Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 18

Leeds Abbey Dash

Before the first and only film today, I had to do the abbey dash. It became part of my challenge when the LIFF foolishly decided to coincide their last day with the dash. It's fair to say, I was knackered by the end (because my training schedule went out the window these past few weeks) and I came a long way back from my best time. (In fact I don't know what my time was because I forgot to stick my watch on, so I'll have to wait for the chip time. However, it was a great, positive atmosphere of 8000 people all doing their bit for charity. The weather kept mostly well-behaved, and I was glad I took part.

Ponyo (Jpn) (site/wiki)

My final film was one of the most anticipated. Ponyo is a little goldfish-type creature who one day becomes stuck on a dredged-up jam jar. Washed ashore, and nearly dead, she is found and rescued by 5-year old Sōsuke. Naturally, Ponyo becomes smitten and falls in love, but before she can tell him, is dragged back to the seas by her protective father, previously human but now living at the bottom of the sea tirelessly trying to protect it from the thoughtless humans above.

A lot of things happen in Ponyo that do not, and are not meant to, make sense to an adult. For instance Ponyo in a desire to be human grows herself some arms and legs just by concentrating really hard (and using a little magic). Comparable with his other children's fable, My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo is all about telling a magical story from the viewpoint of a child, something that Miyazaki, now fast approaching 70, still seems to pull off with ease.

I spent all of Ponyo with a stupid big grin on my face. It was lovely. Miyazaki's films often manage to take an old fart like myself and just for a short time, turn them back into children, and Ponyo is yet another example of this. This was the subtitled version, but I hear the dub is of very good quality, and UK cinemas will have a limited release of the film in February. If you have small children, or fancy returning to your childhood self just for a short time, then go see it. 8.5/10

Film Count: 154/150

And that's it. I managed my target with a few films to spare. I think next year, I'll put a cap on the film count of 100 films max, because that level of films is too much to enjoy completely. However, I've really enjoyed this years' films, they were certainly of a higher standard than last year. Keep your eye out for the Golden Plantpots in a short while.

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 17

My final 3 films are all anime.

Angels Egg
(Jpn) (wiki)

This early film by Mamoru Oshii, writer of Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell, is almost unheard of outside Japan, and having the chance to see it is a rarity. Made with the artistic modelling of Final Fantasy's Yoshitaka Amano, it is an experimental, almost surreal piece about a young girl, clad in rags but face and hair powder white, who leaves her refuge every day to walk through the decayed, dead city nearby. She scavenges for food and bottles in the abandoned houses, and carries with her a large and mysterious egg. One day, she meets a man, seemingly arrived as part of a passing military unit. He has a strange cross-shaped weapon over his shoulder and bandages on his hands. After gaining the girls' trust, they move together through the cold and empty streets, and return to her sanctuary.

Angel's Egg is one of those films where you shouldn't so much attempt to extract a story, more interpret your own from the symbolism on display and your own life experience. As Oshii stated, even he doesn't know what it's about. The film has deliberately sparse dialogue, relying instead on small movements and actions to convey what the characters are thinking. It has moments of beauty and heartbreak, but always remains a mystery. 7/10

Summer Wars (Jpn) (wiki)

In a possible depiction of what life will be like a decade or so from now, Summer Wars imagines a logical extension of the online communities we have today. Beginning with simple bulletin boards and chat rooms, these have become increasingly graphical as the technology becomes able to keep up, to the current cutting-edge social networking of Second Life. In the world of Summer Wars, this has progressed to the point where a single, giant on-line community called Oz has billions of users. Presented as a perfect utopia, people can chat, date, buy things, advertise their wares, and just about everything else. It becomes so popular that companies rent land space on it; governments set up virtual headquarters on it. Being worldwide, automatic translations allow everyone to communicate seamlessly. It can be accessed on your phone, computer or games console. In short, Oz becomes an extension of the lives of just about everyone on the planet.

Rather than depicting the world as a disconnected place full of fat, spotty drones attached to their computers all day, Summer Wars presents it in a much more positive way, Oz being a natural extension of the Internet to allow everyone to come together and all things be equal. Outside the game, they get on pretty much as normal. This in itself is a refreshing change to the usual portrayal of technology's impact on society.

Into this story comes mathematical genius Kenji, a young man on the crest of his hormonal wave who ropes himself into the job of pretending to be the boyfriend of the class beauty Natsuki, while he escorts her to her extended family's birthday celebrations for her 90 year old grandmother. Natsuki's family is a proud one and she wants to ensure that granny sees her happy with a boyfriend before she kicks the bucket. While there however, Kenji is duped into solving a maths puzzle sent to him anonymously by phone, and the next day, all hell has broke loose in Oz - turns out, he just cracked the password to the admin account for someone.

It takes little imagination to guess that Kenji and Natsuke end up together by the end, but the journey there is what counts. It's inventive story moves quickly when required but doesn't rush through the times when a more delicate moment comes along. What you get is a fresh blast of beautiful artwork, high-quality animation and an entertaining storyline about family, relationships and legacy wrapped in a semi-science-fiction glove, and I really enjoyed it. 8/10

No films tomorrow. There is only a re-screening of Departures (a very good film, I heartily recommend it if you can catch it anywhere) so I am taking a well-earned break. Then, it's my 10k Leeds Abbey Dash (I'm running for Help The Aged again) and finally, the Japanese sub of Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo.

Film Count: 153/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 16

Can Go Through Skin (Ned) (review/trailer)

I missed this at both Edinburgh and Cambridge, so it wasn't getting missed again. It tells the story of Marieke who, after being attacked viciously by a pizza delivery guy in her own house shortly after a painful breakup with her ex, immediately withdraws from the world. Moving into a remote, run-down house she begins to make it habitable once more, and even though it needs a lot of work and lacks the most basic of facilities she stays there, little more than a squatter.

Within this isolated cocoon, she is able to feel a degree of safety and control over her environment, and the process of healing her mental scars begins. However, for every home improvement, every venture beyond the walls, and every tiny increase in confidence, she seems to be battered back down almost to square one, particularly at the outcome of the trial, where the attacker smiles wickedly as her case is thrown out. Dark thoughts of revenge begin to manifest, spurred on by her online friend in a 'survivors of rape' bulletin board who encourages Marieke to feed the hatred. This is most powerfully depicted in the scenes where Marieke talks to her hallucination of the attacker, that she imagines is kept as a hostage in the attic. Only due to the patience of nearby kind and lonely soul John who bares the brunt of her anger when he tries to help, does she slowly begin to patch the scars for good.

As a realistic portrayal of the breaking and healing of a damaged mind, Can Go Through Skin works really well. The real and imagined are mixed up and played against a grating, unsettling soundtrack that reflects the confusion, anger, hatred and fear constantly spinning around the mind of someone who has had their life taken away, seemingly for kicks. 7.5/10

Small Crime (Ger/Cyp/Gre) (review)

On the quiet Greek island of Therasia, there is often little to do, but for the largely ineffectual policeman Leonidas, things are about to get a little more interesting. At the bottom of the cliffs lies a body of Zaharias, an old man with a reputation for drunken late-night walks. His body is bruised and cut by the fall, but the expression on his face is pure happiness. Oddly, his shoes are missing and turn up neatly placed at the top of the cliff. How did he end up falling off the cliff, and was it suicide?

Small Crime's backbone is all about this mystery, with a little comedy and romance thrown in. Shortly afterwards, daytime TV goddess and local girl Angeliki arrives back to much celebration, but something about the behaviour of her mother sets Leonidas onto a trail of clues that might lead to cracking the case, even though Angeliki seems to have an eye for him. Along the way, several theories of how Zaharias copped it are played out in flashback, leading to the poor man dying in several ignoble ways, until the truth is finally uncovered.

Small Crime plays games with the viewer, using the various signposts present in many whodunnit mysteries to send you down the wrong path of assumption, which depending on your mood, might entertain or annoy. Effectively, this is a lighthearted film version of Columbo. Make of that what you will. 7/10

If You Are the One (Chi) (wiki)

My 150th film is a romantic comedy from China. Qin Fen is a deadpan cynical fortysomething guy who has just come into some pretty big money, but he isn't banding it about. He is on the online dating circuit, and is an old hand at it by now. On the occasions he doesn't put them off outright with his 'old before his time' looks, he tends to be the one doing the rejections, when after a little digging (using his one major selling point, a sense of humour) he usually finds some oddity or other in his prospective mate. One woman has a side job selling graves and uses his guilt over his cremated father to have him buy one on the date. Another expects him to pack his bags there and then and live with her in a remote village that is 'an hour by ox-cart' from the nearest road. Another has an aunt who cannot remember what happened the previous day, and so would need constant re-teaching of everything. Yet another prays on old and sick men so she can play nurse to them and keep them like a pet.

Only the beautiful Smiley, a headstrong air stewardess having an affair with a married man seems to attract him at all, and he immediately discounts her because of her perfection; she could aim so much higher than him. However, their blind date runs its course and they part company on friendly terms, each not expecting to see the other again.

Naturally they do, and as things progress, the sparring between the two leads moves from China to Hokkaido in Japan, where they tussle and work out their feelings for each other, in the midst of Smileys assertion that there will always be a place in her heart for someone else.

This film is a surprisingly touching bitter-sweet comedy with two likeable leads and a storyline that survives the trip halfway around the world very well (even if the quality of the print didn't - the sound was appalling and the video was grainy and darkened as if they had done an old-fashioned VHS tape-to-tape copy, twice). It was consistently funny, it's pace was kept relatively bouncy (for this sort of film) all the way to the end, and I didn't look at my watch once. 7.5/10

The King of Escape (Fra) (trailer)

Those crazy French. Those crazy, crazy, crazy-assed French. The King of Escape is Armand, supposedly, although he's not very good at it. A rather chubby gay man in his forties, he sells tractors by day and has intimate liasons with whoever will have him in the local lay-by in the evenings. Days go by without much else happening, until he confronts a gang of youths trying to assault a teenage girl. Once dispatched (less heroically than he would prefer), Curly falls in love with him. Although she is barely of age, and the wrong sex, Armand becomes infatuated himself. After a great deal of confusion as to who did what, Armand and Curly go on the run, helped along by his discovery of the local village secret: the roots of some woodland plant giving a natural Viagra-like effect, something the village inspector is investigating, along with Armand's under-age frolics.

The rest of the film is one big chase, with various strange and plot-confusing things happening, mostly involving either gay or straight sex, and the straightening out of Armand's confusion, complicated still further by his competing fascination with a 70-something old man with an enormous willy. If Bruno put you off because of its many man-flesh scenes, then you definitely don't want to see this. There were a few funny moments, and a couple of others where I had a glimmer of empathy for the couple as they attempted to evade the law and the pitchfork wielding villagers, but for the most part, it was a let-down due to it's inconsistent narrative, its tendency to go off in a direction and then leave it hanging, and its lack of a satisfying conclusion. 5/10

Film Count: 151/150 - Get In!

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 15

199 Tips to be Happy (Chi/Spa) (trailer)

In the heat of a Spanish summer, Tomas tries to look for alternative employment while at the same time, fulfil the obligations of his current job by marketing a self-help book written by his friend, Jordi. Titled (eventually) '199 Tips to be Happy', its sales are unexpectedly poor, and so under pressure from his boss he comes up with the idea of putting some of the little zen-style tips onto posters, to show around town, in newspapers, etc. They become a central theme running through the film, reflecting the situation of Tomas and his wife Helena.

The couple are invaded (there is no better word for it) by free-spirited tease Sandra - the living embodiment of the self help book - who after her boyfriend Milo (Helena's brother) disappeared when he dived into a lake and never resurfaced. Both Helena and Tomas' behaviours are immediately altered by their new lodger; Helena cuts her hair short and looks for a different job, Tomas begins to secretly skip work and becomes obsessed with where Sandra disappears off to, putting his current job in jeopardy and skipping preparations for new ones.

The film plays out a little bit like Desire, with both Tomas and Helena having a ménage a trois with Sandra (including some sexytime), only with less cohesion between the characters, and a less accomplished outcome. There are moments of beauty, such as the scenes where the apparition of Milo appears seamlessly as Sandras' memories of the good times she shared with him are brought to the fore. However, where Desire managed to generate genuine empathy for the characters and a want for their situation to persist and it all be alright, this film falters a little and the end comes unexpectedly. 5.5/10

Crush and Blush (Kor) (wiki)

For a film from the same guy who gave us the dental-tastic Oldboy, you would expect a bit of squirm-in-your-seat torturous face mangling action, but none exists here. Instead, we concentrate on the relatively sedate life of Yang Mi-Sook, a plain-looking and unpopular teacher at a school. When she studied there as a student, she fell in love with Mr. Suh, one of the other teachers. Now a teacher herself she works alongside him, still smitten.

One day she discovers that Mr Suh is cheating on his wife, with the beautiful Ms Lee, another of the teachers. Spying a confidante with Suh's equally bullied and put-upon daughter, Jong-Kee who also wants Lee out of the way, they team up together against both the parents and the ungrateful students who constantly belittle them to sort the situation out, somehow entering themselves into the school talent contest in the process.

I won't pretend that I understood what was happening some of the time during Crush and Blush. Among the periods of fast-track talking I lost touch with who was who and how they related, and this was only clarified later on as each of the characters are caught out and sat in class like naughty students as the bewildered wife tries to extract who did what to who. In these moments of lucidity, Crush and Blush became very entertaining and funny, and my feelings towards it were improved after a shaky start. If I had chance, I would probably watch this film a second time and I feel that this would give me a much clearer grasp of the film's earlier stages. The fact that I would like to do that rather than just give this 146th film up and move onto the next one should tell you a little about what I thought of it's potential second time around. 6/10 (based on first viewing, would probably increase if I saw it again)

Cracks (UK/Irl) (wiki/site)

Every now and again in my schedule, I include a film that I didn't think would be much good, and it was just stuck there because it filled a gap. Some of these films have turned out to be absolute crackers (Ander, Departures, Disco and Atomic War, and Heimat all qualify) and Cracks is another to add to the list.

Set on the fictional Stanningley Island in the UK during the mid-thirties, it shows the lives of a half dozen girls at a boarding school, and their favourite teacher, Miss 'G' a charismatic and liberal woman who regales the group with stories of her adventures abroad, and encourages them to gain confidence by taking them diving into the nearby lake. Of the six, headstrong Di is assigned captaincy and keeps a tight ship, until Fiamma, daughter of a wealthy Spanish aristocrat is assigned to their group. As you would expect, Di feels intimidated by this new threat to her leadership, especially when she shows herself to be better off a diving board than all of them. It is Miss G who is the most changed by this new addition, and her arrival becomes a catalyst not only for a power shift in the group, but also the beginnings of an unravelling of the reputation the mysterious Miss G has built up for herself.

Cracks is not easy to watch in places, it has the ability to quietly shock the sell-out audience, our mouths collectively agape at some of the scenes, while others charm us with their artful yet realistic depictions of life for these abandoned children. On more than one occasion, I was surprised to be reminded of Haibane-Renmei which explores some similar emotional areas, the role of Reki being taken by Miss G, whose covered past and devotion to her family unit run parallel to similar themes there.

The film begins relatively subdued, and the look of the piece fools you into thinking that it will be your standard period drama, but there is much more here than that. It is a very impressive first film from Jordan Scott (daughter of Ridley Scott) with one of the most powerful endings I've seen in a long time. Really recommended. 8.5/10

Film Count: 147/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 14

White Night Wedding (Iceland) (wiki/trailer)

Jon and Thora are going through their wedding rehearsal, but something is wrong. The spaced-out look in Jon's eyes are giving Thora and the vicar cause for concern. They are on the beautiful island of Flatey, in the north of Iceland. Up there, the summer days never end, and the 'white night' at the summer's peak where the sun doesn't go down at all, has been chosen as the big day. Jon is preoccupied by the memories of his first wife, Anna, who died the previous year.

Told in a non-linear style by flashing back and forth between the big day and the events of a year or so before, it tells of Anna's last days, and Jon's flirtations with Thora, a young student of his philosophy classes at the local university, some 18 years his junior. Back then the people of the village were respectful and friendly, but in the present day, they are guarded in their dealings with him, particularly Thora's mother, who distrusts Jon after she and her husband lent him money for a ludicrous golf course project, which he hasn't paid back yet. Only his closest friends, Borkur, the entrepreneur behind the golf idea and local tourist guide, and Sjonni, Jon's old friend from the south with an impressive foot size and belly to match, over to ensure he has a good stag night and play the organ on the big day.

Using great camerawork in the gorgeous Icelandic countryside, White Night plays as a gently humorous but at the same time emotional study of a man filled with self-loathing at the actions he seems unable to stop doing to the people around him. Though at the start he just appears nervy of the impending day, it becomes clear that it is not as clear-cut as that and his problems run far deeper. 8/10

West of Pluto (Can) (site)

This French-Canadian film is split down the middle, playing first in a semi-documentary format showing us the interests, insecurities and passions of a dozen or so teenagers. During a 'show and tell', they tell us about what grabs their interest. Hollywood actors, fishing, peanut butter and others are subjects covered in their presentation, and one boy professes a passion for the universe, and particularly the 2006 decision to remove Pluto's status as a planet of our solar system. We see them finding themselves in various ways, playing in a band, skateboarding, plucking up the courage to ask a girl out, and debating and philosophising (in the way the French seem to always do) about their assorted un-matured ideals.

The second half switches form, to where the characters seem to shed their 'real person' image and become actors in a film. Most of the teens end up at a party hosted by a young girl out of her depth with the situation. More and more people arrive, who she doesn't know, and things start getting broken or stolen. The gang eventually leave with the family photo of the girl's deceased parents. When the older brother returns, he heads out in pursuit, filled with rage.

This film led me through quite a few emotions. Several scenes will affect different people in different ways, evoking childhood memories that are either good or bad, and at several points during the film, my feelings towards the group swayed between understanding and empathy, and bitterness and pity. I confess, I enjoyed the experience much more than I thought I would, and the progression of the main characters by the end felt right and satisfying. 7.5/10

Love and Rage
(Den) (trailer)

Daniel's piano skills have earned him a reputation. After passing an exam despite fluffing one or two of the notes, we learn immediately that he has a problem with his nerves. His hands constantly sweat and he is shaking, but one of the examiners, Pierre, believes in him enough to accept Daniel's request to be his tutor.

Things begin to look up; his practice and tutorage help him improve, and he is called in to replace another student at a major concert, where a representative from prestigious Juilliard school in New York will be watching with interest. On top of that, he catches the eye of Sofie, a Cello player at the same school who sees his passion and skill at the piano and falls in love.

Daniel's passion, concentration and skill have a downside. He has inherited those traits from his father, who was also known for his anger. He committed suicide some time ago, and his mother doesn't want to talk about it. When Daniel goes mental after a coming together at the cinema and is thrown into the cells, everything he has worked for begins to fall apart, and will destroy him unless he learns to control it.

When watching this film, I really felt that I was in the mind of a person whose mental state was deteriorating. Rage, jealousy, hallucinations; it was unclear at some points whether what you were seeing was 'real', and I think that was deliberate. It was also quite Freudian in places, with the characters of Sofie and Daniels mother Birgitte, having closely linked character development. It is a well acted, tight and fascinating psychological study, overlaid with some beautiful classical scores. 8/10
Film Count: 144/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 13

2 films is enough for today :)

(S Kor) (this trailer makes it look like a serious film, but it isn't)

The quiet countryside of San-mae is known as 'a crimeless village'. This is good, since the trio of policemen in charge of it, (headed by clumsy, greedy idiot Captain Yoo) are next to useless. However, it's neighbouring fields become home to a beast with a taste for human flesh. At about the same time as the first disappearances are being noticed, Kim, an ex-officer in Seoul gets re-posted with his pregnant wife and insane mother to the village. There, he meets with a mad woman who latches onto any stray child and insists that she is their mother, and you don't want to disagree either. There is also a pair of curious backpackers, a couple of scientists on the lookout for this strange beast in case it's a new species, Mr. Chun, an elderly game hunter, recently met back up with the famous TV hunting celebrity Baek, who for good measure has brought along a couple of beefcake 'Finnish' men (even though they sound like Americans).

A fair old cast, some of whom are picked off by the beast and some make it to the ending. It's thus a typical Predator-style movie, but with an eastern twist, which in this case is a bit of slapstick overacting and a couple of comic situations that were genuinely funny. It did manage to hold my attention all the way through, and as well as the laughs, there were some genuinely heart-racing moments, particularly with the final hunt through an abandoned factory. You could do worse. 7/10

(Nor) (trailer)

High up in a Finnish ski resort, ex-skier Jomar sits in his cabin watching TV, only getting out of bed when he must to buy more alcohol and antidepressants, sort out the ski lifts, or help people with equipment and passes. After a nervous breakdown, his wife Linnea left him and moved to another town with Lasse, his one-time best friend. When Lasse returns one day out of the blue and tells him he has a 4-year old son, a desire burns within to travel north to see him, but fighting with his agoraphobia, he does nothing. Unfortunately, he burns the house down and with only a handful of tablets and booze, he decides to set off north on his snowmobile, not really knowing whether he will make it, where he is going, or whether he wants to get there anyway.

On the way, Jomar meets with a few isolated inhabitants of the harsh wilderness, where blizzards sting the face and snowblindness is easy to catch. He spends a night in the cupboard of a young girl, another one with a deeply suspicious guy who has the secret to getting wasted on only a drop or two of alcohol, and a lonely man in a wigwam chained to a skidoo. Each encounter boots him a little further across the countryside, sometimes because of a shared, positive experience with the people he meets, or more often because things go horribly wrong and he has to leave quickly.

North is a very simple film, it's very funny in places, quiet and relaxing in others, although the ending may feel a little flat to some, it was still a good experience. 7.5/10

Film Count: 141/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 12

I hadn't realised, but the Return of the Dead screenings echoed the film list of the Night of the Dead screening a couple days before (except in reverse order) and that also included some extra short films.

The Horribly Slow Murder with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon (US) - An ordinary joe is attacked constantly by a hooded figure, with a teaspoon in a hilarious trailer for a nonexistant 9-hour movie. 8/10

Welgunzer (US) - When Donald invents a time machine to sort out his past, he encounters a pair of his temporal dopplegangers who have different ideas of how he should go about things, leading to arguments, complex time paradoxes, and at least one body. 7/10

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (Jpn) (trailer)

A whole 100 minutes of pure WTF. Really it was. Only the Japanese can mix high-school angsty romance, conformity and individuality, sexy, deadly schoolgirls and a swimming pool's worth of blood used liberally by mad scientists, zombies and vampires, and get something that you cannot help but laugh at, even in the bits that are hugely poor taste. On valentines day, cute and quiet schoolgirl Monami is the only one to smuggle through a choccy present for her crush, the school heart-throb Jyugon. Turns out, she is a vampire and likes the thought of eternity shared with him, so the choc is laced with her vampire blood to turn him. When Keiko, spoilt rich girl sees that her choice of boyfriend is being led off, she gets some background information and is intrigued with what she sees. So too are the furtive-looking science teachers who do strange experiments in their basement.

It all culminates, via a bit of Frankenstein-style body stitching into the titular battle halfway up the Tokyo Tower, but not before an awful lot of blood has been sent gushing improbably from many severed limbs, and some hilariously ridiculous stunts and body modifications have been attempted first. As one example among many, one girl chops off her arm and screws it into her head, to provide a rudimentary helicopter blade so she can chase after the heroine. It's that sort of mental.

Aside from a couple of aspects of the story which were pretty hard to find funny (the members of the 'Gonguro club' - Japanese girls who have put on make-up and false lips to look like various African races, and the Wrist Cut Rally where suicidal [or attention-seeking] teens get to practice 'safe' wrist slicing), it was non-stop too-stupid-to-be-scared-of horror comedy that has to be seen to get any idea of what it's about. 7.5/10

Wolfy (Rus) (synopsis)

A very brutal film, without a single drop of blood spilled. Wolfy is the name of the only toy that an unnamed child has been given by her mother, and she values it accordingly. Born and then abandoned to her grandmother, her mother remained absent until she was seven. When she did begin to visit, there was no love returned for the affection the girl attempted to give, and the mother treated her as nothing more than a reminder of a mistake, and a tether to the ground when she wishes to remain 'young' and without responsibility. With decreasing regularity she visits before having the girl forced upon her by the grandmother, sick of her irresponsibility.

Wolfy is told in a deliberately impersonal manner so to heighten the sense of alienation and extreme loneliness of the little girl, who innocently fell in love with her mother as soon as she saw her for the first time, but the natural bond that she feels is missing and replaced by selfish greed. It gave me a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach to see the abuse being meted out, but it is a very well scripted and acted film, and very affecting. 7.5/10

The Nail (Iceland) - Robert, a high-ranking official, fancies a bit of a go with the simple art of painting his window frames when the workers take a break. Unfortunately, he falls and ends up with a six inch nail in his forehead. Gradually, his behaviour changes, right as he is about to have an important business meeting. 7.5/10

The Revenant (US) (site)

Bart was a young soldier serving with distinction in Iraq in the US army, when he was killed and brought back to his home town for burial. Girlfriend Janet is distraught and prays by his side, leaning on their close friends at the lowering of the coffin. Fortunately later that night before the earth is put on top, he re-animates and breaks out of his coffin, his zombie-like mumblings coming from his sewn-together mouth.

Instead of terrorising the neighbourhood, Bart just wants to know what has happened. He is a Revenant, a hybrid undead that still has his brains and morals plugged in, and for the most part is still human, except he now has scary eyes, and bits of him are decaying. He also finds that come sunrise, he drops down dead again, only to come alive the following night. Fortunately, he made it to his best friend Joey's house on time, and after a bit of screaming and swinging with a baseball bat, he has calmed down enough to listen to Bart's situation.

There is relatively little gore in The Revenant, in favour of a tale of friendship and love between friends beneath a large slab of sometimes quite intelligent humour. I would recommend this film even to those who aren't keen on horror films, because it did well to bridge the gap and bring a new perspective to the usual zombie gore. 8/10

Slovenian Girl (Slo) (site/wiki)

While taking English classes to improve her job prospects in the future, Alexandra sells her body in the small ads, under the trading name 'Slovenian Girl' in the city of Ljubjana. The trade pays well, allowing her to not only pay for tuition and expenses, but get a mortgage secured on a fancy apartment as well. Naturally, she keeps this other part of her life completely secret from her friend Vesna, her re-married ex Greg, and her father Edo, currently trying to bring back his small-time band of fiftysomethings, 'Electroshock'.

The death of an important dignitary from viagra overdose while Alexandra is entertaining him is the first of a handful of events that throw this situation off course. Once the mysterious 'Slovenian Girl' is mentioned in the papers, people try to trace her, including a shady pair of pimps who pose as punters, forcing her in a tense, uncomfortable scene to give over her entire life to their 'company' with quiet, but forceful tone that is truly chilling.

Much more happens besides; a sometimes uncomfortable, often empathic film about a person forced to split herself in two and keep isolated as much as possible from those she loves, and then trying to heal those wounds when things begin to go wrong. 8/10

Puccini and the Girl (Ita) (a more lucid synopsis)

Giacomo Puccini is a much loved opera composer, especially in his native Italy. The film apparently had to go through many hoops in order to be made, since the government were keen not to have his name dragged through the mud. With a film describing Puccini's relationship with a young housemaid Doria Manfredi who later went on to commit suicide, this obviously required a delicate hand.

The main selling points of this film are the beautiful locations and the use of nearly zero dialogue to tell the story through actions and expressions. Most of what is said, is in the form of letters between Puccini and Elvira, his wife, detailing the events of the time. This lends a more authentic feel to the film, but unfortunately also makes it a little harder to follow. I liked the film, but too few obvious signposts as to what was going on hurt it (and admittedly my wavering concentration) a bit, although I might have come out with a better opinion had my mind been more alert and receptive, which by day 12, it isn't. However, even then, I wouldn't really consider the subject matter to be of interest to a general audience. 6/10

Film Count: 139/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 11

The last of the short film segments - Hurrah!

I say this not because I don't like them (because there are some great ones this year), but because the last 4 days has seen about 100 films added to the list and my mind is a confused mess of tiny stories mingled with a few dozen big stories. I couldn't make the target without them.

Romanian Retrospective: Enfants Terribles 1

The Exam - An immature student goes to his girlfriend's flat to help him with an essay. (read: find something off the internet and print it out with his name on it) However, he notices the toilet seat is already up when he goes for a pee, leading to a lot of suspicious thoughts. 7/10

Before and After 22/12/1989 - The Romanian Revolution that had overthrown the Ceauşescu regime on that day splits this film in half. Regie and Imagine hear a knock on the door and fear the worst in the before half, and worry about more mundane goings on after. Part 1 is well done and chilling, but part 2 is too laid back for its own good. 7/10

The Tube with a Hat - Marian is a small boy who loves the family telly, which is old, battered, and has been to the repair shop many times. On the day of a Bruce Lee film being shown, it conks again, and so father and son make the trek by foot and whatever lifts they can cadge on the way to get it fixed, by a man who knows the set like an old friend. A charming note on how important small things are in life. 7.5/10

Interior - Tudor and Ana, a young couple put their little argument aside when they find a dead body in the stairwell of their dark and isolated block of flats, where no-one speaks to each other. It has an unexpectedly positive effect. 7/10

Waves - A day at the beach for several families takes an unexpected turn when a beautiful woman takes up a married man's offer to teach her how to float on the waves. 7/10

Romanian Retrospective: Enfants Terribles 2

I got a bit cheeky here. I had a ticket for both this and the British Shorts 1, and I knew through a bit of chatting to the staff that Curtains, the film screened before the Boosh film on Day 5 was being shown first. I used this free slot to see the first of the Romanian films, then sneaked into the British one to get an extra film ticked off.

Home - A Romanian working abroad gets into a taxi on return to his home town in Bucharest for Christmas. Turns out, taxi drivers with similar qualifications also exist, and a debate on the merits of EU membership, working abroad, long hours, and the absence of jobs fills the cab on the way home. The welcome by his family forces the driver to re-evaluate his desires to find work abroad. 6.5/10

British Short Film Competition 1

The kind people at the LIFF had made up a DVD specially for this short film segment, and I made sure I got hold of one while I could. 14 short films from UK filmmakers! Sweet.

Photograph of Jesus - A very funny film that should have been longer, about the unusual and impractical requests received for photographs stored in the Getty Images' Hulton Archive, animated using a mixture of pictures of the archive warehouse, choc-full of indexed files and folders of millions of stock pictures, mixed with some of those pictures brought to life. Pictures of Jesus, the Dodo, and a load of other daft requests are met with patient replies, but you never know, they may exist in their huge and expanding un-indexed section... 8/10

Edward's Turmoil - Poor Edward. One uttered swear word is enough to make him have a painful fit. Not a good idea to go for a walk with his potty-mouthed granddad then - or is it? 7/10

Echoes - On the journey from Lithuania to London with one of her latest girls, sex-trafficker Anya considers the choices she made and the morals she lost when she chose to take part in the herding process, and when Ilana takes off, she has to do battle with her conscience about what to do. 7.5/10

Surviving History - Lithuania was host to many thousands of murdered Jews during the holocaust, and some of the few remaining survivors give their own stories, and their feelings for the future, not least the rise of Neo-Nazism. A sobering film that suggests the wheel is about to come full circle once more and many more lives will be lost, given greater depth by the quiet, unemotional tone of its narrator and interviewer, Shivaun Woolfson.

The Stars Don't Twinkle in Outer Space - A seemingly undemanding film about the imagination of a young brother and sister as they play at space heroes is given a much deeper meaning as their imagination sets them free from the troubles in the real world. 8.5/10

The Trolley Man - A gently knowing look at the life of Ernest Smith (retired) who has made a name for himself in Enfield as the man who badgers the local council with information about the make, model and location of thousands of discarded shopping trolleys over the years. He treats them much as a trainspotter treats his trains, except he also returns them to their owners if they aren't too far away. A tribute to an eccentric man who refuses to sit down and do nothing in his retirement years. 7/10

British Short Film Competition 2

GirlLikeMe - Lucy's parents are too busy shouting at each other day and night to notice what she is up to. Wearing revealing clothing and putting on makeup to appear older, she meets with an older man under the impression that it will get her where she needs to go in life. As the man wrestles with his feelings, she looks at the situation in terms of what she can get out of it. 7/10

Believe - What happens when an unwavering devotion to faith mixes with the sudden and traumatic death of Lewis' loving wife. As he descends further into madness and angered grief, it becomes the role of his friends to get him through. 7/10

No Way Through - When a woman is knocked down, the driver phones for an ambulance, which is not available. When he reaches the hospital things get even more intimidating, in this strangely different version of Britain, where elements from far away have been transposed. A sobering film. 7.5/10

Jade - A young woman's life is turned upside down when she realises she is pregnant. The nice but dim boyfriend (who has a face that looks like it was designed by Jim Henson's workshop) tries endlessly to have a talk, but Jade isn't having any of it yet. However, not everything is as clear cut as that. 7.5/10

Kids Might Fly - The lives, loves and opinions of several teens around London are brought to the screen. Its themes were hidden a little too well under scenes of general teen exhibitionism and thrill, but were recognisably positive and universal. 5/10

Lamb - Johnny is getting in the way of his roommate James, who is after a bit of friction action with his girlfriend in peace. However, the older woman who owns the farm they work on seems a bit open minded, and might give him the attention he is being denied. 6/10

Ma Bar - Bench Pressing involves the lifting of heavy weights and keeping them there for a set time. Septuagenarians typically do not figure in such circles, but Bill has other ideas. He is trying to be top of the pile and has no need for pipe and slippers yet. 7/10

The Wake - A fisherman reluctantly accepts a stranger aboard his ship as he goes off on a trip. Talk of an accident that both men are tied to soon reveals more about them than what is initially revealed. 7/10

Yorkshire Short Film Competition

Vigilante - A faux documentary, interviewing a clearly mental, violent young man who has taken it upon himself to eradicate crime in his sleepy village of Hewson. His simultaneously funny and chilling tirades against even the pettiest of crimes ring true of a thousand times most of us have wished revenge on criminals in our own societies. 7.5/10

The Dogs - A field is all that separates a mother and child from relative safety, but the feral and ferocious dogs that lurk in every darkened corner of the city threaten to take them down. A heavy-handed but passionate comment on societies' troubles. 7/10

Enough - Blink and you miss it: a very short but confrontational film about a father trying to stop his son from being the town yob. 7/10

5 Miles Out - Cass just wants to be alone, away from her unwell sister but nowhere in particular. The trip to the seaside takes an exciting turn when a boy her age announces a daring stunt played out before the parents rise. 7.5/10

Boy - A very unsettling but efficient film where the dialogue is sparse but the meanings are clear. Ed is having trouble understanding and controlling his awakening urges as young boy Ryan takes an interest in his allotment, and is filled with confusion and self-loathing as a result. 7.5/10

Fanatic - A bodybuilding dwarf lives alone and isolated in a caravan, only interacting with society during his job as a cycle courier in Spain. Teased by children and annoyed by people's foot-in-mouth actions, his life is getting no better, but a receptionist at a delivery seems to take a shine to him. Could his fortunes be changing? 7/10

Hammerhead - A spate of shark sightings encourages Boris, who loves them, to forget his families' woes and hang around the local aquarium. Dad has lost mum to another woman, and when Boris' birthday comes up, he has to spend some time with 'new mum', much to his disgust. When Boris suddenly disappears in the middle of an argument, the three must realise what the important things are. 7.5/10

Kimjongilia (US/S.Kor) (site)

The Kimjongilia flower was named after North Korea's now ageing leader many years ago, as a symbol of peace and prosperity, although it is hard to see where these things are found there. Told through a mix of North Korean propaganda TV (though unfortunately no loud orange man from last year's The Juche Idea), graphical illustrations of world events leading up to the separation of North and South after World War II, and most importantly, accounts from North Koreans who have made it out. Getting information about the goings on over there is nigh on impossible, due to the locked down communications and the extreme threats made on the lives of its citizens for the smallest transgressions. This is one of the first documentary films that has been able to gather such accounts and present them to the world.

An estimated 2 million North Koreans fled north into China, and are now living as immigrants, and if you have to go to China for an improvement in conditions, things are pretty bad. However, most leave for South Korea, which since it was placed under Capitalist control, has fared much better in the world, both culturally and financially. North Korea is in dire straights. After requesting aid from the rest of the world in 1994 during the great famine and other disasters, it syphoned much of it off for the wealthy few, and the donating charities immediately withdrew in disgust at their brazen greed. Nowadays and for a long time, many of the citizens are desperately poor and kept ignorant of outside affairs, constantly fed the line that everywhere else has it worse by state-controlled television.

Kimjongilia is a powerful documentary, and gives much insight to the conditions over there that was only available in hushed tones and fragmentary evidence before. There are hopes for the future, not least the expected chaotic uprising that will occur once Kim Jong Il pops his clogs, but there is much to be done afterwards to avoid the same powers getting in and keeping the suffering going. 7.5/10

Carmen Meets Borat (Ned) (trailer - note mentioned website on page not genuine)

Carmen is a young Romanian woman in the town of Glod (meaning mud) with an admiring young man and a future in her fathers' shop. Her town however is smarting from the recent arrival of a film crew that filmed the opening and closing scenes from the film Borat. They paid the town some cash, but this was not nearly enough for the offence they suffered by the nature of the film and the things said about the villagers, especially as they weren't told of what they were filming about, just to smile and nod when instructed in order to receive their pitiful 3 Euros each.

Out of the blue, a charismatic lawyer from the US arrives and sets to work winning over the people with the promise of suing Sacha Baron-Coen for a good chunk of the $300M or so that Borat earned. This has the members of the town meeting licking their lips, but dissent soon forms when some members suspect that money has already changed hands.

In a similar vein to Borat, this film had a feeling of a film attempting to portray real life, but with some changes for the viewers. I have no doubt that the people in the film were members of the Glod community, but perhaps they had been sexed up a bit for the cameras and their stories massaged gently to provide a cohesive backbone to the story of the town's struggle to sue the companies behind it, and the lives of their residents in the aftermath. It was nevertheless entertaining and interesting to see that exploitative practices occur everywhere you look. 7.5/10

Film Count: 131/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 10

Louis le Prince Shorts 5

Someone must have mixed the film reels about a bit because they re-shot Echo, which I saw last night. So I cant count that as part of my total. :(

Silence (Lat) - A rather annoying arty one where a woman enters an art gallery where odd, almost random things happen and people don't act as you would expect them to, except for excessive shushing whenever she makes a sound. A bit like Alice in Wonderland, but without the wonder. 3/10

Vanquished (Bel/Spa) - In a remote Spanish village set in beautiful countryside, a young teen is sent by his mother, now living in France, to live for a while with his aunt, who is non-too happy. When he asks to see his father's grave, he meets with cagey attitudes from the villagers, and the local cemetery has no gravestone bearing his name. Raoul decides to find out for himself who his father was and where he is buried. A small candle of a film highlighting the 400,000 or so missing people under Franco's dictatorship. 7/10

Seeds of the Fall (Swe) - Rolf and Eva are getting on, and bedtimes are not sexy times as once they were. A freak bulldozer accident however, throws the pieces in the air and when they come down, a spark is lit. 7.5/10

Worstward Ho (Spa) - An oddity and tribute to poet and playwright Samuel Beckett. Two men in football strips move through the countryside, and encounter a prostitute. Initially wary like meerkats around a snake, they eventually team up as a threesome and continue on their journey. Absurd but not completely dislikeable. 4/10

Wagah (Ger) - The town of Wagah in Pakistan is the only place on the 3000km border to neighbouring India with a checkpoint. Over the years since the wall's construction (when Pakistan and India separated in 1947), a festival of sorts has grown up around the gates themselves and the act of opening them. Both sides compete in a friendly but heated battle to see who has the best flagsmen, troopers, flashy uniforms and marching style, each trying to outdo the other. The intricate and ludicrous pythonesque walks performed by the soldiers prior to a brief opening of the gate is difficult not to smirk at. After 5 minutes, (and with no-one but guards passing through) the gates close back up again, and the thousands of spectators to the event go home. 7/10

Wunderkammer (Ita/US) - An elderly woman stares helplessly into space in the twilight of her life, as she performs the daily ritual she has done for many decades previous. In a sealed off house with no daylight (but plenty of pet birds), she tends to the needs of her disabled son, whose baby-like needs form a chain around her. Haunting and depressing, but also a tribute to the sacrifice of one soul for another. 7/10

Louis le Prince Shorts 6

Amor (Nor) - Thomas has found a way to make a decent wage every night, and all it takes is a few bruises and a feeling of self loathing. Simply hire himself out as a lecherous guy trying to pick up girls, and then allow the boyfriend to step in and save her with a punch to the kisser. His latest job is turned on its head, when the latest woman reacts positively to his actions. Now what does he do? 7/10

Edgar (Ger) - A widower lives alone in his flat. Past retirement age, he finds it impossible to find a bit of work to pass the hours in an environment where the young-uns are struggling for jobs. He soon learns a trick when he realises that petty theft carries a community sentence.. 7.5/10

Red Sands (UK) - A simultaneously repulsive and compelling account by an aged veteran of Pamplona, home of the Bull Run. Herds of bulls are kept in the farms outside of town, and the Bull Run developed from the act of getting them into the stadium for the main bullfighting event. There are happier moments, like when the bloodsoaked bulls manage to score a hit and stick a horn where the sun don't shine, but it is mainly a macabre play out of the events of the bullfighting ring, attempting to explain the 'nobility' of the bullfighters' honour and skill, and whether the tradition should be stopped or allowed to continue (which, given the expected standpoint of the narrator is surprisingly even-handed). Well worth watching, but at the same time, an observation of the both the bravado and beastliness of men. 8/10

The Shopkeeper (Ind/US) - Mahesh is a small child living in India, who's only love is Cricket, to the extent that he cannot concentrate on anything else. On the same day that a big match is on the telly, his father insists on having him run the family tea shop. After a quick semi-digested talk on what to sell and how much to charge, dad leaves, expecting Mahesh to run it for the rest of the day. However, the match starts soon and Mahesh must engage his brain if he is to sell his wares and make it to the telly. 7/10

Next Floor (Can) - An absurd but funny short about a grandiose meal for fat, greedy rich people, all hunched around the table tucking into an array of luxurious but disgusting-looking meat dishes with much flesh ripping and slurping. Suddenly, the weight of the engorged guests and the overloaded table makes the floor give way, depositing them to the floor below. Not a problem: after the chandelier is winched down a floor and a bit of dusting has taken place, the waiters resume the influx of foodstuffs one floor down, and the troughing continues. But how long can this floor last, and how far up are we? 6/10

Olis Wedding (Rom) - Oli's father lives on the other side of the world to his son, who is getting wed. However, thanks to modern technology, he can see by webcam, and invites a few of his son's old friends over for a few beers to see it with him. A bittersweet tale of the disconnection of modern life and how technology helps to grasp a little of the connection back. 7/10

Romanian Retro Shorts: First Generation

A set of short films highlighting the early films of some of Romania's directing talent. Many of the films, even though they were from the mid-90's onwards, looked as if they had been through the reels a bit. I also missed the first one because the previous short film set overran.

Paulista's Hand - As an electronics store is hijacked by a burglar, it all looks as if the job will pass off without a hitch. The security guard is tied down, his wife is hysterical on the phone, and the situation is under the burglars control, until he claps eyes on a big TV showing his favourite soap opera? 6/10

Bucharest-Wein 8.15 - Niki, a young man with a wife and child has persuaded his longtime friend Cretu to come with him to Germany under forged passports, where they can earn some cash to support their families for a couple of years. However, events on the way to the train destabilize Cretu's confidence and he tries to bail out at the last moment. Can Niki keep him focused on the job? 7/10

A Trip to the City - A battered yellow Lada transports a young teacher and the assistant to the local village mayor to get a computer and a toilet from the city some way away. Flashing around the cash in a stopoff cafe derails the situation and they have to innovate. 7/10

The Yellow Smily Face - A lovely film to show to your computer-wary parents if you have that kind. A completely computer-illiterate mother and father attempt to switch on and use the computer their son had installed in the house, using only a set of commands which, while obvious to someone au fait with technology, would stump you if you had never done them any more. Their son is waiting by the webcam if they manage to decipher the code. 8/10

The Big Adventure - A simple black and white film about two young and hormonal lovers trying to find a quiet corner in a block of flats to give each other a good seeing to, but wherever they try, a pair of eyes seems to find them. 5/10

Cigarettes and Coffee - The winner of the Golden Bear for short films in 2004. Mr. Tomescu hurries to a fancy restaurant to meet with Vlad, who may be able to get him a job. Mr. Tomescu has been recently dropped from his delivery driver job, and needs another 2 years work on his record to qualify for his retirement benefits. The impatient Vlad has no time for chatter, but all is not quite as it seems. 7.5/10

Superheroes (Ger) (site)

Fathers for Justice have a similar style, but the self-styled Superheroes of Germany's cities have a different purpose in mind. They are the creative activists, who act as modern day Robin Hoods, taking items from supermarkets and redistributing them to the poor, whilst kit up in home-made superhero-style costumes to ensure the authorities cannot stop them (short of being caught). This documentary interviews three of these people, showing the generally negative news coverage they receive, and also follows the lives of some of those on the poverty line who are not superheroes, but might be thinking of becoming one if their situations don't improve. One opinion suggested that the Superhero ideal has evolved from a rejection of the overused symbolism of that famous ideologist, Che Guevara, mixed with a society still built around the idea that people will have a job for life, when clearly, they don't any more. On leaving school, students nowadays have to consider internships, voluntary work, anything to put them one step ahead on the CV pile. Society must change, and the superheroes have a simple goal; achieve change through peaceful disobedience: Breaking rules is the only way to change them. A bold documentary that exposes this particular 'stick it to the man' approach that only ideological youth can manage before the cynicism and shoulder-shrugging of old age kicks in, and at the very least, it was allowed to be made, so there is some democracy left in the world. 7.5/10

Ander (Spa) (review)

Ander is middle-aged and supposedly the head of his rag-tag household. Present also are his bossy mother and younger sister, both called Arantxa, although sis is shortly to leave as she is about to get married. They all live in a farm in a quiet village in Catalunya amongst the beautiful rolling hills, he tends the vegetables and milks and shepherds the cows, and also holds down a job in the city making bicycle parts, with no time left over for the ladies, aside from an on-off menage with Reme, a woman of similar age with a child and a runaway husband. After a nasty fall from his favourite lunching perch overlooking his land, he winds up in bed with a broken leg for a couple of months, right when he needs to be helping his sister and mother prepare for the wedding. On a recommendation from a friend, they get Jose, a Peruvian workhand in to help with the jobs and lighten the load. Though mother is suspicious of the foreigner, Ander feels an attraction, and the two become closer, although Ander needs to thrash out some of his feelings about where it is all going, and what this change in sexuality will mean for his place as the family head. A change in the family structure is about to take place, and Ander needs to realise now is the time to speak up for what he wants.

Ander played like a gentle tale, the clanging of the cow bells in the fields reflected the unhurried nature of the film as the two become closer and loyalties to friends and family change. The Y2K bug in the background acts as a metaphor for his stepping into the unknown and whether it will all work out or not, which was a nice, if predictable device to tell us things work out in the end. However it was a very relaxing and positive end to the night. 7.5/10

Film Count: 102/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 9

Łódź Film School 2

The second of the shorts from the Łódź film studio.

Nice To See You - Magda, a young student living in Warsaw kids herself and her father into thinking they have everything covered, even though her boyfriend has just cleared off and there is money and rent worries. When Dad suddenly turns up, she has some facing up to do. 7/10

A Film With no Fly - Except there are several flies. An animation using scruffy pencil shading to realise a fly's aerobatics display around the kitchen for his friends as they dine on last nights food, until he gets a little too cocky. 5/10

Dunia - An beautiful animated tale of a little girl and her protective cat, using constantly painted and repainted scenes to convey movement, even in times of stillness. 7.5/10

Epizod - Another animation using pencil lines, about the hallucinations of a man undergoing surgery and the emptiness of the hole that is left after the work is done. It got extra points for having simply drawn yet adorable chick-like creatures featuring in his visions. 7/10

Tristis - A very arty-style black and white live action film, where a man is helping his mother in law care for his wife, who is in a vegetative state after what appears to be chemotherapy. Though just about coherent, the artiness got annoying. 4.5/10

Echo - A very powerful story of Damian and Arek, two young teens who are being questioned at the scene of a murder of a young girl, Victoria. The detective makes them relive their crimes and each confession reveals more grizzly details about the attack. 8/10

Luxury - 'Poppers', a local pimp drops off Lux, his casual sex partner at the airport where he picked him up. Also doing a line in child abductions, he is always on the lookout for strays, and when young Maly and his dog Jackal wander by, he makes a note in his book of contacts. The book ends up mislaid and in the hands of Lux and Maly, and together they might be able to use the information to get themselves out of their hopeless lives. 7/10

Louis de Prince Shorts 4

Hunger (Ger) - Bored with their lives, young Roland and Paul get a chance for escapism when the neighbours across the hall are quickly evicted on immigration orders. What happens when 2 children are let loose in a house of someone elses possessions.. 6/10

Lars and Peter (Dmk) - Enthusiastically baking a birthday cake for his widowed father, Lars is taking the death of his mother better than Lasse, his brother. Secretly desperate for company, dad Peter ends up making a fist of a drink with uninterested single neighbour Lisa, and his attempts to releive his unspent horniness in the nearest bush are overseen. 6.5/10

Poste Restante (Pol) - A nice, understated film about the thousands of badly addressed letters that cannot be sent to their intended destination. The Undeliverable Letters department is staffed by volunteers who open the mail and read the contents, which are often private insights into unknown people. The cyclic nature of this film was just gravy. 8/10

To Live a Little More (Bel) - A young gay couple, Nico and Paul live in the room above a bakers, where Nico works with his father, Pierre. Pierre has accepted the relationship with many unanswered questions in his mind, and when Nico inexplicably drops dead, he cannot find the right words to say when Paul starts asking where he has gone. 7.5/10

The Referee (Ita) - They love their football in Italy, so imagine a game where the referee makes the wrong decision at just about every point in the match, while prancing about like a fop in the few times he isn't blowing the whistle. 7/10

Day In Day Out (Bra) - A couple go about their monotonous daily chores. The wife, having left the husband to get to work, watches the world, and her life, pass by with the same things having to be done as they always have. When hubby doesn't return for the evening, she knows something is very wrong. A great, quietly discomforting film. 7.5/10

Megatron (Rom) - It's Maxim's birthday, and the Megatron robot toy is available in a happy meal, and it's all he wants. His under-assertive mother has agreed to take him on the long journey to the nearest McDonalds, but has worked to avoid having his distant father take any part. As they get nearer, Maxims suspicions grow that his mother isn't being honest with him. 7/10

Animation Shorts 2

A collection of animated shorts from around the world. A tip: If you go to a film festival and want to catch some short films, your best bet is usually the animation shorts.

The Cat Piano (Aus) - A smooth, beautifully drawn, Don Bleuth-style short about a world not unlike ours, but run by cats, where a human has begun preying on the vulnerable to create his monstrous musical invention. 7.5/10

Chick (Pol) - Like a White Stripes video, this was bold and garish, but smart and funny. Its three primary colours, black white and red, tell the story of a man and a woman with very different personalities, coming together and making whoopee. 8/10

The Necktie (Can) - Valentin works in a large office block, his floor increasing along with his age as a metaphor for getting old and staid in his work. As he realises his situation, he sees just what a rut he is in and a glimpse of what could be if he doesn't change. Charming, with a lot of French-Canadian influence. 7/10

Fard (Fra) - An innovative mix of live action and computer-generated line art set in the future where every inefficiency has been removed. Oscar is doing well at his job when his co-worker tells him to take a package home. After a hurried message left at his flat telling him to hide the package he looks inside to find a torch, which when shone on anything, dissolves away its simulated sheen to show the true state beneath. A highly accomplished and original work. 8.5/10

Slaves (Swe) - An audio documentary is given visual form. James Aguer liberates two children from their slave conditions in Southern Sudan, and the recording of the conversation between a pair of western journalists and the children and Aguer is put to animation in a shadowy, but somehow still realistic way. Very well done. 8/10

The Little Dragon (Fra/Swe) - A fantastic piece of stop-motion animation, as a smoke dragon inhabits the body of a Bruce Lee doll, complete with battle cry! Unfortunately, of the many other blokish toys strewn around the student's flat is a transformers-style mech robot, who doesn't take kindly to the rukkus. 8.5/10

The Heart of Amos Klein (Isr/Fra/Ned/Dmk) - A story told in reverse, of a fictional high-ranking general in the Israeli Army, in charge of erecting the Separation Wall in 2008. We see him die of a heart attack shortly after cutting the ribbon with a massively deformed and blackened heart. The film then works backwards through events to his childhood to show how an innocent young life with a good heart can be changed and darkened when all the wrong ingredients come together. 7/10

Trickster (Ger) - A short film that had just about everyone asking WTF?? at the end. Using the same level of near-real life computer graphics as with the latest Christmas Carol coming out this year, a slightly scary clown wakes up in the big top circle, and appears to be acting the fool, although to him he is just getting very annoyed. Then it just went mad. Mad, mad mad, and too mad to explain here, other than to say he at one point resembled Johannes Krauser II. It seemed to have little story to it and was instead all about showing off the computer graphics, which makes me yawn. 5/10 (and that's for it having some beautiful locations)

A Serious Man (US) (site/wiki)

There is almost never a Leeds Film Festival goes by without a Coen Brothers screening, and this years offering has many of the typical Coen hallmarks. Set in Minnesota in the sixties, Larry Gopnik fights to keep his head together as his Jewish family disintegrates around him. Wife Judith is sick of Larry's non-confrontational attitude and over-reliance on the subjects he teaches at college, physics and mathematics, to make his decisions for him. Sy Ableman, although older and fatter, is far more touchy-feely and they have been carrying on behind Larry's back for several years now, and she's sick of him not noticing. As well as his wife, Larry must put up with his pot smoking TV addict son and party-obsessed daughter; Clive, a chinese student who takes his maths fail grade as a personal family attack, his army toughnut neighbour who is taking more than his fair share of the lawn space, and Uncle Arthur, who has mild autism and an annoying snore, but might have a hidden talent expressed in his notebook, his fabled 'Memtaculus'. Things go from bad to worse, but when Sy is killed suddenly in a car accident, Larry might have chance to patch things up, but does he want to, and should he even consider it?

At the beginning, the viewer is given a short film set in the distant past, where the Gopnik family are cursed, as if to suggest it is being meted out on poor Larry for not being religious enough. But A Serious Man never takes cheap shots at religion or attempts to preach either way. Instead, it canters along with typical Coen brothers humour, style and attitude. Well worth a watch, especially if you are a fan of their work. 7.5/10

Stingray Sam
(US) (site)

Director Cory McAbee was present at the screening as he was four years previous for his low budget hit The American Astronaut. With a similar budget he tells the story of Sam, who lives in a universe some decades from our own where many planets have been discovered and colonised. Working as a lounge act on the wild west-themed planet Durango, his old colleague The Quazar Kid, who takes him along on a mission to save a little girl from a spoilt king on a far off planet. Told in an episodic format which is effectively a splice together of the original web episodes (including the identical start/endings) with narration by David Hyde Pierce (aka Niles Crane) the film shows moments of sparkle and style found in both H2G2 and Monty Python's animated segments. It's all bound together with an array of musical numbers to help push the story along.

It's hard not to see past the almost deliberately rubbish special effects and 'shot in an empty room' echoiness of the soundtrack to see a solid, if brief story underneath with a few laughs and plenty of good intentions. 7.5/10

Film Count: 82/150

Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 8

Today was a marathon of short films with a bigger one tucked away in the middle. I'll be brief because its late and I'm tired.

Romanian Retro Shorts: Sahia Film Studio Documentaries

I only managed to catch the first three of these. They include choice films from the Sahia film studio going back to the 60's.

4000 Steps to the Sky (1963) - A heavily worn film of the construction of a hydro-electric plant halfway up a mountain. It's a mammoth task just to get the machinery up there, and the 4000 or so wooden steps poking out the side of the mountain to allow the workers to get to the top. 6/10

Stuf (Reed) (1968) - To the tune of Carmina Burana, the inhabitants of a northern village take part in their annual custom of travelling across the ice lakes in sled boats (and whatever else they can lay their hands on) to gather reeds from the other side. 6/10

On Christmas Day we took our Ration of Freedom (1989) - At the end of the Ceausescu regime, the uprising is caught as it happens in the dying embers of the 80's. Free Romanian Television relayed the images to millions of homes, and this film is a combination of those images, overlaid with recordings of hysterical family members trying to get in touch with loved ones who may have fallen. 7/10

Northern Film Showcase

A variety of films from the Northern Film Studios, many of which were collaborations with studios from around the world.

Chasing a Dream - Raj adores Bollywood star 'Kahn', and tries to enter the film studio where he works. Will he evade the poorly scripted security guards and meet him? 5/10

My Love Anna - Jacek, a Polish immigrant barely scraping along as a cleaner at a motorway service station falls in love with Anna. Shame his English is not so good, and an overheard remark he takes as a complement to a woman, isn't. Will Anna see his good intentions, or just stay with the boys who treat her like dirt? 7/10

TwoChildren - A short but effective film of two children growing up miles apart. One is a football-mad kid who receives a shirt for his birthday; the other, over in India, is a slave worker who rattles said shirts off for meagre wage and living conditions. 7.5/10

Think I'm Gonna Crash - Black and white psychedelia abounds - two teens rebel against their humdrum existences by putting on vaguely S&M-like full-face hoodies, donning earphones, and going off into the night to a thumping soundtrack. 6/10

I am a Poet - A trainspotting-style ode to Leeds, the poet's home town, as we pan through slowmo locations. A nice little film. 7.5/10

No More Room in Hell - A mini zombie thriller, set in a future Leeds where the dead are rising from their graves and feasting on the living. A group of strangers take refuge in a flat in the city, but salvation lies on a train at the station. Will they be able to make it without losing their brains? 7/10

Sunday Morning - Brendan loves to look at the ladies, but is disgusted with himself when he does, leading to a cycle of doing the dirty, followed by furious scrubbing his sins away at the sink. Maybe a good old-fashioned prostitute will hold the answer? 7/10

Dancing on the Edge - The Dadao Live Art Festival is China's unofficial event, and several westerners went in 2007 to 6 of the venues around China. Non-conformational Dance is still held with deep suspicion in China for its bourgeois attitudes, and Visual/Live Art - often using the body to make an artistic statement - is frowned on even more, as the westerners soon discover when they stray from the carefully controlled venues and do a bit outside. A bit long, but quite interesting. 7.5/10

Red - A promiscuous young girl plays off her past and present boyfriends against each other until something cracks. 7/10.

Polish Shorts: Łódź Film School 1

These films were dark and depressing examples of output from Łódź.

A Man Thing - Idczak is a young boy at a school with a reputation for competitive inter-school footballing, but he is growing tired of being the team captain, and would like to study instead, much to the dismay and anger of his competitive trainer. Also, Bouquet the dog at the local pound he wants to adopt is about to be put down because he is old and won't eat. As the pressure builds from all sides, Idczak cracks. 7/10

Melodrama - Tadek is very confused. He is 14 and his hormones are firing all over the place. Though he has an interested girl trying to hook his affection elsewhere, he forms an unhealthy interest in his older sister, who is going out with a 'hick' that Tadek finds loathsome. Can he control his feelings and separate his sister without getting soundly beaten? 7/10

Dragon Flies - Tola is besotted with the local spoilt pretty boy Kuba. He treats her like dirt, brings her along to rob and steal (and abandons her when she gets caught) and lies to everyone to get what he wants, using his looks and persuasive nature. Fighting against herself, she stays with him until finally something happens that sets her free. 7/10

The Refuge City - Two skinhead football yobs, who watch a match and then happily join the fist-fighting, learn the limits of each other's guile when one of them pulls out a gun, promising that if they lose the next game and slip down a division, he's going to shoot the players. A tense, efficient thriller which is surprisingly well tied up. 8/10

Porn - Wioletta approaches Mirek for the first time and lifts her skirt, showing all. Mirek doesn't give the response she expected, instead giving her a look of disappointment. She is used to using her physical charms to get attention, but she sees something different and attractive in Mirek. Can they ever be together in such an innocent way now that she has played her hand? 7.5/10

You Are There - Bunking off school, Marlena jogs to where the cool kids get together, an abandoned factory. Her much-missed dad lives in Germany, and her mother has shacked up with an unpleasant sort. Her early attempt at a boyfriend pushes her into unpleasant things and laughs about it with his mates in front of her after, and her only real girl friend wants to take things further. What can she do to get out of her situation and back to her father? 6/10

Disco and Atomic War (Est/Fin) (trailer)

My only full-length film today. A story told in retrospect by four men who were children at the time of the ideology wars of the '60s to '80s between the then Soviet occupied Estonia and the European Finland that was just across the water from them. Living on the northern edge of Estonia meant that its inhabitants could watch Finnish broadcasting, which included Knight Rider, Dallas, and loads of the capitalist programming that the communist government was afraid would corrupt their people. This was the time of the 'soft power' wars - the ability of a country to control its populous not by guns, but by popular culture. Every time the Soviets would attempt to crack down on the Finnish broadcasts - whether that was trying to 'have a word' with their leader, or trying to build a massive net across the bay, the rebellious Estonians would work their way around it.

Told with wit and a comical rounding to the hard edges of the real conflicts that were going on behind the scenes, Disco and Atomic Was was much better than I thought it would have been. 8/10

Signes De Nuit: African Shorts 1

For some reason they avoided playing the final film on this, which leaves me a flick short :(.

Aicha - A man leaves his wife and small child at home to get away from the pressure of being a new dad. He rides the streets in his beemer, and has a good time with some of his lady friends in his regular haunt. Unfortunately, he chose the wrong day to leave his wife, as he finds out to his horror when he returns. 7/10

At the Center of the Earth - Of Wells and Men - A nice little documentary about the well-diggers of Niger, who take up to 3 years to dig the 126m-deep wells, in the hope there will be water below. A well becomes the central resource on which settlements are built. The well of Malamala is shown being constructed by hand by a group of men trained through generations of their craft to know where to dig, perform blessing ceremonies, and dig a perfect cylinder down through earth and solid rocks with only spades and picks. 8/10

First Elections - The Democracy part of the DRC is pretty much in name only, but this doesn't mean they don't have political broadcasting. Electorial candidate Bebe Rico hooks up with a company producing baby talc and assorted toiletries to produce a range of branded products shown off with a set of frankly bizarre adverts featuring Bebe, the dancing baby, dancing on stage to a load of computer generated shampoo bottles. The second half of the film examines the effects of this sort of advertising by observing a group of young children talking politics and ideology mixed with gossip and role play, which contained a slightly disturbing torture element. 7.5/10

Kinshasa 2.0 - The capital of the DRC is still very heavily controlled by its government. Marie-Thérèse Nlandu lives in exile outside the DRC for her own protection, but uses a specially created environment in the internet virtual world Second Life. Named Kinshasa 2.0, it functions as a way of meeting her friends and relatives virtually. They are currently staging an internet campaign to release her. 7.5/10

Tales from the Golden Age (Rom) (site)

A series of five films set in and around Romania with a comic edge. Each was based upon an urban legend.

The Legend of The Official Visit - The president is visiting, and all the villages on the route of the motorcade are told to make things look perfect. No signs of destitution, crime or anything that might be seen as things not quite as the comrade president would imagine it to be. Though the motorcade passes through tomorrow, a general inspection takes place the day before, and the organiser, Georghita, has precious little time left to make finishing touches. The inspector, Sandu, arrives soon after. Known for his precise requirements and temper, he immediately asks for everything to be changed, from the children set up to sing songs to the president (should he stop, which he won't) to that giant spinny fairground ride brought in specially. Sat down with the village elders in the evening, the beer flows after he learns the motorcade is called off, and that ride looks like a lot of fun. What could possibly go wrong? A hilarious tale. 8/10

The Legend of The Party Photographer - Ceausescu features again as the subject of a photographic review board, drafted in to ensure that the next issue of the Scanteia newspaper carries on its front page a favourable image of the dictator. This involves making him a bit taller next to his capitalist pig-dog opposite Giscard d'Estaing, who towers over him. Even that isn't enough, since d'Estaing is wearing a large furry hat, and Ceausescu isn't, making him look sub-servant. Something must be done quickly, so the young photograph-doctor is hurried off to make the changes, but with all rush-jobs, some slip-up will get through.. 7.5/10

The Legend of The Chicken Driver - Sebi takes on the role as a driver of a truck full of live chickens from place to place. He is given two rules. Don't stop, and don't unlock the trailer until you get there. Thing is, he is hungry, romantically starved, and with it being Easter, everyone wants eggs. Calling at his favourite roadside caff, the lady behind the counter spies a money-making scheme and tries to persuade him to take the eggs. After all, the chickens are the cargo, so no-one owns the eggs they lay in transit, right? 7/10

The Legend of The Greedy Policeman - Told as a flashback to the childhoods of two friends in times of rationing. The uncle turns up one day to their apartment block with a pig for the festive period. A live pig, which is none too happy about bouncing about in a hatchback with its legs tied. After a great deal of squealing, they get it into their flat, but how to kill it quietly without getting other people involved? Hitting upon sealing up the kitchen and then gassing it, they carefully remove the fuse from the electrics and switch the gas on. Everything seems fine, but then it's time to get rid of the hair, and a blowtorch seems just the ticket.. 8/10

The Legend of The Air Sellers - Crina answers the door to a strange inspector, who asks for a sample of tapwater for tests, as the other residents have been complaining of discolouration. Turns out, Bughi is a teenage layabout as Crina discovers when she is introduced to him later by a mutual friend. He has found an innovative way of raking in the cash by a mysterious and unconventional scam involving bottled air as she finds out when she starts playing Bonnie to his Clyde.. 7/10

Update: A little digging has revealed that a 6th film was originally included called 'The Legend of the Zealous Activist', which is most likely to make it to DVD only.

Film Count: 58/150