Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 3

Grave of the Fireflies (Jpn) (site)

Unfortunately, I missed the start of the film, but since I've seen it a few times before that's not a problem for reviewing purposes. My main reason for seeing it again is my desire to see the looks on people's faces when they leave the cinema afterwards, and the conversations you can overhear. Many people walk in unprepared, thinking that it's just a cartoon and they shouldn't expect much more than if they were watching a Disney flick.

Grave of the Fireflies is based on a semi-autobiographical book by Akiyuki Nosaka, who survived the firebombings of his home town and the subsequent obliteration of Hiroshima. Seita, a fifteen year-old boy and his younger sister, Setsuko are caught in the middle of the firebombings and in the chaos are parted from their mother, who later dies of her injuries. Forced to take shelter with their aunt, and then by themselves when she mistreats them, they are forced to live in a firebomb shelter, as their resolve and meagre food sources dry up.

The fragile beauty of innocent youth, surviving how they can while their world crumples around them. Buoyed temporarily by moments of delicately-drawn beauty and a genuine love between the two main characters, the viewer is nonetheless put through the wringer, and by the end, as you watch little Setsuko play innocently to the scratchy strains of 'there's no place like home' your eyes will be wet. 8/10

Toomelah (Aus) (site)

The aboriginal community of Toomelah has seen better days. It carries on as a mishmash of houses and caravans connected together by dirt roads and potholed pavements. Daniel is a young boy growing up in the absence of his father, who spends his time wandering round and sitting in the gutter. Mother seems half out of it, as you would expect when she's doing drugs. Father figures are few on the ground, and unfortunately the closest at hand are a group of wasters and their small-time gangster leader, Linden, the local one-stop shop for drugs Their caravan provides a refuge from the pressures of school, and it's not long before they graduate him from petty crime in GTA, to helping them out in real life.

Things turn worse when the previous pharmacist comes out of jail and looks to re-establish his patch, while at the same time muscling in on Daniel's home life by carrying on with his mum. He's confused, angry and too young to understand where he's headed.

As well as the main story, the director makes use of Aboriginal imagery and the far out staring of the elders in Daniels life to suggest a severed link to their heritage, and makes the case without saying it that it is this that is the cause of many of the problems on the screen. One scene shows the wasters talking about their totems in a way divorced from the reverence offered by their ancestors.

Though the film may put off sensitive ears - it's about as C-word crammed as you could fit in a film - it is also a sombre study of a decaying link with the past, a link sacrificed for something far less valuable for short-term gain. While that seems dark, there is also room for happiness, and a bit of humour, and the ending gives hope for the future. 7/10

Mitsuko Delivers (Jpn) (review and trailer)

Mitsuko is an oddity. A young, heavily pregnant woman who makes her decisions based on which way the wind is blowing, literally. Kind and thoughtful, but completely insane and unpredictable, it's not the best mentality to be imminently in receipt of child. Feeling some undefinable urge, she ups sticks one day and heads back to a run-down back street area of Tokyo where she spent a little of her childhood, dragged there with her parents who were fleeing from some bad debts. It's clear to see where she gets her itchy feet.

Back then it was rough and ready, but lets say it had 'character', and the personification of this was 'Granny', the landlady for several of the small rooms in the street and not someone you would want to take on. Granny clearly made an impression on Mitsuko, just as she did to Joichi, the young boy in the nearby restaurant who became infatuated. Fifteen years later. both are looking as run down as the street itself, now all but abandoned. But now Mitsuko is back, she can begin taking the world on her shoulders and sorting it all out. if only that baby would stop trying to be born.

A Japanese comedy with the usual familiar traits: overacting just seems to go with the territory in Eastern films, and Mitsuko can get a little.. passionate. But it's difficult not to enjoy it's appealing characters, bounding energy and positive storyline. It's not quite up to the form of last years' Departures, but it's a solid, fun, funny effort. 7.5/10

The River Used to be a Man (Ger) (review)

I can't tell if this film was meant to incite a degree of schadenfreude, but for me at least there was a guilty pleasure in seeing this young, arrogant and thoroughly unprepared fop get a serious wake-up call. An unnamed actor is travelling through Africa on a sabbatical, and after a couple of hairy near misses on the dark and slippery roads at night, the idea of taking a side-trip on a canoe, with a native tracker for a guide sounds like a perfect way to relax. He silently guides them through the marshlands, where landmarks are few and far between. Even if he was paying attention, which he's not he wouldn't be able to find his way back. On the trip there he spends most of it napping, and it's only round the campfire the following night deep into nowhere land, do the two actually get a conversation going.

It's a shame the guide is stone cold dead by the morning. He is lost, alone and completely unprepared. His kit? A torch and a book on birdwatching because he brought bugger all with him. Panic ensues, but at least he has enough good in him to attempt bringing the body back as well.

The rest of the film is his progress - of sorts; more by luck than skill of finding his way back. Stormy nights, angry wildlife and standoffish locals all cause him serious problems on his way, and his weak-willed attempts to get through it make you want to shout at him to get a backbone.

The idea of drifting constantly through marshes and scrub-land indistinguishable from the last bit would naturally get a bit samey after a while, and fortunately there is a bit of progress and variety to move things forward, but the film teases you, dangling little whiffs of salvation in front of you. Instead it concentrates on creating an increasingly dreamlike view where mirage and confusion trick both him and the viewer, leaving the ending deliberately ambiguous. 7/10

22nd of May (Bel) (site)

A single day, a very important day for one ordinary man. Sam gets up and leaves for work as a security guard in a Belgian shopping centre. As he stands outside, a bomb explodes within, knocking him to the ground and creating a dusty, fiery hell inside. Doing his job, he fights the ringing in his ears and heads into the smoke and flames, but after a few minutes of trying to help people, he panics and flees the scene until his legs cannot take him any further.

And then a woman who should be dead appears in front of him.

Some of the worst films I have seen start with confusion and never become clear. Some of the best films I have seen start with confusion and slowly reveal the director's vision as the film goes on. 22nd of May is certainly in the latter group. Reality and time go to pot for a while as the film keeps you guessing at what you are seeing for a while, and never spells it out for you, and it is better for not doing. I must confess I had a sinking feeling that it was turning into another Temptation of St. Tony but it was fortunately much better than that.

If I describe much more the enjoyment of the film will be spoilt, other than to say it is an ingenious attempt at manifesting the psychology of a man's torment in the real world. I would recommend this film to anyone who likes to be lightly bamboozled by what they see and have to do a little bit of the work to make the pieces fit. 8/10

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