Tag Archives: EIFF

Edinburgh 2011 reviews

The first couple of days of screenings here have been a mixed bag. John Michael Macdonald’s The Guard turned out to be a fine choice for opening film: a hugely entertaining crowd pleaser which sees In Bruges meet Lethal Weapon. The shared lineage with the former film is evident throughout; not only are the directors brothers,  there’s the presence of Brendan Gleeson, on top form with the hilariously sweary dialogue. Here, Gleeson’s deceptively undistinguished Garda officer is teamed with Don Cheadle’s FBI agent to track down  team of drug smugglers led by Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong.
The Argentine end of the world drama Phase 7 had it’s moments, but some odd shiftsin tone meant I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked.  As society collapses under the onslaught of a deadly virus, a young couple hole up in their apartment block while their neighbours take up arms against each other.  
The scenario is played mostly straight, but with occasional jarring lurches into black comedy and slapstick that do little more than diffuse tension.  Worse, the central couple are quite annoying –  he guy is petulant  and unreliable, while the woman spends most of her time complaining (often with some cause, but still).  I was also distracted by the score, which is a homage (or rip off, if you’re feeling less charitable) of John Carpenter’s back catalogue. I’ve seen worse, but it’s not a total success.
Much better is Tomboy, a tween variant on Boy’s Don’t Cry, from Water Lillies director Celine Sciamma. Lead character, a 10 year old girl called Laure, moves house and impulsively pretends to the local kids that she’s a boy. It’s very plausible at first – lead Zoe Heran is remarkable, and the film actually conceals her gender for the first 10 minutes – but the illusion proves harder and harder to maintain, and you’re soon dreading the inevitable. A moving, believable film with a  collection of superb child performances.
The Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr makes films for people who find the works of Ingmar Bergman to be on the frenetic side.   Turin Horse, which may apparently be his final work, is described in the programme this: “In Turin in 1889, the philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche stopped a cab driver from whipping his horse and promptly collapsed, spending hs remaining years in more or less demented silence.” Quite what this has to do with the events we seeon screen I’m unclear, though “demented silence” is certainly how the two main characters live. A man and his adult daughter living in an isolated house on a permanently windswept plain, we see then going about their daily routine: feeding the horse, cleaning, cooking (their diet consists of boiled potatoes and nothing else).
Gradually we become aware that something is wrong: a neighbour visits with warnings of doom, the horse become sick and refuses to eat.  Just what apocalyptic events are  unfolding we never learn: we simply observe the two people descend into silent, baffled despair.
Tarr – who has also programmed some vintage Hungarian cinema for this year’s EIFF – can only be described as an acquired taste. His work makes no concessions to those who enjoy such things as plot and dialogue. You have to be willing to immerse yourself in his bleak, black and white, doom-laden visions to get any kind of pleasure from this film; not everyone will be willing to make that kind of leap.

Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone

Based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, of whom I was previously unaware but intend to check out in the near future, Debra Granik’s engrossing, immersive thriller is my clear favourite of the Festival. A dark drama that convincingly depicts a rural, poverty blighted society normally only seen as monsters in horror films, it also features a remarkable lead performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

Lawrence plays Ree Jolly, a 17 year old girl who – already responsible for her frail mother and two younger siblings – is told that her drug-dealing father has put their home up as security on his bail bond. Currently missing, he needs to show up for his court hearing or the family will be made homeless. Ree is obliged to undertake a dangerous quest to track him down – dead or alive.

In this desolate mountain town, drug addiction is endemic and drug dealing seems to be the major industry and source of income. The people involved, whose identities seem to be at best an open secret, are less than pleased to have Ree asking questions, and it soon starts to look as though she may the next to go mysteriously missing.

Watching the film, you can’t help but become angry that this young woman – who is demonstrably loyal, brave, occasionally droll – should be obliged to shoulder this kind of responsibility, even outside of the thriller plot. Looking at the older women in the film you see her likely future, and it’s infuriating. In a way, one of the most distressing scenes has Ree teaching her little brother how to shoot – distressing both because seeing small children handle weapons feels wrong, but also because you understand the lesson is actually necessary just so the family can continue to eat.

The supporting cast features a seamless blend of local people alongside more familiar faces like Deadwood’s John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt and Twin Peaks’ Sheryl Lee. All contribute to the feeling that this is a window onto a very real, specific world, one rarely explored in cinema. It’s being released in the UK in September by Artificial Eye, and comes hugely recommended.

Seven sleeps to Edinburgh

One of the highlights of my filmgoing year is the annual visit to my favourite city for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. In fact, my single favourite place to watch films is screen 1 of the Cameo Cinema. I still remember my accidental discovery of the Cameo during a visit to the Fringe Festival some years ago. Not only were you allowed to take alcoholic drinks in with you (a sign chalked up on the foyer board explained, ‘We’re civilised at the Cameo and we like to think you are too’) but the seats were like armchairs, quite the most luxurious I’d experienced in cinemas to that point, and particularly welcome after the bum-numbing church hall chairs I’d been sitting on for much of that week. (The film I watched – because I know you’re wondering – was Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty).

I love the Cameo so much that my choice of screenings to attend is often influenced by whether or not the film is showing there. I’m certainly fond of the EIFF’s other venues too; the Cineworld is a multiplex like many others, though a perfectly acceptable one, and its large seats and generous legroom come as a relief after a few screenings in the cramped and often stuffy Filmhouse screen 1.

I do still regret the EIFF’s decoupling from the various other August festivals – I can’t imagine a better place to be than Edinburgh during August – but as they’re selling far more tickets without the distraction of all those pesky live events, there’s no chance of it moving back, and you can hardly blame them. In fact, the 2009 Festival was so successful that there were far fewer tickets available for industry liggers like me for the evening public screenings, obliging me to spend more time watching films on the little computer screens in the videotheque.

For me, the best thing about Festivals is walking into a film about which you know next to nothing, but which turns out to be fantastic – something you immediately want to push to an audience, to share it with as many people as possible. Past examples off the top of my head include Incident at Loch Ness, a hilarious mix of Blair Witch and Spinal Tap starring Werner Herzog as himself that sadly never had a UK release, and last year’s The First Day of the Rest of Your Life. I know very little about most of the films at this year’s Festival (with the obvious exception of Toy Story 3 – pretty sure I’ve heard something about that one) but they are showing a couple of things I’ve seen and liked.

One is The Runaways, the story of the 70s US teen girl band I’d previously never heard of (though their line-up did include Joan Jett – her I did know of, though I’d always assumed she only ever recorded one song). It features good work from Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as Jett and singer Cherie Currie, and captures the heady atmosphere of being young, famous and off your head very well (or so I suppose, having little experience of any of those things).

The other is The Secret in their Eyes, the Argentinian film that won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. That’s one category the Academy can be guaranteed to get wrong, pretty much every year. In a year that included Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, they gave the award to a potboiler thriller. I’ve absolutely nothing against the film – it’s a perfectly competent, entertaining watch that deserves an audience – but it’s no work of art. It should appeal to the many who enjoyed the film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, although as the source novel is unknown over here and the film is being released by the not-exactly-flush-with-cash Metrodome, it will only do a fraction of the business.

To an extent, I’ll try not to find out too much detail about the programme, but scrolling through the website, there are things I’m already keen to see. Obviously this includes the gala opening, Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, which the Belleville Rendezvous creator set in Edinburgh after falling in love with the city during a previous festival. Then there’s the Dutch horror Two Eyes Staring, Brit thriller Cherry Tree Lane, plus the retrospective strand on forgotten British film: a chance to see some vintage films I’d never even heard of, let alone had the chance to watch.

I’ll be there for the first six days of the Festival. That’s time to see 30 films, easy. Plenty to discover. I can’t wait.