Leeds Film Festival - Day 2

5 films today. I can't see!

Flower in the Pocket (My) (site)

This Malaysian film was a gentle introduction to my day of films. Two brothers raised in a modest home where the mother is absent and the father finds little time to be with them, fast asleep as they head off to school and at work when they go to bed. Not surprisingly, they are heading off the rails, not doing so well at school and becoming feral petty thieves outside. A good portion of the film is propelled along slowly by typical real-life happenings that the children experience in their bored days, until their less than hygienic habits catch up with them and the younger one comes down with fever. The father, who up until now is in the doldrums with a mysterious symptom of leaking water from his chest, comes to their aid and it is this that shows there is still a family here despite its disjointedness.

Even though there were some nice slice-of-life moments, Flower in the Pocket was a little too flat to really recommend without being in the mood for a slow-burning film that eventually gives off a feel-good vibe. 5.5/10

7 Accidents: Investigating Ordinary Crashes (Fra) (festival description)

A documentary about the after effects of car crashes on both the victims and the perpetrators. Using a philosophical narrative throughout that the French excel at, the film looks into the conditions that cause us to act so differently inside our cars and the false feeling of protection the metal box on wheels gives us. Behavioural psychologists were brought on to explain the release of the primal anger within us all that can be the catalyst for so many accidents and throughout there were interviews with several survivors of crashes, some of which actually see the accident as a new beginning to their lives or an exit route from their old ones that may have previously looked like a dead end. Overall a very well-made piece of film that made me assess my behaviour on the road and recommended. 7/10

Wellness (US) (site)

Wellness is a fictional pyramid scheme based around a 'medical wonderdrug', never fully explained by inept but well-meaning Wellbeing sales rep Thomas Lindsay, the central character in this film that charts the days before his big important seminar where if things go right, he will be able to feed his family on the other side of the country.

Of course, it doesn't. Thomas' horrible boss is a level or two up the pyramid and has him by the balls, pressuring Thomas to push for ever larger and larger cheques out of those gullable enough to buy into the scheme before he can progress from 'level 3' to 'level 4', the Wellness babble-talk used to describe a promotion. Thomas is a kind man with a good heart, but has convinced himself that this is the job that will put food on the table, and continues to ignore the increasingly large warning signs (such as his boss going permanently off-message, and the never-arriving shipment of Wellness drugs to give to those people who have already invested).

The inevitable train wreck that is set up for the end of the film gives perhaps a more positive note than expected. Instead of the seminar going well with Thomas fleecing thousands of dollars out of dozens of punters, he leaves with a single $20 joining fee, given to him in sympathy. He has failed as a Wellness salesman, but because he was unwilling or maybe unable to cross the line and become the monster that his boss did, succeeds in another way by retaining a piece of his humanity. 7/10

Alone in Four Walls (Ger) (Variety review)

This was showing at Cambridge this year but I was unable to see it. Alone in Four Walls is a documentary set in a youth detention centre in Russia. All the children there are vagrents who's crimes range from petty theft to multiple murder, and they are all under 14. One child in particular - Toyla - becomes the focus for the main body of the film, examining his crime (he gruesomely killed someone in a revenge attack along with an older boy and then buried the body), his integration into the centre, and his family background, particularly his widower father. Other people were also interviewed, such as families of other inmates (who often cut off contact completely with their children), and families of the many murder victims, plus some of the ex-inmates who now struggle to make a living outside without committing more crime.

My initial expectations that I would be up in arms about the contents of such an institution in the depths of snow-filled Russia were strangely absent. The place seems to be warm, clean and has all the amenities at hand that would be present in any community; regular hospital checkups, a dentist, school lessons and keep fit, and good food. Many of the inmates actually confess to preferring life inside because of its stablising influence on their lives, which were often much more severe outside.

The initial question on the viewers lips of 'why is such a place allowed to exist' is answered simply; it works - sort of (some children do not wish to leave the safety and stability of the centre for the outside world and over 90% re-offend, often transferring to adult prisons). Instead, the film highlights another question - how come such social problems exist in the local region to lead to such a high rate of juvenile crime and in particular, murder. It was a very good view into the lives of a hidden community of people. 7.5/10

Moscow, Belgium (Blg) (site)

My final film, and my favourite so far. It's a romantic film with a splash of comedy. Matty is a forty-something housewife with three kids going off the rails in their own ways, and a husband who cannot choose between her and his younger mistress. Because she still loves her artist husband to bits, she feels trapped and is in a rut waiting for him to make his damn mind up. Things change when, just as the grey clouds are looming over her the most she backs her car into the side of a truck, Johnnys pride of joy.

A heated argument ensues that requires a bit of policing to get out of, but Johnny, a recovering alcoholic who's wife had also left him for a younger model, becomes captivated with her despite a good decade of life between them, and after a bit of persuading she finally accepts a date. Sniffing a rival, the husband suddenly rekindles interest in the prospect of being a family man instead of going at it as much as his crown jewels will allow, leading to a good wodge of fighting over Mattys' affections.

There wasn't much original about this film, but it did what it set out to do really well. It had a sharp, funny script, and it was a film I was able to become engrossed in quite easily. The hour and a half passed quickly and I would happily go watch it again. 8.5/10

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