CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson checks in from the second weekend of the Glasgow Film Festival
AFTER THE STORM PASSED, the Glasgow Film Festival marched ahead with a few more world and UK premieres.
Find This Dumb Little Bitch and Throw Her Into the River – ★★★★☆
I'm as lefty-liberal metropolitan-elite snowflake virtue-signalling as they come, but I do miss nuance. Especially in art, the inability to take something as it is rather than assign it a 'good' or 'bad' label is hurting what we take from what we experience. There's a difference between representing parts of life and endorsing them, so I hope to keep seeing films and hearing opinions that challenge me, without supporting views that promote hate and division.
That is to say, without empathy and understanding, you won't get very far with Find This Dumb Little Bitch and Throw Her Into the River. Inspired by true events, it follows a young sibling pair who are told to dispose of some puppies from their father's shady shelter. The brother films his sister as she gleefully throws them into the river to drown, and having seen the success his friend is having with subscribers on Youtube, decides to upload the video for attention.
He thinks nothing of it until the local press picks it up, gaining momentum until the internet tries to decipher who the girl in the video is. You can imagine the comments below the video, as well as the sentiments directed towards the young girl. The name of the film comes directly from one such comment below the video of the real incident.
It's tempting to agree with them. It's hard to imagine many things worse than killing puppies, so she's not a figure immediately worthy of sympathy. But as the mob grows, and as her brother's culpability is constantly front and centre, her disgusting act takes a back seat.
It's easy to type a guttural response, but as it piles on and on, what of the victim at the centre of it?
Their father is a dominant and monstrous man towards the brother, but more supportive to his daughter. He's no role model, violent at home and unscrupulous with his work. Who has taught the kids to respect and take heed of the lives of others? Who has taught them not to be selfish?
The brother's desire for notoriety has taken precedence over both the shocking act and the potential consequences faced by his sister. He knows what he's filmed is wrong, he knows it'll elicit a reaction (he's counting on it), but he doesn't care about what it could mean for the young girl at the centre of it all.
And then the mob. In response to something unspeakable, people respond with a righteous passion and a desire to put things right. It's easy to type a guttural response, but as it piles on and on, what of the victim at the centre of it? With the encouragement of others around you, what of the threat, real or perceived, of violence towards the girl?
Find This Dumb Little Bitch... is some smart filmmaking, reminding us that what's in the frame, what's in the moment, is an instant in a much bigger act. It was provoked and it has consequences which we often forget when reacting, an action that's becoming faster and louder in the modern age. It doesn't only ask whether the reaction is justified, but how it happened in the first place, and maybe we would be better for doing the same thing.
Village Rockstars – ★★★☆☆
It’s one thing to dream of making it big in the city. It’s a whole other thing to have dreams of becoming a rock star as a young girl in remote and impoverished India. Unable to afford real instruments, Dhunu and her friends make guitars and drums out of polystyrene and cardboard, all the while jumping around and singing every part of their songs.
Shots of vast plains of farmland and dirt trails are the opposite of flashing lights and adoring crowds. There’s not much to do out here, and even hanging out with the boys is an issue for some in Dhunu’s village. Her widowed mother doesn’t mind, happy her daughter has friends, and teaching her daughter how to swim and work the fertile land explains her independent and assertive spirit.
There’s a sadness in knowing that Dhunu has even less chance of becoming a rock star than you or me simply because of where she lives and what she can afford.
Like Dhunu’s life, the film is a little monotonous in its dreamy meandering approach. Lots of time is spent with her friends just hanging out in trees and riding the bike of someone who was only allowed into their gang on the condition they all get to have a shot of it. That is kind of the point: this isn’t the rock star life, something that represents the ultimate escape. When the flood comes, it forces dreams to the side as real-life responsibilities – saving the animals and the crops – come to the fore.
There’s a sadness in knowing that Dhunu has even less chance of becoming a rock star than you or me simply because of where she lives and what she can afford. She saves money in the hope of buying a guitar, a relatively small thing compared to the lofty aspirations we usually see in cinema. The beautiful cinematography lends Village Rockstars a dreaminess worthy of its heroic lead, and this small window into her life is an intimate pleasure.
Super November – ★★★★☆
I've always wondered why people don't employ the youthful idea of starting a story then veering completely off-course halfway through. When films are as conventional as they are (at least in the multiplexes), this always seemed like an easy way round familiar beats, completely sweeping the rug away from under the feet of the audience.
Enter Super November. Beginning as a Glasgow-based mumblecore romance with a small cast of friends, it cuts halfway through to six months later, where these same characters now live under authoritarian rule with strict curfews and rumours of citizens being rounded up and taken away.
Director Douglas King has expressed concern at its timeliness. Filmed in the spring and winter of 2016, between shoots Britain voted Brexit, and as they finished the film up, Trump became president. Suddenly, an ominous shot of the words 'travel ban' was no longer dystopian; it was real. Similarly, brief mentions of independence referendums might not travel well, and even in Scotland the fever pitch of 2014 is a hazy memory.
It's about friends working together, and it works because you believe in the friends - and the scariest part is you believe in the horror, too.
But it's a hell of a confident debut full length feature. King has worked meticulously to make sure the left-turn works, hinting just enough in the first half of a creeping horror in the background through news headlines and radio broadcasts.
The main cast, led by writer Josie Long, are down to earth and normal, which is the film's real success. By focusing initially on their dynamics and then their struggle against the system, it's about them and not so much the world around them. Like Cloverfield, you're with them every step of the way, and what worked there works here too - the scary thing is the thought of it happening to you and your friends. This is no dystopian YA fantasy, but it's happening with your government in your cities. What do you do?
But King is quick to remind people - this is a comedy. It is funny, never letting the story breathe too long between laughs. Despite its weighty subject matter, despite the structure, I think people will remember Super November as a good time. It's about friends working together, and it works because you believe in the friends - and the scariest part is you believe in the horror, too.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms – ★★★★☆
Mere days after its world premiere in Japan, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms made its debut outside of its home country at the Glasgow Film Festival. That’s quite an acquisition, never mind the risk, considering the critical acclaim for recent Japanese animation releases such as Your Name and A Silent Voice.
Maquia isn’t quite as profound as either of them, but it’s not for lack of trying. It’s immediately clear how gorgeous the film is. The land in which Maquia lives, far from the rest of the world, is heavenly, complete with lush grasses, inviting pools and towers as old as time. She and the rest of her clan weave thread that keeps the balance of life in check, whispered by humans as almost-forgotten fairytales. Maquia’s clan, the Iolph, cease to age in their teens, and their community is attacked by a greedy nation keen to introduce that immortality into their bloodline.
This fantastical setup belies its human heart. Fleeing from the assault, Maquia ends up in the human world, stumbling upon the remains of a small community. She finds a newborn in the hands of his dead mother who she decides to raise, seeking shelter with a welcoming family. From then on it’s about motherhood and time, and how eventually her new son, Erial, will outgrow her while she will stay the same.
It becomes clear that it’s merciful of time to take us all at an equal pace as Maquia eventually has to watch Erial grow old.
They’re forced to move every few years before people catch on to Maquia’s immortality, bringing a string of new jobs and new locales. As Erial grows, he begins to question his heritage, the differences between him and his mother, and where his allegiances lie in the simmering wars. Maquia has chosen the life of motherhood outside of her serene existence at home, working long hours and making tough decisions for the safety of her family.
So despite its fantastical setting, it’s about a mother and her son, and how the passage of time impacts us all. It becomes clear that it’s merciful of time to take us all at an equal pace as Maquia eventually has to watch Erial grow old, always knowing that growing close to humans could be the loneliest thing for people from her clan.
All successful fantasy films (including this year’s Best Picture winner at the Oscars, The Shape of Water) have something raw and human at heart, and that’s the case with Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, too. Dragons, eternal life, and tangible fate there may be, but this is a film about mother and son, about the passage of time, and about the difficulties both of those parts of life throw at us. It’s really quite beautiful.
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