Cambridge Film Festival 2009 Day 3

Little White Lies (Germany) (site)

A period drama set in the cold, snow covered 1930's Germany, Little White Lies centres in on a gang of schoolchildren taking lessons by day and exploring abandoned warehouses at night. 13-year old Alexanders' year is split into two groups, the A's and the B's. Though the B group is generally seen as sub-servant to the A's, a peaceful coexistence survives between the two. That is until Grüber - two years older and with a keen eye for exploitation - moves to town and is put with the A's. He quickly makes his mark, making personal gain from the snowballing events in the classroom to further his own ends. Gaining power by skilful manipulation of the truth and rising through the pecking order by spreading lies about the B's and holding to blackmail any A's who oppose his ideas (including Alexander, who unwittingly sets into motion a whole series of opportunities for Grüber to exploit). Soon the balance held in check for generations is upset and friends are set against one another.

In case you haven't guessed, the film is a not very subtle parable warning about how lies and the distortion of truth can lead to very bad situations for all involved. Or more bluntly still, an allegory on how the Nazis rose to power. Grüber is clearly modelled on Hitler, and the A and B groups represent Non-Jewish and Jewish Germans at around that time, respectively. Though this is put forth with quite a heavy hand, the film is still a beautifully shot, 2-tier story of young friendship and love on the boundaries of war, and how the truth can so easily be mislaid. 7.5/10

Best of British Shorts (UK)

Next up was a set of short films from the UK. They all shared a common theme, which was inner-city depression, isolation, and the breakdown of the family unit, under the general heading 'Britain'. Such themes tend to dominate UK based contemporary films rather too much at the moment. Is life here really that universally bad?

Boy - A bold and unsettling film, following the sexual awakening of a man towards a boy who begins to hang around his allotment, and the inner turmoil it generates as he struggles with his own self-loathing. It took me places I really wasn't comfortable seeing, but that is it's strength - these people are human too. 8/10

Hip Hip Hooray - Kacey Ainsworth (Little Mo from Eastenders) pops briefly onto the screen as Pippa, a woman so detached from others that she has to arrange a birthday party using the residents and staff of the nursing home she works at to make up the numbers. With a bigger do apparently planned for when she gets home, will her secret admirer pluck up the courage to gatecrash the proceedings? Sweet but also depressing at the same time. 6.5/10

Quietus - Juliet Stevenson stars as a carer visiting elderly Mrs Rogers and her many cats. Unfortunately, Mrs Rogers has been done over some days earlier and the only witnesses to the crime seem more interested in getting their kitekat. 6/10

GirlLikeMe - Lucy's parents are too locked in their never-ending shouting matches to notice she is falling away. She doesn't want to be a kid any more, and when her text boyfriend wants to meet up, she makes an effort to look like a proper adult. When both parties realise the other was lying about their age, the situation could go several ways. Will Lucy quit or try to make the best of the situation? 6/10

Finding Home - Darren and Tom are both wasters with an estranged and missing mother and a permanently comatose father; they spend their days messing around on their estate, waiting until they get enough money together to go find her. When Tom suddenly comes back with a wad of cash, Darren fears the worst and attempts to sort things out. Much like the two brothers around which this story revolves, it never particularly goes anywhere. 5/10

Washdays - Bed wetting doesn't seem to go away for Kyle, and his mum insists on making him wash his sheets in the hope this will teach his bladder the right time to relax itself. This makes him constantly late for school, and when the teacher asks Kyle for a note explaining things, the potential for his secret to get out leaves him with one choice: bunk off and sort things out for himself. 7.5/10

Tender - Young teen Liam comes into a bit of cash, but on his estate, flashing it around is not a good idea, especially for his single mum and the attentions of her violent boyfriend. So when local skirt and secret object of his affection Alisha realises he has a bit behind him and starts being friendly, perhaps he can use the money to get a little closer, and then maybe escape his depressing situation. 6/10

All Day Breakfast - Daryl is not the brightest spark, and wants to leave sunny Blackpool for all the reasons surly teens want to leave the place they grew up in. Unfortunately he has no competence for looking after himself, and no money to get somewhere new, something his maybe-girlfriend Juliet is used to, after seeing his plans for their big elope fizzle out once again. When Juliet disappears on the day Daryl promised they would finally get away, his only chance of seeing her again is to head for the dizzy heights of Manchester where Juliet wanted to find her calling as a Corrie regular. 6.5/10

Desire (UK) (site)

Bit of a saucy one, this. Ralph, an increasingly agoraphobic writer with creative block hires an au-pair, Néne to work in the family home, much to the frustration of his wife Phoebe, who's first encounter with her is the next morning at breakfast. The idea, Ralph keeps telling himself and
his wife, is that she will be able to ease his mind and allow him to finish the script that will lift them out of the small time and Phoebe out of the small-part soap opera position she has been stuck in for the past few years. He didn't mention his decision to hire Néne was after little more than seeing her picture on the Internet.

Néne is kind and helpful, the kids love her, and despite Phoebe's best efforts, she is won around by Néne's calming presence, until she realises that her, Néne and Ralph are all similar to characters in the script, and Néne seems to be getting pretty close to Ralph between the pages. Néne nevertheless exerts unexpected charm and calming influence on the already strained relationship, and slowly becomes carer, muse, and lover to both of them.

Phoebe still cannot shake her jealousy, and so tries to make things go four ways by inviting Darren, a young bit-part actor in her soap, around for an extended stay to even things up a bit. The already unlikely situation twists and turns as the players work out their parts in both the film and the emerging script that is evolving from the events as they unfold, in fact it is blurring of whether the script dictates the actions or the other way around that provides much of the intrigue of this film. By the end, can this unconventional extended family possibly make things work? I found personally that when the crunch time came near the end of the film, I cared enough about the main parts to wish that they could.

If you can forgive the eccentric outbursts by Ralph as he struggles to maintain power over his family, and Darren's matching chest thrusts, (clearly wanting to stay part of the group to sample Pheobe's ample charms), you'll find a saucy, funny and warm film, where perhaps you might have expected blatant smut and/or eroticism. 8/10

Creation (UK) (site/wiki)

Just about to hit UK cinemas, in timely fashion is the story of part of the life of Charles Darwin. To call it his life story would be unfair since it concentrates mostly on the years leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species, with a few flashbacks to his voyage on the Beagle.

Paul Bettany is the spitting image of Darwin, with his furrowed brow and piercing stare, I doubt they could possibly have managed to find anyone more suitable, and his wife Emma, played by Jennifer Connelly (who is married to Bettany) does a convincing job of playing a faithful wife torn between her marriage to her husband and to her faith.

The film concentrates its attention in the three areas of Darwin's failing health (that was also responsible for the death of his daughter), his time with Anna before she died, and the changing relationship with his wife and the surrounding community as his theories gathered notoriety. It is surprising that the film does not extend to the many debating matches that occurred after the book was released, but it is clear that the existing content was more than enough to fill up the film. A cynical man may suggest that they left room for a sequel to cover that part of the story. I sincerely hope they do not.

Creation felt 'authentic', although as the director said in the extensive Q+A at the end, they took some small liberties with the literal truths about Darwin's life, preferring instead to maintain a flowing narrative and concentrate on bringing forward the essence of the man. On hearing this when director Jon Amiel took the mic for a preamble at the start, I had horrible visions of Darwin dressed as Arnie in the Terminator films, swinging through the plate glass windows of Down House and gunning down everyone in his way. Fortunately, though a historian would be able to pick small holes in the facts as presented on the screen, there was nothing that seems out of place that I could see. Darwin is portrayed as a passionate and flawed but loving family man whose stubbornness is his own worst enemy, fighting with his conscience about his lost daughter and the prospect of losing his wife from his side in the name of the work he was carrying out.

Several locations around Darwin's home in Kent were used, including Down House and the surrounding grounds, and the local churches and other buildings of prominence, and the whole thing feels like it has been painstakingly put together to ensure a convincing recreation of the life of this important man. It was more of an autobiography than a straight account of his 20 or so years of work on his most famous theories, but this worked in the favour of the film, which is better and leaner for it. 8/10

Hierro (Spain) (Interview/wiki)

A late-night thriller to keep us going to the end of this mini film marathon, and Hierro comes with the distinction of having Guillermo del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth) as one of its contributors. Maria and her young son Diego head aboard the ferry to the island of El Hierro for a well-earned break from her job as a marine biologist. Waking from exhausted slumber, she finds that Diego has disappeared from her side, and after a fruitless exhaustive search, no trace is found on the boat.

Sometime later, Maria is called back to the island to identify a body of a boy taken from the sea, but after giving a negative ID, she finds herself stuck on the island whilst the paperwork is sorted out, which has to be done before she can go back home. Naturally, she takes the opportunity to do some detective work of her own, spurred on after hearing of an abduction of a child on the island at around the same time.

Hierro is a brooding, creepy and claustrophobic thriller, and one with a twist at the end strong enough to turn everything on its head, which was met with both surprise and satisfaction. A clever, raw and chilling film that sparks conversation well after the credits. 8/10

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