Leeds Film Festival 2009 - Day 4

Another Planet (Hun) (site)

My idea was to see The Tunnel today, but a last minute decision allowed me to swap it for this and Time Masters - I'm hoping The Tunnel will receive a re-screen. I'm glad I did because Another Planet is yet another of those documentaries highlighting shadowed and uncomfortable areas of the world.

If you have ever seen the Qatsi trilogy, then you may have an idea what you might find here. Fortunately leaving the protracted static shots out of it, Another Planet shows the same problem occurring time and time again around the world: children making a miserable living, beaten by their parents, made to work as slaves, put to labour in lowest of bottom-feeding jobs, or worst of all, turned into killing machines through forced enlistment into an army. The camera follows the lives of children from the Congo, Cambodia, Kenya, Brazil, Equador and others without interrupting or asking questions. What we see is simply a heart-breaking repeat of the same themes time after time. One little girl is treated like a slave by her mother and brothers, but still gets up early, makes food, and can be seen out at night with a tray of cigarrettes to sell to passers by. No sales mean harsh beatings when she returns. Several children scavenge the rubbish dumps, competing with each other and desperate adults, working in pitch black darkness, hoping to avoid the bulldozers that push things around within inches of them. A pimp in South Africa shares a quiet moment with his 'employees', child prostitutes brought from the slums to perform 'tricks' for cash from ages as early as 8. The straight 'honest' paying punter is often actually more than willing to beat, drug and rape these children and then leave them for dead, the pay lost, and the pimp is the one that will get the maddest.

One central theme running throughout the stories is that of religion; despite all that the children have to go through, they often thank their God for what they do have. If I were religious, I would probably interpret this aspect of the film as faith helping them through these situations, which to a degree is true. It is also true that a child's faith is misplaced and exploited for the gain of others; the pimp proclaims himself the 'spiritual father' of his employees; the child soldiers all swear on their faith that they are invincible - the bullets pass right through them if they believe hard enough. It's pretty depressing whichever way you look at it, but this film is one which is important to experience. It shows us things we might not choose to look at as it makes us uncomfortable that we let it persist. 7.5/10

Time Masters
(Fra/Swi/Ger) (wiki)

I wondered why they decided to show the Rene Laloux trilogy in such a strange order. This, his second film was shown out of sync with Gandahar and Fantastic Planet yesterday, but on seeing it, I know why. It's the weekend, and so plenty of sprogs about to fill the cinema seats. Whereas the other two films had their fair share of animated boobies and sexeh teim, this one didn't and would thus be much better suited to little Timmy seeing it.

Of the three films, Time Masters is the most accomplished. Despite being made 5 years before Gandahar, it is the superior of the two from a visual and musical perspective. It tells the story of young boy Piel, left stranded on a hostile planet after an accident kills Claude his father. With only an egg-shaped microphone device connecting him to Jaffar, a beefcake space pilot and Claudes' friend. Jaffar's ship is a long way away, currently transporting a despotic exiled prince and more agreeable princess, plus a huge hoard of treasures.

Much to Prince Matton's anger, Jaffar takes a detour to rescue the child, but warring factions, pirate ships, and all sorts of nasty creatures on the planet surface threaten the new mission.

Laloux worked alongside Jean 'Moebus' Giraud (another influence of Miyazaki's), and the hybrid animation style produced benefits from two heads rather than one. It has moments of playfulness, barbarism, sacrifice and the expected socio-political threads add a real-world relevance. If you see only one of the Laloux trilogy (though you should see all three) make it this one. 7.5/10

The Two in Tracksuits (Jpn) (wiki)

In the shadow of Mount Asama, father and son come together from their separate city lives for their annual stay in the family summer house, deep in the woods. They spend their time playing and chatting, watching the weather to see how much hotter it is back in Tokyo, and living the slow-paced country life. The title comes from a delve into Grannys old school tracksuit collection when it becomes a little too chilly for t-shirts.

Little actually happens in this film; it is a slow burner, where instead of action, you see a relationship between family members slowly emerge. It is full of delicate nuggets, such as father and son talking in a similar manner, wearing the tracksuits together, or using words and mannerisms that would only be fully understood if you were part of the family. It's easy on the eye and pleasant like a stroll through the life of a family in good, but not great times. The son is forever trying to patch up his failing marriage over his mobile, a task made more difficult because he can only get a signal from one point in the area. Father is stuck in a rut, himself split from his wife and seemingly unable (or unwilling) to change the status quo.

This film won me over with its charm. It's laid-back pace and subtle entertainment is a great intermission between the more vivid imagery of many of the other festival entrants, and I left with a warm, satisfied glow from the cinema into the cool air of the night, never to look at the signal strength icon on my mobile in quite the same way again. 8/10

The Misfortunates (Bel) (site)

Gunther has had it hard. We first encounter him in his young adult life trying desperately to become a poet or author, but is repeatedly sent boilerplate rejection letters. He has a wife who has become pregnant without him having a say in the matter, and the barely suppressed anger shown belies his past. As Gunther tries yet again to make it as an author, the subject of the piece, the memoirs of his family as he hits puberty form the backbone of the film in flashback.

The Strobel family are proud of who they are. Despite the five grown up sons all living together in their ageing mothers' home with a young Gunther, son of Celle, the disputed patriarch of the house. Drinking and fighting consume their lives, each son doing his bit to stir up as much trouble as possible in the name of more alcohol. Mother Meetje tries her best, but has little control in a house with virtually no trace of an influential mother figure.

Even here, there is still affection between the family members. They all love their mum and would do anything for her, and the family behave as a pack, standing together if anyone dares to put a word wrong about them. Although alcohol, drugs and worse are abundant for Gunther to slide down the slippery slope, he does not let them consume him like his father. His poetry and writing fortunately give him another outlet. Strobel blood still runs in his veins, and you cannot take that away completely, even when self-imposed boarding school attempts to iron him out.

There is a Channel 4 programme called Shameless, which from what I've seen is not my cup of tea, although I would describe it as the closest relative to The Misfortunates, which I enjoyed a lot. Even though you would hate to live within a continent of this wretched family, it's hard not to like them for their better points, and this film proudly shows them with all their ugliness and beauty together in a non-judgemental way. It was another surprisingly great film. Funny, warm and entertaining. 8/10

Cold Souls (US) (site/wiki)

Actor Paul Giamatti plays a pretty straight version of himself in a comedy fable around the idea of what remains of a person if the soul is lost. Having trouble grasping the essence of the part in a play due to a conflict between character and personality, Paul turns to a new company set up in an emerging (read: unregulated) field of soul extraction and storage. Taking it out for a bit, he figures, will allow him to get into the part, do the play, and then the soul can be put back in.

As with similar enterprises, some are willing to make big bucks whilst throwing out any ethical concerns they may have. Souls become a commodity in Russia, and a rogue company is set up to extract them to sell on the black markets around the world. Nina is a 'mule', making a living transporting marketable souls between east and west. A hasty decision taken to make the bosses talentless wife Sveta happy by giving her the soul of an actor means Paul's soul is nicked and she is reluctant to give it back.

Much of Cold Souls is a big 'what if', about how people would be affected by such new technologies; the winners and losers, and there are clear parallels to desperate people in real life who sell organs on the black market to get by. Unsurprisingly this translates into a film that initially amuses the audience with Giamatti's comedic reactions to the situation and then grabs them a little harder as the emotional stuff kicks in and the literal soul searching begins. 7.5/10

Dr. S Battles the Sex-Crazed Reefer Zombies: The Movie (US) (myspace site)

With a name like that, it couldn't possibly be missed, now could it? Dr S is a scientist gone slightly mental, killing his colleagues after a radioactive experiment goes wrong and starts a zombie outbreak. Emerging from his lab having satisfied some of the fighting craves, he saves good ol' American girl Mary Jane from good ol' American horny zombie boy Billy before he bites her head off, and swears to protect her as he heads back to his lab to find a cure.

Shot entirely in scratchy, shadowy black and white, Dr S's mad eyes and teeth are often the only things you can use as a point of reference, as the ultra-low-budget student project works its way to an uncertain conclusion. I don't mean to say it's bad because it isn't. There are good laughs to be had, both visual and scripted and it does its best to vary the quite limited scope of screaming girls, nasty bloody zombies and a grinning unstoppable look kicking the crap out of them. One of the best ways it does this is with old-style cinematic adverts and best of all, a sort of short introductory film at the start in the style of the 'homes of the future' programmes, showing how the doomed radioactive research started. However, the film does suffer from a lack of polish, and a seeming lack of temporal identity (the first half of the film is set in typical 60's America, whereas the second half abandons that for modern computers and cars without explaining why). Still, it was enjoyable enough for my film-addled stupor to appreciate, not least because no thought was required. Oh, and if mid-film intermissions were like the ones shown here in the old days, I want them back! 6/10

Film Count: 16/150

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