IF you weren’t already convinced that Sally Hawkins is one of the UK’s finest acting talents then this delicately moving drama set in mid-20th century Nova Scotia will surely do the trick. She gives a spellbinding performance portraying the titular real life woman, born and living with extreme arthritis who starts to work as a housekeeper for reclusive fishermen Everett (Ethan Hawke). As she works and hones her skills as a painter, the yin and yang duo form an unlikely relationship. It’s sweet and sentimental without ever feeling mawkish or manipulative, creating a real sense of time and place with gorgeous visuals and period detail, and has a lot to say about companionship, narrow-mindedness and the will to find a life that works for you.

Killing Ground
THIS well-made and gruelling Australian horror-thriller follows a young couple (played by Ian Meadows and Maya Stange) in the outback who are heading to an isolated and idyllic spot of a national park for a romantic camping trip. However, their love-struck dream trip doesn’t stay nice for long as they happen across a horrific crime of which they unwittingly find themselves a part. It feels somewhat like a cross between Wolf Creek and Eden Lake, with its mixture of grizzly visuals and nail-biting tension. But writer-director Damien Power carves out a personality of its own thanks to the way he plays around with expectation of ordered events and the almost serene way he presents the horror.

You Have No Idea How Much I Love You
PART of the festival’s Focus on Poland strand, this intensely intimate little documentary basically consists of an extended therapy lesson between mother and daughter Hanna and Ewa who, with the help of intermediary therapist Bogdan de Barbaro, try to heal their fractured and complex relationship. Director Pawel Lozinski has created something that feels quite special indeed but on the most deceptively simple and unobtrusive of terms; people in a room talking, their faces writ large in close-ups, their words of hurt and longing and stifled love booming ever more resonantly. We learn a lot about, and feel a great deal for, this mother and daughter throughout the film’s brief 80 minutes and emerge feeling the power of cinema as therapy.

THE latest wonderful and unique creation from South Korean director Bong-joon Ho (Snowpiercer, Memories of Murder) is set in a world where a multi-national corporation, led by the ruthless Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), has bred special “superpigs” and distributed them at key spots around the world. 10 years later a little girl named Mija (An Seo Hyun), who has grown up in the Korean mountains with superpig Okja as her dear friend, goes on an adventurous mission to save him when the corporation claims him back for nefarious purposes. Produced by Netflix and featuring a star-studded cast including the likes of Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal like you’ve never seen him before, this is bold, exciting and inventive cinema that constantly defies expectation and categorization, entertainingly flitting between high octane action-adventure full of chases and kidnappings and a strangely moving drama about a little girl and her beloved pet.

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In This Corner of the World
FANS of Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli will want to seek out this tender and beautifully animated wartime film from up-and-coming studio MAPPA. Set in World War II Hiroshima in the lead up to and the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bombs, we follow 18-year-old Suzu who has no real choice but to marry a man she doesn’t know and must try to live day-to-day live providing for her family on rationed food and dealing with the hardship of air raids. The power of the film is how it offsets the horrors of war with the beauty of the surroundings, taking a more introspective and delicate approach that examines themes such as womanhood and the meaning of family. That gentler sideways storytelling methodology just amplifies the effect of the increasingly horrific circumstances.

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AFTER impressing with their powerhouse monologue-driven boxing drama debut The Pyramid Texts, the brothers Paul and Ludwig Shammasian are back with another cinematic gut punch. Orlando Bloom gives his best ever performance as Malky, a tough demolition worker who, when he’s not breaking down old churches or making his daily visit to his elderly mother (Anne Reid), punishes himself both mentally and physically as a means to deal with childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. It’s not a film to mince its words, tackling its difficult themes of psychological scarring that abuse can cause and the struggling to give forgiveness entirely head on. The result is a challenging piece of brute force cinema that leaves a lasting impact.

THE often complex relationship between a grown up father and son is quietly examined in this hugely enjoyable, irreverent Dutch comedy from award-winning writer-director Robert Jan Westdijk (Little Sister). It follows the literal and figurative journey of father and son from the Netherlands to Edinburgh as part of a book tour that may just lead to a celebration of the eponymous band. The dad, Victor (a particularly engaging Leopold Witte), is a successful but womanising detective novelist on the outs with his long-time wife while his son, Zack (Tim Linde), is a working musician reluctantly along for the ride after breaking up with his girlfriend. It’s not exactly reinventing anything but, using the Scotland’s capital as a vibrant backdrop, it’s got insightfulness and warm-hearted charm to spare.

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THIS multi-stranded Japanese drama links three different and seemingly unconnected stories across Japan to a grisly double murder that occurred and went unsolved a year prior. It’s a slow-burning and sprawling film with excellent performances, particularly by Ken Watanabe as a loving father devoted with concern for his troubled daughter. The film makes themes and tropes we’ve seen before – unexplained murder, enigmatic loners, small towns shattered by tragic events et al – feel fresh and vital once more. It rewards the more you engage with it, slowly peeling back the complex layers of multiple lives and building up to an unashamedly melodramatic and wholly powerful conclusion that really sticks with you.

Delicate Balance
THE conduct of human beings on both a micro and macro level is deftly explored in this clear-sighted, skilfully constructed socio-political documentary. At its heart is the words and amiable presence of former Uruguayan President José Mujica, famed for his wisdom, left-wing politics and personal experience of real austerity. He is our anchor through a worldly journey that specifically explores the loneliness of Japanese businessmen in spite of wealth and being surrounded by people, Spanish families being forced from their homes and a sub-Saharan community living hand to mouth in the wilderness. “The living world is a fragile balance,” says Mujica. In its own sense of equilibrium the film gives a startling view of the way humans continue to behave and consume on this planet and an optimistic view of how it can change.

Strange Weather
THIS heartfelt look at the grieving process stars Holly Hunter as Darcy, a mother living in a small town in the American south who has lost her grown up son to a terrible tragedy seven years prior. In an effort to deal with what’s happened, Darcy goes on a road trip with her best friend Byrd (Carrie Coon) to confront someone from her past who may be linked to her son’s death. Director Katherine Dieckmann skilfully steeps her audience in the dusty, drought-plagued weather that lends the film its title and beautifully conveys the sense of helplessness and need for resolution that so often grips those left behind after someone’s death. It’s a lyrical and poignant trip with believable characters and the keen ability to bubble up from easy-going to emotionally explosive.

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