20 films to see at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017

What to watch from the programme of more than 150 features at this year’s 70th Edinburgh festival?

Stephen Dalton

God’s Own Country (2017)

God’s Own Country (2017)

There is something for every cinematic taste at the 70th annual Edinburgh International Film Festival: torrid gay love stories, Coen-esque hit men, Russian sci-fi blockbusters, Native American rock stars, John Hurt’s swansong performance, and the struggles of a young Steven Patrick Morrissey. Plus a feast of homegrown world premieres.

Here are 20 must-see features to catch at the world’s longest continuously running film festival, which opens it doors from 21 June to 2 July.

God’s Own Country

A sexually repressed young sheep farmer and a Romanian itinerant worker begin a turbulent gay relationship against the rugged backdrop of the Yorkshire moors in Francis Lee’s supremely assured debut feature. Tender, raw and refreshingly frank in its treatment of sex and nudity, Lee’s Sundance prize-winner, which was backed with National Lottery funding through the BFI Film Fund, has inevitably drawn flattering comparisons with Brokeback Mountain (2005).

Halal Daddy

Inspired by real events, actor turned writer-director Conor McDermottroe’s lively Irish culture-clash comedy stars Art Malik and Nikesh Patel as an English Muslim father and son struggling to open a halal abattoir in the rural west of Ireland. Colm Meaney lends a welcome shot of deadpan humour to this fizzy Edinburgh world premiere.

Daphne (2016)

Daphne (2016)

Daphne

A powerful showcase for rising star Emily Beecham, director Peter Mackie Burns’ London-set drama is an intimate character study of a sexually liberated young woman whose life unravels after witnessing a random act of violence. From the same prize-winning production team as Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years (2015), the BFI-backed Daphne arrives in Edinburgh with strong buzz from the festival circuit.

The Last Photograph

Danny Huston directs himself in this sombre Edinburgh world premiere, which is based on Simon Astaire’s prize-winning 2013 novel. Huston plays a grieving father plunged into vengeful action when a random act of theft triggers tragic flashbacks to the son he lost when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988.

Sweet Virginia

There are strongly Coen-esque shades in director Jamie M. Dagg’s gripping Alaska-set thriller, a gritty neo-noir tale of bloody betrayals and botched executions, which arrives in Edinburgh on a wave of rave reviews from US festivals. The muscular ensemble cast includes rising Brit star Imogen Poots.

That Good Night (2017)

That Good Night (2017)

That Good Night

A terminally ill writer aims to make peace with friends and family before the final curtain falls in this poignant Edinburgh world premiere from director Eric Styles. That Good Night was a striking choice of swansong project for the late John Hurt, who filmed this final star performance while undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

The Little Hours

There is an agreeably Monty Python-esque irreverence to American writer-director Jeff Baena’s riotously rude comic reworking of Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century literary classic The Decameron. Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci play foul-mouthed, sex-starved nuns with lustful designs on Dave Franco’s hunky runaway servant. A very guilty pleasure.

London Symphony (2017)

London Symphony (2017)

London Symphony

In the grand tradition of music-driven silent-age classics like Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1926), Alex Barrett’s visually ravishing essay film catalogues the capital’s extraordinary diversity of people and places in luminous monochrome.

Song to Song

Uncompromising American auteur Terrence Malick divides critics with his freewheeling experimental style, but Song to Song is arguably his most coherent and warm-hearted work for years. Set against the vibrant music scene in Austin, Texas, this Altman-esque ensemble drama stars Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara.

Last Men in Aleppo (2017)

Last Men in Aleppo (2017)

Last Men in Aleppo

Shot at great risk on the frontline of Syria’s ongoing civil war, this Sundance prize-winning documentary from co-directors Feras Fayyad and Steven Johannessen is a moving and complex portrait of the White Helmets volunteer rescue force. Bleak and bloody in places, but also an inspiring testament to courage and compassion.

Animals

A fractious married couple’s Swiss mountain holiday becomes a surreal nightmare in writer-director Greg Zglinski’s mind-bending Euro-thriller. A former student of legendary Polish maestro Krzysztof Kieślowski, Zglinski peppers this uncanny arthouse horror story with audience-jolting echoes of Hitchcock, Polanski and Lynch.

Wakefield

Bryan Cranston gives a tour-de-force performance in writer-director Robin Swicord’s cryptic, quietly unnerving psychodrama. The Breaking Bad star plays an outwardly successful suburban father who mysteriously cracks up and abandons his family, yet continues to monitor them from a secret hideout.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017)

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017)

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

Directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana highlight the unsung Native American contribution to pop music history in this lively, episodic, highly entertaining rockumentary. Rumble celebrates everyone from the part-Cherokee Jimi Hendrix to more obscure icons like jazz singer Mildred Bailey, all cheered on by a stellar supporting cast including Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones and Iggy Pop.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea

A delightfully eccentric blend of absurdist comedy and disaster movie, cartoonist turned filmmaker Dash Shaw’s debut animated feature profiles a group of dorky American high school students in the wake of a natural disaster. The stellar vocal cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham and Susan Sarandon.

Hostages

An infamous real-life skyjacking incident during the sunset years of the crumbling Soviet Union inspired Georgian director Rezo Gigineishvili’s finely calibrated mix of nerve-jangling action thriller and political protest drama. A beautifully crafted lament for a martyred generation, Hostages makes its UK premiere in Edinburgh.

Maya Dardel (2017)

Maya Dardel (2017)

Maya Dardel

Lena Olin delivers a deliciously sour star turn in Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler’s witty, literary, talk-heavy US indie drama. The veteran Swedish screen queen plays an ageing writer who plans to take her own life, but only after auditioning a parade of virile young men to handle both her immediate carnal urges and future posthumous reputation. Rosanna Arquette provides strong support.

My Pure Land

An Edinburgh world premiere, Sarmad Masud’s tense siege thriller dramatises the true story of Nazo Dharejo, a young Pakistani woman who takes up arms to defend her home against a rival family faction. Produced by veteran theatrical impresario Bill Kenwright, My Pure Land is a politically charged drama with strong feminist undercurrents.

Attraction

Alien invaders crash land in Moscow in director Fedor Bondarchuk’s 3D sci-fi spectacular, Russia’s answer to Independence Day (1996). Already a box office smash at home, Attraction offers a rare chance to catch the UK premiere of an eye-popping action blockbuster at the EIFF.

Edie (2017)

Edie (2017)

Edie

The majestic widescreen terrain of Sutherland in the western highlands provides the soaring backdrop to director Simon Hunter’s visually ravishing autumnal drama. National treasure Sheila Hancock stars as an elderly widow seeking to heal decades of emotional and psychological abuse in the deep Scottish hinterlands.

England Is Mine

Panic on the streets of Edinburgh! The festival closes with a hot-ticket gala world premiere of writer-director Mark Gill’s pithy, wry and emphatically unauthorised biopic of future Smiths singer Morrissey (Jack Lowden) in his pre-fame Manchester years. Promisingly, first-time feature director Gill is a former Oscar and BAFTA nominee, while producer Orian Williams also worked on Anton Corbijn’s superb Ian Curtis biopic Control (2007).

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