One of the most interesting things about picking out a viewing schedule at a film festival is the emergence of unexpected trends. Something that was easily apparent on the first two days of our trip to this year’s Glasgow Film Festival was the array of quality independent cinema on show by female directors. Gender imbalance is quite rightly a major talking point in a lot of discourse surrounding the medium at the moment – indeed, it was raised in a Q&A with Carol Morley on Thursday evening here – and it’s refreshing to see such a variety of striking cinema as the selection on offer at the festival. “Strong and alone,” is the mantra employed by Marieme (Karidja Toure) the protagonist in Celine Sciamma’s wonderful Girlhood (2014), who falls in with a female gang from school to escape the oppressive atmosphere at home.
Engendered by her bullish brother, it is just one example of the patriarchy in which the girls must forge their identity and this socially conscious coming-of-age tale pulls no punches with the difficulty of doing so. Carved into four acts, the narrative imbues a struggle for agency and independence with energy and verve. Beautifully composed, it’s fiercely compelling and will hopefully garner further praise when it is released later in the year. Two other films that feature the burgeoning sexuality of young women are Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water (2014) and British director Carol Morley’s follow-up to Dreams of a Life (2011), The Falling (2014). The former is a meditative exploration of love, life and death on a quiet Japanese island through the eyes of two teens, Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) and Kaito (Nijiro Murakami).
Whilst Still the Water undulating rhythms and sumptuous visuals provide much to admire, the languid pacing and lack of cogent thematic enquiry result in something approaching tedium. Considerably more enthralling is Morley’s unusual hysteria drama, The Falling. Set in a girl’s school in the late sixties, it revolves around an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness amongst the student population. Lensed with elegant naturalism by Agnes Godard, it plumbs the complexities of the sexual awakening as a young women amidst a beguilingly uncanny mystery filled with strange and alluring performances. Alongside those we’ve caught four more female-directed films that couldn’t really be more different. Debbie Tucker Green’s Second Coming (2014) is a scintillating psychological drama that explores the effect of an unexpected pregnancy of an Afro-Caribbean family in London – placing God in the kitchen sink.
Liv Corfixen’s My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2014) also documents family dynamics, but in her real-life situation married to the Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013) director. Whilst little more than a DVD extra, it has some fascinating insights and will be enjoyed by fans of Refn. Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices (2014) which was the festival’s ‘surprise film’ is more like something Refn would make – at least in terms of its blood-letting. Built around a fantastic performance from Ryan Reynolds, it is a pitch-black serial killer comedy that twists expectation to reveal the horror of being the killer rather than the victim, and the coping mechanisms employed by such a psychologically damaged soul. Finally, we caught Ann Hui’s Golden Era (2015), a lavish period biopic of Chinese writer Xiao Hong. It’s a handsome but muddled affair, that runs on too long and it never quite manages to bring its themes into anything approaching focus.
The full Glasgow Film Festival 2015 programme, ticketing details and more can be viewed at glasgowfilm.org.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson