Edinburgh International Film Festival

‘Amy’: A bleak yet honest documentary by Senna director Kapadia

Even though she had been performing since she was 14, it wasn’t until the release of her second studio album Back to Black in 2008 did Amy Winehouse become a mainstream artist. With that, her personal life became a constant presence in the media. Now, four years after her passing due to accidental poisoning, her life and achievements are celebrated in a new documentary by Senna director Asif Kapadia.

I Believe in Unicorns Natalia Dyer

EIFF 2014: ‘I Believe in Unicorns’ is a fanciful ode to the American road movie

I Believe in Unicorns is an ode to the American road movie that wears its influences on its sleeve. Particularly reverential to Terrence Malick’s Badlands, it even uses a version of its famous ‘Gassenhauer’ theme, although it must be said that other films have done the same. Despite drawing heavily from these renowned sources, first-time writer-direction Leah Meyerhoff isn’t simply mimicking her idols. By explicitly placing her film within this tradition, she’s able to critique the hopeless romanticism of her central character and scrutinise the naivety of her escape.

Hardkor Disko Marcin Kowalczyk Jasmine Polak

EIFF 2014: ‘Hardkor Disko’ is an incendiary film about a disaffected generation

‘Be intense or be nothing’. This statement, made by a middle-aged architect during a civilised breakfast, is put forward as a motto for his daughter’s disaffected generation. Lacking in attention and purpose, they need ‘stimulus after stimulus’ to stay interested, to keep them feeling alive. The phrase also becomes something like a raison d’être for Hardkor Disko, a film that hinges on its discomforting atmosphere and ability to aggravate the senses.

Letter to the King Hisham Zaman

EIFF 2014: ‘Letter to the King’ is a warm and compassionate ensemble piece

Kurdish-Norwegian director Hisham Zaman’s second feature is a well-observed ensemble piece, focusing on five refugees who are given the chance to visit Oslo for the day. They live comfortably in a nearby centre but their uncertain status restricts their freedom and makes them unable to move on with their lives. Each character’s individual story represents an attempt to make a clean break from their situation; they seek legitimacy and progress, in various forms, where it has otherwise been denied.

Stations of the Cross Dietrich Bruggeman

EIFF 2014: ‘Stations of the Cross’ is an outstanding formal achievement

Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross is both an indictment of fundamentalist Catholicism and a testament to the enduring value of faith. The title comes from the traditional Christian devotion, which involves meditating upon the key scenes of Christ’s suffering and death. Structured rigorously around this concept, the film is divided in 14 self-contained chapters, each representing a different station and filmed in a continuous long take.

Peter Ferdinando Hyena

EIFF 2014: ‘Hyena’ is a brutal example of British nihilism

Hyena, the second feature from London-born director Gerard Johnson, opens with a slow motion raid on a neon-blue nightclub. The four men who carry it out are inebriated – a mixture of drink and drugs – and meet wordlessly en route in a small, plain car. When they park in an alleyway and pull on police gear, your first instinct is that they’re faking it, putting on masks. But it transpires that they really are policeman, just the kind that employ violence indiscriminately and abuse their authority to take a cut from local gangs.

Not Another Happy Ending

EIFF 2013: Glasgow rom-com ‘Not Another Happy Ending’ is vibrant but insubstantial

Set in a spruced-up Glasgow, Not Another Happy Ending is an offbeat romantic comedy starring Karen Gillan as Jane, a quirky young novelist struggling to overcome a nasty bout of writer’s block. With the editorial guidance of her passionate but single-minded publisher, Tom (Stanley Weber), her debut autobiographical novel became a huge bestseller, as well as reuniting her with her estranged father (Gary Lewis) and landing her a relationship with a renowned but narcissistic screenwriter, Willie (Henry Ian Cusick). Relying on Jane’s new book to rescue his ailing publishing company, Tom believes that her newfound happiness is preventing her from writing and sets out to make her life as miserable as he can.

Blackbird Film 2013

EIFF 2013: ‘Blackbird’ is a sensitive portrayal of Scotland’s vulnerable folk tradition

Blackbird is set in a Scottish island town where the traditional culture, based around folk singing, is gradually dying out and young people are flocking to the cities in search of better opportunities. The community has been fractured by weakening local industries and a loss of identity, leading to social discord and conflicting views about how the town should move forward. Director Jamie Chambers delicately draws out these issues, showing a sad reluctance on the part of the older community to pass down their traditions, acutely aware that they have little economic value in the modern world.

EIFF 2013: Harry Dean Stanton profiled in the terrific ‘Partly Fiction’

In keeping with the acting style of the object of its focus, Sophie Huber’s Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction stays away from extremes in its portrait of one of America’s greatest actors. There is affection, but it is understated and not glowing, while any melancholy elements are not over-stressed. The facts and opinions expressed, through Stanton and various collaborators, are simply allowed to be – free of added manipulation – in what amounts as a rather quiet documentary, excluding film clips with their own soundtracks and instances in which we get to see Stanton express his passion for performing music. Like the documentary’s most discussed film, Paris, Texas (1984), Partly Fiction is serene but also apt at emotional devastation, though as in Wim Wenders’ masterpiece, sorrow and optimism are intertwined.

Before Snowfall

EIFF 2013: ‘Before Snowfall’ follows its protagonist on a nuanced, multicultural journey

Hisham Zaman’s directorial debut opens with Siyar (Abdullah Taher), a 16-year-old boy from Kurdish Iraq, being wrapped from head to toe in cling film. He is preparing to submerge himself in an oil tanker in an attempt to illegally cross the border into Turkey, making for Istanbul where he believes his runaway sister, Nermin (Bahar Ozen), is hiding with her lover. She has escaped an arranged marriage, bringing dishonour to the family, and Siyar has accepted the responsibility of resolving the situation. He embarks on a dangerous journey, replete with perilous border crossings and unfamiliar environments, with the intention of killing Nermin and restoring his family to honour.

Leviathan Film 2012

EIFF 2013: ‘Leviathan’ is an immersive sensory experience, depicting a dissonant, alien world

Shot using multiple unmanned digital cameras on an Atlantic Ocean fishing trawler, Leviathan plunges us directly into the ship’s chaotic machinery, revealing a dissonant, alien world. The latest collaborative work from anthropologists and filmmakers, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, is a profoundly original documentary and a staggering, hallucinatory piece of cinema. There is no narration and no interviews; from the outset, we are thrust unaided and disorientated into the cacophony, bombarded with anarchic point-of-view shots and haunting, discordant sounds.

EIFF 2013: ‘Sanctuary’ is better when it stays simple

Sanctuary opens on a rural home in the Swedish countryside, the serenity of which is soon interrupted by the arrival of police. The child occupant Hella (Clara Christiansson), is questioned as to the location of her father, wanted on suspicion of murder. After they leave, the wanted man (Jakob Cedergren) returns, and the pair flee into large woodlands.

EIFF 2013: ‘Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari’ is an exuberant, theatrical ethnography

Alexey Fedorchenko’s last film, Silent Souls, explored the funeral rites of the Merya people, following two men as they journeyed to cremate a spouse on the banks of the Oka River. They carried out strange rituals, such as tying coloured threads into the dead woman’s pubic hair, but it was presented with an honest naturalism and rooted in spiritual truth. The result was a profound and moving piece of cinema, depicting the sombre passing of an ancient way of life.

The Sea

EIFF 2013: ‘The Sea’ is a well-acted but lethargic exploration of memory

Adapted by John Banville from his Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sea is a reflective but laboured character study, set in an Irish seaside town. After losing his wife to cancer, Max (Ciarán Hinds), an alcoholic art history dilettante, moves back to the place where he and his family used to spend their summer holidays, revisiting the scene of a childhood trauma in an attempt to forget his current plight. His memories are shown in flashback, depicting the summer leading up the event, when Max became friends with an eccentric, wealthy family who were renting a house in the town.

EIFF 2013: ‘Magic Magic’ is a superbly claustrophobic and strange thriller

It’s become something of a cliché to draw links between any claustrophobic discomfort piece and the work of Roman Polanski. Magic Magic not only has the chamber piece qualities of the man’s apartment films and Carnage, but also the island locale and proximity to paralyzing waters of films like Knife in the Water, Cul-de-sac and The Ghost Writer; furthermore, it also shares a blonde protagonist losing her grip on reality à la Repulsion. It’s an easy film to play ‘Spot the Roman’ with, but the comparison is valid and not just superficial checklist-ticking in this case. If, as a whole, it never reaches the same heights of quality as the best of Polanski’s more horror-inclined films, Sebastián Silva’s unnerving and enigmatic thriller has scenes that certainly stand up to worthy association.

Oh Boy

EIFF 2013: ‘Oh Boy’ is an intelligent and effortless slacker comedy

Jan Ole Gerster’s debut feature is a smart, breezy comedy that follows 27-year-old slacker, Niko (Tom Schilling), through Berlin over the course of a turbulent day. Despite dropping out of law school two years previously, he still lives off his father’s allowance, resides an empty shell of an apartment and struggles to find the motivation to do anything much at all. After breaking up with his girlfriend, he visits a confrontational psychiatrist, has an excruciating encounter with an emotional neighbour, gets cut off by his father and meets an attractive young woman, Julika (Friederike Kempter), only to find out he used to bully her at school. And, to top it all off, he can’t even seem to find himself a decent cup of coffee.

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