BIFF 2012 - Day 2

The White Mosquito (Ger) - Two policemen, used to the comfort and quiet of their local lake paradise, floating peacefully rather than catching perps, spring into defensive action when the local mayor starts his crazy talk about turning it into a diving centre. An improbable stopoff in Africa to pick up some mosquito-poisoned darts can only end in tragedy when a strident choirmaster sticks her oar in. Darkly humorous and slightly surreal. 7.5/10

Bread and Circuses (Slv) (site)

I always try to make time for Slovenian films, and although they invariably lean on the Ceaușescu period for inspiration (and this is no exception), they often manage to hit the funny or emotional targets. Bread and Circuses tries to hit both in a comical, farcical tale.

Factory worker Josko Novak is a typical, put upon father in a painfully ordinary family, making the most of the meagre comforts that come their way in the final suffocating years of the regime. Josko is quiet man who doesn't like to make waves and consistently hasn't for several decades as his wife, son and daughter bicker around him. Anything for a quiet life.

Imagine his surprise when Jelka enters the family in a draw for 'Spinning Fortune' - a super-low-budget 'Golden Shot'-era gameshow that everyone watches - and they are chosen. Jelka and her daughter Mojka are excited, Josko and son Simon - who seems to have by default grown to be a lanky, awkward version of his father - not so much. But predictably they take little arm twisting and relent.

As the family travels to the studio in Ljubljana, they bump up against rival families, a couple of policemen with lofty ambitions, and the host of the show and his ghastly wife. Almost drawing calamity near like a magnet, the Novaks manage to threaten the beige chipboard sets into falling apart around them and before long the whole show teeters on the brink of not making it to the screen at all. Only the suave and slimy host Jos seems able to use his considerable juggling skills to keep things together.

You know when you have a family dressed up as chickens fighting clumsily with another one dressed as cats that there is going to be some comedy mileage here, and though some of the film is bogged down with the drudgery of the processes of getting a show on the air, the ever present problems fed conveyor-like to the tussling group ensures things never return to the relative starting calmness once it is lost. The family is suitably fleshed out to have enough dimension and complexity for the viewer to be able to appreciate their behaviour as the situation worsens, and the bulging cast members interact with each other convincingly thanks to a good script. The film could have done with a little trimming here and there, but it does not disappoint. 7.5/10

Though I didn't manage to fit the talk with Barbara Windsor, she came briefly up to the Pictureville bar while I was blogging and said hello to me and the small group of patient filmgoers as we amused ourselves between shows - which even though I don't consider myself much of a Babs fan, left me a little star-struck I must admit when she gave me a cheeky giggle and a smile. And she's so tiny! Remove her big hair and stilettos and she must be less than 2 feet tall! Anyway...

Irma (US) - An elderly woman lives alone, her husband long dead. We follow her as she leaves her tiny upstairs flat in Mexico and heads with arthritic stiffness across town to.. the gym.. where she starts to pump weights. It's at this point we realise Irma Gonzales has a lot more to her than first meets the eye. 8/10

Fightville (US) (site)

There is no doubt that extreme mixed martial arts in a cage fighting arena equals lots of cuts, bruises and blood. But as this documentary shows - for the officially regulated stuff at least - there is surprisingly little long-term damage (less than standard boxing in fact) and the contenders aren't as savage and bloodthirsty as you might predict. That's not to say that you won't be wincing at some of the footage here.

Fightville gives us a peek into a local MMA gym called USA MMA in Lafayette, Louisiana. Gil is the gaffer, and after a couple of decades taking part in the sport he is now a family man with a wife and two kids, and not the sort of sparring partner you want to get on the wrong side of. As well as his gym, he is trying to increase the visibility of his sport locally, putting on cage fighting events despite opposition from concerned residents who want him shut down. Of his gym group, the film follows two young hopefuls trying to make it to the professional circuit. Albert had a bad upbringing with a violent, suicidal father and alcoholic mother, who uses the anger generated by these shapeful events to get him in the zone. Dustin is younger but arguably closer to his goal, beating just about everyone that comes near him. Precocious as a child and not afraid to be led by his anger, he sees the fighting circuit as a way of channelling his anger and turning them into abilities he can use.

We follow both through a short period of both their personal and cage-fighting lives, trying to up their game to the next level. It's clear that the sport serves several purposes; an outlet for aggression and anger at the world, a place where primal urges can be let loose without people going away dead, and a way for some people to manage their anger instead of hurting those they love. Very few get to make any money with it though. Fightville is harsh, brutal and fascinating. It has a streak of humour running through it and there are people behind the fists with lives and wants and loves beyond the needs of the ring. Alberts' top hat and cheeky smile as he performs his pre-fight Clockwork Orange routine brings him out of the one-dimensional image of a bloodied fighter and into the realms of humanity. And as such this is also a film with passion for the art of the fight. 7.5/10

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