EIFF 2011 - Day 2

Stranger Than Paradise (US/Ger) (wiki)

Supposedly a cult indie classic from the director of Broken Flowers, Stranger Than Paradise tells a tale of disaffected, directionless youth in 1980's New York. Shot on hand-held camera with a grainy black and white quality, it is less film noir, and more film grunge. Workshy layabout Willie has little more than a poncy hat to his name, spending all his time lolling about a scruffy flat, occasionally entertaining the company of fellow layabout Eddie. When his Hungarian mother rings to ask him to babysit his teenage cousin Eva, it's obviously something that can't fit into his busy schedule, but somehow he is persuaded.

Something clicks over the next ten days in Willie's underutilised little mind, and after she moves onto greener pastures back in Cleveland, his little brain, aided by the gambling habits of Eddie - who also develops a crush - comes up with a long term plan to go visit her. You know, just popping by while in the neighbourhood.

Director Jim Jarmusch (who is a 2011 EIFF guest curator) paints a largly pointless existance of pretention and laziness in the absence of a direction in life, where motivation and decision are more than ever based on the acquistion of power and sex. But it is a labour to go through the extended blackouts and choppy acting to encounter it's more enjoyable aspects, the most appealing of which is the straight-talking aunt Lotte who has some of the best lines. 5/10

Tomboy (Fra) (wiki)

As 10-year old Laure suffers the stresses of a house move on account of mum being pregnant with a new little brother to go with her and her cheeky younger sis Jaqueline, a moment of childish fun threatens to make any life in her new area a complicated misery. Laure is very boyish, and for the first part of the film any audience member who hadn't read the synopsis would swear that's what she was. She hangs around with the lads, wears neutral clothing and gets into fights, many of which she has come out on top. On the way to meet with a group of kids from her new area she happens upon Lisa, and for reasons even Laure cannot fathom she goes along with Lisa's mistaken assumption that she is male. New boy Mikael is invented in an instant.

As you may suspect, situations where shirts come off for football, trunks go on for swimming, and people head into the bushes to answer the call of nature all present problems for the rapidly snowballing problem that Laure has made for herself. When her canny little sis (easily the star of the show) catches onto the situation and insists on tagging along in order to keep the secret from her parents, it all begins to unravel, just as Laure was being accepted into the future schoolyard clique.

A story of small problems seen big through the eyes of children, and the lessons that have to be learned about boundaries and the beginnings of sexuality, Tomboy playfully experiments with the logical conclusion to such a ruse, with an even mix of uncomfortable and amusing events along the way, but is handled with intimacy and care. 7/10

Jane's Journey (Ger) (site)

Prior to seeing this film, Jane Goodalls' work was to me restricted to her research and conservation work with the chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa, a calling which made up a lot of her earlier life's work in the 1960's. But as this film rightly celebrates, this is only a small part of her current global influence.

Now in her late 70's she refuses to slow down. Still travelling around the world as ambassador and activist, author and inspiration, her work has evolved over the last 25 years. Two of her main branches of influence, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the Roots and Shoots campaign have overlapping aims but are generally concerned with the protection of the animals, the environment and the humanity that exists with both of them. The film is roughly split down the middle concentrating on these two major contributions, and the recognition that she has received for both. This is broken up and interspersed with intimate interviews with Jane at her Bornemouth home about her early life and influences, her partners and her not always ideal relationship with her son, Hugo. Through all her work, rewards and recognition, Jane Goodall remains as friendly and genuine as anyone you could hope to meet.

This is an excellent, gently crafted film, and a celebration of the work of a woman whose inflience has truly made a global difference, and capable of melting the stony resolve of any anti-environmentalist. If I had one criticism, it would be that the film feels a little self-indulgent at the time, but this is easy to forgive for such an influential person. Mary Lewis, the VP of the Jane Goodall Institute and Adina Farmaner the Executive Director, took some time out from her work to be at the UK premiere and answer a few questions at the end, as unfortunately Jane was at that moment talking with the Dalai Llama in Dubai. They were very personable and approachable, and was a special bonus to a really great film. 8.5/10

Fast Romance (UK) (site)

When director Carter Ferguson came out on stage and announced that this was a low budget film, set in Scotland, and featuring a home-grown cast, many of which were in the audience, my heart sank at the resurfacing memory of an almost identical circumstance this time last year. It was even the same screen room. Fortunately, whereas Spanking went down the route of forgettable rough-and-ready sweary gangster fare, Fast Romance opts for a cheery romantic comedy angle, and was much better.

The film concentrates on seven thirtysomethings (or thereabouts) in Glasgow, whose lives cross in the Fast Romance speed dating event. Loner gamer Gordon is on the verge of losing his job at the post office, and his inwardly quiet boss Kenny seems too distant to make any friends at all, what with his family problems. Bookish Fiona and overly talkative Nadine are best friends and bridesmaids to Lorna, on the verge of getting married. DI Spencer, an undercover copper who likes to take an interest in the private lives of his community comes along, but he and all the other guys are seriously intimidated by Elliot, the smooth talking and handsome guy who shows up and makes everyone else look and feel like a troglodyte.

So we get some initial pairings, some relations work, some don't and everyone's lives cross and intermingle. The usual fare, but done well. One thing that the film doesn't do is try to rest on the reputation of Glaswegians as drunken louts. Most of the characters have a genuine likeableness to them, which is always helpful to get you into the swing of the film. It's an appealing romantic film to see if you and your partner want something that gives you a warm feeling and a laugh, and doesn't go too gooey and sentimental (although they do lay on Kenny's backstory a little thick), with characters and situations that will cause both sexes to laugh and smile. 7.5/10

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