Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 9

Bellflower (US) (site)

What can start out as something beautiful can go horribly wrong. Woodrow and his best friend Aiden are dysfunctional stoner American teens who have just broken free of their parents and are heading out into the world. Mad Max and Knight Rider clearly influenced them and together they are trying to realise their dreams of a gadget-filled car to wow the locals everywhere they go, and a home made flame-thrower, for a bit of light-hearted fun. They already have a beat up old Volvo that dispenses brandy, so they are half-way there already. However, getting together on a first date with friend of a friend Milly, Woodrow heads off on a whim across country to Texas and back, and on the way they get it on. By the time they return they are pretty much an item.

But something has snapped in Woodrow's brain, and a new self-destructive side begins to show itself. As relationships falter and change, a defining event forces him into a decision, the result of which will have consequences for how the rest of his life pans out.

As funny as much as it is shocking and disturbing, Woodrows' actions are not always expected, and come from nowhere, sometimes but not always explained later in the film with a carefully weaved flashback. This breakup of the narrative structure unsettles and challenges the viewer a bit more, and the ending has a satisfying feel. 8/10

Red Psalm (Hun) (wiki)

Nobody told me this would be a musical. Nobody said that in the director's attempt to convey the struggles of a socialist farming community against the capitalist regime of late 19th century Hungary, that much of it would be spent singing in the face of the enemy.

Red Psalm is a deeply allegorical film about this struggle, which took inspiration from some of the Hungarian uprisings around the time. The dogged insistence of the director to frame the film as 28 super-long takes means that realism is swapped out for choreography and abstraction. Thus the workers link arms and in a very pre-determined and not remotely natural-looking fashion prance around the guards with their guns drawn. And the incessant git who would not stop strumming his damn guitar, before during and after someone copping it. Why did they not kill him? Gaah.

So to watch this film is to go through a period of irritation and adjustment, to stop trying to get anything more than an abstracted suggestion of some uprising from the past, and view it with the disposition you would have if going to see a ballet or theatre musical. Not get too annoyed when some fop dances around the screen and then drops dead for no particular reason. Not be so surprised if the communication is often via the medium of song. Just watch, interpret some allegorical story from it and move on.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh; the long, complex choreographed takes were impressive with such a large cast, and it made a bit of a change to have a story told in a different way. And it gets an extra point for having women with their boobies showing in it, which.. you know.. is nice. 4/10

Let the Bullets Fly (Chn/HK) (wiki)

A late night blood fest was on the cards, although it turned out to be more of a PG. Set in early 20th century China we find good hearted gangster 'Pocky' Zhang and his team of numbered mercenaries, hijacking a train headed for the nearby Goose town with their new governor, his wife and their advisor. Thanks to some improbable axe placement the train is derailed somewhat and the two remaining survivors - the wife and the advisor - make a pact with Zhang to have him take the governors place with the promise of Robin Hood-style shenanigans if they can stay the course. This won't be straightforward as Goose Town has been under mob rule for some time, by the smart-dressed but imposing Master Huang, who doesn't like the idea of yet another governor getting in his way.

Note: This trailer rather dishonestly paints the film as a serious action flick. It really isn't.

Chinese movies of this kind tend to be a more complex, less accessible animal than the Korean or Japanese equivalents and this is no exception. Intended somewhere between action-adventure, gangster flick and family comedy it's eastern humour sometimes flew over the audiences' heads, especially when some of the (often white on white) subtitles were on the screen for less than a second. I'm sure that to a Chinese audience, or at least one with a familiarity with some of the more ingrained cultural references this would be a blast, but I found it a little confusing and soupy. 6/10

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