Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 - Day 5

Skeletons (UK) (trailer)

Two men, a bit past their prime walk the countrysides of England looking for houses that match the scenes on pieces of paper they carry. They enter the home, talk to the people and get them to sign some papers, and then head upstairs with a Ghostbusters-style energy meter and protective clothing.

Davis and Bennett are paranormal investigators, but in a slightly different world where it is treated as an accepted science. These two have been at it for years, part of a shadowy company dealing in all sorts of jobs where paranormal readings might help. Unfortunately, they have been on the bottom rung for quite some time, and head in almost like rat catchers, their aim only being to remove the skeletons from peoples' closets. Literally. Using their tools to enter the memories of these people, they can uncover truths they wanted to tell, or maybe wanted kept hidden, but always best out in the open.

Bennett is a giant of a man, kind but a little dim, he always tries to keep a moral grounding in whatever he does. Davis is sour and bitter, and does highly illegal 'Glo Chasing' - transporting his mind back to a time with his parents when he was happy and safe, living it over and over.

At the same time their boss comes with news of a promotion, they find a particularly tricky job to do. A wife has lost her husband several years ago, and he may be dead. Taking it upon themselves to do what they can in a job one step up the skill ladder from what they are used to, they set about searching the house for spiritual clues, but something isn't right, and the teenage daughter is being a bit too cagey. When things start to go wrong, it gets very bad for both of them.

Low budget films are often some of the best, because the meagre budget necessitates a compelling storyline above everything else. Skeletons is an example of this (Kin is another) and manages both great comedy and tragedy without any of it feeling forced or unnatural, even with the paranormal aspect. It's smart, witty and complex, and even though the final scenes were quite predictable, it was certainly fun getting there. 8/10

Restrepo (US) (trailer)

Restrepo is the name of an American outpost in the middle of Konegal Valley in Afganistan. It was named after Juan 'Doc' Restrepo, a young soldier killed in the nearby Kop outpost during an early attack on the platoon in 2007. This film is an account using ragged-edge camera footage of the platoon activities in '07 and '08 as Restrepo was constructed, and the soldiers faced heavy barrage from the Taliban.

There have been several films purporting themselves to be 'the Afghanistan war film' to watch, but few I have seen have so much raw, up-close footage of life right at the front, taken by the two directors (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger) who spent 15 months with them dodging bullets and bombs and seeing the casualties on both sides, and to the Afghan civilians caught in the middle trying to survive. The film makes no attempt to be judgmental, rather leaving it as a dry account of the front line, for better or worse, interviewing the surviving soldiers sometime after they manage to leave the place they have both hated and developed a strong bond with. 7.5/10

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 - Day 4

Au Revoir Taipei (Tai/US) (trailer)

In the bustling streets of Taipei, diminutive Kai is about to lose his girlfriend. Off to study in France, he's under the impression they are still together. His subsequent calls to Paris are ignored, even when he shows commitment by learning French by chancing his arm as much as he can at the local bookstore, reading the pricey language books for free. When he gets the eventual call from Faye to say it's all over, he can't take it and plans a trip to France to win her back.

Plane tickets are expensive, and for a struggling out of work boyfriend, France is prohibitively far away, but he has a chance if he asks 'Brother Bao', a local real-estate dealer and small-time crime boss, for a bit of a loan to get him there. Bao agrees, but asks him to deliver a small package while he is over there.

Bao leaves much of his dirty work to his nephew, Hong, and his trio of giggling, bumbling idiot friends, who all work at the realtors showing people around. Hong hears of the package, and jealous of a young upstart making a deal, vies to get hold of the package and make some cash, with Kai taking the blame. Throw in an overambitious cop on the trail of the package, young Susie, the bookstore assistant who takes a shine to Kai, and Gao, an amiable dimwit who works in the local supermarket, and you have the makings of an underdog crime caper as their lives intersect.

It's all pretty lightweight, but good airy fun, and plenty of grin-worthy scenes throughout, and as the director hoped as we left the theatre, we all had big stupid grins on our faces, and that's as much as you'd want from a film. 7.5/10

Lucky Luke (Fr) (trailer)

I only know of Lucky Luke from his SNES game many years ago, which in turn was based on a French cartoon character dating back to the 1940's. John 'Lucky' Luke is painted alongside the famous cowboys of the old west, from Daisy Town, a fictional place somewhere near Utah. After seeing his parents die at the hands of The Cheaters Gang, a trio of no good gunmen, he finds himself unable to kill (yes, it is a cliche and not the only one but its from an old comic book so at least it predates many others), although his Colt is used instead to dispatch his foes in a variety of slapstick and improbable ways. He also has a white horse, Jolly Jumper, who helps him on his travels and happens to talk now and again. Oh and he's supremely lucky.

Luke is given the task of the President to clean up Daisy Town, since it lies slap bang on the site of the new transcontinental railroad that's being planned. Daisy Town is pretty bad these days, with bad guys outnumbering the good ones by a good margin, and the numbers are going in the wrong direction. Top of the pile is nasty old Pat Poker, the resident corrupt sherrif with his fingers in serveral pies. Kicking Pat out and taking the position of sherriff, Luke begins the job, attracting the attentions of the saucy Belle. But Pat is not so keen to give up on power and in a duel, Luke ends up killing him outright.

Driven to the edge with guilt at what he did, he hangs up his gun forever, and things quickly slip back to chaos. It's a hopeless situation, but can the arrival of Jessie James, Billy the Kid and Calamaty Jane shake him out of his defeated mindset?

It mixes American cowboy atmosphere with French humour and feel (which for the most part, isn't a bad thing here) and the result is pretty standard fare, but a nice, shallow piece of cinema that doesn't go off in any unexpected directions and has a good few inventive scenes along the way. Fans of Luke will get more out of it, especially as there were several scenes and references to the original source. It was surprisingly sweary and violent too for a comic book adaptation, suggesting it has been made for the adults who grew up on the comics, rather than todays kids. 7/10

The Oath (US) (wiki/site)

The Oath in question is that of loyalty to the Taliban, taken up by Jihadis when first joining the crusade. The film uses this as a framing device around which the lives of two men, Salim Hamdan, who was detained in Guantanamo Bay for 7 years awaiting trail, and his brother-in-law Abu Jandal, a one-time bodyguard to Bin Laden who walks free, driving a taxi in Yemen.

Hamdan was arrested shortly after 9/11 on charges of involvement, and spent some time locked up without charge, maintaining he was merely a driver. A landmark case (Hamdan vs Rumsfeld) saw Hamdan win his case that the Bush administration had overstepped their mark, only for that same administration rush through retroactive legislation to keep him locked up. Half of the film recounts the progress of the reclusive Hamdan as he fights this additional hurdle, with the help of an American military lawyer.

The other half of the film follows Jandal. Now a taxi driver, he was arrested for his involvement of the bombing of the USS Cole, but received good favour when he displayed a substantial knowledge of Bin Ladens' plans and weaponry. On hearing that several of the 9/11 bombers were people he knew personally, Hamdan co-operated and flooded the US intelligence with so much information, they postponed the Afghanistan mission. After going through The Dialogue Committee, a re-education program for jihadists, Jandal was released and provided with protection, and now works to try and influence young men who would be Jihadists, reminding them of the original aims of Islam.

Taking time to allow Jandal and the US representatives to say what they want, the film never feels forced towards an opinion one way or another. This doesn't make for a dull film, especially from the things Jandal says about his position on Jihad. The Dialogue Committee didn't turn him into a cute cuddly hippie, but merely dulled some of the sharper of his blades, and made him think in a different direction. However he is never portrayed as 'evil'. He has a sardonic sense of humour, is a loving father to his son, and though unsettling, it is difficult to say that his position is invalid. A compelling account, putting a human face on some of the most faceless on the earth. 7.5/10

Third Star (UK) (imdb)

In the heart of Pembrokeshire, four friends embark on a hastily arranged trip to the coast, to the favourite place of James, one of their number who has a special reason for returning. He has terminal cancer, and his thirtysomething friends Davey, Bill and Miles have taken time out of their busy lives to have an old fashioned seaside trip like in the days of youth. They have made him a special wheelchair to cope with the moors and beaches, and Bill has brought along a tree he grew from seed to plant there as a commemoration.

The trip is beset with problems, and the plans they made fall by the wayside, but James is determined despite his rapidly failing health that they will make it to Barafundle Bay.

The closing night screening was a special treat. Third Star is a simple, uncluttered and honest tale of old friends and complicated relationships, coming together at a time when nearves are at their most raw. The scripting in particular is excellent, and everyone will identify personally with at least of the group. All of the parts are played excellently, but in particular Benedict Cumberbatch brings to the screen a fantastic performance as James, convincingly playing both a long-time and close friend to the others and a desperate, frustrated man living with an unseen and unstoppable killer inside. He's yet to do a duff production. It's a very sad, very funny and spiritual film that doesn't descend into melodrama. It's complex themes and scenes of nature, overlaid with a beautiful soundtrack, will stay with you long after the end. 8.5/10

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 - Day 3

International Shorts 3: Discomfort Zone

Donde Esta Kim Basinger (Where is Kim Basinger) (Fr) - Two middle-aged brothers from France spend an evening in Buenos Aeris. Antonio is unsure and lacking confidence as he speaks little of the language, relying on Marcus to get him around. After a few attempts by Marcus to inject some fun into the situation, he chooses the oldest profession in the world to put a smile on his brothers' face, but the girls have a different idea of a good time, and it involves Marvin Gaye. A funny short film variant of Sideways. 7.5/10

Birthday (Hun) - An outside birthday party is arranged by a strange man, using tatty furnature and cutlery. Children sit down, eat and play with the new toys, and then comes dessert, but where are they, and why is it all a bit.. dirty? An odd film, trying to make a statement of some sort about our throwaway society. 6/10

Incident at a Bank (Swe) - A recounting of a failed robbery that happened in 2006, from the point of view of the witnesses outside, as they slowly stopped their daily business and realised the significance of the tatty moped and its two helmeted riders in front of them. A little funny, a little scary. 7/10

Out in that Deep Blue Sea (Can) - A portrait of a mid-life man deep with the frustrations of life. A door-to-door realtor, with a teenager wanting to disappear off round the world with a man called Wolf, and a wife who just will. not. shut. up. Treadmills and exercise balls dont move the increasing lard building up, and the only sanctury from the incessant causes of stress is sleep, which he doesn't get nearly enough of. A frustrating look at a man with no solutions on the horizon. 7/10

Teleglobal Dreamin' (Sing) - Fictional bit part actor Dale Parsons, who may have spent some time in the same movies as Brendan Frasier finds himself spouting business-isms, trying to help a teleglobal yoga mat sales team in Manila make more sales. He attracts the interest of Rosa, a young telephone saleswoman who volunteers to help dale get over his jetlag and see some of the city. Unfortunately, getting mistaken for Brendan Frasier by Rosa's friends and strangers gets him into both frustration and deep trouble. 7/10

Mai Mai Miracle (Jpn) (site/wiki)

There are some films about very little at all. This is not always a bad thing. There are some films that have taken a lot of license from other films. This is also not necessarily bad. For anyone with a good grounding in the Studio Ghibli films, Mai Mai may look like a cynical carbon copy of that recognisable style; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if production studio Mad House managed to get some of the animators from Miyazaki's wonders on board for it. It looks the same, and it feels the same, as some of the quieter, older works from the 80's and 90's. In particular, Mai Mai borrows heavily from Only Yesterday, with elements of Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies mixed in there as well.

Mai Mai is about Shinko, a young girl living in post-war Japan, in a little village called Mitajiri, which is near Hiroshima, and, as her grandfather teaches her, was built where Kogua once stood, a thousand years ago. Encouraging an interest in how things change over the years, Shinko begins to focus her imagination on how things were a thousand years ago, and begins to share this with a small group of schoolfriends, including Kiiko, who has just moved from Tokyo with her father. Kiiko is quiet and reserved, and has trouble fitting in, and her and Shinko's stories begin to reflect the life of a lonesome Kogua princess from long ago.

Whether you will like this film or not depends heavily on whether you like the aforementioned films, and whether you can get past the look and feel of it, which is definitely child-like (rather than childish). Like Totoro or Only Yesterday, this is a deceptive sheen, under which lies a meatier slice of life story containing a lot of recognisable, empathatic growing up stories, and a little pinch of magic which can be viewed by both small children and adults with a similar kind of wonder. It would have been so easy for the film to go in the oft-trodden direction of whisping the girls off to ancient Japan for them to have a load of crazy capers, but it doesn't, managing to keep the magic running steadily from the pleasures in the ordinary lives of the people. No major catastrophies, no bosoms, and no explosions (barring popcorn) so your average teen will yawn and fidget, but for those either side of this divide, they have a good chance of really enjoying the beauty within. It's several types of lovely and a welcome surprise. 8.5/10

Jackboots on Whitehall (UK) (facebook)

There is only one conceivable option when asking what would be the result of a plan to make an English version of the brilliant puppet-based satire Team America: World Police. That would be setting it in the middle of an alternate World War II, (to be specific: where Dunkirk went a bit wrong, and Britain is stranded without a ground or air fighting force), pepper it with a raft of English voices, and take time to explore about every cliche in the book. Britain is under attack by subterranean tanks intent on taking its capital and nazi-izing it. Forced far north to Hadrians wall, the last few elements of the resistance await the final battle.

You have a quaint English village populated by everyday farmer boy hero Chris, and his maybe girlfriend Daisy, whose vicar father disapproves of. You have Winston Churchill building a wall around 10 Downing Street. You have Billy Fist, a Rocky Rooster-style Yank showing the English how to win a war single-handedly, and you have Hitler. In a big Queen Elizabeth dress, and loving it. You have Himmler, camp as a row of tents, exchanging pleasantries with a King Hippo style Goring; and Goebbels, whose strained and emaciated stature makes him look like a manx cat trying to cough up a hairball. Oh, and you have the Scottish. From Scot Land, that place of barbarism and.. Mel Gibson.

Jackboots is rude, and very funny, and full of cheeky charm. The Edinburgh audience appreciated their barbarous depictions with hearty laughter and the chocolate box English stereotypes were just as good. The model villages were full of period details, and were as expertly assembled as they were blown apart. There was a whole bag of famous voices, including Ewan McGregor, Alan Cumming, Richard E. Grant, Timothy Spall who was present at the screening, and Sanjeev Bhaskar, who's Major Rupee headed up the only army we had left - the Ghurkas. It was liberally coated with comic book charm and British humour, and was constantly funny from beginning to end. 8/10

Get Low (US) (trailer)

Thanks to Jackboots being a very good film, I missed the first hour of Get Low (my plan being come out of it early if Jackboots was pants). However, if it was as good for the second half as it was for the first, I would definitely recommend it. It's a story set in 1930's America about elderly carpenter Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), who wants to have a 'live funeral' - inviting all the village to have a party and more importantly, to allow Felix to make a big speech about something thats been on his mind for some time. Something that has meant for the last fourty years, Felix has created his own self-imposed jail, away from the main village up in the forests. Bill Murray in his usual deadpan mode plays Frank, the local funeral director who gets on board when he realises the money involved in the arrangements.

From what I saw, the film burns slowly and steadily, the viewer's curiosity maintained as the details of Franks' confession are slowly revealed, until the speech at the end. A few laughs are tempered by the sombreness felt by the end of an era aproaching, in whichever way it will, and the whole thing is shot with slow precision in the golden colours of autumn. If I have the chance, I will see it again from the start. 8/10 (provisional score)

Lola (Sing) (trailer)

Another film set in Manila, Lola takes a documentary style approach to a story of the stabbing of Arnold, a young man living in the choking, cramped, dirty city. His grandmother is left to pick up the mess, and the first ten minutes of the film follow her and her young and unruly grandson going to the murder site to place a candle, and then to the funeral directors to arrange a service, with whatever money they can scrape together. Through all this she has to battle the merciless rain, robbers, and disinterested individuals all making life a little more difficult for her.

The suspect is Mateo, and he too has a grandmother taking the burden of the case from the other side. Mateo is taken in for questioning, and his unsympathetic cousin and unwell uncle are both a strain on an already difficult situation. Eventually meeting, the two grandmothers lock horns. Can Arnold's grandma forgive Mateo's family?

Shot in a raw, unforgiving format, your attention is drawn repeatedly to both the harsh conditions these people have to suffer, even in old age, and the concentration of these people in the same spot, all competing for the same resource, be it living space, or government help, or justice for their family. All of which on the knife edge of poverty. Thankfully it also shows the sense of community present, where even the poorest do their best to contribute to their bereaved neighbours. Though the film did go on much longer than what was necessary, it was still an educating window into the difficult lives of the poorest of society. 6.5/10

The Black Panther (Mex) (trailer)

A surreal film noir from Mexico. That's not a well-used combination of words. Taking a variety of cues from films like Dick Tracy, The Maltese Falcon, Star Wars and some obscure 50's UFO films, director Iyarri Werta has created something very strange indeed.

Freelance detective Nico gets a call in the night from God, or someone purporting to be at least. He wants Nico to find 'The Black Panther', without telling him what it actually is. Trouble is, a lot of other people are out to find it as well. Someone else also wants him to find the mysterious mexican Pedrito Infante, who the girls couldn't resist. Although he's meant to be dead from plane crash-itis. Finally, a gangland boss wants Nico to off a woman who is having an affair with his daughter, who may or may not be posessed by the spirit of an alien. Throw in a mysterious man in white, a woman in black, and Rita, his old detective partner who is competing with Nico for the panther prize, AND everyone trying to kill him depending on whether he succeeds or fails.

Maybe it was the fact that it was very late by this point, or that waves of sleep were washing calmly over me, or that I'd seen 9 films before this, but The Black Panther made little sense. It was crazy and unpredictable and loose fitting around framework of a typical film, and this added to the charm in some ways. It was funny sometimes, and intriguing in others, and wasn't as unfollowable as some I've seen, but at the end I was glad it had finished and I could move slowly towards my welcome bed. 5.5/10

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 - Day 2

International Shorts 2: Little Earthquakes

Megaheavy (Den) - Tall, gangly early teen Jolly rides her bike down the roads around her home, looking like a prototype Napoleon Dynamite. Earphones connected to a tape player the size and colour of a house brick, playing heavy metal, she tries to get to know her fellow local kids Helle and Kenneth, but they don't seem to want to know. Her single mother is trying to snag a younger man, Michael, but he seems only half interested. When Jolly's interest is rebutted, Michael becomes an obvious distraction as her hormones begin to multiply. What is Jolly's intentions, and where will Michael figure in it? A gentle little look at the confusing life of a period of metamorphosis. 7.5/10

Mosquito (USA) - Mosquito is the nickname of Caesar, a young boy playing a made up ball game with his friends. It's a bit rough, as the rules state that penalties are dished out by pelting the ball as hard as you can at the offender, as he stands prostrate facing the wall. Not the best time for the elder kids of the block sporting their mighty afro's to come along and try their hand at a bit of old fashioned bullying. A nice if slightly loose film about coping with those who don't see you as equal. 7/10

The Bite (Fra) - A mother and child in a park stop for a while. As the mother waits for her boyfriend her daughter conjures up some dolls and a house to play with under a tree. After an exchange of moneys, the boyfriend bites her, vampire like, and leaves, and the girl finds a snowglobe in a tramps' posessions. Yes, it's French. Yes, I tried and failed to get a handle on what the hell it was about. 4/10

Echo (Pol) - Another chance to see the excellent but unsettling Echo, caught last year at Leeds. A pair of teenage boys are forced by the local detective to reinact their murder of a girl at a quarry. 8/10

Cocoon (Ger) - A very short film about the transitory period of a typical teen, as she stops being a child and begins adulthood, told using the simple process of changing her hairstyle, from a long flowing mane stretching down her back, to the much shorter version, in a bid to change who she is and maybe get a bit of attention. The film didn't do very much more than that, but served as an illustration of the need to make physical changes alongside the chemical ones. 6/10

My Invisible Friend (Spa) - A film to make the shy loner in all of us smile warmly at our own teen problems. Tomas is so painfully shy, he has no friends, and can't even ask his parents to pass the salt. When not attending to his expanding frame at the dinner table, he's off in his bedroom doing all the things young teens do in there, except with less interaction. One day however, the little nagging voice in his head telling him to grow up manifests itself in the form of a fish-headed man in a cape. Can it help poor Tomas take that first step into normal adult conversation? 8/10

Behaviour (Den) - Erik, the overworked father of mentally challenged brothers Mikkel and Lukas needs a bit of a hand, and teenager Julie has answered the advertisement. Both brothers are in their mid teens, and although Mikkel is little harm other than excessive dribbling, Lukas' pants are stretched in all sorts of directions at the sight of a young woman in the house. Julie's day is about to get much worse when Erik has to go off on a job, promising faithfully he will be back. All Julie has to do is feed and bath them... 7.5/10

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Rom) (trailer)

I entered the Cameo theatre to the beautiful sounds of Voix Bulgares, whom some may know from Takahata's equally beautiful Only Yesterday. I'd recommend either.

Silviu Chiscan is in a juvenile offenders block. His mother left him, not for the first time, 8 years ago and he has been left to bring up his younger brother, Marius. Directionless and without a mother or father figure, he got in with the wrong sorts and petty crime has got him sent down. His time is coming to a close and in 2 weeks, his term - if he behaves himself - will be at an end.
However, Marius visits with bad news - mum is back, and she intends on taking Marius with her back to Italy. Recognising the pattern from his own upbringing, the largely conformant Silviu is set on edge, his anger slowly rising. A mixture of an attractive social worker who doesn't appreciate his advances, and a fellow inmate who sees profit in holding Silvius' future in his hands threaten to push him over the edge into a damaging rage.

Director Florin Serban was present and waxed a little about the 'new wave of Romanian cinema' which is frequently applied as the years go on. Truth is that the Romanian output over those years has been consistently high, surpassing the need for transitive descriptions of 'waves'. Whistle is certainly an impressive addition, although this is not apparent at the start, as it slowly winds itself up to the tense conclusion that manages to be both inevitable and unexpected. 7.5/10

Vital Signs (Fra/Can) (site)

Simone Leger has no direction in life, having dropped out of harvard and half-heartedly pursuing a relationship with on-off boyfriend Boris for some time. The death of her grandmother begins an emotional journey as Simone volunteers to work in the paliative care unit that cared for her gran. As her involvement with the patients there increases, she finds that the comfort in Boris' childish bedroom games wane in comparison to the emotional waves she gets when present during the final hours and days of someone who may not have anyone else.

Most people have spent time at the bedside of a loved one, during the last moments of life, and this film will definitely bring back memories both painful and beloved of those times, and sometimes it hits particularly hard. One of the mechanisms for doing this is with the use of scenes where the patient is shown in their prime of life, perhaps how they would like to be remembered most. It also deals with the uncomfortable subject of whether to assist in bringing those lives to an end, although thankfully there is no message rammed home on either side of the fence.

Vital Signs is one of those films where you can get completely lost in the emotion and both laugh and cry at the content. It doesn't dwell on the depressing for long without swinging over to a light-hearted scene, so you'll never get bogged down in the heaviness of it all, and you get a nice musical number by the doc at the end as the credits roll. 8/10

A Spanking in Paradise (UK) (facebook)

Lauded heavily in the catalogue and the previews as the kind of film that tells the jokes you shouldn't, I think it may have been bigged up too much by its' director Wayne Thallon beforehand. Of course, my disappointment with the film may have been because I'm not Scottish, and I must have missed one word in three due to the thick accents.

Justin Thompson is a freshly graduated human rights lawyer. As he waits for his visa to be processed for work in America, he decides to spend a little time in Edinburgh with a side of his family he hasn't seen for a while. Shame his uncle Rab is the owner of 'Birds of Paradise', a brothel in the middle of the city, populated by a range of, erm, well travelled women, and staffed by Leo, a brooding ball of frustration and hate doing a bit of drug dealing, and Rab, whose aggressive stories of drunken daring do are I think meant to remind us of Tarantino's extended conversations.

So the film is as you would expect, a set of crazy capers where Leo reluctantly carries out his uncle's errands, mixes with the stereotypical underbelly of the city, and teases the viewer with the possibility that he might leave his US girlfriend and fall for Caroline, a fresh-faced new girl who looks wholly out of place amongst the tarts, tugging at our heart strings with throwaway stories of unwell children.

As you can probably tell, I wasn't much impressed by this film. There were a few laughs here and there, and there were a few in the audience (including several of the girls from the film) who gave several whoops and laughs as it went on (although many more sat there as straight-faced as me), so I guess the number of laughs you will get out of it will be proportional to how good you are at desciphering the words through the accent, and how funny you find swear words said for the sake of it. 5/10

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 - Day 1

I'm finally here. Sat in the Ministry of Gaming listening to moderately offensive rap as I get to grips with some undrinkable black tea and grab some non-film blogging time. A week off from my new work is very welcome, but the garden is a demanding mistress and the first four days were given over to serving her needs. Now it is the time for films.

I headed up to Edinburgh yesterday, making use of the Settle to Carlisle railway and experiencing life as a young pensioner, as a knowledgeable gent relayed stories of dog statues and watering troughs as we passed through the picturesque north of England. After alighting at Haymarket, there was a little time to get to my hotel, lug my suitcase up the several flights of stairs, and then clear off to the first film.

International Shorts 1: Strings Attached

I only got to see the first 2 (of 4) films here or I'd miss the start of the next one.

Rob and Valentyna in Scotland (UK) - Rob and Valentenya are cousins, recently reunited. Rob is an ex-businessman in his mid 20's, who left an uninspiring career to work as a volunteer teacher in the US Peace Core in the Ukraine. A David Duchovny-alike in looks, voice and deadpan wit, he reunites with Valentenya, living in the Ukraine and asks her to go on a trip with her. 2 people from distant lands begin to connect and everything goes well, until Rob, quite drunk gets his feelings mixed up and gives her a kiss. A gentle film about the establishment of boundaries. 7.5/10

Rita (Ita) - Rita is an ambitious but frustrated young girl. Blind it seems from birth, she struggles and complains while her mother tries to fit her up a dress for a wedding. When mum leaves for the shops, Rita is left alone in the house, which is usually not a problem, except this time, she can hear sounds and voices. Someone is trying to break in. Told almost entirely using a head and shoulders shot of Rita as she attempts to process the sounds going on around her, the tension and desire to be able to see whats going on is shared with the audience, with a nice twist at the end. 7.5/10

A Small Act (US) (site)

This documentary is all about how people should not assume their small actions cannot make a big difference. Many years ago, retiring Swedish teacher Hilde Back decided to put a little money aside each month into a Swedish-Kenyan sponsorship scheme, to sponsor a child through secondary school, which in Kenya is about $40 per month per child, and if the family cannot afford it, the child is kicked out. The child that received Hilde's support was Chris, a kid from a small olive-grove villagecalled Mukubu who went on to graduate top of his class, and eventually went to Harvard, gaining a degree in law. He now works in the UN as a human rights lawyer, but never forgot the act of this stranger who he never met. Only knowing her name, he started his own small sponsorship foundation in 2003, with the aim to sponsor one child in every school in Kenya through their secondary education.

Which child is chosen is based on their scores from the KCPE test, and this naturally means that the top children of each participating school face pressure both from their friends and family to do their best; after all, most of the families in the poorest areas have no hope otherwise of getting the money for their education otherwise, and that means a poor existence in the olive groves.

The film flits between the top students of Mukubu school, the stories of Chris and Hilde, and their inevitable meeting, and the wider goings-on of the Kenyan violence brought on by religious conflict and the upcoming elections going on during the filming in 2007. A genuinely lovely lump-in-the-throat film about how small changes can ripple outwards and start great things. 8/10

Nothing Personal (Ned/Irl) (trailer)

An unknown flame-haired girl leaves her comfortable flat in Ireland, leaving the handbagged and blue-rinsed vultures to pick at her posessions outside. She wraps herself up in warm clothes, buys a tent with the last of her money, and disengages completely with society, walking the moors and living as best she can in the wind and rain.

Eventually, after attaining an almost feral state (and acting like a feral animal to anyone she meets), she comes across a farmhouse by the sea which for now is empty. Playing a few songs on the stereo and sleeping in the bed, she leaves, only to come across the owner - an older man - the next day. Both are wary and distrusting, but his wisdom through advancing years recognises a soul in need of healing, and so offers her a deal: food for work, with no questions asked.

Urzula Antoniak was present for the screening, with a Q and A afterwards. Her first film moves slowly and purposefully without dragging, and the fire in the belly of the hurting young woman sets nicely against the quiet patience of the older man as they slowly become closer. Lotte Verbeek is particularly impressive as the woman, portraying someone who has semi-regressed to a wild animal state, displaying physical hardship and psychological behaviour convincingly. 7.5/10

My Words, My Lies, My Love (Lila Lila) (Ger) (review)

An unusually sincere title, taken from the convoluted title of the novel at the centre of this comedy from Germany. Daniel Bruhl - an upcoming talent last seen in Inglorious Basterds - plays David Kern, a waiter who makes his living well as an invisible source of drinks at his local bar, tending to the needs of his clientele, which happens to include Marie, who has a tight hold of his affections, and her boyfriend, Ralph, who is the alpha male of the group of foppish booklovers who sound off about how all the current authors are rubbish while not really getting anywhere themselves (and thus see themselves as undiscovered talents).

His unnoticed existence has a chance of change when he discovers the draft of a novel in an old desk unit by the mysterious Alfred Duster, which has been apparently unpublished. Putting his own name on it, he gives it to Marie to read, who declares it the best thing she has ever read and sets in motion an unexpected and unwanted rise to fame for David, becoming a literary sensation off the back of it.

Uncomfortable in the limelight (especially the readings, where he can't even pronounce the words he wrote!), David copes with the massive changes to his life and fortunes; until one day, one Alfred Duster comes up to him during a book signing. Alfred is a mysterious and slightly drunk old man who won't go away, knowing at least when he is on to a good thing. Though David is clearly a fraud, Alfred's work mixed with David's charm was the magical mix that made the book so irrisistable to the literati. Sticking to David like a limpet, and not letting go even when it puts them both in danger of being found out, Alfred complicates matters immensely, and Marie's love begins to falter as she becomes more suspicious of this strange man taking up all David's time.

Not from the country most known for its' comedies, Lila Lila is actually very good indeed; David's quiet uselessness isn't laid on too thick making him both interesting and likeable; Maria is clearly alert and intelligent enough to pick up on something going on, and Alfred is both canny and annoying, whilst still remaining under considerble influence from the falling-down water. The standard story of a lie getting out of control is presented freshly and with some nice twists and turns, and was nicely sown up at the end. 8/10

My Son, My Son, What have Ye Done? (US/Ger) (wiki)

A film by Werner Herzog and produced by David Lynch was always going to attract the crowds, and the little Filmhouse theatre was packed out to capacity. However, this represents a bit of a departure from Herzog films, being neither the Rescue Dawn nor Aguirre types. In fact, it shows much more of a Lynchian influence, with portions of left field surrealism thrown in here and there. Michael Shannon, complete with crazy-eyed stare plays Brad, a loner on the brink of a deluded messia complex, living with his overbearing mother and who by some accident has managed to attract the attentions of Ingrid, his fiance (for reasons we are not told and we can only guess at). Brad is in a bad place right now. He has killed his mother and has locked himself up in his house which by the time we join the action, is surrounded by an unhealthy number of policemen of varying degrees of intelligence. Ingrid, and Brad's thespian friend Lee recount to the detective (which could only be Willem Defoe) Brad's past and between them try and piece together why Brad has decided to conduct all his worldly communications by shouting like a madman from behind the blinds and under the garage door. It's a toxic mix of God posessed oatmeal, stoned students in canoes, and a greek play about a man on a murderous rampage in which brad seems to have been given entirely the wrong part.

Both Herzog and Lynch have film scenes under their belt where you are left thinking 'WTF?' at the screen, and this has been multiplied here. The standard police cordon scene has been given a surreal undercurrent as the slightly duff cops attempt to communicate with the madman inside, and make sense of the background of this obvious nutjob. Sometimes the narrative flow takes a back seat and things go a bit odd, as the film jumps off to the side for a little while to deal with some side detail, or stranger still, partake in Police Squad-style frozen scenes. It all makes for an oddity of a film, which is by turns entertaining and baffling. Definitely worth a punt for its' uniqueness and the names that come with it, but it might just be a bit too left-field for some. 7/10