger social issues, such as the lack of attention and prosecution given to child sexual abuse, and unwillingness to investigate those in positions of power who might be involved. Those issues are universal, as we’ve seen with things like Operation Yewtree here, but the film explores them within a Pakistani context, with the struggle to address intimate sexual crimes openly, and corruption hampering investigation.

Iqbal handed himself in. He wasn’t under investigation, he wasn’t on the police’s radar, no one knew who he was. Were it not for his own confession that he killed 100 children and directing the police to remains in his home, we would never have known about his crimes. What attempts have been made to identify his victims after the fact have, of course, been hampered by his destruction of any bodies. Many people criticised police handling of the case, asking why a predator was able to kill so many children without them even realising. Iqbal also named accomplices who lured children to his house, and many suspect he was killed in custody to deliberately silence him from naming other members of a paedophile ring, some of whom were in positions of power.

The film keeps its focus tight, concentrating a hub of characters in the police station where Iqbal is being held. The place is run by a badass police captain, who is smart, driven and genuinely wants to bring the guilty to justice. She has two sergeants, one an astute and educated graduate, one a rough-and-ready man of the streets. Beneath them are a handful of ordinary coppers, who at times provide a bit of comic relief with how out their depth they are dealing with this monster. You get the idea they signed up thinking it would a good job, indoors with no heavy lifting, and didn’t really consider the realms of human depravity they might meet with.

Opposite this tightknit crew is Iqbal, played by Yasir Hussain who gives a really solid performance as the titular monster. He is soon joined by a handful of accomplices, some themselves still only children, who he still manages to keep in thrall to him despite their incarceration.

Normally the tension in a crime movie comes from uncovering the suspect and their crimes, but in this film Iqbal appears and confesses within the film’s first few scenes. The tension is the mounting sense of horror at the possibility of just what may be the truth. At first Iqbal is dismissed as a madman, after all, who could kill a hundred kids undetected? It must be nonsense. Then when the evidence found at his home corroborates his statement, the characters struggle to make sense of how this could happen. It couldn’t possibly be so many surely? And how could he ever have accomplished this alone? Iqbal toys with interrogators, threatening to recant his confession and leave them with no evidence, delighting in detailing his atrocities, clearly hoping to get fame and attention by handing himself in. By the end, the officers go from unbelieving that Iqbal could do this alone, to hoping he could, because the implications of his words leaves them in a much more dark and dangerous world, one in which there are people still out there, harming children, doing god knows what to them, and getting away with it every single day.

Despite being a low-budget independent film, it takes a crack at telling a story that is a grave social warning, about the blind spots left by power and the secrecy and stigma surrounding sexual violence.

Fart Car

When I saw the title, I never expected a short film so touching and poignant. The filmmaker blends humour and grief, romance and despair, to give this tale of a young guy going through the ordinary highs and lows of growing up, while also contending with the loss of his father. This film is about recovery, about how grief is a long process, finding new ways to reappear as time goes on. It is not a straight line from sad to happy, but a lifelong journey living with your loss, with many cycles of better and worse. And the message of the film is not be afraid of that, to not feel as though you are defeated by it, but see it as part of the natural ups and downs of life. Your grief walks with you, its presence is there where the absence is filled, and should be embraced as the shape of your love for your lost one.

For something that can be silly and funny, the film is really heartfelt and tender.

If you like this…

My Fat Arse and I

A surreal animated short film about dealing with fatphobia and its damaging internalisation. Managing to be funny and adventurous despite also doing justice to the all-consuming impact physically and mentally of negotiating misogynistic diet culture, it has a healing message. Watch out for goose-stepping arse-angels and an eight-bit fight scene with a Sauron-esque gigantic scale.

If you like this…

Posestry (Sisters)

A kind of humorous send-up of anti-feminist women, their activism, and their demonisation of feminism and feminists. There is a sort of revelling in it all, having fun instead of feeling the cut, but the way it is shot is kind of confused and confusing. I respect the ‘fuck you’ feel of the film, but found its message got lost a little.

If you like this…

Ukraine: Three Years Of Truce

In this short documentary the filmmaker presents us with images of people on the Ukraine’s border with Russia, where Russia’s initial invasion almost 8 years ago led to an unsteady ceasefire. The film speaks up for victims of war, people who are not vying for geopolitical influence, but just trying to live their lives and protect their loved ones in a state of perpetual precariousness. Mothers hug their children, kids play in defensive sites, and people try to cope with the damage to their homes and the militarisation of their neighbourhoods.

The film also speaks to the rest of Ukraine, who were at the time as yet untouched by the war. It reminds them these are not some people in a far-away land whose war has been forgotten. Despite the truce, they are daily injured and sometimes killed by the ongoing spates of violence. They live in a warzone and need aid.

Prescient film.

The Fall Of Lenin

With a sardonic bemusement, this short documentary looks at the removal of statues of Lenin from Ukraine. In snippets throughout the film is interspersed footage of a séance taking place in the 80s Soviet Ukraine, where people sit very seriously around a makeshift ouija board and try to contact Lenin’s ghost.

Archival footage shows the erection of these statues, to the gaze of crowds of thousands, onlookers packing public squares to see, wrapped in red and pinned with badges, some holding up their own framed portraits of Lenin. While from this time and this place, there is the temptation to see it as entirely a product of Soviet authoritarianism, that obscures the genuine public emotion which brought many people to the streets, and led to hundreds of Lenin statues being erected across the country.

Similarly, contemporary scenes of their removal show crowds of people on the streets, people jockeying to see, desperate to get close. Only this time it is to stamp and break the iconographic monument. People are just as sincere in their rejection as they were in their embrace.

Lacking narration, editing makes the director’s point. While it would be easy to set the rise and fall of the statues as a rejoicing in the demise of Soviet hold over Ukraine, the film chooses to contrast the demolitions with archival images of crosses being pulled off churches, stars being pulled off synagogues, portraits of Christ being burned in the town square. It highlights a repetition of the need to erase the wrong thinking of the past, obliterate the mistakes of history, in a cycle which seems to just go round and round. Even in the shots of the Lenin statues coming down, you see swastikas spray-painted on the plinths, anarchist flags being flown alongside Ukrainian national flags, and it seems to ask, in the overthrow of the old ideology, what new one comes next?

Meanwhile the medium at the séance uses her upturned saucer on her sheet of paper with the letters spelt out in biro. She asks Lenin’s ghost if the country ever know peace, if its people will ever be free of hardship and suffering. Lenin spells back, “No”.

If you like this…

Misha

Sweet little short film about a woman talking to her grampa about coming to her wedding. He’s elderly and in a wheelchair but she is trying to encourage him to fly from Ukraine to England for her wedding to her English man. He jokes around with her, and when she tells him the English word for gran, he uses it to call to his wife, laughing. Just a lovely film that lets you sit in the home of a family with the filmmaker.

If you like this…

Weightlifter

A short film about a professional Ukrainian weightlifter preparing for a major championship. The film contrasts his increasing physical mastery as he loses his grip on his inner turmoil and up-ends his life.

At the beginning of the film, he shares a flat with his happy, beautiful girlfriend, who is devoted to their fluffy, pregnant cat. Now, like I said in my review of The Dinner, whenever you see a beloved pet in one of these things, ding ding ding! The clock is ticking on it.

Then he gets a phone call from his mother informing him that his father has died. Despite her tears, he refuses to come home for the funeral. He tells her he has to train for the championship, but it’s obvious there’s a history of trauma there. He doesn’t even tell anyone about this, including his girlfriend. Instead he just becomes more intense in his training, more erratic in his behaviour, and eventually lashes out violently against his partner and their pet.

The final shot is of him practising his lift in the mirror, the flat dark and empty, him alone with this dream of strength. Well acted and well made, it is a grim story about toxic masculinity and how damaging it is for all involved.

If you like this…