Monday 15 March 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings: Part 3

Life gets in the way. Because of this, my belated final post on the Glasgow film festival now comes in at a time when everyone is bleating on about Awards season. Such is life. Such is life. 

A Brixton Tale:

This drama of black fears and white tears is a low-level mixture of The Shape of Things and What Richard Did, with a touch of Nightcrawler sprinkled in for good measure. A Brixton Tale finds ways to get under the skin with some of its themes but also frustrates with its lack of connecting tissue and shrugging resolution.

White Youtuber Leah meets Benji in Brixton by chance and decides to make the black teenager the subject of her video documentary. As they spend more time together, a romance forms between the two, as does a cultural clash between Leah’s cosy middle-class life and Benji’s inner-city background.

One of the things the film does exceedingly well is to highlight the power of white manipulation of male black masculinity. From the very start, something is unsettling on how Leah not only quietly observing Benjy through her lens but how she subtly influences situations to her whim. All the while conveniently removing herself from the line of fire. Leah’s camera, along with insert shots of CCTV cameras and crowded mostly white rooms, illustrate the feeling of a black male image always under surveillance. Particularly via white agitators. From Policeman to even best friends. The most effective example is the contrast between Benji’s mostly benevolent temperament and how he is represented by the champagne-sipping middle class in an exhibition of Leah’s art.

The film packs a lot within its short running time, but this seemingly comes at a cost. The films final third looks to elevate the drama but buckles slightly due to the weaker foundations underlying the earlier half.  The film starts reaching with certain outcomes and revelations falling flat as opposed to feeling justified. Then again, there are at points a couple of moments that may ask one to suspend belief to rationalise a young teenage girl holding a film camera.

The Mauritanian:

With its impressive cast and heavy subject matter, The Mauritanian has its sights on gaining some glittering prestige reception. The fictional feature explores the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s, the titular Mauritanian who was held captive in Guantánamo Bay for years without any formal charge. It is a film that comes at a time when the events of 9/11 mature into its 2nd decade, and the after shocks are still being felt, if albeit less pronounced. It is certainly a subject worth looking into as America moves forward into the Biden administration, the shadowy detention centre still casting a huge cloud over each presiding government.

The film has a ton of moving parts and director Kevin MacDonald does a decent job trying to keep all the plates spinning for the most part. It’s helped with a cast of reliable actors capable of making material such as this engaging.

Despite the shifts back and forth through time, and some affecting moments from Tahar Rahim, an actor who really should be talked up more, never elevates itself into anything truly memorable. As a fictional retelling, it never has the pull of something like Zero Dark Thirty or United 93, elsewhere documentaries such as Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side have talked about the dubious practices seen in The Mauritanian with stronger provocation. This does not stop the film’s final moments – now with the commonly used real-life footage – from being holding a certain amount of poignancy.

Against The Tide:

I was invited to view Giulia Candussi’s delicately told short documentary Against near the end of the Festival, and personally feel it is worth it’s small run time.

Simply composed and capturing its Scottish scenery beautifully, Candussi’s short account on a woman’s trial membership with a remote, self-sustaining communion away from the relentless pursuit of modern life is a quietly warming journey. Much like Candussi’s Back to the Roots photo project (found on her website), the film timely highlights ideals of simplicity and finding deeper connections with ourselves against our chaotic modern world.  A fitting finish to the festival.