Credit Glasgow Film Festival

Glasgow Film Festival: Sunlight and A Letter From Helga

By Ishani Mukherjee

Both Sunlight and A Letter From Helga were directed by women, and their female perspective was reflected in their storytelling in a radical and compelling way.

Claire Dix’s first fiction feature, Sunlight, depicts the complexity of male friendship. The story follows Leon (ex- addict) while he takes care of Iver (ex- sponsor), who is terminally ill, while exploring the fragile relationship they share. Using the beautiful Dublin cityscape as the backdrop for the narrative, the film uncovers the harsh realities of life through the use of cynical comedy and social commentary.

The cinematography in the film is as natural as skin, and it conveys a sense of capturing the people and the city of Dublin in its glorious era. Furthermore, the film’s colour scheme reflects the mood of the characters, effectively serving as a visual indicator of their emotions. Claire discussed how her story unfolded with each frame, and the significance of the score, which she credits as being the soul of the film.

When I asked Claire to describe her characters, she called them light, irreverent, and honest. She added that the dark humour present throughout the film adds a sense of weight to the characters, a heaviness they wouldn’t have otherwise. Barry Wards, the lead actor, comments that dark humour and satire are quite an Irish way of dealing with life, which translates to a search for contrast. “Heavier themes only work if offset with some light humour.” Barry Ward adds; “The film is about small things like Vikings and touristy stuff that exists.” This reaffirms the significance of the everyday in moments of suffering, and how a film does not have to be set in a grandiose space to touch on serious topics. Sunlight is therefore somewhat revolutionary in the uncomfortable themes it chooses to discuss – including male toxicity, emotions and drug abuse – and brings out the gravity of vulnerability in our lives.

A Letter From Helga, meanwhile, is a touching Icelandic film about a woman named Helga who receives letters from her long-lost love, reminiscing about their past and the choices they made. The film beautifully captures the emotions of regret, nostalgia and the bittersweet nature of love that transcends time. Furthermore, the picturesque landscapes of rural Iceland add a sense of beauty and isolation to the story, making it even more poignant. The acting is subtle and authentic, bringing the characters to life in a way that feels natural and genuine. The cinematography is breath-taking, with sweeping shots of the Icelandic countryside that perfectly capture the beauty and isolation of Helga’s life, and the score is equally stunning, adding to the emotional depth and poignancy of the film.

At its core, A Letter From Helga is a deeply moving exploration of the human heart and its ability for love and forgiveness, a beautifully crafted film that is both heart-breaking and uplifting; sure to touch the hearts of audiences everywhere.

When asked about her inspiration, Ása Hjörleifsdóttir, the director, explained that movies are an “intimate mirror for emotional lives”. She added that the story of A Letter From Helga looks at the “grey, uneasy emotions of the human lives”, unlike the simplified versions that movies often portray.

Ása spoke to me about the dynamics of male and female energies of emotions in cinematography: “Despite the tremendous revolution that has taken place over the past years I still do get the message from authorities in the film industry that the female experience and we are able to portray it on screen, is still not as ‘profound’ as the male experience.” She then went on to discuss how these female experiences, which are usually dismissed as inferior to male experiences, are actually tied to very intense emotions and themes, which are sadly underrepresented on the screen. She followed this by the following reflection: “If you are good at getting emotions out of art films, especially movies like A Letter From Helga, I wonder if it is just considered less of an art form compared to for example – if you have a stark emotionally distant film.” Ultimately, A Letter From Helga is a refreshing counter to how characters usually confront their lives and what are usually considered ‘serious films’. The film is bound to make you question your ideas on polygamy, relationships, and contentious emotions, as well as commenting on non-classical reactions of human beings.


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