Film Review

Cambridge Film Festival: The Highlights

Last week concluded the 41st Cambridge Film Festival. A week-long event boasting screenings of films from all over the globe and including Q&As by directors and producers, the festival is designed to introduce people to new perspectives and cultures. This year, we are proud to be an official Cambridge Film Festival partner!

Following the difficulties within the arts sector after the pandemic, this year’s festival’s success must be celebrated, with great audience growth and an increasing involvement of Friends and Patrons in the festival. This year, every F&P was invited to multiple Q&A screenings to hear from as many directors and producers as possible. The festival was buzzing with activity and included over 85 titles from 34 countries.

Read ahead to learn more about becoming a Friend/and or Patron of the Festival. But first, as partners, we were lucky to have attended multiple screenings this year. We have selected two of our favourite films from the festival to give you a taste of the quality of the screenings each year. Our chosen films are The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin Macdonagh) and Sinjar (Anna M. Bofarull), two brilliant, tragic, memorable but very different masterpieces. Read on…

Let’s start, as the Cambridge Film Festival did, with The Banshees of Inisherin. The festival’s opening film set the bar very high for the rest of the event. Set in 1923 on a fictional remote island, where the sounds of the Irish Civil War can be heard on the nearby mainland, the film follows the breakdown in the friendship between Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), two men who have bonded over not much more than their superficial ramblings over their daily 2pm pint at the pub. One day, when Pádraic drops by his friend’s house to pick him up, he is simply ignored, and after agonising for hours over what he could have done to upset him, Colm breaks the news: ‘I just don’t like ya no more’. Pádraic has become too dull for his friend, and Colm doesn’t want to waste the rest of his time on earth drinking and chatting.

Colm (Brendon Gleeson, left), and Pádraic (Colin Farrell). 

I’m not sure I have ever laughed out loud, had my heart broken, and audibly gasped in unison with fellow cinema-goers all in the space of one film. This is more than a story about a relationship gone wrong. It is a masterful allegory for the civil war, a warning of the effects of insularity, a fairytale gone sour and a reminder that men’s mental health is often ignored. There is a brilliant line from Pádraic where he wishes that Colm would keep his depression to himself, ‘just like the rest of us’; a poignant reminder that society often encourages repressing feelings, whether explicitly or not, for fear that they will harm others too. 

A film full of humour, heart-wrenching emotion and hauntingly effective gore (not one for the faint-hearted!), Macdonagh's newest masterpiece will surely be a strong contender for the Oscars this year. Its eerie film score, flawless casting and overall ability to tug at the heartstrings makes for an incredible piece of art.

Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Jenny the donkey.

Equally heart-wrenching was Anna M. Bofarull’s newest feature film, Sinjar. A fictional film heavily based on real events, Sinjar follows the stories of three women in the Middle East and Catalonia, heavily affected in different ways by ISIS. I was lucky enough to hear the Catalan director and screenwriter speak about what inspired her to create such a film following the screening. Watching the news around the peak of the Syrian War in 2014, and hearing about female kurdish fighters, Yazidi women held as slaves and young radicalised europeans leaving to join ISIS touched her so heavily that she decided to bring these experiences closer to home through a female standpoint in film. Bofarull travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan to interview women in refugee camps whose lives had all been changed for the absolute worst by ISIS, and used these testimonies to create her story.

Hadia (Halima Ilter).

The film focuses on Carolta, a Catalonian mother who has lost her son to radicalisation, Hadia, a Yazidi woman enslaved by ISIS supporters, and Arjin, a young girl who joins the fight against ISIS after being separated from her family. Arjin is played wonderfully by Eman Eido, 15 years old at the time of filming, who had no acting experience and was kidnapped by ISIS at the age of 9, held hostage and married off twice to ISIS supporters for 4 years. Bofarull met her while interviewing for her film, and wanted to include her to bring her own lived experiences into the film - a fact that makes watching it all the more hard-hitting. 

Arjin (Eman Eido).

This is a film that will stay with me forever, and knowing the determination and many complications that Bofarull had to face when filming this in Iraq inspires a real appreciation for this film. It is still absolutely relevant to today, and both Bofarull and the cast manage to make us empathise with what is an awful, ongoing situation that we mustn't forget about.

Support the arts and receive the benefits! All Friends of the Cambridge FIlm Festival receive benefits such as discounts to BFI Southbank seasons, complimentary festival tickets, exclusive events, discounts with local businesses and unique access to experiences during the festival.

CFF Friends receive discounts with the BFI, Mubi, The Traditional Punting Company, The Cambridge Satchel Co., Jack's Gelato, Podarok, The Taste of Cambridge, Small and Green and  Pendred Printing.

Why not become a Friend today? Find out more here or email joinus@cambridgefilmtrust.org.uk.