Re-writing History: Writer-Director Francis Lee on unsung queer romance
23 February 2021
A few years have passed since Francis Lee came to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but he...
The best films I have seen at this year’s festival have been a trio of discoveries - films I had no expectations for and was blown away by. Where Is Kyra? is unlike anything I have ever seen, making use of a fascinating combination of traditional and experimental film techniques to tell an intriguing, almost social-realist tale of loneliness and poverty in Brooklyn. The incredible artistic vision of director Andrew Dosunmu is supported by two powerful performances from Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland, both playing entirely against type.
The second surprise came from My Pure Land, a thrilling British feature debut. Set in rural Pakistan, it follows a mother and her two daughters holed up and under siege in their home after the escalation of a land dispute. I loved the layered performances of the cast, building a very realistic family torn apart by dispute and corruption. A revelation of new British cinema, with director Sarmad Masud’s adept blending of action and emotion highlighting him as one to watch.
Rounding out my trio is Sweet Virginia, a dark and moody Alaskan thriller arriving at Edinburgh straight from Tribeca. I was really struck by director Jamie M Dagg’s love of shadows and that which happens in them, and the incredibly committed performances from the cast, especially Jon Bernthal, Imogen Poots and Christopher Abbott. Small town noir is my favourite genre, and Sweet Virginia is already one of its finest examples.
I was blown away by the colourful, psychedelic inventiveness of My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. This unique animation showcases some imaginative characters while constantly reflecting protagonist Dash Shaw's love of over-dramatic writing.
Pecking Order was an entertaining and surprisingly gripping insight into New Zealand's subculture of competitive chicken breeding. Full of puns and eccentric, loveable participants, this documentary really engaged audiences - especially when combined with director Slavko Martinov's "insider gossip" at the Q&A.
One of the best films I saw during the festival was The Farthest which is a documentary about the Voyager missions that were launched in 1977. The way the story was told was amazing: there was no narration but only the voices of the funny and interesting characters who were involved in the launch and mission. The CGI clips and the actual shots of the planets were visually stunning and well put together. I enjoyed it and learnt a lot.
Another film that was up there for me was Freak Show. The movie is about a teenage high school drag queen who runs for Homecoming Queen. The humour in the film was brilliant and definitely made everyone giggle. The costume design was one of the best things in the movie as it definitely showed the main character’s personality and uniqueness. Overall it’s a must see!
My favourite documentary this year is without a doubt Tokyo Idols, a bizarre, fascinating and alien viewing experience directed by Kyoko Miyake. The film follows the lives of several young girls in Tokyo who proclaim themselves to be an ‘Idol’, a young girl who sings, dances and has a massive fan base. However one of the main focuses of the documentary is their mainly older male audience. The film discusses male dominance, virginity and sexual exploitation and the idea of the need for a new way of thinking, We see how young girls are brought into the Idol scene and the benefits they get from the (mainly) male admiration and fame. We also see how their fan bases essentially worships them, which is an experience in itself. A brilliantly crafted, well thought out documentary that is startling, intriguing and mysterious.
My favourite fiction film has to be The Mole Song – Hong Kong Capriccio, an outrageously funny Japanese action-comedy-romance flick that is a truly maddening and wonderful cinematic experience. An undercover cop, Reiji in Osaka, is asked to infiltrate one of the biggest Yakuza families in Japan and stop their illegal extortion programmes and petty crimes… However, none of that goes to plan as Reiji, a sexually weak and unconvincing gangster slowly turns into the very thing he was picked to destroy. With a new anti-crime boss in town, things go a little downhill for poor Reiji as Tigers, sexual pursuits, toilet plungers, police chiefs, melodic songs and the normal crazy-bizarre world of the Yakuza is exposed and seen in one of the most hilarious films I’ve seen all year. It’s a visual splendour to watch and the editing (especially the opening sequence) is absolutely phenomenal.
I really loved the film Wakefield. It was a new take on an adult trying to escape his modern life and it was a joy to watch (though also heart-breaking at times). Bryan Cranston does a spectacular job as the main character Howard Wakefield, the middle-class family man who one day gets sick of his easy suburban life. His character is brilliantly written and the film's cinematography is very impressive. Overall a great film that I shall definitely be watching again.
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