BIFF 2011 - Day 8

Boris Ryzhy (Ned) (site)

Pesky work made it so I missed the first half of this initial film in a double bill. Ryzhy grew up Yekaterinburg, a rough and ready part of Russia paralysed by violence and crime. When not part of it himself, Ryzhy wrote poetry about the people and places around them, that described the harsh existence of both himself and his subjects. Using the class photo album of 1989 as a framing device, when Ryzhy was a fresh faced and positive boy, we review the progress of some of the people and places as they are now, and get them to reflect on the work of the man who committed suicide in 2001, after having seen so much of his life destroyed by the chaotic changes around him. Throughout, Ryzhy's poems in his own words, are played as a commentary just as relevant to the current Russia as they ever were.

A dark, cold light of day look at a troubled soul, and one that I would like to catch again if I can, and I'll score it then.

The World According to Ion B. (Rom) (site)

A scruffy tramp sits on a dirty mattress in the back yard of a block of flats. A shabby overcoat and a care-worn trilby past its best, he contemplates his situation. Constanta, the kindly old woman who has let him squat here for the past 20 or so years goes about her daily business, while Ion B. Takes a walk.

His life is carried round in a cardboard box. Inside, we see three briefcases, and inside them, as Ion shows us, is his complete artwork from the previous thirty years. Things are about to look up: someone has taken an interest in his work.

Dan Popescu owns a local art gallery, H'Art, and has discovered this man living rough in his neighbourhood. Talk of an outside artist, whose neighbours at best tolerate him and at worst work to have him removed led him to Ion B's squattings. Friendship and trust grew, and Popescu was finally shown the work.

Ion Barladeanu worked as a businessman for many years during the Ceauşescu regime until things went bad. His drawings and collages - mirroring the censored Pop Art culture from the decadent west were little more than a hobby. Starting with vaguely satirical cartoon drawings, he started to incorporate cut-outs and backgrounds from magazines, laid over each other to create new realities and situations, many of which in the time contained the hated Ceauşescu himself in a variety of embarrassing situations, something his communist father would have lynched him for.

This documentary follows Barladeanu from the lowest squalor to realising his modest dreams of a house and a bike, and some respect for the many works that he created. It's a lovely, positive and cheery tale chosen specially to perk the audience up after the atrocity of Ryzhy. 8/10

A Doll's House (UK) (wiki)

This was meant to be an entry into the Claire Bloom retrospective, but a slip-up meant that we got the right story, just the wrong version of the film (bizarrely there were two films based on the novel both made in 1973). Instead of Claire Bloom, we get Jane Fonda in the starring role as Nora, a Norwegian woman who is more like an innocent girl. Married to the strapping but stoic Torvald, newly promoted to the manager of the local bank, she has three kids and is happy and comfortable, except the chain of events that led to that moment were based on a fraud - she forged a document that got her the money to go off to Italy with a very ill Torvald several years before, an excursion that saved his life and got him back on his feet. This was all covered up even to Torvald, who treats Nora almost like a simpleton child that cannot take on all that difficult adult stuff.

It is a situation that threatens to be unravelled, as Neils, the man who was in on the deal and has spent his time as a lowly disgruntled clerk at the bank, is pushed over the edge, getting the boot in favour of Christine, an old flame that rejected him, a close friend of Nora. Neils has nothing to lose, and Nora finds herself on the brink of losing her livelihood, her husband, and her family.

The print was pretty old, and it's quality was as you would expect. A constant red tinge to the film, plenty of scratches, and a few frames missing here and there didn't distract too much from the plot, which once it settled down and got going, was actually a pretty decent example of a quiet cerebral thriller, the balance of power changing constantly as the secrets come out, but with a thread of personal honour and respectability running through it. It would have been nicer as a digital print, but it was still good, scratches and all. 7/10

Bodegon (Still Life) (Spa) - A young studenty man tries to find inspiration as he shuts himself off from the world to paint a still life, an event seemingly pivotal to whether he should think of himself as a struggling artist waiting to be discovered, or a lazy workshy talentless fool trying to avoid working in McDonalds. 7/10

Mount Bayo (Arg) (review)

The family of Juana, an elderly woman, whose mysterious attempted suicide leaves her in a coma, gather around the matriarch of the family, Marta. This includes Marta's husband Eduardo, their outgoing, experimenting son Lu and quiet, reserved daughter Angie, and Mercedes, Martas' sister who comes in from Buenos Aires. It isn't long before word gets around about a rumoured casino flutter that paid off, which pricks up the ears of Mercedes in particular given her current money worries. There are also some Spaniard house buyers sniffing around, trying to buy the house, which looks out on a spectacular vista.

Juana - unbeknownst to the rest of them - hid the winnings in the family grave before she did the deed, leaving Mercedes to perform her fruitless searches balancing on the knife-edge between respecting her still alive mother and sorting out her finances.

A subdued, constrained film, whose themes would be just as contained on a TV screen than in a cinema, I found myself only mildly entertained by the film. There are nice moments, and slice-of-life dramas are usually a good bet for a decent emotional kick, but there was never enough investment in the lives of the characters to care too much about them, whose lives aren't exactly turned upside down by the situation. It was nice, in a quiet distraction sort of way. 7/10

I had a free half hour between films here, so I got a ticket for Helen of Four Gates, a very early film by the local Hepworth film studio, one of the very first making films in Britain in the 1900's which unfortunately went bust as a victim of its own success, and due to the lack of respect for the new-fangled film medium, most of the film reels that were made got melted down for their mineral worth.

I'd have loved to have seen just a half hour of this digitally restored print, but unfortunately my half hour was taken up by some git basically holding the audience hostage while he prattled on about the history behind it(including a sodding trailer for the film, BEFORE THE FILM), and all too soon my time was up so I left for my next film. Why he couldn't have done it afterwards is beyond me.

Reuniting the Rubins (UK) (wiki)

The second new film starring Timothy Spall at this festival (the first being the excellent Wake Wood), here he plays Lenny, a 'lapsed Jew' and widower, who has finished raising his kids on his own and wants to settle down to retirement, starting with a round the world cruise. But his elderly mother (played by a nowadays rarely seen Honor Blackman) has to go and have a heart attack, forcing him to abandon.

The Jewish ritual of Seder is coming up, and mother wants her final days spent in the old family home (which she has just snapped up with a chunk of their inheritance), sat round a table like in the days of her memories. Problem is her four grandchildren are spread about the corners of the globe, and have grown far apart. Danny is an international businessman with no time for anyone, including the communities he is doing over in order to get materials for his new technologies. Andrea is a committed human rights activist in the Congo seeing the sharp end of Danny's decisions, Clarity has turned to Buddhism, and Yona has retreated further into Judaism, becoming an orthodox Rabbi. But mother has spoken, and the family will be reunited come what may.

Films along these lines are becoming numerous, with A Night for Dying Tigers and Wonderful Summer already along the same lines in this festival alone, but this one can count as the more light-hearted British offering to the more serious ones from abroad. Spall and Blackman make good a script from a first time director as you would expect, and the lesser known actors also pull their weight well, and the script, although tight and well written could have done with being a bit less predictable in places. 7.5/10

Q and A

Director Yoav Factor, Timothy Spall and Blake Harrison, who played Danny's resourceful PA (as a last minute replacement for Honor Blackman) chaired a QA session at the end, which predictably Spall owned from start to finish and was a pleasure to watch.

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