A last minute entry into one of the TBA slots in the timetable meant we could have a look at VOS. Based on a novel about a screenplay within a screenplay, VOS morphs to a film within a film. The romantic lives of two couples intertwine as two of them, Clara And Manu argue over how they should move on together after sleeping with each other, instead of their partners. They also happen to be trying to create a rom-com film about the hijinks of two couples at the same time, and the lines between what is their own life and what is being acted out frequently blur and tease the audience, just when they think they have a handle on the situation.
Some may be frustrated with VOS's novel style, where clever story switches mean that the usual cutting between scenes is often replaced with the actors walking between wooden sets, and possibly their real lives, though again, it's deliberately hard to distinguish. With a narrative a little like Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress, you will either relish the challenge of understanding the whole story from the clues hidden away, or you will become frustrated and give up as their reality changes again and again. Personally, although the film was dialogue-heavy and subtitled, I found it an entertaining extra layer on top of an appealing and original work. 7.5/10
Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (Swe) (site)
It might sound like the tackiest title for gay porn film you have ever heard of, but Frederik Gertten's meta-documentary is serious stuff from the get-go. In 2009, he made Bananas!*, a documentary about a lawsuit against multinational fruit giants Dole. In Nicaragua, a handful of plantation owners under Dole's control sued them as they believed the pesticides Dole was using on the crops were making them sterile. As Gertten was about to premiere it at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Dole's lawyerbots sent out threatening letters to everyone connected - the festival, the sponsors, and especially Gertten himself, peppering the text with threats and denials, and making out the film to be full of lies, despite not having actually seen it. When it did get shown, the threats of litigation were made real, and Gertten found himself with very few friends; least of all the press, who had swallowed Doles' early PR punch that they were wronged by a fraudulent documentary.
So this sequel of sorts was born of the experience, a fine example of corporate might brought down heavily to silence a small film company in Sweden by use of some plain nasty dark arts, practices and techniques employed all too often by dedicated PR firms for clients who want to silence any bad publicity. Feating for his career and livelihood, and those of his staff, Gertten nevertheless recognised a precedent would be set if he did not fight his corner, and so somehow he did.
Though less impacting than yesterdays Call me Kuchu, and covering subject matter less immediately harmful than the earlier film that caused all the hoo-ha, Big Boys is an eye opener to just how much power still resides in the hands of those who least require it. And techniques such as Astroturfing show that the internet is not as democratically free as you would hope it to be.
Frederik Gertten was present at the screening which made for an enlightening half hour of Q and A (overrunning its timeslot in the process). As if there weren't enough revealing documentaries out there here are two more that I would recommend, on the subjects of third world mistreatment, and first world abuses of the justice system. 8/10
Frank (UK) (interview with director Richard Heslop)
Shown under the Microcinema strand, dedicated to films made on a shoestring budget (the excellent 2007 film Kin was also shown here previously), Frank is an example of what can come of a film with creativity unrestricted by corporate interest, or trying to satisfy the most punters. That can sound dangerous but in the right circumstances can expose new talent.
Frank is a single man with mental problems. Fallen through the cracks of the social systems meant to care for him, he lives alone in squalor in a nasty part of a dying seaside town. Franks heart is pure but he has no direction or role model, and no-one seems interested in helping him. When not at the charity shop helping out, he whiles away his hours at the sea shore, where one day he makes a discovery - a dead body washed ashore.
What follows is a masterful, if gruesome playing out of a broken mind trying to make sense of the new things entering his fragile world. Tideland by Terry Gilliam is a close comparison to the premise, although the conclusion plays out far differently; the part of Frank played to perfection by Darren Beaumont, surely a face that will appear again soon. Gritty and gruesome but by equal measure gentle and beautiful, Frank is another example that a small budget can create big things in the right hands. 8/10
Guinea Pigs (UK) (review)
And for our last film, we have a psychohorror from the UK. The spotless and professional-looking surroundings of the fictitious Limebrook Clinic get a new coat of scarlet on the floor, walls and ceiling, as the testing of their new drug, PRO-9 on a gang of volunteers, goes horribly wrong. In the order they were injected, each of the volunteers, isolated from the outside world, succumbs to the effects of the drug, meaning a lot of paranoid creeping around wrecked laboratories for the survivors.
Though guilty of a few unresolved threads and a couple of silly moments, Guinea Pigs kept the suspense ramped up high after a slow build-up, although the suspense went limp towards the end, which though it wound up things competently, felt a little disappointing given the build-up of tension to that point. If you like being scared however and are willing to forgive a few slipups, you have a solid night's screaming ahead of you. 7/10