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

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