For every year I’ve attended the two major festivals nearest me (Edinburgh’s and Glasgow’s), there has been a film lying in wait. At EIFF 2017 I saw Terrence Malick’s Song to Song twice in quick succession; at GFF 2018 it was Un Beau Soleil Intérieur, by Claire Denis, that did it for me—now one of my favourite films; during EIFF 2018 the following June, I watched a film I knew nothing about, and will likely never see again since it didn’t pick up distribution, Ilian Metev’s 3/4: I think about it on a near weekly basis; GFF 2019 was where I first saw Happy as Lazzaro, Alice Rohrwacher’s modern pastoral, vivified by Adriano Tardiolo’s performance; nearly four months later, at EIFF 2019, I was overwhelmed by Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir more than once. On the second day of this year’s GFF I watched Karim Aïnouz’s Invisible Life (or, to give it it’s full title: The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão). I saw it again on the fourth day: Earliest convenience.
Adapted from the novel by Martha Batalha, the film comprises the lives of two sisters, Eurídice (Carol Duarte), and Guida (Julia Stockler), living in 1950s Rio de Janerio. An early scene establishes the beautiful repartee between them: preparing for a bound-to-be boring dinner with an associate of their baker father’s, the two lounge around their bedroom in undergarments, delaying the arrangement—Guida is older and more adventurous, Eurídice is slower, perhaps a tad guileless. Guida details a tryst with a Greek sailor called Iorgos, and her sister’s face is shocked rigid. All the time Guida seductively sucks on a segment of orange, and the pair laugh joyously at her exploits: the scene underscores the fact that each is the other’s entire confidence.
Guida sneaks off for the evening with Iorgos, and the film’s riot of colour is booted up in the scene, which plays in registers familiar to Wong Kar-wai: the score flares up as the frame-rate slows down, the dancers’ sweaty faces exhausted and bathed in bright and alarming reds, blues, and greens. She acts decisively: she elopes. When she returns, pregnant and alone, Eurídice is gone, married to Antenor, the son of the father’s colleague, and her father wants nothing to do with her. He tells her Eurídice is off in Europe, studying music at a conservatoire, her lifelong dream: Guida smiles at the news, heartbroken though she is. The staging of the scene is tremendous: as the argument terminates, Guida’s father occupies the top right hand side of the frame, looking down diagonally at her, dispirited in the left hand corner. She’s cast off, with paltry resources, to live, and have her baby, without family support, or knowledge of where her sister is, though they’re both living in the same city.
I had to see this again for a number of reasons, not least of which is its astonishing beauty: shot by Hélène Louvart, the grainy textures and crash of colours in the images are a spectacle in and of themselves. There’s also the score, by Benedikt Schiefer, which has more than a passing resemblance to the lush movements of Jonny Greenwood’s work for Phantom Thread. But mainly I had to see it again because during first viewing I spent the entirety of the last hour in tears. On second viewing, this wasn’t the case, but I respected the structuring of the scene which set me off all the more. About mid-way through, Invisible Life tantalises with the prospect of reconciliation: a scene in a restaurant plays very close to doing so. It sneaks up on a viewer unawares, and once the almostness of the moment becomes apparent, the score starts to pulse like a delayed heartbeat: the scene is working from below, and rising to the surface, alive with possibilities—its power is that of a depth-charge.
Aïnouz’s direction is sharp in its detail and empathetic in its desire to reunite the sisters, attentive to the proximity of the camera to them: he knows when to go in close or stand back. He sticks with them all the way, despite the differing barrages they endure: exemplary in this is regard is Eurídice’s wedding night, which features an indescribably mortifying sex scene. (Again, staging is key: every time Eurídice and Antenor are together, there’s a mirror in the frame, revealing them as they are and as they might be.) This is only one of the ways the sisters’ lives are controlled and ruined by the men around them, but there are many others: personal, social, bureaucratic, sexual, and medical. The only consolation is the correspondence Guida addresses to her sister, longingly: but even then the consolation proves impermanent. The ending, especially on second viewing, devastates.
The shorter title in English has another effect: to whose life does it refer? It’s Eurídice, yes, and Guida as well; but it’s also Filomina (Bárbara Santos), whose informal and unknown care network allows sex workers the chance to get out at night and do their jobs, providing one of the few instances of solidarity they will receive; and it’s also pointedly about the sisters’ mother, Ana (Flavia Gusmão), described as the “shadow of her husband.” Pluralise the title and it would apply perfectly to another film screened this year: Two of Us, by Phillipo Meneghetti.
To everyone who knows them—families included—Madeline (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) are trusty pals, next-door neighbours: but they’ve been in a secret relationship for years. Now pensioners, they plan on moving to Rome together and are in the beginning stages of selling their apartments, which necessitates Madeline (nicknamed “Mado”) to tell her children the truth about her life, and who she’s been spending it with all these years. The plan doesn’t proceed smoothly, and is halted altogether when Mado suffers a stroke. While her children’s antipathy isn’t always clearly sketched or motivated, the full-hearted and enlivening chemistry between Chevallier and Sukowa is so impassioned as to be difficult to put words to: shots of the pair, dancing in private, gazing in rapt admiration of each other, are moving to no end. Likewise, Meneghetti’s filmmaking has ways of emphasising their connection above everything else around them: playing with focus, for instance, makes the rest of the world a blur and their love clear as glass. Similarly there are many forthright, sometimes portentous, dolly shots, expressing the force of Nina’s burrowing concern for her partner from across the landing. One shot, while Mado’s daughter misrepresents the entirety of her mother’s adult life, begins in medium shot until the camera reaches an extreme close-up of her eyes, wide and panic-stricken: the truth is in those eyes. The lovely autumnal palette occasionally gives way to the wintry abstraction of its opening oneiric sequence, and another nearer the middle, which I could have lived without; and one more obstacle than necessary is thrown into the works in the shape of an untrusting caregiver, willing to out the couple’s lesbianism exactly when money becomes a problem: this is clumsily handled. But that these elements aren’t precisely engineered doesn’t matter greatly: what does is the way the atmosphere of the film curdles when Mado and Nina are apart, the way the pervasive animus against them strengthens their resolve to be together.
Another about invisible lives: Mahnaz Mohammadi’s Son-Mother (which also opened this year’s Edinburgh Iran Festival film season). Set in contemporary Iran suffering under economic sanctions, the film wastes nary a second setting up the desolating emotional trap for its main character, Leila (Raha Khodayari): she’s a widow who works in an industrial wire factory seemingly near closure, and while colleagues around her are being given marching orders, Leila does not receive hers despite being late every morning. This is because she avoids the work bus, driven by Kazem (Reza Behboodi), a widower who constantly asks her hand in marriage. He’s extremely kind to her, and proves what seems like a steady and genuine devotion whenever a crisis occurs, but Leila’s stuck: she has two kids, a boy of around ten and a younger daughter; Kazem has a young daughter, and tradition dictates that step-siblings of differing genders cannot cohabit. People—and at that, the wrong people—step in and try to help her: a kindly landlord and shop-owner offers to take in her son, Amir (Mahan Nasiri) until things are settled; Leila’s neighbour then hatches an abominably ill-thought-out scheme to house Amir while Leila marries. Both are trying to lessen her suffering, and both increase it. The consistent grey pallor of the images sets the mood from the start, and Khodayari’s performance betrays none of the script’s integrity. There are shadings of Asghar Farhadi and Andrey Zvyagintsev in the dramaturgy, and one sequence wouldn’t look out of place in a Dardenne brothers’ movie; but Son-Mother is most essential as a note of how a patriarchal society silences dissent and abandons all those who it deems unnecessary.
There was a disappointment on a similar theme: Papicha, directed by Mounia Meddour, is set in the 1990s during the Algerian Civil War. Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) is a student on a campus guarded from the manifold threats of the world outside: potential suitors (and the violence of their amorousness), bomb attacks, and hostile government forces. She’s a talented designer, and her escapades by night to hawk her dresses in a club’s bathroom are the film’s highlight. But she’s incensed at signs of encroaching conservatism on campus, an early indicator of which comes in the form of posters demanding women wear burqas, written in ominous tones—one reads: “Sisters, your image is dear to us. Take care of it, or we will.” Some proponents of this sentiment (all women) barge in on one of Nedjma’s French lectures. Her self-expression is being stifled at every turn, and in this climate she plans to host a fashion show for her designs, and recruits her friends to model her dresses. While Khoudri’s performance is ripping and charismatic, the film’s presentation of her and her friends’ desire to govern their own livelihoods is caught in a repetitive cycle: the film is inundated with montages, each an iota more simplistic than the last. Yes, close-ups of hands moving through the air denote freedom; the fastening of pins through fabric the particulars of Nejdma’s self-hood. Decoupage of this sort sidelines the actors. And when faced with sequences of violence and menace which punctuate the film, these impressionistic passages look more than a bit pat: Papicha reaches for profound solidarity, but chooses the wrong elements to attain it.
A better prospect was Haifaa al-Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate, a film at least as good as the director’s 2012 Wadjda and a welcome elevation from her ill-advised biopic Mary Shelley. Maryam (Mila al-Zahrani) is a young doctor in Saudi Arabia working in a clinic ill-served by her local council. The road is not paved; the entrance is often flooded. People’s access is limited, and even when patients reach her, they’re not always delighted to be treated by a woman. Hoping to escape such circumstances, she’s booked to attend a conference in Dubai, hoping it might lead to an interview for a position elsewhere—a position for which she is, that’s right, “the perfect candidate.” But her travel permit has not been ironed out, and she’s required to get her father, a musician, to authorise her travel. He’s on tour when Maryam needs him, and so she turns to a family friend in a bureaucratic position: the only way she can see him is to put her name down for municipal council elections, which she does expediently. When she fails to procure a permit, she realises she might do some good for her community (and challenge some longstanding prejudices within it) if she does actually run for council—a position for which she is, ah yes, “the perfect candidate.” Do you see the pattern? Despite the film’s rosy-minded tendency to find no problem insurmountable (which I think Son-Mother disproves with gusto) and a few haphazardly constructed parallels, mostly between daughter and father, this a likeable movie through and through, possessed of a disarming sense of humour. Oh, and Maryam’s father’s band is amazing: the soundtrack’s a must.
Festival programming amounts to more than simply a list of arthouse regulars and new discoveries, retrospectives on a theme and retrospectives by directors. It usually provides a chance to see examples of films which often don’t reach cinemas in the UK: popular genre cinema from around the world. Last year, EIFF screened Lee Byeong-heon’s Extreme Job, about a police team on a sting operation who hide by operating a fried chicken shop only to discover they’re really quite good at cooking chicken, apparently the highest grossing comedy of all time in South Korea. It seemed as though Glasgow wanted a piece of the Korean police-comedy genre, and so accordingly programmed Jung Da-won’s Miss & Mrs. Cops. Unfortunately. From its badly edited opening chase scene all the way through to a prolonged and nonsensical final brawl, the film is a disaster. I wasn’t much a fan of Extreme Job, but at least its silliness matched its premise: by contrast, this film, which “tackles” cyber sex crime, is frivolous in its every fibre. And that’s fine for passages of office badinage; not so much when scenes threaten to go places the tone cannot readily sustain. What were the programmers thinking?
Even worse was Deerskin, somehow. Georges (Jean Dujardin) is obsessed with deerskin clothing, withdrawing a large amount to pay for a jacket which endows him, as he will remind everyone with some frequency, with a “killer style.” Hat, boots, trousers, and gloves follow, but still the jacket is Georges’s favourite, in fact he talks to it and gives voice to the response, the mise-en-scene facilitating this near schizophrenic split by altering the framing of the jacket by degrees each time. His desire is that it should be the only jacket worn in the world, and with the help of a bored bartender, Denise (Adèle Haenel), who’s also an editor, Georges sets about making a film on the subject: requiring each person filmed to give up their outerwear, which Georges then makes off with. Georges’s “killer style” becomes literal after he detaches a blade from the fan in his hotel room, using it as a murder weapon, relieving his victims of their lives and then their coats: all caught by his camera’s unblinking eye. The director’s “sense” of humour, characterised by yoking obsessive eccentricity and darkness together, is deficient. Something similar is at work in his Keep an Eye Out!, but I much prefer Antonin Peretjatko’s sensibility: his oddness (in The Struggle for Life) feels anything but deceitful. I can imagine Dupieux editing Deerskin, sans Haenel’s scowl—the best thing in a film meagre with pleasures—halting to laugh in self-congratulatory fashion at each of his contrivances. It’s the longest 77-minutes I’ve endured in a while.
I was flummoxed by Krabi 2562, by Anocha Suwichakornpong and Ben Rivers, perhaps because I’m not familiar with one of the co-directors’ work. I feel tenderly towards Suwichakornpong’s By the Time it Gets Dark (and less tenderly towards her Mundane History—mundane indeed), but I’ve never seen any of Rivers’s films, so I can’t be sure about the division (and therefore the combination) of their styles. As Krabi 2562 goes, it’s a pleasurable diversion, hopping between situations on the tourist-luring region of Thailand’s west-coast. Past and present, fiction and documentary often sit on top of each other here; a curious slippage of attention begins to set in, and images from it remain seated in my mind, despite my not knowing what they portend. More immediately legible to me was Claire Oakley’s Make Up, an astutely directed first film, built on suggestion and governed by a tension which rivets up incrementally. Set in a Cornish holiday park—a horror film location if ever there were one—Make Up‘s crux is an identity-test, an in-between ground where Ruth (Molly Windsor, who has something of Samantha Morton about her) can tease out the images that are puzzling her increasingly perplexing days. Oakley’s filmmaking is tactile and tactful, but the metaphors sometimes run in the opposite direction. What the sea ends up meaning in the film might prompt an eye-roll. But Molly Haskell’s essay “Lipstick Envy” proves instructive, on ‘the delicious mutations of feature and colouring according to the dictates of fashion or one’s own mood….the subtle shifts in self-disclosure brought on by concealers and revealers, or the endless mutually challenging duet between eye shadow and lipstick.’ Oakley repurposes the sense of this passage, on make up as self-making, for the film’s queer discourse. Some the decisions may rankle, but wherever the director goes next, I’m following.
I was lazy with documentary viewing this year, and only saw three: Confucian Dream, State Funeral, and Gay Chorus Deep South. Mijie Li’s Confucian Dream is baffling, and I can’t help but think it would have been better for every participant if there hadn’t been a camera charting the disintegration of their family. Following young mother and Confucian acolyte Chaoyan, whose knowledge of and love for the classics of Chinese philosophy makes her determined to inculcate the same appreciation into her young son, Chen—any familiarity with the story of John Stuart Mill’s hotbox education should set a viewer into worry-mode. Her husband, Mei, clearly vexed by Chaoyan’s obstinacy, shares a lovely relationship with Chen, whose effusive declarations are adorable, but quickly become drowned out by shouting matches. Rancour presides over the household. Both Chaoyan’s and Mei’s parents become involved, and the lack of communication between every party is deeply frustrating; they talk more to Li than they do each other. The film’s an exasperating case, an example of when a camera’s presence is a hindrance not a help. And if I speak of the documentary camera as a punitive external super-ego, I can only be talking of Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral, an enormous archival undertaking: the film charts the announcement of the death of Joseph Stalin, the proceeding public mourning, the high-spectacle of his funeral, and the long (and I mean long) funeral procession that followed. Loznitsa’s shaping of the footage from 1953, much of it only recently made available and therefore of piercing and unnerving image-clarity, is made up of black and white and colour passages, charting the reception of the news in every corner of the USSR. (The extensive autopsy report is read out in full: a nastily ironic thing to capture and an active rewriting of Stalin’s crackdown on “the doctors’ plot,” an antisemitic attack on the profession.) Loznitsa’s procedural patience is commendable, and the theatricality of the footage paints a convincing portrait of the Soviet Union’s authoritarian myth-making. The film looks like a historiographical warning; as such, the assertions of its juxtapositions are sometimes at fault: such as when the footage singles out a person’s face and lingers on it, the director’s framing can only see how this person fits into the spectacle, and misses their own suffering. But the ending card is a reminder that for all the people in the footage out to display their enforced grief, many were languishing in camps, in exile, or dead; and that all this was written over after “de-Stalinisation” gives the film a purpose beyond its own ends.
But my favourite documentary this year was Gay Chorus Deep South. The film charts the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’s tour of American states with the most active anti-LGBTQ legislation. The group’s history prepares them for the purpose: they were the first openly gay chorus in the world, and their maiden performance was at an impromptu memorial for Harvey Milk—the tour’s name, Lavender Pen, is a reference to Milk. The chorus, 300-strong, is led by Tim Seelig, a raconteur and exemplary showman whose devotion to the tour’s mission is fuelled not only by solidarity with queer people living under iniquitous laws, but also by a personal fury directed towards the southern church. The Chorus is joined on tour by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and recordings of their concerts are excerpted throughout. Directed by David Charles Rodrigues, the film is an outreached hand to anyone who would take it, generous of heart to an outstanding degree. But it does have a rhetoric problem.
The first sign of this is a vox pop in which a man remarks that when you listen to music you don’t hear sexual orientation, gender, race, or any difference. Which in a stroke cancels out the point of a gay men’s chorus and an interfaith choir, and the tour. It’s about art, yes, but it’s art underpinned by a political conscience, art with an activist’s intent of purpose. Later, when Ashlé Blow, a trans member of the chorus, visits a family’s house for dinner, the “both sides-isms” they’re subjected to make my skin scrawl: they bear it with considerable repose and good humour, but listen back to the statements and see what they reveal—the refrain is that this Christian family “may not agree” with the substance of Ashlé’s life, but they can coexist. I find this appalling (and I think the film does too, but it could be firmer about this). The family stop short at spelling out the thrust of their disagreement: and frankly, it’s not only about the supposed incompatibility of Ashlé’s lifestyle with Christianity, but with the existence of trans and queer people full stop. What this says is: “We may not like your existence, but we’ll let you live.” As if it’s a matter of their consent at all; or as if anyone can miss the implicit threat. This kind of politesse hides a real and dangerous contempt, and it is let off the hook while people invoke the “universality” of music, not realising what this notion entails. Still, later in the film Tim takes to task a particularly mealy-mouthed vision of tolerance, saying it’s not enough to tolerate when the tour is about celebration. Yet the film does let a good amount of this kind of shit go unchallenged. But the performances, and the euphoric manner in which they’re captured, don’t have such a problem. When this does play in cinemas (and it shall), the Chorus and the Choir’s renditions of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You,” and “You Have More Friends Than You Know” (with its pointed refrain of ‘it’s going to be okay’) will bring the house down, and instigate many, many happy tears.
As with last year’s Elaine May screenings, GFF’s highlights are frequently the retrospectives. One favourite this year was being bestowed the perfect conditions for seeing—for the first time—Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, in a spangly 4K restoration. Another was a strand of films directed by women accompanying Mark Cousins’s expansive documentary Women Make Film, all of which are hard to find in the UK. The first of these I saw was Euzhan Palcy’s Sugar Cane Alley. It centres Jose (Garry Cadenat), a young boy living with his strict but resilient grandmother Ma’Tine (Darling Légitimus). They live in 1930s Martinique, and the community sleeps next to and works in the sugar cane fields, paid poorly and exhausted from toil in the hot sun. Jose and kids his age and younger socialise, but Ma’Tine bristles at the prospect of him working the cane fields. He’s an expressive and intelligent boy, whose fine appreciation for words will serve him well as he starts to attend school, with the hope of a scholarship to continue it. An old neighbour, Medouze (Douta Seck), regales him with stories, true and not, displaying the instincts of a master-practitioner of the oral storytelling tradition. Adapted from Joseph Zobel’s book, Palcy’s film is an exceptionally honed work, emotionally direct but true to the perceptions of Jose, who is only beginning to work through his place in the country’s colonial scheme. The second was a perfect comfort movie: Joan Micklin Silver’s Crossing Delancey. Isabelle Grossman (Amy Irving) works in a bookshop, a job which brings her into close contact with writers and editors whose work she admires. One of those figures is the European novelist Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbé), a persistent flirt. Isabelle is quite happy on her own, but her importunate bubby Ida (Reizl Bozyk) has ideas of her own, employing the services of a local marriage broker whose nosiness and unyielding appetite cause Isabelle and her bubby no small amount of chagrin. She does however set a meeting with Sam (Peter Reigert), a local pickle seller. The love triangle in Hollywood movies is a pervasive problem, something Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living worked out and through in 1933: namely, have both! Maes is intelligent and promises a cultured climate; Sam is reserved and patient but behind the cool exterior, a passionate and constant love. He has the right words, ironically. As Isabelle unknots her feelings, and decides whether she wants anyone, Silver’s keen observational humour shines through: bubby in particular, with her held high and a scheme in her eye, is a perennial delight. There’s also the matter of the soundtrack, by The Roches, whose lovely cover of “Come Softly to Me” threatens never to leave my ear canal: if I’m forever its hostage, I’m fine with that.
But the essential watch this year was Jacqueline Audry’s Olivia. The title character (played by Marie-Claire Olivia) is an English girl who has come to study at Les Avons, a Protestant girls’ school in France. She arrives by carriage-ride to the enclosed but open-natured community of the school: the ethos is different from those in England. The other girls are welcoming, there are no harsh punishments or privations, the atmosphere is one of intellectual and social—and later, romantic and sexual—discovery. Olivia’s life changes when she first sees Mlle Julie (Edwige Feuillère), one of the headmistresses. Julie is everything Olivia desires to be: intelligent, in command of art and culture, respected for her mind and an imposing but inviting presence, confident in herself—but Olivia also desires her. Navigating the context of the school, Olivia becomes aware that her classmates’ affiliations (as well as those of staff) are split between Mlle Julie and the other headmistress, Mlle Cara (Simone Simon), who are in a relationship themselves.
The provenance of the film’s sources are beyond reproach. It’s adapted from the novel by Dorothy Bussy, also called Olivia, which was dedicated to (and published by) her friend Virginia Woolf; Audry’s sister, Colette, a novelist (but not that one!) and translator, was friends with Simone de Beauvoir, whose book The Second Sex was published two years before the film’s release. Audry worked as an assistant for Max Ophuls, and his influence is detectable in the elegance of her camera movements, the way the spaces that become central to the course of Olivia’s days—the tiered library with a circular desk in the heart of it, the oval window through which she spies Julie, the fluid curve of the staircase—are opened up to her. Audry can be seen as part of French cinema’s “tradition of quality,” a designation often met with scorn thanks to the Cahiers du cinéma crowd, who had more than a helping hand in burying the film.
But exactly the tendency which the boys from Cahiers argued against affords great pleasures here: Audry’s and Pierre Laroche’s script gives each character enough swiftly drawn individuation, and indeed some of the traits are elating (Victoire the cook, constantly disbelieving; Mlle Dubois, the disaffected maths teacher who sees no point in her subject, is always hungry and haranguing Victoire for another portion; and Frau Resiner, one of Mlle Cara’s devotees, whose clipped delivery and cold demeanour foreshadows a change in the school’s running). The film’s decor is luscious and the furnishings replete with frills and ringlets, which heightens the effect of the expressive lighting schemes, darkening as matters do. But chief among the pleasures are the performances, especially those of Feuillère and Simon, and the studied contrast between them only accentuates that pleasure. As Mlle Julie, Feuillère is reserved, in complete command of her voice and stance, teasing the girls with her effortless superiority of intellect; Simon as Mlle Cara, on the other hand, is coquettish, insinuating, always suffering a mysterious ailment and throwing herself with a flourish onto a cushioned divan to overcome her migraines. Her desperation to leverage affection from the girls is audible in the rise and fall of her vocal cords, and the outrageous exaggeration of her mannered gestures. Olivia becomes a point of contention between the two women, and Cara is distraught when it becomes clear that the young Englishwoman has chosen Mlle Julie, and Mlle Julie looks set to reciprocate.
Mlle Julie takes Olivia on trips to Paris, visiting cafes and museums with her, in one moment guiding her attention in the Louvre, standing in front of Watteau’s painting The Embarkation for Cythera: as Mlle Julie luxuriates in the rococo splendours of the canvas, Olivia doesn’t take her eyes off her headmistress, besotted with her intelligence and repose. Later, after a school dance during which Mlle Julie’s restraint topples and she kisses the neck of the American student Cécile, she comes to Olivia and promises to stop by her room that evening, bringing “candy.” Despite the obviously provocative situation of maternal educator/student romance, the film handles Olivia’s infatuation with the utmost frankness, and also—and this genuinely puts a great deal of more recent, more putatively “liberated” cinema to shame—doesn’t engage in judgement of her affections. She carries on without guilt or remorse.
It would be hard to get the sense of the film’s allowed-for obsession, its warm investigation into lesbian desire, from the American title: The Pit of Loneliness (perhaps trying to nod at Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, as well as reference the King James Bible’s version of the Book of Job). The film is more fascinatingly ambivalent than this would suggest. In fact, with reference to the film’s referents, Olivia feels important to put alongside Portrait of a Lady on Fire for how it incorporates texts into its discourse: how Sciamma uses a French translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses could have a useful forebear in the way Audry uses Racine’s Andromaque in the film, Mlle Julie’s reading of which fixates and near-hypnotises young Julie to her side. As tragedy strikes the centre of this picture of nestled desire, Mlle Julie’s final gift for Olivia is a pocket knife to remember her by. Just as this screening of Olivia was the Glasgow Film Festival’s parting gift for this viewer: it’ll be fondly recalled, until next time.