BIFF 2012 - Day 6

For Scent-imental Reasons (US) - An early, and perhaps the most well-known of the Pepé Le Pew Chuck Jones cartoons, where Pepé mistakes a cat for a fellow skunk, and falls in love much to the detriment of the poor cat's sense of smell.  Jones' Oscar-winning story was actually cut down slightly as the censors of the time figured the suicide scene too much for kiddies, but fortunately this was restored in the version I saw. 7.5/10

In Love With Alma Cogan (UK) (site)

Cromer Pier in Norfolk pays host to a story made for the oldies.  Silver non-surfer Norman manages the shows at the end of the pier theatre, and though the oldies like his shows and often sells all the tickets, the upper layers of management, personified clumsily by George, the laptop-hugging whippersnapper who has never managed to attach himself to community and hides behind manager-isms to get his point across that prices must be upped, or expenditure down.  When Norman resists, he brings in 'Blue Sky' thinker Eddie, an old ex-friend to liven up the out of season ticket sales with something fresh and new.

Two Fools, a Heartbeat and a Duty Free.  Low-budget English films for a certain age often suffer slightly with a domestic audience because their actors find it hard to shake the roles they are best known for.  But this issue isn't the film's biggest problem.  Created more as a TV movie, than one for the cinemas, to warm the cockles of the old folk as they sit by the fire, reminding them of 'the good old days'.  The talky bits where the story moves along are interspersed with cheesy monologues to some even cheesier pier-end songs - it comes across as a genuine attempt at Last of the Summer Wine meets Glee, which sounds pretty bad but even that would be tolerable if it wasn't for the lazy, one-dimensional characters (nympho council woman, crazy old lady, principled but troubled lead, meddling young'un...) and the heavy-handed slapping on of emotional cues to tell you what you should be feeling at any given time.

To be fair, the last third (where Alma Cogan is actually part of the story) does improve a bit, but if you see it I recommend bringing a hanky.  Not to dry your tears, but to put in your mouth to stop your teeth clenching together too much through all the cheese at the start. 6/10

Bully for Bugs (US) - Having not made a crucial left turn at Albuquerque, Bugs finds himself in the bullring, and comes up with ingenious ways of offing the bull who takes a dislike to Bugs stealing the show.  Full of brilliantly horrible 'deaths' for the bull culminating in a protracted gravity-defying setup for the final explosion.  One of my childhood favourites. 8/10

Battle of the Queens (Ger/Swi) (telegraph article)

I took a gamble here; Battle of the Queens sounded the better film, but Vikingland had Modern No.2 as it's short film intro, which I really wanted to see.  This sort of thing is inevitable when filling your day with films.

Shot in high-def black and white, Queens highlights a yearly festival that takes place in the Swiss Alps.  Farmers from far and wide bring their strictly female cows together to take part in what appears to be a barbaric sport - putting them into an arena and watching them fight.  I was assured that the cows were not hurt in the events and the emphasis is on style rather than combat, but given their large (albeit sandpapered down) horns and considerable weight I found it hard not to suspect some injury occurs, and I retain my initial feeling of watching dogfighting but on a bigger scale.  Maybe if I can see the latter half of the film (I left before any fighting began) I might be able to change my mind. (not reviewed)

Modern No 2 (Jpn) - I saw this at Leeds last year, and loved it so much the only reason I put Vikingland down was so that I could see it once again.  The premise doesn't sound much - trippy, upbeat J-Pop tunes accompanied by a minimal animation style of angular geometric shapes morphing and dancing about the screen.  It's beautiful, harmonic and guaranteed to perk you up. 8/10

Vikingland (Spa) (review)

So the cards fell with Vikingland being the one I would watch to the end.  Director Xurxo Chirro didn't have to pay any actors to play out his story, because someone had done it for him a decade and a half ago; he just had to snip and glue.  By chance he came across an old box of video tapes, and inside was a unique treasure of sorts; a set of recordings by a low-ranking Galician deckhand named Luis, whose long stints aboard an Icelandic ferry (the MF Vikingland) are made a little more bearable with a new toy - a camcorder.

In a simpler, less technological time, it is viewed with curiosity and a little fear by his crewmates, and Luis himself seems unsure of why he bought it, but soon he has mastered the record button and starts filming himself, often topless and nonchalantly walking around his cramped cabin, pulling his chest in and trying to buck up the courage to stare down the camera, perhaps at whatever lady he thinks might be looking back at him sometime in the future.

Luis's vanity is thankfully limited and he does show us other parts of his life, a Christmas meal, loading and unloading of supplies, hijinks around the kitchens and so forth, but almost always he is somewhere trying to be centre stage.  For 99 minutes, this drags on, and the barren wasteland of an ice-covered sea and some mid-90's cars driving on and off is not filler enough to make it a truly worthwhile view.  Cutting it in half would work wonders and for the record, my gamble didn't seem to pay off. 4.5/10

Callum (UK) - A suitably tense situation follows a freak train accident that leaves Callum's new girlfriend dead on the tracks.  Just what happened is slowly revealed in this dark view of peer pressure meeting the need to do the right thing. 8/10

Flying Pigs (Pol) (site)

Polish films tend to have a dark, humorous streak running through them and Flying Pigs, a film about riotous football hooliganism - fan support elevated from cheering on your club to angrily defending it as an entity worthy of godly worship.  Oskar is one such hooligan, like his father he joined the riots for the passion and the adrenaline.  But his father long since dropped away from the scene and advises that his son do the same.  The spiritual leader of a group worshipping low ranking team Czarni, he is busily having fun while his wife Alina has their first baby, fuming.

Losing the game meant relegation, which in turn means humiliation for the team and a year to get back again.  Cash is also short with a new mouth to feed, so when a mysterious woman hints at a well-paying job, Oskar cautiously follows the trail - right to the door of the company sponsoring the team that had them relegated.  Cash for acting as 'conductor' for a large group of people, paid to be fans to give the newly rebranded team (the 'Flying Pigs') some visibility.  Pride is a big thing to swallow for a man such as Oskar, but money is tight and if he doesn't, Baska, a girl that hits as hard as any other rioters will take his place and the cash as well.

Brutal, full of adrenaline, and coursed with black humour, Flying Pigs doesn't let up and barely drops a beat.  It's bawdy rather than outright violent, and portrays many individual with shades of grey rather than just thoughtless meatheads.  8/10

663114 (Jpn) - The second Japanese animation of the day (and the sum total for the festival, unfortunately).  Almost certainly created in reaction to the Japanese tsunami and the resulting nuclear fallout at Fukushima, an elderly cicada climbs wearily up a tree to partake in the culmination of a 66-year cycle and breed, unfortunately choosing the very worst moment to shed his old skin. 7/10

Volcano (Ice) (blog)

Metaphorical rather than physical volcanoes are explored here, despite the initial scenes of an unfortunate Icelandic town being naturally firebombed to the ground.

Many years later, gruff and grumpy Hannes lives with his long-suffering wife Anna, far away from the devastation that took their home several decades earlier.  A newly retired schoolteacher with a fearsome reputation and a weatherworn fishermans' temper, he takes to the seas in his father's old boat to get away from the constant little annoyances of his wife and their grown-up children who have families of their own but just seem to be doing everything all wrong (as in, not the exact way he would do it).

It's not the way to see out the twilight of your years, pushing everybody away, and the major event that Hannes needs to jolt him into realising it happens out of the blue, forcing him to change his attitude overnight.  Humbled and desperate, with life priorities turned on their head, he slowly learns to reconnect with the humanity around him.

Volcano's tensions erupt with well-pitched emotional punch and the scenes are played with a genuine tenderness that never manages to resort to melodrama or a feeling of heavy-handedness to thump the subject home.  The end comes quietly, much as it would in real life and the final honourable act by Hannes is raw and cold, but entirely predictable, only because in the same  situation, anyone else would do the same.  A painful emotional journey that will hit hardest if you have ever watched a loved one slip helplessly away. 8/10

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