Leeds Film Festival 2019 - Day 7

System Crasher (DE) (review)

An unassuming ten year old girl loves her mum and clings to her whenever she is near. But her mother rarely visits Benni in the Foster house where she currently stays.  Moved from home to home, Benni is a troubled child; some unknown but traumatic events have scarred her childhood and now seemingly random things trigger Benni's violent side - screaming fits and violent outbursts have sent her ricocheting around the Foster home circuit and the one assigned carer who she trusts has few options left. 

Enter Micha, a burly, rough block of a man assigned as her school escort, who suggests some time away in his cabin in the woods. Can an unconventional holiday of sorts break the cycle?

System Crasher is a better film than to give you such a convenient conclusion; Benni is just too far gone to simply turn twee and lovely after a few nights under the stars, but the film patiently nudges her state of mind slightly closer to a happy place with stumbles and falls along the way, giving the viewer some hope for her future.  The ending may not have a happy bow tied around it but I think that would have cheapened the resolution. 7.5/10

Genesis (CA) (wiki

Step brother and sister Guillaume and Charlotte are hitting the time of their lives when hormones go a little crazy and relationships start to change. Guillaume is in boarding school and is struggling to find love in the eyes of the girls he meets, their qualities always falling shy of those of his friend Nicolas, if only he could find someone like him. Charlotte, on the other hand has been going too steady with her dull boyfriend Maxime and when an argument erupts, she finds herself drawn to the arms of an older man whose aire of mystery and danger beguile her. 

Genesis didn't really know what era it was set in; on-screen technology and choice of soundtrack in the early scenes suggested the 80's but then suddenly modern mobile phones popped up, which was a bit jarring.  That and the standard philosophising in every fricking conversation you typically expect from French films.  Despite this, I kinda enjoyed the return to teenage years; the two lead parts were well played and their fragility came out of the screen at you, enough to make you care.  Alas, I had to leave early, just as the film ditched all its characters and seemingly started again. I may never know just what happened in those final minutes. 6/10

Jojo Rabbit (US) (review

Taika Waititi is making a bit of a name for himself at the moment.  Among others, he has had his hands in such works as What we do in the Shadows and its series spinoff, the excellent Flight of the Conchords, two Thor films, and of course a hand in the latest Star Wars series, The Mandalorian gives his resume some real kick. Here he is as well, directing and starring in a period comedy drama, as if he didn't have enough to do. 

Waititi plays a dim-witted Adolf Hitler, the imaginary friend of young Jojo, a ten year old aspiring to be a good little Nazi in the dying days of World War II.  Brought up with the expected amount of conditioning to vilify and demonise those different to him, imagine his reaction when he finds a young Jewish girl living in his dead sisters' bedroom in a secret compartment.  Jojo must come to terms with who he actually is and question what those around him are telling him is the truth.

Jojo drips of Wes Anderson's thematic style - wide angle lenses and symmetrical scenes, small children as the protagonists, a clutch of well known names (Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant... and Waititi himself as Hitler) but somehow manages to have it's own feel as well, down largely to Waititi giving a fabulously stupid send-up in the period where the real-life dictator was being unmasked as the failure of the Aryan race rather than it's saviour.  The only one who looked out of place was Rebel Wilson, overplaying a strange youth camp assistant and office worker, where no amount of amusing face pulling could make her look like she fit into the part or the period.

That small problem aside, Jojo Rabbit will be well worth watching as it hits the cinemas early in the new year.  Some of the reviews have been less than kind towards it, but I thought it was well worth the time. 8/10

La Belle Epoque (FR) (wiki

There was one final film on the list before the end of LIFF 2019.  Just before Jojo started, long-time LIFF icon Chris Fell came on stage to show the top ten films as voted by the audience, and La Belle Epoque was - at that point - in first place, which gave me hope for a strong finish.

La Belle Époque is the name of the cafe that Viktor met his long-suffering wife Marianne back in 1974.  A luddite surrounded by technology, the old cartoonist grumbles and moans his way through any social gathering with his family if they dare bring up anything that isn't pulled by a horse.

One such day provides two things of note - Marianne finally snaps and kicks him out of their house, and his son gives him a voucher to spend at 'Time Travellers' - a business catering to the super-rich that can recreate any period in history down to the finest detail.  Reeling from the rejection, Viktor pines for the distant past where life was simple and he was young and in love, and asks them to recreate the moment when he met Marianne all those years ago.

Though not reaching the levels of shear beauty and joyeousness set by the now nearly 20-year old Amélie, La Belle Époque is a sumptious, dense, velvety romance about the beauty of first love, and a chance to wallow in a reality where ones most treasured memories can be played out just once more in front of you to live through once again. 8/10

And that was my lot.  It was nice to get out on the festival circuit proper once again, here's to more in the future.

Leeds Film Festival 2019 - Day 6

World Animation Competition

Winter in the Rain Forest (ES)

Repurposed porcelain doll parts form creepy fauna and flora interacting on the forest floor; the roles of predator and prey move around as the balance of power shifts.  Unnerving and creepy stop-motion animation. 6.5/10

Undergrowth (GB)

A market-stall plastic surgeon trades body parts and uses her gains to grow more in her back garden.  The hopes of attaining a partner are one day realized but she gets more than she bargained for.  Dark, slick and funny. 7.5/10

Grand Bassin (FR)
Pool-side shenanigans with a clutch of oversized characters and some saucy squeaks, oohs and aahs.  Very French.  7/10

Still Lives (FI)

Museum exhibits come to life at night in an uneventful stop-motion animation. 5/10

Sheep, Wolf and a Cup of Tea (FR)

As his relatives move around downstairs, a young boy goes on a dreamlike journey from his bed with a mysterious wolf-figure in a beautifully colourful, trippy painted tale. 7.5/10

Las Del Diente (ES)

Through a disorienting fisheye lens, the avatars of three women talk about pregnancy, motherhood and what it takes to be a parent in the Spanish culture. 6/10

Daughter (CZ)

A daughter and her sick father come to terms with their fractured relationship as he lies in a hospital bed awaiting his operation.  Told with roughly-made but beautifully expressive wooden figures, their fluid movement captures their emotions perfectly without the need for dialogue. 8/10

300g/m2 (ES)

Fun with paper cutouts as a humanoid figure interacts with the space left in the paper he was cut from.  No real story, just some larking around, so limited in entertainment.  5/10

The Rain (PL)

Polish deadpan humour really shows here, but it's also a commentary on the groupthink of crowds being less than the individual.  A superhero emerges from the bored office workers of a skyscraper just in time to save someone falling from the impossibly high roof.  Unfortunately, it seems like a thrilling escape from their computers for the rest, and temptation builds.  Short, smart and funny. 7.5/10

Toomas - Beneath the Valley of the Wild Wolves (CR)

Toomas is a buff wolf-human creature inhabiting a Bojack Horseman-like world.  Forever catching the eye of the ladies, he keeps himself for his beloved back home.  But when he loses his job in the name of fidelity, those buns need to start earning their pay.  A funny blend of Bojack and those softcore British sex films from the 70's.  8/10

Leeds Short Film Awards

A round-up of the winning entries from several of the other short film segments.

HydeBank (UK)

Tending a prison farm's sheep provides a much needed escape for Ryan, who is in for an undisclosed but serious crime.  Suffering the abuse you might expect from his neighbours, he makes the best of his situation to calm his anger and plan a life outside.  A tender look at one person among many trying to be better. 8/10

Olla (FR)

Lonely and introverted Pierre orders a bride from the internet and is infatuated with his purchase, but Olla can't just be who he wants her to be just like that.  Stuck inside during the day tending to his elderly mother, it's not long before the cracks in their synthetic relationship begin to show. 7.5/10

A Night with Noorjehan (UK)

A young indian boy tries his best to make some money for his family by selling balloons on the night streets to anyone who will give him the time, at least when he isn't being tempted to sneak into the local cinema where the latest Bollywood epic is being shown, and being thwarted at every turn by the doorman.  A chance meeting with a colourful night character will perhaps give him his wish. 7/10

The Circle (UK)

Described through the medium of dance (no.. come back!), two brothers from the suburbs of London describe their relationship with their wider family in this refreshingly more positive look at black youth culture. 7/10

And Then the Bear (FR)

Ignored by his mother, and left to explore the bushland as she waits for an alluring stranger to appear in the night, a young boy becomes consumed by jealousy and anger, summoning the forest spirits to exact revenge.  The striking chalk on black paper visuals and the darkness of the subject matter are a delicious combination. 8/10

The Stranger's Case - shown in the Yorkshire Shorts on day 4.

Why Slugs Don't Have Legs (CH)

An absurd but enjoyable animation with a gloriously messy style, explaining to us with remarkably little science to back it's claims up, why the humble slug once had legs (and arms), but now doesn't and is all the happier for it. 8/10

Patrick (BE) (review)

I was hoping to go to the Welcoming Young Refugees event but they were unfortunately sold out, so I caught this instead.

Trailer Warning: Wobbly bare bodies!

Methodical, meticulous loner Patrick has a comfortable and at the same time uncomfortable job working with his ageing father and blind mother at their family owned nudist camp. Considering his familiarity with the naked flesh all around he is ironically repressed, quiet and skimping on relationships. His escape is carpentry, for which he has a well-maintained bank of tools. That is until one day one of his hammers goes missing, and by coincidence, his father keels over and dies.  Rather than mourning, Patrick's focus is on the hammer to the exclusion of all else, leading him on a dogged journey through the secret lives of his customers (including an unexpected Jemaine Clement) until it is found. 

The childlike Patrick is played deftly by Kevin Janssens exposing himself in both emotion and body, an innocent in the midst of corruption and sin. My hopes weren't the highest for Patrick but he really came through with a beautiful, darkly humorous film. 7.5/10

Midnight Traveller (US) (review)

Afghan filmmakers Hassan Fazili and Fatima Hossaini, with their two small children Nargis and Zahra fled their home in 2015 with as much as they could get in their car, after the taliban issued a fatwa on Fazil's life. Shot almost entirely on three mobile phones, this is a documentary journal of their 3 year passage across the Middle East and into Europe, to wherever will take them.  

A stunning personal account of one family among thousands, suffering kindness and abuse from locals, dealings with unscrupulous smugglers and a system struggling to process those who attempt to arrive through the official channels.  If you have a genuine wish to know how and why so many migrants are fleeing their countries right now and why we in stable countries should not, as compassionate human beings be raising the drawbridge, you must see this film. 8/10

Leeds Film Festival 2019 - Day 5

Dancer in the Dark (DK) (wiki)

Left field singer and occasional actress Bjork lends both her body and her unique approach to songwriting in this avant-garde approach to a film musical directed by Lars von Trier.  Selma is a machine worker in the 50's American countryside.  A childlike, coy Czech immigrant with a young wayward son, managing as best she can with a small family of sorts looking out for her.  Local police officer Bill is her landlord and one day temptation gets the better of him and he takes Selma's savings to make up the shortfall in his own, setting Selma off on a disastrous path on which her childlike state of mind can exert no control.  When it all becomes too much, her mind searches the sounds around her for music and she loses herself in daydream, usually in the form of the people around her turning to dance.

Initially, Dancer in the dark bothered me because of the avant-garde style of wobbly handheld cameras and improvised lines (the number of times someone said a line and the other guy said '..what?!' was almost funny), not to mention Bjork's accent wildly fluctuating between icelandic and cockney, but at its core there is a heartfelt story with some odd but admirable music numbers in among the odd characters and strange, wildly fluctuating tones to the whole thing. Not a film I could love, but I grew to appreciate more as the whole became apparent. 6/10

Yorkshire Short Film Competition

A collection of winning films from the various Yorkshire short film competitions. 

The Strangers' Case - the Shakespearean play Sir Thomas More is adapted and updated for a Yorkshire pub full of ruffians complaining all about those immigrants stinking up the place. You get the jist of what they are trying to say but the dialogue is as penetrable as Shakespeare gets. 7/10

Seagulls - A sweet mini-documentary about the Seagulls paint store in Leeds, a community store that employs ex-offenders to give a second chance. Their mosaics are all over the city.  7.5/10

Contenders - an unusual tale set after the climate tipping point has passed, and a gate to an alternate universe has opened to those brave enough to make the journey. It was an interesting angle on the idea of personal sacrifice for the greater good but not that well executed. 6/10

Resolution - a young girl recites emotionally charged spoken word about her absent father and her abusive stepfather, and the hardships growing up in a broken home. 7.5/10

Eyeless in Parkway - a messy scribbled animation of a uneventful bus journey. 5/10

The Waiting Room - the strangling hold of agarophobia is told through the cyclical life of a young introverted woman, trying desperately to take that train journey and meet people like she once did. 7.5/10

The Work Continues - the volunteers at Meanwood Valley Urban Farm talk about the place as a connecting social hub, what it means to them and their own personal stories. It was nice but it didn't really progress much and could have been shorter. 7/10

Alice 404 - the alluring draw of a teenagers mobile phone is explored from the inside as Alice rebuffs the anxious calls from concerned friends and family. 7.5/10

70 Years Young - Dave started bodybuilding in the 70's and is still going now. In his own words: make the most of the time you've got. 7/10

Standing in the Rain - a culture shock for both sides unfolds as Slung Low, a Leeds theatre group moves into Holbeck working men's club, in the middle of a deprived area of Leeds. With unease at the arrangement coming from both camps, and the new gaffer quickly having to learn how to pull a pint, the two sides must work out how their uneven pieces fit together for both their futures. 8/10

Carmine Street Guitars (US) (site)
There used to be a music shop in Leeds some years ago, just down from The Light. I would pass it many times as the years rolled by and the film festivals came and went.  Custom was rare, but they always had a welcoming scene complete with a grand piano for people to tinkle on, and I pressed my nose up against their windows more than once, wishing I had the talent and confidence to pick up one of those shiny instruments and play.  Sadly it disappeared after a long innings, as these things tend to do.

I recalled the old music store when watching this documentary about the titular guitar shop in the centre of New York.  Aging rock guitarist Rick - deft constructor of bespoke guitars from salvaged wood - and his young prodigy Cindy share the work with Rick's mother answering the phones and dusting.  It's a quiet, old-fashioned work life that is just about hanging on.

Rick's shop however shows little sign of struggle; a bevvy of customers of varying levels of fame come along, lavish praises whilst trying out the wares and serenade the viewer with their skills.  And that's basically the film.  It's not got a lot to say, because there isn't much to say; this is a gentle and pleasant slice of the lives of those making a living in an increasingly rare and therefore precious way.  The only slight annoyance was the staged feel to the film, as if it was a fiction dressed as a documentary. 7.5/10

Talking About Trees (FR) (review)
The military coup acted upon Sudan in the late 80's was responsible for a crackdown on the lives and consequently the cultural output of the country.  Films, both making and showing were banned and the cinemas and film studios gutted.  Only empty, partially demolished shells remain.

Enter a quad of aging film buffs, headed by once-director Ibrahim Shaddad and his friend Suleiman Ibrahim, who have become dissatisfied with merely sneaking around the country putting on secret screenings of their old films and whatever else they can find, and instead want to lead the way in reviving Sudanese cinema proper.

I guess the intention of the film was for a celebratory revival but alas, it is a tale more of hardened conservatism, the point of the oppressive attitude towards filmmaking lost in time but still holding sway through a mixture of tradition and fear of reprisal from those lurking in the shadows, through which these four nobles show their years of wisdom, showing warm humour and patience in place of anger and frustration.  It is a fascinating window into a lost and largely overlooked culture cut down in it's formative years and struggling to resurface, it's slender green shoots nursed by the oldest of hands. 7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2019 - Day 4

International Short Films Competition 3 - Youthful Indiscretions

First up was a selection of short films on the theme of children, getting into all sorts of hi-jinks the world over.  I wanted to see them all but had to leave before the last one started otherwise I'd miss the next film.


A young schoolgirl acts as a drugs mule and due to her connection not turning up one day, has to risk bringing her cargo to her strict school, where the students are regularly checked and expelled for much less.  There are much worse things to keep hidden in this life than a mobile phone. 7/10

Maradona's Legs (DE)
Two scrappy Israeli brothers go on a mini epic adventure in the theme of a hero's quest, to locate the elusive lower half of Maradona's picture in their Italia '90 football album, to the backdrop of their home team (and Brazil, who they actually support) playing on the radios of literally every character they meet along the way.  A nostalgic trip for anyone trying to fill up their sticker books. 7.5/10

The Walking Fish (NL/JP)

A very unusual (because Japan) fable of a mysterious fish woman who, as a mutsugoro (mudskipper fish) was caught and taken in by a young boy, and magically transformed into a little girl.  Told in flashback by the people who knew and loved her. 7.5/10

Cadoul de Craciun (The Christmas list) (DE)

In the latter days of the Ceausescu regime, a small Yugoslavian boy posts a letter to santa wishing old Nicolai was dead.  Fearing for their lives if anyone reads it, mum and dad frantically scramble to cover their tracks. 8/10
Nefta Football Club (FR)

A couple of young Algerian happen upon an abandoned donkey carrying a cargo of drugs on their way home through the Tunisian hills.   If only they can get it home and hide it, they could be rich.  8/10

Greener Grass (US) (wiki)

In an absurd vision of American suburbia where everyone rides golf carts and wears braces, two couples - 'friends' seemingly only because they crossed paths at their kids sporting events - try to navigate their hellish existence of polite one-upmanship and a desperate need to appear constantly and univerally happy among their equally painted smile peers.  With the mysterious murder of their yoga teacher as a catalyst for a series of increasingly weird events to unfold, Jill goes on a journey through hell of her own making. These brightly coloured, wretched lives are paraded for our amusement but equally as a mirror into what we find uncomfortably familiar about our own lives.

It is a deeply odd film; strange and unsettling, and narratively loose, preferring to frame the film as a series of absurd events.  It was enjoyable after a slow start, but it may be either too left-field, or too uncanny for some people's tastes.  It's an expansion of the directors original short film if you want a taster of the full thing. 6/10

The Wolf's Call (FR) (wiki)

The claustrophobic insides of a submarine introduce us to 'Socks' - a low-ranking officer aboard the Titan - a french submarine off the coast of Russia.  He is an 'Acoustic Warfare Analyst' - listening to the noises of the deep, trying to interpret their qualities and turn them into visualisations of their surroundings - and anything that might be out to sink them.  When they are attacked by Russian forces out of nowhere, it sets into motion escalating retaliations, potentially leading the world into full-on nuclear war.

Socks is the 'talented outsider' who has to prove his worth to the captain and against the odds saves everyone, and The Wolf's Call won't win any originality prizes, but it is a very good, tense thriller with some minor (but not too unpredictable) twists and a classic underwater showdown.  As good as any other submarine flick you have seen.  It's a Netflix film so you'll be able to see it there soon. 8/10

Marriage Story (US) (review)

Also on Netflix, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play a New York couple with a young son who - for reasons initially baffling to the audience - have decided to terminate their marriage despite an ongoing love and commitment to each other.  Initially trying to keep lawyers out of this and sorting things for themselves, the situation deteriorates as other actors in their relationship begin to influence their decision making and inevitably things become messy and complicated, and nasty.

Marriage Story is fraught with feelings of loss and sadness - why should it end up this way between two people who clearly still love each other so much and - fortunately for the audience - is played with a degree of humour to soften the depression brought on from the damage inflicted on the lives involved.  I think it would have made the whole film pretty unwatchable if there wasn't this other aspect to the film as it makes things bearable.

The central performances are excellent as you would expect from these actors, and even at 2+ hours it doesn't drag.  It's a precise and merticulous study on love and relationships, how sometimes that is not enough, and how even in the most committed and seemingly endless partnerships, sometimes something deep down causes lives to fall apart, at great cost. 8/10

Leeds Film Festival 2019 - Day 3

Five Million Dollar Life (JP) (review)

As a child, Mirai survived life-saving surgery and due to the regular 7up style TV shows charting his progress, he isn't allowed to forget it.  Interpreting the constant intrusions by the media on his life, and his mothers' reluctance to move on from that period as a weighty noose around his neck, he finds  the increasingly intrusive expectations of others on his life to be suffocating, and at this crucial point in his life where he is about to graduate and move into the big wide world, it's unbearable.  He considers the worst of ways out to be the only solution; ending it all.
Hecklers on the internet agree, but before they will let him take the easy way out, he has to earn back the money it cost to save his life.  Accepting the terms, desperate for a resolution, the size of the task ahead of him becomes apparent. Mirai is smart enough but constantly being coddled has left him workshy and wet behind the ears.  Naively he leaves home and looks for ways to make some money.

Ghost Tropic yesterday treaded some familiar ground, the idea of a stranger passing through strange lands and bouncing off the people he meets.  Whereas that film was gentler and more positive about the shadows lurking in the night, Five Million Dollar Life stalks much darker terretory. Mirai is sent on a trial by fire and has to learn to make good use of the parse resources avalable to him.  Director Sungho Moon tries hard to avoid the dip in the middle of the film as Mirai moves between a parade of good and not so good characters on his way to the third act and generally succeeds, but the film could maybe done with being a little shorter. 7.5/10

Shooting the Mafia (IR) (review)

I will never look casually at those romanticized charactures of the Mafia we see on the TV and in films again after seeing this documentary.  You know the sort of thing I mean: comedy cartoon pigeons doing Godfather accents for the kids on Saturday mornings.  These people were terrorists of the most violent and bloodthirsty kind and subjected Italy to decades of rule by fear.  Because they were dapper and Italian (and possibly also because they were white), the Mafia gangster has been romanticized and comedified and packaged into something much more cozy and acceptable for our entertainment.  I doubt that we will see ISIS given similar cartoon treatment in twenty or so years time.
Journalust turned Photographer turned Politician Letizia Battaglia has spent a long time photgraphing the aftermath of revenge killings by the all-powerful Mafia through Italy from the 1970's into the new millennium.  This is the story of how she managed against the odds to not be one of the victims.

There were a lot of killings, and Battaglia and her small team of brave journalists were there, catching leads over the police radio and snapping the gruesome scenes before they could be cleaned away.  Be warned, you will spend a lot of this film staring at photos of dead bodies.

That isn't to say this film is unbearable; if you can stomach the relentless shots of violent retribution of actual people, this documentary is also two other things; a biography of Battalglia herself, including many of her partners, admirers and lovers, and a timeline of how Italy slowly, finally loosed itself from the terrible grip that the Mafia families had on Italian society for so long.  The film was at turns disturbing, thrilling, celebratory and strangely beautiful and is exactly the sort of documentary film that really gets me coming to these festivals. 8.5/10

One Last Deal (FI) (wiki)

The art world as with many others is feeling the squeeze of the modern age, put out of business by the relentless reach of the faster, more convenient Internet.  Olavi is at the end of his art dealer career and though his discoveries have never earned him more than a meagre existence things are getting tighter still and the end of the road is looking near.
But then he spots what looks to be a valuable painting at the back of an auction house; seemingly unnoticed by anyone else.  All he needs to do is pay the lofty auction price, and then find someone to sell it on to and he can show them all he had what it took to pull off the big time.  Aided somewhat by his clumsy grandson, and not so much by his daughter whose cold exterior is justified by her years played second fiddle to Olavi's art business, he tries to come up with the goods before time runs out.

One Last Deal isn't going to give any big twists or surprises but it does have a tense rabble of characters and a distinct 'baddie' of sorts to get you rooting for the right result.  It was well acted and beautiully shot, and very enjoyable. 7.5/10

Common Threads (Various)

A short film segment around the idea of shared human experiences.

After the Silence (BE)

A young middle-eastern asylum seeker talks about their experiences of applying for asylum, and their circumstances for leaving.  David is gay and came to Belgium in the hope of a better life.  A poingient reminder of human need and why we should not be raising the drawbridge. 8/10

The Sea Runs Thru My Veins (DE)

Various people talk about what happiness means to them, illustrated by various abstract Super-8 films.  An abstract, though pleasant meditation of what it means to be happy. 7/10

Blue Boy (DE)

The facial reactions of several male prostitutes are one at a time presented as they watch video of a previous recording of them in various conversations with punters: making sexy chit-chat for prostitution money, being raided by the police without cause, a failed relationship, all in the titular german gay bar.  An unusual way of presenting it and although the lingering shots long after the recordings had finished (and before they started) irked a bit, it was quite sweet. 7/10

Reality Baby (IE)

A group of teenage mums (and one very awkward looking dad!) to be are given a realistic baby to nurse and deal with to prepare them for motherhood.  The community centre trialling it uses them to give them a realistic view of how their world will utterly change in ways that words never will.  The only problem was the almost incomprehensible audio but that might have been the room to blame. 7/10

And What is the Summer Saying? (IN)

A strange film about a remote family dwelling in the Indian countryside.  Nonsensical and unconnected ramblings roll over a series of loose family scenes and portraits of nature, and something about a tiger.  Far too ambiguous and abstract for my liking. 4/10

Never Actually Lost (GB)

The director's elderly grandmother Audrey takes us on a journey through her old photos and cinefilm captures of her children, long before the director came on the scene, knowing that these moments should be communicated over as there is not much time left.  Genuinely touching and sensitive. 8/10

Ordinary Love (GB) (review)
Liam Neeson needed something to draw a line under recent events, playing a very ordinary husband Tom to Lesley Manville's equally ordinary wife, Joan.  They live a very ordinary but contented existence until Joan notices a lump on her breast.  What follows is a study in how a relationship bends and strains under the weight of cancer, and anyone touched by the illness or close to someone who did may find this film quite unbearable to watch in places, as it examines the various stages of discovery, diagnosis, treatment and recovery with great skill by two very accomplished actors giving strong, emotional performances.  There wasn't a dry eye in the house.  8.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2019 - Day 2

Dead Dicks (CA) (site)

Groundhog Day is one of those excellent, one-of-a-kind films that exists in a little genre all it's own, and it tells it's story of a man trapped in a time loop until he can figure out the key to the exit very well.  There is no time or necessity for any remake, and while I wouldnt suggest something so draconian as forbidding any feet to step even near to it's hallowed ground, there had better be a good story and concept behind any attempt to try.

Dead Dicks steps up to that challenge, moving the cage from a city to an apartment, and swapping romance for horror.  The Dick of the title is Richie, who is actually a bit of a dick,  Does he have mental problems that require him to completely lean on his sister for every single facet of his existence, or is he just a lazy arse?  The film does not attempt to answer.  We do know he has ended up dead, and for whatever reason, he wakes up again in the same apartment, in a fresh body as if nothing had happened.  Eventually roping in his little sister after having a few other deaths through various inventive means, they try to figure out what is going on.
Like I said, it needs to be good to make the grade and.. it just doesn't work.  The storyline is full of holes, unexplored avenues and unresolved quesions: why does he keep killing himself?  Why wasn't the oft-mentioned threat of police involvement never realised?  What about the bit about each copy being a degredation of the last?  Was the neighbour just there as a plot device so he could figure the way out?  Dead Dicks was mildly entertaining but lacking, and for a horror film it was light on both gore and scary bits and the story plodded on without vigor despite dealing with some theoretically gory subject matter and the potential of some serious relationship drama.  The acting was.. okay, the two main parts did well enough with what they were given, but the storyline was patchy and the clumsy ending felt forced and unsatisfying.  I'm all for low-budget films that punch above their weight but you could have added a couple of million to the budget and it wouldn't have solved this film's problems.  5/10

Ghost Tropic (BE) (review)

One of the things I had to learn when I started doing these marathon film sessions is the ability to reset the brain, especially as you come out of one film and into another.  This is especially true when the pacing and feel of the previous and next films are so different.  It's unfair to judge the second one harshly if it is slow moving and medititive if you have just got out of a high-octane thriller or a brain-dead comedy.
I was pretty sure that Ghost Tropic would fall into the former category; a slow-moving film with long, lingering shots and an expectation on the viewer in those moments - which can last a long time - to analyze the lines on the actor's faces as they stare back at you, and try and read their mind.  Khadija is a cleaning lady living a humble existence as she sees out the last of her working years doing the night-time cleaning at a fancy shopping mall.  Falling asleep on the last train home, and with no relatives available or disposable income to correct her course, she sets off through the near-empty streets back to her little flat.

The premise is to frame a parable of the kindness of stranegers, and the director succeeds in never ramming down our throats the universally accepted idiom that you should always look to help others in need. In fact, Khadija's effect on the nightcrawlers she meets is often neutral or ends in failure; the point I guess is that she tried the best she could when she could have just walked by.

I kind of enjoyed the ride, but I was struggling to reset my mind to the degree required to fully enjoy the little, tiny touches sprinkled throughout; even at 2pm my eyes were getting heavy halfway through, such was the lullaby-effect of the gentle pacing.  If you do see it, either make sure you are alert, or be prepared to be woken up by the cinema staff much as Khadija was at the end of the line.  6/10

Sheep Hero (NL) (review)

Stijn, a sturdy, straight-talking 40-something shepherd has been tending his cattle in the traditional ways across the Netherland countryside for as long as he could stand.  Now with a wife and two young sons taking an interest, this is the worst time for the current governments to cut farming subsidies yet again and leave their livelihood cut even closer to the bone.
Sheep Hero I think initially set out as a documentary of a dying profession, before the director realised it was actually about to witness an actual dying out in front of the camera, as Stijn comes foul firstly of the political changes seem hell bent on sweeping out the old ways, and then of the increasingly intolerant city-type neighbours who arent used to having their borders munched and their roads crapped on as he moves his sheep through their town between the fields.  As the walls move in, Stijn and his family try ever more desperate ways to make ends meet and keep their way of life going.

It's a beautiful film celebrating the persistence of the family and as a dog owner brought more than a few big smiles as their expanding team of collies regularly stole the scenes.  Ultimately though it is a bittersweet telling of those who lose out as things change and old ways are forced out in the name of bigger demands and tighter margins. 8/10

Sheep Hero also had a couple of Short Films with the theme of cattle:

Diary of Cattle
A short, simple film but hard hitting with barely a word spoken.  A herd of cows graze on an Indonesian landfill site.  The camera watches as they root for moulding vegetation and whatever else they can find in the several feet deep mess of human detritis.  They end up eating just about anything and happily chew away on plastic bags and old shoes, prompting a sense of shame not to mention questions over what sort of state their digestive systems are in, and what sort of reaping humanity takes when these sown seeds are slaughtered and put on the dinner table. 7/10

Tony and the Bull

To end on a happier note, Tony lives in a run down old farmhouse in the south of England.  Quite often, he's joined by his friend, Scrunch the fully grown bull, who tony reared from a calf after his mother died.  The film is a unique and lovely account of a crazy relationship that despite the fact Scrunch can barely fit inside the rooms, manages to work just fine for the both of them. 8/10

Extra Ordinary (IE) (review)

I found myself with a bit of extra time to kill until the next film and saw this had only been on for ten minutes, so I whipped out my pass and scurried in.  I'm glad I did.

The film is a comedy horror set in 90's Ireland and has more than a dash of the Father Ted's about it; and I'm not just saying that because because of all the accents.  Rose is a paranormal investigator turned driving instructor, being pestered by Martin to sort out an exorcism of his late wife, a constant pain in his side during life and death.  They both cross swords with the local rock star Christian Winter who is pinning his hopes on reviving his failing career on mastery of the occult, using a virgin sacrifice to bring back his lucky streak.
Extra Ordinary is a lot of fun; much more funny than gory and with a lot of sharp Irish wit, I'm very glad I took a punt. 8/10

Family Romance, LLC (JP) (wiki)

My final film of the night was the latest in a long line of Werner Herzog films, although beyond seeing his name in the opening credit's you'd be hard-pushed to tell it was from him.  His Germanic drawling narration was conspicuously absent and he let the subjects do the talking.

His subject matter has recently been covered in Sue Perkins admirable Japan series on the BBC, where people in Japan can hire out people to act as stand-ins for relationships in their lives that they lack, have lost, or maybe want to re-live in the hope of steering a better outcome.  Family Romance, LLC is one such business, or at least that is what the film is trying to portray.
You see, from the outset, Family Romance LLC (the film) portrays itself as a documentary with these very real businesses as it's subject matter, and you can be forgiven for thinking that the various characters being portrayed are real Japanese people and 'real' actors being hired to fill a void, but is it?  Herzog is being clever to blur the lines of what is real and what isn't to make the audience as deceived as the punters by having actors playing both sides - or is he?  It's pretty difficult to tell and some viewers may feel a little deceived, although a quick google afterwards quickly sorts things out.

As with the Sue Perkins program, there is no 'look at these crazy Japanese doing this, isn't it good|bad' aspect.  Lack of narration allows the characters to explore the morality easier, but they come to the same conclusion.  The practice of employing stand-ins is very much a function of the detachment in modern Japanese society and has a mixture of good and bad points, it's up to the viewer to decide whether it's a healthy thing to do or not. 7/10

Leeds Film Festival 2019 - Day 1

So then!

Last time I did this was a couple of years ago and, I know, I know.  Nobody likes to see a blog go stagnant and die.  Again.  All I can say is, kids are hard.  But as the firstborn is about to hit five years old and start the second half of his first decade - and that has just flown by - I find myself for the first time able to look at the festivals again with a little more flexibility.  The missus has kindly given me some days off with which to do as I will.  Naturally, this means I pound my eyeballs with films until they cannae take no more.

In 2014, I was just leaving work with a big stack of tickets to begin another crazy film marathon before our December baby was due, and right on that moment, the phone rang.  Ms. Plants was in labour and things were starting early.  Didn't he know I had spent good money on the next few weeks on literally dozens of film tickets.  So began a lean few years - festival-wise - where I'd only see a couple of films per year.   

*tiny violin plays in background*

I'm over it.  No, really.  I've scheduled a talk with him for his 18th where we will calmly discuss repayment and interest terms.

Luce (US) (wiki)

In these days of increasing racial tensions state-side, its unsurprising that there are films coming out of the country that try to tussle with some of the subject matter to some degree or other.  It is a subject of many dimensions and unfortunately, still persists the world over.  America being one particularly volatile region.  Luce injects an additional ingredient into the mix with the story of an Eritrean child soldier, adopted by an affluent white American couple and, after several difficult years of counseling, Luce appears to be a model student; loved by his family, friends and teachers alike and about to graduate with high honors.
But just as all seems to be going so well, Harriet, one of Luce's most challenging teachers suspects all is not what it seems after Luce submits a paper to her extolling the virtues of a extremist historical figure and she starts to investigate.  What follows is a tense drama where Harriet, Luce's parents, and everyone who touches his life get dragged into a game of smoke and mirrors, where no character comes out cleanly.  Rights are questioned and boundaries are overstepped in the name of doing the right thing and finding out the constantly elusive truth.

Luce rewards the observant viewer, handing over complicated characters in ambiguous situations with just enough clues to make figuring out what you see versus what you are told a satisfying experience.  No character is good or bad, just the unraveling of a comfortable life and the complicated undercurrents that have been almost hidden.  There was a little bit of clunky dialog every now and again, but a solid start to the festival.  8/10

Fire will Come (ES) (wiki)

Middle-aged loner Amador has just been released from jail, after partially serving sentence for   starting a major fire that nearly burned down a village in the densely forested hills of Galicia.  Quiet to the point of shifty, he ambles his way back along the winding country roads, seemingly trying to start over as if nothing has happened.  Naturally, his slight but weather-hardened mother takes him in without question, and they try, with little initial success, to return to something normal.
He's been away but as you may expect the locals are wary of his presence.  Still aloof and a loner, he slowly tries to make small steps towards re-integration, but as the title suggests, the lack of success leads to frustration and history will surely repeat.

Fire will come works somewhat if you accept it's dreamlike meander through its own runtime; concentrating less on story and more on the beautiful scenes of the remote, high altitude lives where few live and nature still holds most of the cards.  It is almost incidental that Amador is seen with his old dog running or tripping through the undergrowth trying to catch one of his cows.

In the end, the film will ask more questions than it answers; presenting the viewer with essentially the same situation as what happened off-screen but with few clues as to whether he did it this time, or in fact in the first place.  I enjoyed the beauty but would have liked to be less frustrated at the man and the ambiguity at the end; leaving things open to interpretation is good, so long as you have some clues to debate the guilt or otherwise of the protagonists.  In this respect it was trying to do a similar thing to Luce, but didn't succeed as well.  6/10

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (US) (review)

I saw this one only because of the timing, partly because I am not a cool person and didn't revel in the idea of watching cool people for ninety minutes, but also because Jazz isn't my favorite form of music.  However, I have in the past been pleasantly surprised by the documentary format and it's ability to make things interesting, even when I don't find it so.
So things are with Miles Davis, the legendary American jazz and blues musician who, during his fifty or so years of work beginning in the clubs of downtown New York and progressing through the ages touching and sometimes kickstarting the various related styles of funk, drum and bass and others, through a process of rigorous self-analysis and reinvention in response to stimulus, sometimes external and others from his own internal demons, not least the recurring spectre of drugs.

This documentary is a bitter-sweet account of the life of a man who, as with many who have contributed to the artistry of humanity are often self-destructive towards themselves and their relationships with their most loved others.  Miles Davis was never someone who I could appreciate musically in the same way as some of the talking heads who sometimes held him up as a messianic figure (although there were some pleasant pieces within the film I recognised and enjoyed), I could see the impact the man had on the broader history of music and culture thanks to this film. 7.5/10
A Dog Called Money (UK/IR) (review)

In a switcheroo of my expectations compared to the Miles Davis film, I was really looking forward to A Dog Called Money.  It's premise was attractive; Singer-songwriter PJ Harvey, in a quest to come up with unique subject matter for her next album, tours the world looking for the downtrodden; often in middle-eastern countries but also in the more downtrodden states of America.  Along for the ride is photographer Seamus Murphy to chronicle the process.  Then, structurally, the film alternates between clips of them visiting representative people of the area, often in a religious setting, and observing how they cope with their odds, or sometimes joining in with their music, and the resulting jam sessions where lyrically and musically the inspirations are explored and performed as an art installation in a publicly viewable studio.
There is some commendation for what is being done here; it's always a good thing for the plight of others not so well off to be highlighted so people feel compelled to do something about it, or at least banish complacency; maintain an understanding that not all is right in the world and things need to change.  However I felt somewhat underwhelmed by the somewhat mechanical churning of the stages of the film; PJ looks on solemnly at the destitute people, reads a composition of words and feelings, then cut back to the jam session where music of mixed quality is produced.  There wasn't much in the way of variation in this to keep an increasingly tired plant awake as he sat on his comfy cinema sofa and although I'd give the album a go for some of the songs, this wasn't quite the film I was hoping to see. 6/10