Eight of the Best Films We Saw at the Edinburgh Film Festival

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Wild Nights with Emily, 2018(Film still)

From poignant documentaries to darkly erotic thrillers

The Edinburgh International Film Festival – the world’s longest continually running festival – has always been dedicated to finding new voices, celebrating the best of British and making sure there’s room for whatever slice of sparkly new animation Disney-Pixar has to offer. As it calls time for its 72nd year, AnOther examines the best of some 121 films that were part of this year’s programme.

1. Wild Nights with Emily

The ill-formed myth surrounding Emily Dickinson – that she was a reclusive spinster who died before her work could be noticed – is upended by Madeleine Olnek’s funny new film, which sees Molly Shannon play Emily as a lustful lesbian, who writes love poems to Susan (Susan Ziegler), her best friend, sister-in-law and lover. It’s a part that Shannon was born to inhabit, and the film itself is uproariously witty, with a love story at its heart that will let audience see a whole different side to the American poet from a small community in Massachusetts.

2. Calibre

Two friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), escape city life for a weekend in the Scottish Highlands. They’re there to stalk deer and reconnect, their lives taken up with careers and blossoming families, however things take a dark turn when Vaughn accidentally kills a child. The tension here is palpable as the duo attempt to cover their tracks and leave as quickly as possible. It’s not long before the locals sense something’s amiss, and the ticking time bomb counts down to an all-out, nerve-wracking thriller, mostly set at night in the dark, creaky, hazardous woods.

3. Piercing

Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott make for a mesmerising pair in Nicholas Pesce’s follow-up to The Eyes of My Mother. Abbott stars as a man who leaves his wife and baby to check into a hotel, where he hires a prostitute (Wasikowska) with plans to kill her. It’s an expertly played out two-hander in which two people jostle for power, constantly one-upping each other. The tone is dark, mysterious and erotic, the music enhancing the unexpected, conniving atmosphere. It ends abruptly, but right on time.

4. The Parting Glass

True Blood star Stephen Moyer makes his directorial debut with this tough, yet tender family drama written by Denis O’Hare. The cast, which includes Anna Paquin, Rhys Ifans and Cynthia Nixon, is wonderful, the film a road movie of healing and reflection as a family drives to collect the belongings of Colleen (Paquin), who’s recently committed suicide. The Parting Glass is a slow-burner, but the changing Midwestern climes beautifully reflect the mourning process, the heavy dark interspersed with snippets of light. There’s humour here, too, and an excellent supporting role for Ed Asner.

5. Hearts Beat Loud

This heartwarming and funny indie about a family band features a variety of wonderful performances from pro actors such as Nick Offerman, Toni Collette and Blythe Danner. The real star, however, is Dope actress Kiersey Clemons, whose performance is the film’s main drawing power. The stakes are admittedly small and the plot familiar, but that doesn’t stop director Brett Haley from constructing a comedy-drama that’s winsome and easy to fall for. 

6. Unicorn Store

In her feature debut as director, Brie Larson stars as Kit, a young woman who’s struggling to be accepted as an artist. Unsure of her path, she moves back in with her parents (the humorous duo of Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack) and starts a career as a temp for a PR company. Her childhood love of unicorns reignites when she’s lured to a shop run by an eccentric Samuel L. Jackson who promises that, providing she prove herself worthy, a real life unicorn of her own. The film often veers into the wacky to support its attempts at more dramatic moments, yet Larson is as watchable as ever, and there’s a a decent stab by screenwriter Samantha McIntyre to explore the awkward transition to adulthood.

7. Meeting Jim

This unexpectedly captivating documentary by Ece Ger is all about Jim Haynes and his desire to unite the world in whatever way he can. With various interviews and insights from friends and acquaintances from Edinburgh and London to Paris, Haynes’ life from the 1960s until present is affectionately captured. It’s a small film that may not reach beyond the festival circuit, but worth seeking out nonetheless.

8. Lucid

Adam Morse directs this film about a teenager who experiments with lucid dreaming in the hopes of building confidence in his real life. Zeal (Laurie Calvert) is shy and nervous and infatuated with Jasmine (Felicity Gilbert) but has no courage to do anything about it. That is, however, until he strikes up a friendship with his neighbour, played by Billy Zane. It’s an assured debut that takes a lot from Morse’s own life and experiences as a lucid dreamer and partially sighted man. Calvert is striking in the lead role, and even Zane deserves mention.