BIFF 2011 - Day 12

Muppet Treasure Island (US) (wiki)

I had time to fit this children's classic in, so why not. It's the muppets, and they're on a ship bound for treasure. On an Island. Tim Curry is yarr-tastic as Long John Silver, dodgy ships mate hired aboard Kermit's ship, and Kevin Bishop is the kid with the map placed in the middle of it for the littler audience members to identify with.

It's all good harmless fun. a film showing some of the savvy now prevalent in kids films where a little bit of the humour is deliberately intended to go over the heads of the kids and into the face of the adults behind, to stop them getting too bored. Also, and probably a sign of our increasingly coddling times, the amount of references to death, killing and torture are pretty high for a kids film, where as now we would probably refer to torture as 'advanced tickling' and death as 'indefinite sleep'. Maybe last night's Outside the Law is still having some residual effect. 7/10

Seesaw (Jpn) (site)

Shinji and Makoto are going steady, living together in their small Tokyo flat. An army of polaroid friends around them, their life is pretty comfortable. There are cracks; Shinji wants to move things forward with marriage and kids, while Makoto isn't so sure. Their differing attitudes to the future is the root cause of some petty rifts between each other that occasionally flare up and things get momentarily cagey. When Shinji feels the light tug of a paternal instinct and brings back a stray dog for them to have as a pet, Makoto gets seriously moody, and after some talking, he agrees to hand it in to the animal shelter. They part frostily.

Makoto never sees him again. The hospital gives her the news.

Few films have been so effective in dangling an imperfect but blossoming life in front of the audience and then pass both through the wringer so effectively. Makoto's grieving is followed personally, with uncomfortable protracted-ness, almost to a perverse, voyeuristic degree, but that is the strength of this film. It will knock you flat. 8/10

Swing (Twn) - A short but similarly themed animation exploring an old man's ability to let go of life, and whether he wants to just yet. The director's heart is clearly in it. 8/10

Shine Short Film Awards

A heavily whittled-down selection of films, chosen by the Shine Jury.

A Gentle Push (Bel) (Winner) - Waking up in a holiday hotel by the sea, little Robbie spies a whale beached on the shore. Wally, as he becomes known, is the central theme around which several events unfold and intertwine. A football match watched with religious fervour, a school pecking order establishing itself, and a family tragedy. Well shot and nicely mixed together. 7.5/10

A Good Life (UK) - Nick sounds like the perfect potential husband, but when he catches his wife bouncing up and down on another man just as he is setting his big proposal scene up, he goes berserk. A chance encounter with a mysterious and slightly threatening man however gives him something much more serious to think about. I really liked this film, except it seemed to want to over-explain itself here and there. 8/10

The Long Lonely Walk (UK) - Three situations - an elderly and infirm woman going to see her husband, where the dreaded question will likely be asked; a young boy plucks up courage to talk to a girl, and a man prepares to go and defuse a bomb - work themselves out concurrently, each involving a pained (and slightly over-stretched) walk into uncertain territory. 7.5/10

Nowhere Elsewhere (Can) (2nd Place) - A couple with a small child stop off on their way to see the woman's religious mother at a motel, where the boy begins to see visions of the Virgin Mary in the motel chapel. The vague suggestions of revelation and spiritual rebirth would probably mean more to a religious person. 7/10

Paperman (Irl) - In a world made entirely of paper, a figure down on his luck and unable to find the one that completes him, contemplates suicide. A nice enough animation, although the theme of the piece didn't really require it. 7/10

Victims of Gravity (US) - A man lies dying in the road, in the middle of a multi-vehicle incident, with his motorbike trapping him to the floor. The scene is frozen in time, except for him and his girlfriend, who has to choose between dying with him, or living without. A succinct film with clever effects. 7/10

The Messenger (US) (site)

This year's closing film is actually a couple of years old (2009), but due to it's sensitive subject matter it wasn't particularly well received in it's native country and so the organisers decided to give it a bit more exposure.

Distinguished middle east war hero Sgt. Will Montgomery, on the mend from wounds suffered in conflict, is given a more civilian role to play under Capt. Tony Stone, a direct, forceful and above all omniscient 'Casualty Notification Officer' - those men given the hellish task over and over of visiting the houses of the next of kin to inform them of their loved ones' deaths. Stone has his own set of ingrained rules on how to perform this - which boils down to informing them with no emotion or sympathies, no weasel wording, and no consolation. Not wanting to rock the boat, Montgomery complies.

But from the off Stone's method seem wrong, and his bullish bravado when not standing on people's doorsteps hides the insecurities of a desperately lonely soul underneath. These begin to make themselves apparent when out of uniform and with a bottle in his hand. Slowly, despite the differences of opinion and defensive standpoints, they both begin to bond and open up, although Montgomery's attraction to one of the people he has had to notify - a massive no-no - threatens their working trust, and his professional conduct.

Concentrating more on manufacturing a level of emotional healing for the main parts, rather than making comments on the rights and wrongs of the war didn't stop this being a controversial film over in the US, hence it's tepid reception - people just didn't want to watch these things being played to them on a big screen. This collective denial is a shame because the script is pretty well done, although the middle section does sag a little, and there are no sledgehammers involved to get any messages or opinions across. It's main strength lies in the well-constructed verbal exchanges both between the soldiers and the people they have to notify, and later in the film, each other as they start to reveal their past and begin exorcising their demons. 8/10


So that's Bradford 2011 over, with 56 features (100 individual films) under my belt. It was certainly a bigger, better festival than 2010, and I got to shake hands and talk to some interesting and influential people over the past week or so. I now need to find my eyes as they have fallen out and are rolling around here somewhere. And I think I've just trod on one.

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