EIFF 2009 Day 2

Last night burned a route back to the hotel on my brain - in between snaffling a giant midnight chip butty. Come the morning, I was able to stride confidently towards the centre of town with only brief checking of my little scrap paper map. I had a brief look around the shops to get a feel for the place, taking in the hugely expensive kilts and cheaper, touristy tat.

Unfortunately, the Edinburgh weather had taken a turn for the worse and a thick fog was covering the taller landmarks. After locating the central information booth to see where all the internet cafe's were, there was just time to head through the mizzling rain to the cinema for the first of the day - a short film collection:

UK Shorts 1

- In the middle of the night, a woman driving home loses concentration and runs over a stranger. When the badly injured guy pleads with her not to call an ambulance because of his immigration status, she has little choice but to help him back to his flat, where an unlikely entanglement occurs. It was both depressingly gritty and an acknowledgement of the kindness of strangers that can lead to more when the stakes are raised. 7/10

Monsters and Rabbits - The pecking order of the school playgrounds and classrooms from the point of view of two misfit children; one boy, one girl, who find kinship together - much to the annoyance of their imaginary friends. A magical, rose-tinted link is made for the viewer back to their childhood, and the beauty and humour really come through strong. A joy to see. 8.5/10.

Jade - The realisation by a young teenage girl that she is pregnant complicates an already depressing, claustrophobic life. Her older, dimmer boyfriend just won't stop asking to talk with her, and the cleaning job at the local caravan park reflects her grey and dismal future. However, as the viewer learns more and more about the tangle she has got herself into, it's much worse than it initially seemed. A really bare-boned look into the life of a quiet, scared child trying to deal with the consequences of her actions, and intelligently presented to the viewer with little dialogue. 7.5/10

The Happiness Salesman - A suburban woman lives comfortably with her newborn (and very vocal) child in the house her ex-boyfriend left for her. One day a salesman (played by Christopher Eccleston) comes to the door with a bold claim - he has for sale a DVD with her whole future on it, and as a taster, can choose to peek at any point for free. What comes next I won't spoil, but it's unexpected. A darkly comic tale of how a seed of an idea planted in the mind can affect a persons actions, and will have you thinking about what happens after the credits roll. 7.5/10

Love Hate - The life of a young, well-meaning but quite ineffectual young man is turned on its head, when his repressed hate, spite and rage manifest themselves in the shape of a beautiful but blokeish and foul-mouthed woman, who encourages him to forget the girlfriend who dumped him, insult his friends and generally act like a moody, arsey goth. Initially reluctant, he embraces this other side of himself, but begins to question the choice of both extremes in how to live your life. A second surreal step ends the film on a dark tone, and while funny, its contents left me feeling a little empty afterwards. 7/10

Five Miles Out - Cass has just entered the angsty teen stage, so the preceding years' holiday was a bad time to experience the events portrayed in this short film. During a trip to a seaside caravan park with her friends and their parents, she meets a young boy of the same age, determined to swim through an underground lake in one of the shore caves to the fabled secret area beyond. Sensing the folly of the situation she tries to stop him. A good film about the impact of events on a person's life. 7/10

Black Box Films

West Point and its short film companions was one of the 'Black Box' list of films, a genre best described as 'experimental', often completely abstract and conceptual - though these examples would come at the more narrative-led end of the spectrum. The trick to getting anything out of these sorts of films is less to try and extract a narrative thread and more to look at the pieces of the film in abstract terms, and try to see the messages behind them, sort of like a magic eye painting. In my experience, there are many more misses in this genre than hits, but I wanted to get a broad range of films in. Before the main feature, two shorts were also shown:

Horse Camp - Shot in black and white, the idea of a film set run by immature, lazy, randy and even brawling individuals contrasted with their ability to at least concentrate during the rolling of the camera. Just for surreal good measure, you also have a small oriental guy running around with a gun, presumably to represent the random spanner in the works. Just about watchable. 4.5/10

1,2,3 - 'Any idiot can face a crisis, it is this day-to-day living that wears you out' - Chekhov's quote is the basis for the visual narrative of this film- a newly married couple in a battered old Datsun on top of a hill is left to go feral, in 3 acts. The man tries to shoot the wife, the wife leaves and falls over a few times, the man talks to himself a bit, and then they both return to the car but can't find each other. Is it a metaphor for a doomed relationship, or just abstract rubbish? Probably the second one, but the film was lifted slightly by the serene music and views. 4/10

West Point (France) (review)
The main film was a loosely-bound affair. Slowly but surely a woman's life is revealed. Jeanne and Alexandre are brother and sister. He is a detective and she is a street performer. They rarely manage to talk face to face, but the narrated letters between them discuss the death of their mother, the spate of similar but unresolved killings (all women, all naked, and all slumped over a hay bale in a field), and Jeannes' relationships with a number of other women she meets. Being French, it was all a bit cod-philosophical, with little in the way of character-character verbal interaction, it wallowed along in its own apparent self-importance for what seemed like twice as long as it did. Aside from an obscure Totoro reference, some semi-interesting French-Portugese history, and a certain degree of lady flesh, there was little or nothing to interest me here. 3.5/10

The Maid (Chile) (IMDB)
Catalina Saavedra plays Raquel; an overworked maid. A single woman with no family, she has lived 20 years in the home of a well-financed couple and their numerous children. Given Raquel's advancing years, the number of rooms to clean and the boisterousness of the sprogs - one of which is convinced Raquel hates her - the owners decide that they should double their employment. This acts as the catalyst for Raquel's underlying and unmatured personality, hidden behind a quiet, humble exterior to come forth, as she perceives the stream of new applicants as threats to her security and authority. Prospective maids come and go, the family become less and less tolerant of Raquel's behaviour, (which verges on the juvenile) until she collapses of exhaustion one day and wakes to find another maid - Sonja - has wholly taken over. The premise of the film, and where the audience comfortably thinks it will end up takes them by surprise, and the ending sees a satisfactory conclusion out nicely. A good film about a stunted, seemingly wasted life and how the right person has to fit the right space. 7/10

Seraphine (France/Belgium) (site)
The biography of unlikely painter Seraphine Louis is portrayed beautifully by Yolande Moreau in this sumptuous film. Having spent much of her life as a housemaid in a nuns convent, and later general chorewoman to the townspeople of Senlis, she found escape by painting floral pictures in secret, using scrap wood panels for canvas and paint made from whatever ingredients she could scrape together from around the village, such as blood from the butchers shop, and wax from the church candles. It wasn't until 1912 at the age of 48 that her work was noticed by German art critic and collector Wilhelm Uhde, but before he could properly exhibit her work, World War I began and he had to flee the French town for his life. Seraphine remained in the deserted and bomb-damaged town, scraping a living and continuing to paint by candlelight, always hoping for Wilhelm to return and relying on her strong beliefs of angels guiding her hand to survive. Though a little long, the film is a beautiful appreciation of the work of an oppressed woman of the lower classes, who's talent and inspiration raised her above it all. 7.5/10

Baraboo (USA) (trailer)
Director Mary Sweeney was present for a Q and A at the end of this world premiere screening, along with one of the principal actors, Harry Loeffler-Bell. Sweeney is known for her work alongside David Lynch, but this is her first film as director. It centres on the lives of the residents of the sleepy, isolated American town of Baraboo, and principally around its convenience store and motel owner, Jane and her moody teenage son, Chris (played by Loeffler-Bell) who is becoming increasingly distant, in part because of the return on leave of his friend, serving in the second gulf war. As tensions become strained between mother and son, and increasingly with the small community surrounding them, the arrival of Bernice, an elderly but surefooted woman into the hotel after her house and contents are auctioned off, promises to stir things up further, but in which direction?
Many themes come into focus through the slow, quiet build-up of Baraboo, and anyone expecting to see a Lynch-style edge of seat thriller may go away disappointed. However its slow burn suits the quiet natural existence of the town perfectly; the message of making sure a community works well from within before it can interact cordially with the world outside is not shoved down our throats, and its warm humour and ability to reach a satisfying conclusion makes me recommend it to all but the action-heads. 8/10

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