Tag Archives: Sight & Sound

Special Delivery (Park Dae-min, 2022)

Glancing at its cast list, one might assume that Park Dae-min’s Special Delivery was cannily intended to capitalise on the success of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019): it reteams Parasite star Park So-dam with that film’s youngest ensemble player, Jung Hyeon-jun, for a smart thriller. But Special Delivery reportedly began principal photography the same week that Bong’s film was released in Korea, and beyond the gory climax, Park Dae-min’s film is rather a different beast, taking its cues from high-octane car-chase movies à la the Transporter trilogy (2002-2008) while drawing on the character dynamics of John Cassavetes’s Gloria (1980)…

Full review for Sight & Sound

Death of a Ladies’ Man (Matt Bissonnette, 2020)

Since the early days of his recording career, the late Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has played a key part in some of film and TV’s most spellbinding moments. Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) is so inextricable from the three Cohen songs that recur throughout – ‘The Stranger Song’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and ‘Winter Lady’ – that it’s hard to believe they weren’t originally written for the sequences in question (they’d appeared on Cohen’s debut album four years earlier). Atom Egoyan, a compatriot of Cohen, has cited the song ‘Everybody Knows’ as intrinsic to the tone and ideas of his own puzzle-box drama Exotica (1994), while that same year, Olivier Assayas made beautiful use of Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ in the extended party set-piece of Cold Water, where it scores the long-gestating first kiss between two close teenage friends. This isn’t to mention the various covers of Cohen that have made their way onto soundtracks: new generations were introduced to the man through recordings of ‘Hallelujah’ by John Cale and Jeff Buckley, in Shrek (2001) and teen drama series The O.C. (2003-07) respectively.

With all this in mind, any filmmaker producing a fiction feature based entirely around Cohen songs – bar original score compositions and the occasional diegetic background tune – is setting themselves up for potentially unfavourable comparisons. That’s what writer-director Matt Bissonnette has on his hands with Canadian-Irish co-production Death of a Ladies’ Man (2020), named after Cohen’s 1977 studio album and incorporating seven songs from across his career: ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Bird on the Wire’, ‘Memories’, ‘Why Don’t You Try’, ‘Heart with No Companion’, ‘Did I Ever Love You’, and Cohen’s rendition of ‘The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien errant)’, a mid-19th-century folk song. Cohen’s poem ‘The Music Crept By Us’ also gets recited during one of the film’s many fantastical flourishes, while chapter cards quote his lyrics…

Full review for Sight & Sound

Martyrs Lane (Ruth Platt, 2021)

The spectre of unprocessed grief looms large in writer-director Ruth Platt’s Martyrs Lane, an effective British ghost story with religious undertones. Told almost entirely from a child’s point-of-view, it sees a devout minister’s daughter invite a believed angelic presence into her family’s home, only for the guest’s intentions to gradually turn sinister…

Full review for Sight & Sound

GFF20 vs. COVID-19: four takeaways from Glasgow Film Festival 2020

This year’s Glasgow Film Festival constantly faced the prospect of major disruption amidst the global outbreak of COVID-19, as major overseas events, most notably SXSW, fell to advance cancellations while this year’s GFF was still taking place. The organisers managed to pull off a complete edition before the axe fell, with the Scottish government now scaling back public gatherings in the days since its closing night. The virus has now been assigned pandemic status, and even more spring festivals in the UK and globally have since indefinitely postponed before any government intervention, including TribecaBelfast and the now independent Glasgow Short Film Festival

Full feature for Sight & Sound

A Girl Missing (Kôji Fukada, 2019)

In Fukada Kōji’s Harmonium (2016), Tsutsui Mariko played a woman whose life was destroyed by tragic circumstances beyond her control. In this reunion of the actor and writer-director, Tsutsui is working in a similar mode, including playing someone before and after a significant time jump. Here, those timelines are presented in parallel, tracking, to largely deft effect, a transformation from a compassionate, pragmatic individual to a vengeful soul who’s lost everything…

Full review for Sight & Sound

The bitter and the sweet: British features at Edinburgh 2019

2019 marked my seventh trip to the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Something I’ve always appreciated about its commitment to new British cinema – and not just through its Michael Powell Award competition – is that it provides a platform for more idiosyncratic examples of independent British cinema that may struggle to get a launch at the grander London Film Festival. And while it’s faced competition from the rising Glasgow Film Festival for specifically Scotland-focused fiction and nonfiction, Edinburgh has always launched interesting fare from across the increasingly divided United Kingdom – from Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) to Matt Palmer’s Calibre (2018), to name but two recent personal favourites.

That said, not every year can be a vintage one when you take a chance on lots of relatively unproven talent, and my experience of this year’s British line-up was that while the pick-ups from overseas A-list festivals were mostly solid to very good (the Toronto-premiering British folk horror Gwen, now opening in UK cinemas, stood tall), the festival’s own finds were underwhelming so far as the fiction films went…

Full feature for Sight & Sound

“That summer we were all waiting for democracy to start”: Dominga Sotomayor on ‘Too Late to Die Young’

Too Late to Die Young is Chilean writer-director Dominga Sotomayor’s third feature, though the first since her well-regarded debut, Thursday til Sunday (2012), to receive much international distribution. The new work feels of a piece with the breakthrough film in its focus on the perspective of children and their burgeoning awareness of the complexities of their family situations. At the same time, that focus in the new effort is more expansive, with the juggling of a larger ensemble of both young and adult characters, and more ambitious in its evocation of a specific period and a unique setting rooted in Sotomayor’s own upbringing.

Set in Chile in summer 1990, in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, the film follows teenagers Sofía (Demian Hernández) and Lucas (Antar Machado) and ten-year-old Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) facing various disappointments while living in a partially built ecological settlement in the mountains just off from Santiago. Lucas pines for Sofía; Sofía is drawn to an older man and also longs to move away from the commune to live with her estranged mother; and Clara searches for her missing dog. There is relatively little narrative incident, with Sotomayor favouring a shaggy hangout vibe above a story prone to any concrete definitions. The film’s political underpinnings – it’s set just after the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship – are unobtrusive, relegated to the briefest of period signifiers and occasional dialogue allusions.

I spoke to Sotomayor at the Locarno Festival in 2018, where she became the first woman ever to win the Leopard award for Best Direction…

Full interview for Sight & Sound

Too Late to Die Young (Dominga Sotomayor, 2018)

Recipient of this year’s Leopard for Best Direction in the International Competition at Locarno, Too Late to Die Young is not Dominga Sotomayor’s first feature since her debut breakthrough Thursday Till Sunday (2012), as the 58-minute Mar (2014) premiered in between. It does, however, feel like a direct continuation of that first feature’s preoccupation with the implications of parents’ life-altering decisions upon the children they take along for the ride. In Thursday Till Sunday, a road trip was the backdrop for a story of a teen discovering her parents may be separating, while Too Late to Die Young, which opens with another car journey, is concerned with multiple children being uprooted…

Full review for Sight & Sound

Local Heroes: new Scottish features at Edinburgh 2018

Before launching its full programme, the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival announced the films in the lineup with notable Scottish connections. It’s standard practice for this festival, presumably tied to obligations to sponsors such as Creative Scotland, to give the slate of local productions a profile-boost before breaking out the international big guns.

Of late, this tease has proved more foreboding than enticing. With a few exceptions (such as Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio), the quality of British features receiving their world premiere at the festival in recent years has been especially patchy, and a number of the particularly dire ones have, in my experience, been those with a local connection. Romantic comedy Scottish Mussel (2015) may still be the worst feature I’ve seen at any film festival.

This year’s Scots-focused preview looked more promising, however, both for the world premieres as well as titles accruing buzz from festivals abroad. Despite the odd dud, the quality, variety and, in some cases, ambition of the features under the broad banner of Scottish filmmaking proved reflective of the state of this year’s programme as a whole…

Full feature for Sight & Sound

Best from the West: three new Scottish features at Glasgow Film Festival 2018

This year’s Glasgow Film Festival was hit by an unprecedented series of setbacks, largely thanks to the combined efforts of Storm Emma and the cold wave dubbed the ‘Beast from the East’. Across three days in its second week, dozens of screenings and events were cancelled due to snow-related safety risks, while much of the talent scheduled to appear, as well as attendees not staying in Glasgow, were unable to reach the city…

Full feature for Sight & Sound