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Streaming: enjoy a feast of new films at Glasgow film festival 2021

The Guardian logo The Guardian 27/02/2021 Guy Lodge
Toby Jones wearing a suit and hat: Photograph: Allyson Riggs/A24 Films © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Allyson Riggs/A24 Films

While cinemas and their release calendars continue to hover uncertainly in the pandemic confusion, film festivals are adapting impressively to the home-viewing model. On the heels of Sundance’s successful virtual edition, the Berlinale begins its own next week. Closer to home, meanwhile, the hitherto low-key Glasgow film festival has, in going online, seized the opportunity to become a national cinema event.

Usually outdone in publicity terms by the London and Edinburgh film festivals, Glasgow’s programmers have this year assembled a lineup that, at a time when nobody knows exactly what new films are coming out when, feels like a genuine treasure chest. In many cases, it offers British audiences their first glimpse of critically beloved films that may not be available on general release for several months yet.

The festival kicked off on Wednesday with the UK premiere of Lee Isaac Chung’s stirring, Oscar-tipped Korean-American immigrant saga Minari. The festival’s programming system means that each film has a 72-hour online viewing window, for which you have to book access at £9.99 per film. Minari’s screening period ends at 7pm today, but it will be released in the UK and Ireland on 19 March (see altitude.film for details). The good news is that the festival runs for another week, with plenty of treats yet to come.

This weekend, for example, you can watch Apples, an oddly timely entry in the so-called Greek “weird wave” genre, from first-time director Christos Nikou. Set in the midst of a global pandemic that causes mass amnesia, it follows one man’s journey through a bizarre recovery programme designed to forge new identities for the forgotten. The deadpan, absurdist influence of Yorgos Lanthimos is clear, but Nikou’s film has its own bittersweet poignancy.

Another highlight of this weekend’s selection is Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche, a zesty documentary portrait of the British punk frontwoman, bathed in the kind of palpable personal investment you’d expect from a film directed by the subject’s daughter, Celeste Bell. If your music-doc tastes veer more mainstream, wait until Friday for Tina, in which rock-soul goddess Tina Turner gets the celebratory, all-encompassing biographical treatment from Oscar-winning film-makers Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin.


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Some of the standouts in the programme have already been duly lauded abroad. From Friday, UK audiences can at last see Kelly Reichardt’s exquisite First Cow, the best new film I saw in 2020. An elegiac, warmly lived-in fable of pioneer capitalism, it got a US release last spring, but here was left in distribution limbo for too long. (Mubi will now give it a full-scale release in May.) Frederick Wiseman’s vast documentary City Hall, a granular, Boston-set study of Democratic sleeves-rolled-up politics in action, is among the recent festival favourites available next week. Ditto Victor Kossakovsky’s Gunda, a captivating, wordless documentary portrait of a farmyard sow that plays like Babe by way of Bresson; and British newcomer Ben Sharrock’s Limbo, a clever, cockeyed comedy on the unlikely subject of refugee survival on a Scottish island.

Toby Jones wearing a suit and hat: Toby Jones in Kelly Reichardt’s ‘exquisite’ First Cow. © Photograph: Allyson Riggs/A24 Films Toby Jones in Kelly Reichardt’s ‘exquisite’ First Cow.

But a few other exceptional picks have enjoyed less of the spotlight in advance, and deserve your attention. Hungarian director Lili Horvát’s Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is a noir-tinged psychodrama as alluringly strange and untidy as its title, following a brain surgeon caught up in a romantic fixation that may or may not be wholly imagined. And French coming-of-age drama Gagarine is a pure delight; this story of a star-gazing teen fighting to save his Paris housing project home from demolition would have been likely to become a word-of-mouth sensation if it had debuted, as planned, at Cannes last year. Perhaps we can start the chatter now.

  • The Glasgow film festival runs until 8 March. Book tickets here

Also new on streaming and DVD

Capone (Netflix, 18)

This lurid, grisly biopic of Chicago crime lord Al Capone earned something of a reputation as a film maudit last year, not helped by the already battered Hollywood reputation of its director, Josh Trank, and slipped quietly on to Netflix in the UK last week. It’s less generic than you might expect: Tom Hardy’s electric, eccentric performance strips the underworld icon of his swagger and leaves an incontinent, syphilitic shell. There are parallels with Scorsese’s The Irishman, though this is very much the B-movie version.

White Riot (Modern Films, 15) Rubika Shah’s lean, purposeful documentary charts the rise of the Rock Against Racism movement in mid-70s Britain. While it’s a useful roundup of all the names and faces that inspired and sustained this wave of popular activism, it’s also effective simply as an evocation of how splintered and hostile Britain was to its own diversity: a snapshot that, in the age of Black Lives Matter, doesn’t feel that far away.

The Last Vermeer (Sony, 15) The recovery and redistribution of Nazi-stolen artworks is the basis for this old-fashioned, absorbing postwar mystery, as a former Resistance fighter (Claes Bang) investigates a louche art forger (Guy Pearce) accused of collaborating with the Nazis. The film has a slight Europudding whiff about it, but the cast – also including Vicky Krieps – keep it lively.

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