BIFF 2011 - Day 1

It's festival time once more!

Bradford is the first of my year, there are a few others (just missed Glasgow, and a curious one in Keswick), earlier on, but for me this one is the first that stands a reasonable chance of getting some of my attention.

I must say that this years' lineup is an improvement on 2010, where I was a little disheartened by some of the film choices; gone are most of the 'special screenings' of TV hits in the screening rooms of the media museum and some of the more outlying venues, and in come a larger proportion of new films and premiers, and some meatier retrospectives.

While last years' more bespoke screenings resulted in some decent entertainment, they were badly under-populated. It didn't help that many films run during the middle of the day when many people are at work, leaving the unemployed, unemployable or retired to make up most of the bums on seats.

For the opening film, which was shown twice (I caught the later one), this wasn't an issue. The Pictureville cinema - not small by any standards - was pretty packed out. A little late, BIFF artistic director Tony Earnshaw introduced the film, spilling the beans that it had split audiences. Then, after a large amount of copyright warnings, advertorials and studio credits, we were off..

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (US/Spa) (wiki)

Woody Allen has made his fair share of movies by now, and some have said his best days - whenever they were - are now behind him. This film, set in London but produced in the US and.. Spain?.. feels very Woody Allen, if he had suddenly turned overnight into Richard Curtis.

That isn't as bad as it sounds. The main story revolves around the freshly broken relationship between ageing divorcees Alfie and Helena. Alfie (underplayed by Anthony Hopkins) hated growing old and tried to do something about it by pumping weights and trying to be young again. Helena wouldn't take it with the same spirit, and so he dumped her for a dubious 'actress' half his age. Helena retreats to the security blanket of a fortune teller, who with the aid of a bit of alcohol and some encouraging words, keeps Helena coming back for more. They have a daughter, Sally whose relationship with non-committal hubby Roy is looking rocky as well, especially with potential affairs for both of them just within arms reach.

It's a film about relationships, and compromise, and finding the difference between what your heart desires, and what your heart needs to keep it going. All the main characters are portrayed as stressed-out fools, lumbering through life and making it up as they go along as we all do, (but fail to realise it until we are at least thirty). As the three or four interconnecting storylines progress to a conclusion of sorts, it is never quite certain who will pair up, and who will decide better for it. In a good way.

I can't say it was a perfect film; there are some underutilised talents here (Life on Mars' Philip Glenister is a blink-and-you-miss-him addition, as are several other familiar faces) and while the laughs are there, they rarely generate more than a warm chuckle rather than a belly laugh. But conversely the fragility of the various characters - at least one of which most people should recognise some part of themselves in - endears them enough to make you care about the outcome.

After a slightly overcomplicated start, where the principal characters are sometimes difficult to distinguish, Stranger slowly changes into a more sharply observed review of the average relationship and it's myriad complexities. I recommend it, but it needs time to take a hold. 7.5/10

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