Glasgow Film Festival early bird highlights

Graduation, I Am Not Your Negro, Aquarius and A Quiet Passion.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

James Baldwin is voiced by Samuel L Jackson in Raoul Peck's Oscar nominated I Am Not Your Negro
James Baldwin is voiced by Samuel L Jackson in Raoul Peck's Oscar nominated I Am Not Your Negro Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Kleber Mendonça Filho's Aquarius, starring Sônia Braga; Adrian Titieni and Maria-Victoria Dragus in Cristian Mungiu's Graduation (Bacalaureat); A Quiet Passion, directed by Terence Davies with Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson, and Raoul Peck's extraordinary documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, based on James Baldwin's 30 pages of notes for a book project titled Remember This House, which takes us on an American journey with the writings of Baldwin, are four highlights of this year's Glasgow Film Festival.

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

Graduation
Graduation

Who throws the first stone in Cristian Mungiu's latest Romanian tale is a mystery - the first of many. Romeo (Adrian Titieni), a doctor in the hospital of a provincial town wishes nothing more urgently than for his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) to be awarded a scholarship to Cambridge and leave for "civilised" England. All Eliza has to do, is pass the graduation exams with her usual, excellent grades. One morning during the all-important week, Dad is in a hurry and lets his daughter - whom he drives to school every day - out of the car near a construction site instead of right in front of the entrance. That day, Eliza is assaulted. We are placed in the position of a nosy neighbor who picks up on clues and speculates. The assault, the girl's trauma, the all-important, future-deciding exams starting the next day, and the strained family dynamics are effectively folded into a larger political context of corruption and bribery. Mungiu is such a master of vivisecting human interrelations, that we might almost overlook how he sets the tone.

Public screenings: February 23 at 3:20pm and February 24 at 10:45am - Glasgow Film Theatre.

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro

James Baldwin writes his literary agent in June of 1979 that he wants to tell the story of America through the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Samuel L Jackson's voice is our guide: "History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise we literally are criminals." The writer's clarity cuts through the confused, entangled narrative of race in America. Peck's choice of images, film clips, interviews adds to the important messages. Baldwin wrote: "The summer has scarcely begun and I feel already that it's almost over. I am about to undertake the journey and this is a journey to tell you the truth which I always knew that I would have to make. I am saying that a journey is called that because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey. What you will do with what you find or what you find will do to you." At a Cambridge University debate in 1965, James Baldwin gives his personal account of the impact films had on him as a young man. "It comes as a great shock around the age of five or six or seven to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians - when you were rooting for Gary Cooper- that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you."

Public screening: February 22 at 6:00pm - Glasgow Film Theatre.

Aquarius

Aquarius
Aquarius

Objects contain links to a past that would otherwise be forgotten. Aquarius, on one level, deals with how we remember in a world going through drastic changes. Digital messages in a bottle are a different beast from a tactile unearthing. Social dynamics, a city in flux, a world growing old and another emerging - the film's neighboring thoughts cast a broad net of questions. An apartment building by the sea in Recife and Clara (Sônia Braga), a woman living in the building, reveal history trapped in both. Divided into three parts, Aquarius begins with a get-together in 1980. As we move into the present, Clara, a music critic, is the last remaining inhabitant. Developers want to get rid of her after they bought out all the others by using a variety of measures in an attempt to make her leave the "ghost building". Aquarius, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, is a widescreen experience that captures things essential to living. Deliberately casual cruelties served with a snake-charmer smile are intended to wear down rightful resistance.

Public screenings: February 25 at 5:45pm and February 26 at 10:45am - Glasgow Film Theatre.

A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion
A Quiet Passion

Terence Davies looks at questions of the soul, family, war, creativity and how to be true to yourself. We first encounter young Emily (Emma Bell) at Episcopalian boarding school where she realizes that easy salvation isn't hers to even wish for. Her loving family, sans the perennially under-the-weather mother (Joanna Bacon) come to take her home to Amherst, Massachusetts to everybody's delight. Time passes and Davies, in a trick so simple and playful and far-reaching, ages the portraits the family members have taken of themselves. Cynthia Nixon is a wonderful, knowing, doubting, twinkling Emily Dickinson. Jennifer Ehle as Vinnie, her sister, is a perfect match in loving banter and bitter argument. Brother Austin (Duncan Duff), when he marries Susan Gilbert (Jodhi May) gives them another sister. The female bonding comes across as effortless and their wit has lightning speed. "Let's not be anything today except superficial," is a suggestion that doesn't go very far with Emily Dickinson, as much as she tries in A Quiet Passion.

Public screening: February 23 at 6:00pm - Glasgow Film Theatre - Expected to attend: Terence Davies.

The Glasgow Film Festival runs from February 15 through February 26.

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