10 films to catch at Edinburgh Film Festival

We pick some of our favourites from this year's line-up

by Amber Wilkinson and Jennie Kermode

With Edinburgh Film Festival just a few days a way, we pick 10 films to look out for at this year's 73rd edition.

The Souvenir
The Souvenir Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
The Souvenir - There's no doubt that Joanna Hogg's autobiographical story of a young film student's potentially destructive relationship with a charismatic but flawed older man is the one to beat in this year's Michael Powell competition for Best British film. Achieving almost universal critical acclaim at its world premiere in Sundance, it's notable not just for the psychological complexity of its storytelling but also for the central performances. Although Honor Swinton Byrne has understandably received plaudits for her debut role (her mum Tilda also plays her on screen mother), I thought Tom Burke was the real revelation here, displaying the sort of impervious to his own failings posh-boy charm that became the stock-in trade of Hugh Grant and Rupert Everett. We'll certainly be hearing more from Swinton Byrne, not least in the film's sequel, which is currently being shot. Read our full review and about what the stars and director said about it.

Memory - The Origins Of Alien
Memory - The Origins Of Alien Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
Memory: Origins Of Alien - You can't ask for a safer pair of hands to take a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of a film than Alexandre O Philippe, whose 78/52 dissected the shower scene in Psycho with a precision Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud of. He takes a broader approach to Ridley Scott's seminal science-fiction film (also screening at EIFF), although he uses John Hurt's "chest burst" scene as its lynchpin. Philippe traces connections in the film all the way back to the Greek Furies and a lot more besides as he considers the influences on HR Giger in terms of design, plus offers plenty of on-set anecdotes - achieving the impressive feat of making his discoveries understandable for newcomers and detailed enough for existing fans.

Volcano
Volcano Photo: Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Volcano - Anarchy rules and incomers are fools in this enjoyably offbeat fiction feature debut from Ukranian director Roman Bondarchuk. When Lukas (Serhiy Stepansky), a member of a humanitarian group observing the conflict in Ukraine becomes stranded in a backwater community, he finds himself caught up in a Kafkaesque situation - although Bondarchuk plays around with the idea to great effect. The film also features terrific, otherworldly visuals from Vadim Ilkov, including panoramas of dead sunflowers seemingly running on forever, while our hero is trapped in a pit, and a slow moving barge in the rain. Read our full review.

Take My Eyes
Take My Eyes Photo: Courtesy of EIFF
Focus On Spain - This year's country focus at the festival promises to be a cracker, not least because it brings most of Yuli director Iciar Bollain's films back into the spotlight. The director - who lives in Edinburgh - is known for her strong female characters and social justice themes, the latter perhaps no surprise when you consider Ken Loach regular and her long-term partner Paul Laverty is her frequent collaborator. Look out, in particular, for her Goya-winning domestic abuse drama Take My Eyes and her female-centric detective drama Mataharis.

Marshland
Marshland
Focus on Spain II - There's plenty of great Spanish cinema in the festival's other dedicated strands, including a chance to see the likes of cult favourites Thesis and Rapture on the big screen. There are also, more modern Goya-winning crackers to look out for, including Alberto Rodríguez's beautifully shot dark thriller Marshland, which tells the tale of a pair of mismatched cops on the trail of a serial killer while exploring the sociopolitics of small-town Spain in the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship. Meanwhile, while Danny Boyle's Yesterday screening elsewhere at Edinburgh might be attracting a lot of column inches, look out for David Trueba's warm-hearted road trip comedy drama, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed. It tells the story of a Beatles fanatic English teacher who heads to Almeria in a bid to meet John Lennon, only to find himself forging new friendships after he picks up two hitchhikers along the way. All the films are worth a look in this section, but I'd also urge you not to overlook last year's Catalan Oscar entry Summer 1993, a semi-autobiographical film from Carla Simón, which offers a child's eye view of grief.

Underdown
Underdown
Underdown - When EIFF began in 1947, it was dedicated to documentary films and the tradition of a strong line up continues today. There are a lot of political documentaries doing the rounds at the moment, but this debut from Sarah Kaskas shows the effects of sociopolitics on the lives of a taxi driver, a young Syrian refugee and his friends and three generations of a family in modern-day Beirut. A gently observational ride through the lives of these people on the breadline, she probes at the destructive patterns that lead to poverty and emerge from it. An eye-opener. Read our full review.

Vai
Vai
Vai - Jennie Kermode writes: To Pacific islanders, water doesn’t mark the limits of the world; rather, it’s a highway. Our tears, they say, remind us that water is inside of us, connecting us all no matter how far apart we might be. The word for water, shared between different but closely related languages in the region, is vai, and the Vai we follow here is a daughter of the islands who journeys between them. Different filmmakers tell her story at different ages, on different islands. Each time she is played by a different actress yet is instantly recognisable. Within Vai’s story are the interlinked stories of communities which rarely get to voice their concerns on the world stage. There is anger here – about the pollution and climate change that threaten an ancient way of life – but as our heroine overcomes the obstacles presented by poverty, the focus of the story is on empowerment and the strength of women as enduring as the ocean. Read our full review.

Miranda Tapsell: . 'It’s my first time writing something, I have acted before – but it was definitely a learning curve, putting on one hat and taking off the other'
Miranda Tapsell: . 'It’s my first time writing something, I have acted before – but it was definitely a learning curve, putting on one hat and taking off the other' Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
Top End Wedding - This sunny side up romantic comedy from Australia proves you don't have to be po-faced and arthouse to incorporate interesting themes into a film. Co-written by Miranda Tapsell - who also stars, and directed by The Sapphires Wayne Blair - this is a sweet little charmer charting a couple who are about to wed (Tapsell and Gwylim Lee) who end up on a hunt for the AWOL mum of the bride-to-be. The film is offered real heart by its setting, particularly in the latter stages which take place on the Tiwi Islands and which celebrate the indigenous culture without ever being preachy. Read our full review and our interview with the stars and director.

Scheme Birds
Scheme Birds
Scheme Birds - The last two films on this list are ones that I haven't seen yet but that are at the top of my 'must see' agenda for this year's festival. Scottish documentary has been going from strength to strength in recent years - and those wanting to see some of the best short-form films should make time for EIFF's Phenomenal Women strand. In the feature department this film from Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin, which follows a young woman on a working-class estate in Motherwell - a place where "you get knocked up or locked up" - has already won the Albert Maysles Award and Best Documentary gong at Tribeca Film Festival. It was described by Screen International as a "distinctive and timely picture which is both award and arthouse audience-friendly".

Golden Bear winner Synonyms
Golden Bear winner Synonyms Photo: Guy Ferrandis/SBS Films/Berlinale 2019
Synonyms - Thanks to the Sod's Law Of Film Criticism, I missed this Golden Bear winner in Berlin this year. It's firmly on my 'to see' list, because writer-director Nadav Lapid has carved a career that mixes the personal with the political, which is always a fascinating blend. The film has attracted all the adjectives on Rotten Tomatoes, from "maddening, brilliant, hilarious" (Indiewire) to "unhinged, deranged, implacable" (Hollywood Reporter). Meanwhile, Jay Weissberg adds at Variety: "Based partly on Lapid’s own past as an Israeli who moved to Paris and refused to speak Hebrew, this uncategorizable cinematic trip will polarize critics and audiences alike, with some reading it as indulgent, disjointed excess and others admiring the sheer fearlessness of it all." I'm in, who's with me?

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