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

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