Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 8

Forest (Hun) (review)

A crowded shopping centre has people come and go. A man with a backpack looking suspicious, a woman with a dog. A few dozen others come in and out of view.

A woman comes back to her flat to learn she is the owner of a dog. The present owner is pretty sure she should have it, and besides, he's about to head off and kill himself. A couple of men analyse a purchase without the viewer ever seeing what it is. Two parents quarrel over the man's inability to accept their daughters' encroaching womanhood, letting a few diquietening opinions slip along the way. A woman confronts her childish man-boy husband whose latest cover-up for screwing around with other girls involves taking some porn to a friend. Who is dead. A disturbing account by a woman to her partner about a bad dream she had which morphs into a tale of abuse from her gran when she was young. A woman is told a tale on a ferry of a giant catfish.

All completely separate stories, more like a succession of short films, connected only by the players being briefly in the same place at the same time. As an original piece of cinema it worked quite well (better than the clip suggests but it's the only one), but it's execution doggedly stuck to close-up wobble-cam shots, which as is usual in these films can get a bit annoying. Mercifully we were spared the worst excesses of the format and after an adjustment period I learned to live with it. Each segment was done in a single take, and the parts were played with the raw emotion expected of their subject matter, and generally the stories were engaging, but the format grated a little for me, and it irked that almost all the men were portrayed as irresponsible idiot man-children. But experimental film has been a lot worse. 6.5/10

Love (Hun) (wiki)

A classic Hungarian film, and a rare screening as it's 40th anniversary looms. In the time of Stalinist paranoia and distrust, Luca tries to keep the hopes of her elderly mother-in-law from taking the last of her fragile thirst for life away. Now elderly and bed-ridden, she hopes for her son (and Luca's husband), Janos to come back from America where he is premièring his first film. Except he isn't - Janos is locked up under dubious charges by the Hungarian secret police and has been for some time, and Luca maintains the story with a bit of help from the maid and a web of concocted tales, helped along by granny's failing and confused memory. The film is set in 1950's Hungary during the dark, paranoid days of Stalins' rule of Russia, where the tight political regime meant that you could expect a couple of forceful men at the door requiring a bit of private time to 'fix' your telephone.

Friends disappear from the radar and Luca has to be careful, but one day a letter arrives that spells hope that Janos might yet see his grandmother before she dies.

It's an obviously dated piece, showing the gulf of technical achievement between east Europe and the western countries at the time (it was the same year of Dirty Harry and A Clockwork Orange). The sound is distant, the cutting is choppy and very little indeed in the way of computer generated robots. But it also shows that the elements that mattered were there. The cinematography was close and uncomfortable, hounding the actors and as oppressive as the regime they were in, and the high quality acting meant that I believed it was happening, rather than some actors rehearsing lines. It's far from the best film I've seen, but it is a strong example of European cinema and quite enjoyable. 6/10

Aitá (Spa) (site)

The slow restoration of an old rectory by an elderly man and his two sons is told slowly and carefully in this late evening film As school trips are invited in and hoards of energetic kids run everywhere the teacher will let them, and late night break-ins by petty thieves result in flickery lights darting between the windows, the house begins to return to life, and the isolated old man begins to experience an awakening of his own.

My heart sank a bit when I read the blurb for this a little closer and saw the word 'experimental', a term which colours my perceptions somewhat as it suggests the director using all sorts of annoying techniques to look 'different'. Fortunately, Aitá (Father) partially adopts the standard narrative method, and then intersperses them with meditative shots to plump it out a bit and allow the viewer to 'experience' the house slowly becoming a home. The dark, old fashioned decor and flaking walls coming back to life with old and broken filmography to the sounds of a beautiful reverent choir, as if the presence of people in the house was causing it to remember it's past. We get to hear a little of the life of the old man, but it is the house that is the star and thus the subject, and we explore it personally. This is not to say I was massively impressed with the film, it would probably bore the arse off many who watched it, but having put lots of time, effort and love into my own small equivalent of this, I sort of 'got it', and understood a little of what the director was trying to say, and thus found it not entirely unenjoyable. 7/10

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