AMPLIFY! Film Festival review

AMPLIFY! offered a cosmopolitan menu of feature films and documentaries to nourish the soul: this collaboration between FilmBath, Cinecity (Brighton) and Cambridge and Cornwall Film Festivals took viewers out of their Netflix comfort zone into the quirky joys of world cinema. With my 10-film pass I chose films from Ethiopia, Mongolia, Czech Republic, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Chile, Mexico and Ireland.

Running Against the Wind is the first film I’ve seen in which the characters speak in Amharic, but its’ cinematic language is universal. With its stunning Ethiopian landscapes and cityscapes this is a heart-warming coming-of-age tale: two childhood ‘brothers’ who run together for fun meet again years later after following very different paths.

The stark mountains and plains of Mongolia provide the backdrop to Veins of the World, another bittersweet rites-of-passage tale. As his family struggle to hold onto their home and way of life in the face of bereavement and a greedy gold-mining company, young Amra tries to hold things together. Chosen to appear on Mongolia’s Got Talent, he sings Golden Veins, a traditional folk song which becomes an anthem to his homeland.

The Mole Agent (El Agente Topo) will resonate with everyone, especially those whose loved-ones are in a care-home. The premise of this Chilean documentary is a private detective’s investigation into the possible neglect of a client’s mother. It starts with an audition for the titular undercover spy in which assorted octogenarian volunteers are baffled by the workings of a mobile phone. Dapper and gentle widow Sergio Chamy gets the job and we wonder what grim abuse he might discover. But as he touches the lives of the care-home’s residents the film becomes a moving and deeply human meditation on friendship, old age and loneliness.

By contrast, Caught in the Net (V síti) exposes real life online sexual predators. In this shocking and disturbing Czech doc three adult actresses pose as 12 year-olds with Skype accounts. Over the 10 days of filming they are contacted by 2,500 men, most of whom want to use them as sex aids. After a jarring parade of pixelated penises we marvel at the actresses’ ability to stay in character. These encounters boggle the mind with their casual depravity.

The filmmakers disguise the predators by masking their faces, with only the eyes in focus. This has the effect of making them look like sickly bogeymen from a horror film. There is, though, one exception, a young man who is like a beacon of light in the gloom, contacting girls to warn them about the dangers of talking to online strangers.

Were kids happier before the internet? In Las Niñas (Schoolgirls) we learn that Spanish convent girls in 1992 had quite enough to worry about without all this techno torment. And those teenagers with old fashioned hobbies such as violin-playing don’t get much joy either. In The Audition (Das Vorspiel, Germany) a talented young musician is mentored by a music-teacher, whose relationship with her own son becomes toxic. The directors in these films aren’t afraid to use silence to create atmosphere and show character.

This European sensibility is also on show in Rose Plays Julie (Ireland), a slow-burn psychological revenge drama elevated by luminous cinematography and a Greek-chorus score. Ann Skelly is haunting in the main role and Aiden Gillan adds another ‘charming bastard’ to his rogues gallery CV.

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