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.

Good Girls

Good Girls is a short film about the relationship between two sisters. Julia is resentful that Paula has entered puberty and abandoned her for boys. She avenges her sense of rejection by constantly annoying her sister.

The family live on a farm and their stables have become so full that foals of varying sizes have been kept together. This has led to one losing an eye roughhousing with a bigger animal. Unable to sell a one-eyed horse, and unable to afford to keep it, Julia’s parents decide to send the animal off for slaughter.

Julia’s affinity with, and attempt to save the life of the foal mirrors her identification with the animal’s predicament, of being kept in this in-between state between childhood and adulthood. Pre-pubescent, she is sharing a room with her sister who has now had the world of adulthood opened to her, sneaking out at night and exploring her sexuality. Julia is cut off from all of that, yet kept in close quarters with it.

The horse’s injury brings up all of Julia’s pain, and its sale mirrors her own sense of having been discarded. No longer in the cute stage of being a kid, not yet in the sexy stage of being an adult, she struggles with a feeling of being devalued, worthless. A good-for-nothing kind of age.

Without needing to be over-explicit, this film is about women’s relationships under patriarchy. What Julia is becoming aware of is how her appearance and sexual (in)accessibility are determining her place in the world, and sense of worth. Paula, a few years ahead of her in this game, acts more cynical and matter-of-fact. She belittles Julia’s seemingly over-the-top reaction to the slaughter of the foal, but she is not uneffected by its plight either, or unmoved by Julia’s grief.

Paula is trying to decide when and how to lose her virginity, an act which has undoubted impact on a woman’s place in a patriarchal society, and definitely has implications for her worth in the eyes of others. How consumed she currently is with negotiating this major life step leads her to neglecting her relationship with her sister. The dysfunctionality between them is a result of each facing their own challenges with a structure which doesn’t value their inner selves as women, but their outer sexual utility.

Again, Roquet manages to pack so much into a brief short film. Able to evoke resonant relationships in little time, and comment on wider social structures without being heavy-handed. Roquet has a real gift for nuance.

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The Amateurs

The Amateurs is about a theatre troupe of actors with learning disabilities who get the chance to perform on a professional stage. The theatre director is none too keen, and insists professional, able-bodied actors must be part of the production. He then further ham-strings them by insisting that it must be a Shakespearean performance.

Like, the dude is obviously setting them up to fail so they’ll get discouraged, bow out, and he won’t have to give them the stage in his theatre. But he hasn’t reckoned on Krzysiek, the troupe manager. Dogged and determined to do his best for his company, Krzysiek tries to plow through the myriad roadblocks in the film to ensure his actors get their chance on stage.

Really enjoyable film. I loved that it was a Shakespeare play, because, as much as I love Shakespeare, it really brought back what it was like to go through it in school, and have folk read what was effectively a foreign language given the centuries, in this deeply unnatural metre made for the 17th century English stage, and have to get a glossary explanation for every other word. You spent so much time just decoding it, just to be able to make literal sense of it, and then the teacher would ask you analyse the themes of it, and it was like, Whit?!

In the film, because the disabled actors are used to dealing with presumed incompetency and expected failure, they are there rehearsing every day, and practising their lines every night. Whereas the able-bodied professional actors turn up late, kvetch, and don’t put in a tenth of the same effort. Their doubt and worry about their rep is what pulls at the threads of the enterprise, leading to growing tension and conflict among the cast.

What I also liked about this film was no one was an out-and-out bad guy. The theatre director is ableist, but they don’t make out like he’s some monster. He does move from his initial position at the beginning of the film, not having some transformative Tiny Tim moment, or some other horrendous trope, but he does grow.

Everybody in this film is concerned with success – the play must be a success, Krzysiek must make this colab a success, the old thesp and the young actress looking for credibility each have their own idea of making this a success for their careers. A failure is seen as a disaster, and as the wheels start to come off the production as the film goes on, that is the source of the characters’ stress.

But what is success and failure within the context of an amateur play? For a professional production success means money, and failure means loss, but what happens when you take the commodification of art and performance out of it? What is a success then? That you have fun. That you create something new with your friends. That you show an audience something they haven’t seen before.

The journey of this film is a journey back to the core of creativity and human expression. Its about how much we pile on, only to find the burden precarious. And how liberating it is to let go.

The Goodbye

The Goodbye is an exquisitely put together short film about Rosana, a maid who prepares her departed mistress for her funeral.

The film is only 15 minutes long and it is not overburdened by dialogue, but it is able to evoke a sense of entire history, of relationships really expertly. Rosana is silent interacting with the body of her mistress, yet you feel the real grief, the respect, and the loss of a friend. The actress, Jenny Rios, conveys so much without words, tenderly clasping the hands of the old woman, dressing her with care, paying these last remaining tendernesses to someone you feel she must have been with for years, if not decades. It is Rosana who has been with her in this house as she has aged, and ached, and eventually extinguished.

The antagonist of the film is the mistress’s daughter, Merce. She acts like she’s inherited Rosana as just another object inside the house. She commands rather than talks to Rosana, and seems to think well of herself because she does so politely. She demands Rosana redress the body, in an outfit Merce prefers, against what were her mother’s express wishes.

The mistress’s granddaughter, Julia, speaks to Rosana like a person, clearly having taken her cue from her grandmother, and seeing her in the same bracket as another grandma or elder in the family. Throughout the course of the film Rosana tries to help Julia come to terms with this, her first death. It’s done in little ways, like encouraging her not be frightened of the body at the viewing, and playing with her in her room when she is anxious and needs to blow off steam. Julia is equally aware of Rosana’s emotional state, wiping away her tears, even after Rosana dismisses it as just a result of cutting onions. There is a tenderness between them that you feel is analogous to that of her grandma.

Merce stands in sharp contrast, constantly cajoling Julia to hurry up, dress smartly, and behave herself. Everything Merce cares about it is appearance, and she displays as little care for Julia’s inner self as she does for Rosana. When she finds out during the wake that Rosana has refused to redress the mistress, she is appalled at being defied. When she tries again to get Rosana to redress the body, Rosana more or less tells her, ‘Dae it yersel’.

The final insult is when it’s time to go to the funeral, and as Rosana appears out of uniform, and in her funeral blacks, Merce is aghast, drawing her aside. She tells her not to come to the funeral, so that the rest of the party may return to the lunch ready for them. This woman who was with her mother for years, she tells her not to come and mourn her. Bastard. Merce is white, of European descent, and Rosana is darker-skinned, perhaps indigenous. A distinction you can almost feel jump out in the moment when Merce realises Rosana intends to attend mass with them.

The Goodbye is a film of mourning, for a person yes, but also for a home. The first shot is of Rosana nodded off in one of the chairs. You get the feeling that this is a place she feels comfortable, where she could doze in one of the expensive chairs in the public rooms without concern. Over the course of the film, it’s clear that will no longer be the case. Julia tells Rosana that her mother says she will come and live with them now. In her childish innocence, she says, “You can stay in my room”. It’s clear Merce hasn’t even discussed it with Rosana, let alone asked her.

Rosana is grieving in this film, for a friend, for a home, for a place in the world. You get a sense of the years she has spent here, and it is an end of an era for her, marking a period of her life that has come to a close.

Superbly acted and beautifully shot, The Goodbye is a testament to what storytelling can be done in short film.

Transoceánicas

Transoceanicas is correspondence between friends through the medium of film. Meritxell Collel and Lucia Vassallo exchange letters, texts and emails over several years, sharing the ups and downs of their lives, breakups and new relationships, pregnancy and children, and their enduring affinity with film.

Very much like the style I’ve seen in Meritxell’s short films, the film is not a traditional visual narrative, but a freeform expression of the love of looking. The letters written back and forth are accompanied by the director’s cinematic thoughtfulness, sometimes dwelling on the literal subject of the letter, sometimes expressive of its emotional state, sometimes reactive to the contents. One will cheer the other up by sending a beautiful shot of trees or the ocean. One in Buenos Aires, one in Barcelona, they share their joint love of both cities, and their homesickness for both.

Transoceanicas is essentially a cache of love letters, but the love of friendship, and the love cinema. The shared need to film, and the need to share that film. The need to manifest the external and internal world through this medium.

A Month Of Single Frames

Legendary filmmaker Barbara Hammer spent a month at Cape Cod in 1998 making film, recordings, and journal entries. A year before her death 20 years later, she gave the material to director Lynne Sachs, and she created with and for Barbara this beautiful short.

It is like a dream, described to herself through her diary, it becomes a poem. In this wee shack ensconced on the sandy scrub before the beach, Barbara watches the sun rise over the ocean. No electricity or running water, she is alone with her thoughts and the expanse of sky. There she meditates on the surrounding beauty, and contemplates light and colour through her camera.

Pieced together 20 years later, as Barbara’s life is running out, it gives a poignancy to her gasping, clasping joy of the ephemeral beauty of the ever-changing natural world. It is never scenery but a daily interaction with life. The sun to warm, the shock of her rainwater shower, the wind strumming the dune grass.

A really lovely short film.

If you like this…

Rebel Dykes

Fucking belter of a documentary about the 80s London S&M lesbian scene. Told by the legends that lived it, Rebel Dykes covers the founding of Chain Reaction, the publication of Quim, and the House of Lords abseil protest of Section 28. Yaldi!

It traces its roots to the Greenham Clapham peace camp, which was a women’s protest encampment around an army base. In an age before the internet, it had gained a reputation for being a lesbian cultural nexus. There were a lot earth mothers and hippies, ‘political lesbian’ feminist seperatists, and activists from across the board. These were marked into different zones, with the Green Zone being where the young and rowdy baby dykes went, as it was nearest the pub. There they bonded over hijinks including raiding the squaddies’ bar for booze and trashing the paint job on a stealth plane.

Many had faced family rejection and had travelled the length of the country to find other women like themselves. Many were effectively homeless, and after finding their tribe at the peace camp, took up residence in London as squatters. This whole new family formed, with an out and proud attitude. They formed a motorcycle gang, kicked about in their leathers, and celebrated butch identity unapologetically.

Club nights started, with them setting up Chain Reaction for lesbian S&M. This was pretty radical, because the queer scene was pretty divided between gay men’s culture, which had a lot of fuck-friendly establishments, bars, clubs, and cruising spots, and lesbian culture, which had gone heavy into feminist intellectual discourse to the point of dogma. The idea of women occupying a sex-positive, hedonistic and transgressive S&M space was pretty singular. As one critic from within the lesbian community put it to them, all clad in their leather and chains, “You don’t look like dykes, you look like poofs”.

The frenzy of affirmation and acceptance within the community just galvanised a whole lot of creative and expressive endeavours. You get musicians, DJs, drag kings, cabaret performers, artists, photographers, everything. You get the publication of Quim, a zine exploring lesbian sexuality, which featured photos by artist Della Grace.

And I’m looking at the photos feeling they look familiar, and it cuts to an interview with the artist themselves, and it’s Del LaGrace Volanco. And I’m like, I know them! I remember going to a thing on LGBT art, which in typical fashion was in actuality about GGGG art, and then Dr. Lucy Weir came on and talked about Del LaGrace Volcano’s stuff. So watching the documentary, I was like, that was their early work, no way!

Del’s book, Love Bites, featuring their photography of lesbian sexual expression, was banned as pornography. This was as the 80s started to edge into the 90s, and you have Del being attacked on two fronts. First by the unfortunately expected homophobia and misogyny of the mainstream culture, but also within the lesbian community, where self-appointed sex police and keepers of the feminist monolith commandments had decreed the sadomasochistic sex portrayed between women by women as anti-feminist. Queer bookshops refused to carry it.

The sex wars were raging in the late 80s and into the early 90s, where an understandable need to de-indoctrinate oneself from the internalised misogyny of heteropatriarchy got warped into gatekeeping of acceptable lesbian sex. Which I’d love to say is unbelievable, but alas, some of these relics still walk among us. The decision from on-high was that lesbians shouldn’t practice penetrative sex, because it ‘aped’ straight sex and the oppressive heteronormativity. Use of dildoes was a no-no, and S&M was beyond the pale. They were accused of re-enacting domestic abuse and rape, and of contributing to a culture of danger towards women.

I suspect these arbiters of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sex were the aforementioned ‘political lesbians’, i.e. straight women who were telling queer women how to fuck in accordance with their own ideas and philosophies. The fact that Chain Reaction was trans-inclusive and sex worker-inclusive probably didn’t do them any favours with these community gatekeepers either. You will still see the legacy of this faction in the TERFs and SWERFs today, who, like then, team up with the conservative right in society to stamp down on boundary-smashing expression within the queer community.

The late 80s and 90s were a time of increasing repression, not just in print, but in schools with section 28 forbidding any teacher “promoting” homosexuality by saying it was valid. Something that stayed in place right through til I was in secondary school, and is why our sex education was so shit. Section 28 was itself a response to the AIDS crisis, as though, if we were all silent about sexuality, a sexually-transmitted disease would just vanish. To be honest, that’s too kind an interpretation, they wanted us to die off, and be quiet about doing so.

You have these increased attempts at erasure of the queer community, especially its less respectable elements, so activism became a necessity. Lisa Power founds Stonewall, and you get the UK chapter of Act-Up. The invasion of the BBC news, and the abseiling into the House of Lords to protest Section 28. Really great to see the overlooked contribution of lesbians to the queer rights and AIDS activism movements being highlighted, because it’s very much sidelined or forgotten.

Just such a kickass film, showing how a scene spirals out into the fabric of history, in every corner of culture and politics. A movie that just leaves you going, “Fuck yeah!”

A Toute Epreuve: More Than A Book

Really interesting short documentary on A Toute Epreuve, a book of poetry that was created by surrealist painter and sculptor Joan Miro, conceiving of the book as a form of sculpture and each illustration as a work of art.

The book was created in collaboration with Paul Eluard, the French surrealist poet. He composed the poetry in 1930, inspired by Miro’s hometown of Barcelona. Miro then took a decade working on creating his book. With a cover of wooden board, the book is composed of folded paper, with illustrations made from India ink prints from woodcuts. The whole thing took years to make, sculpting each of the cherrywood blocks just so. Miro was meticulous in what he wanted on each page, how it should interact with the text, and how it should fold together as a three-dimensional object.

It was also fascinating to see the book’s conservation. Everything has been kept, the woodcuts, the tracing paper used to create them, the different versions of the pages, as Miro worked out what would go where. All is taken pristine care of, and preserved for the future.

Really interesting look into such a unique object.

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Architectures In Silence

Architectures In Silence is a short film combining shots of an abandoned dog track with historical silent footage of architects Le Corbusier and Antoni Bonet with their thoughts on architecture on black title cards.

I didn’t like it. I had a think about what I didn’t like. Was it the architecture of the building, the Canodrom of Meridiana? Was it the pure insufferable chat about art between the two famous guys? Was it the style it was filmed in? It’s hard to nail down. It just left one word ringing in my head and that word was:

Wank.

And it’s not like I can’t sit and watch narrativeless films, I have and for much longer, and I do enjoy them, their stillness and space for contemplation. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy stuff about architecture or art or folk wanging on about it, coz I also definitely do. And I’ve seen other stuff by this director I’ve liked, so it’s not like that’s the problem.

This film just doesn’t work for me. It’s just not for me. Despite it only being 10 minutes long, I found it wearing, and didn’t get much from it. I don’t know if there’s much more to it than that – I didn’t like it.

Los Tarantos

Los Tarantos is a flamenco version of Romeo and Juliet set in Franco’s Spain. It is great fun. Everybody is dancing all the time. The Romeo character goes to his mum and is like, Mum, I love Juana!, and the maw’s like, No, she is from a rival clan and I will dance the dance of my hatred for them! And Juana’s like, I love your son, let me show you the depth of my love through dance! And the mum’s like, I forgive you, let us dance the dance of reconciliation. It’s brill.

It stars Carmen Amaya, the greatest flamenco dancer of her time, as the mother of Rafael (Romeo). Rafael was played by Daniel Martin, who also went on to be a great flamenco dancer, so the dancing in it is top notch.

The Montagues and Capulets of the tale are the Los Zorongas and Los Tarantos, feuding gypsy clans encamped in the Somorrostro district of Barcelona. Long ago, old Zoronga and old Taranto were rivals in love for Angustias (Carmen Amaya), but she married Taranto and had, by the looks of it when you first see their house, a million children. Jealousy ate at Zoronga until he dobbed Taranto into the fascist police, ridding himself of a rival and getting rewarded with cash in the process. Now he is a rich man, owning his own stables, and keeping company with the Pacoas, who helped him hand over Taranto to be killed, and who are all round bad eggs. While Angustias is left to raise her and Taranto’s kids with very little, poor as they are, they are nonetheless rich with love, music and dance. But a hatred for Los Zorongas burns in her heart.

The film begins when Curro Pacoas, a shitestirrer and brute, incites a fight by taking Zoronga’s son Jero to harass Los Tarantos selling paper flowers and overturning a wagon with a mother holding a baby inside. Jero is wounded in the fight and asks his father to take revenge on all Los Tarantos. His father sees that Curro and Jero were the ones clearly at fault and tells them to just mind their own business.

Meanwhile Rafael is dragged to a party by his friend, Mojigondo, who has hooked them up with a couple of tourists. To get into their pants, Moji takes them dancing in the Somorrostro, a gypsy encampment which became a shanty town district of Barcelona. Rafael half-heartedly follows, but once there, is struck by the beauty of one of the dancers.

Juana (Juliet) is the daughter of old Zoronga, and is there celebrating the wedding of her cousin. This involves showering the naked bride in her bed with flowers. Her cousin then gifts one of the flowers to Juana, telling her she will meet the man of her dreams one day. Juana goes outside to dance with her clan. There she sees Rafael and instantly falls in love.

They try to marry, but don’t have the papers. Rafael tells his mother of his love and Juana comes to beg for his mother’s blessing of their union. Although initially appalled, she knows all too well what strife in love feels like, and relents, admitting Juana is a good girl, blameless for her father’s faults.

However old Zoronga is having none of it, and locks Juana away in his mansion. Two weans have to sneak her a homing pigeon so she can send a message of her love to Rafael. Kids in the future will simply not believe that this was the equivalent of texting while grounded.

When this doesn’t work to split them up, Zoronga puts it about that he has betrothed her to Curro. It is Zoronga’s hope that one or both of them will grow despondent and give up their quest to be together, but Curro uses it as ammo to fuel further violence. When he can’t get a rise out of Rafael, he kills his friend Moji. Curro fully intends to take Juana as his wife, and when she steadfastly declares her love for Rafael, he beats her and attempts to rape her.

As the film reaches its climax, will the mad dog Curro be contained? Will Zoronga put Juana’s safety above his own pride? Will true love win out?

Great wee film, with cracking dancing.

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Belle (The Dragon and the Freckled Princess)

When the credits rolled on Belle, it was a standing ovation. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Spectacular.

Belle is the story of a shy young girl whose avatar becomes the biggest singing sensation in the online world of U. When her concert is interrupted by the renegade user labelled The Beast, she is the only voice of understanding and patience in a firestorm of backlash. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast for the internet age, its message of not letting appearance blind you to someone’s character, emotions and value, is perfect for the era of trolls, doxxing, and global shaming.

Everything about this is just 100%. The rich and imaginative world, the gorgeous character design, the music which is going straight on my Spotify, everything is just brilliant. The emotional rawness of the characters, even when having comedy moments, is just done perfectly. Despite how small the challenges might seem from the outside, like singing in front of people or telling someone how you feel, the film manages to transport you into the character’s shoes, where that small step seems like a chasm leap. And however it might seem to others, it takes all one’s bravery to take it.

Just a brilliant film. I am so glad I got to see it in the cinema, because this really is one to see on the big screen. The huge vistas, the scale, the intricacy, it just blows you away.