Bradford Film Festival 2010 - Day 4

Rivers Edge (US) (wiki)

Shown as part of the US Teen Movies strand, this 1986 film was an early entry into the filmography of Keanu Reeves, that perpetual teen of the screen even now. He plays Matt, who as part of a group of teens going off the rails in a run-down American town, hear the braggings of John - one of the number strangle his girlfriend Jamie. Initially treating it as bravado, he shows them her body as proof. Even though this clearly is the beginnings of a mental case who should be kept away from people, no-one reports the murder, a decision set mostly by Layne (played by Crispin Glover, best known for his part as George McFly in Back to the Future), who self-proclaims himself as leader of the group, although it's clear he is way out of his depth.

To make doubly sure, Layne dumps the body and gets John to stay a while with Feck, a middle-aged drunk (played perfectly by Dennis Hopper) who also killed his girlfriend many years before and has been laying low since. What follows from there is a mix of stoned teens, blow-up dolls, brattish children with cars and guns, and a little romance in the middle as the various members of the group tussle with their morals and emotions, with Keanu perfecting his slightly spaced-out stare early on in his career.

Whilst nothing original, Rivers Edge was a good example of the many depictions of wasted youth (in both senses of the term). It manages a little bit of brooding dread, a little intrigue and mystery, and a little redemption, held together with strong performances in the main parts. 7/10

..Like Daughter (UK) Before Dogtooth, we got another short film. April is in the middle of her mother's funeral wake when she learns from her adulterous father that she has a half-sister, and she seems to know more about her dad than she does. 7/10

Dogtooth (Gre) (trailer)

One of the more disturbing and powerful films that I have seen. Dogtooth is a 'what if' sort of movie, in which the father of a family is so desperate to keep his three children from harm, that they have been brought up in complete isolation; their mother complicit in his scheme. Undoubtedly acting in their best interests, it is clear that by their late teens (which is where we join them) this has had a severe stunting effect on their growth and how they see the world. They are not allowed out beyond the front gate. The house is walled by tall fences and bushes on all sides. No TV (aside from carefully chosen home videos) and no telephones. We don't even know the names of the children, but it is clear that their understanding of the world is withered. Planes fly through the air and they discern no difference from toy planes held in the hand. Their education consists of new words being fed to them by audio tape, with meanings for them strictly controlled (for instance, when one girl hears the word 'zombie', her mother says it is the name of a yellow flower).

Of course, all this control cannot kerb the chemicals rushing round their bodies, and father has a novel solution; invite security worker Christine around and, for a little money each week, allow his boy to have sex with her. When Christine begins to bargain with the daughters for little trinkets in return for sexual favours, she becomes a tempting window on the larger world outside, and a copy of Rocky and Jaws on video tape feeds a thirst to see the world outside for one sibling.

This is certainly the sort of film that will divide audiences. Personally, I'm impressed by it's content, attention to detail and it's psychological exploration of such an exaggerated version of many a well-meaning family. I think the idea of the film is as a template to wrap flexibly around whatever subject matter the viewer wishes to apply to it. The same stunting effect by the maniacal control of a parent can also be applied to a community or a government, where restricting access to information, changing the definition of right and wrong, and altering the meaning of words and gestures can have the same corrosive effect on its' members. Disturbing, unsettling and downright horrible at times, but equally fascinating, funny and inviting of empathy in others. (additionally, actress Mary Tsoni is gorgeous in it) 8/10

Tit for Tat (Swi) - Another short film. A skinhead on the run from the police breaks from his gang to find a child being bullied by two others. When he removes the hood and realises that it is a young black girl, his feelings become confused, and both find themselves targeted together for hanging around the wrong sorts. 7/10

The Unworthy (Ger) (trailer)

A documentary film about some of the mostly forgotten children in Hitlers Nazi Germany. Not just Jewish, Polish and Gypsy children, orphaned by the extermination of their parents, but also those who had the misfortune to live nearby the 'unclean' races. Placed into 'correctional' facilities, they would often be poisoned with food and drink, and then, half dead, be placed in cramped cells to die, their death certificate showing one of many false explanations, such as death by suicide or hypothermia.

Told through the accounts of survivors of the age who attended two such facilities, Kalmenhof in Idstein, and Moringen. The increasingly elderly men and women tell of their hardships still fresh in their mind. One man recalls his underworld dealings in forbidden 'swing kids' dance groups - basically anything with rhythm was banned - while another talks of the days when he would be charged with burying many dead children, being only a child himself at the time, a third visits the final resting place of his mother, having not known her whereabouts since he was small.

There were many details here that underlined yet again the dangers of an oppressive regime not halted by the voices of reason and care. It is another sickening look into a time that will hopefully never be repeated. 7.5/10

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