BIFF 2012 - Day 11

The Fast and the Furry-Ous (US)

My final compendium of Chuck Jones cartoons.  Some are repeats from elsewhere so I've left them out.

The Ducksters (7.5/10, Daffy plays radio quiz show host, repeatedly requiring contestant Porky Pig to 'pay the penalty' for not answering the stupidly difficult questions.) Mouse Wreckers (7.5/10 - where Hubie and Bertie first meet Claude the cat and wreak psychological havoc on him as he sleeps to try and get him out of the house.) Frigid Hare (7/10 sees Bugs again fail to turn left at Albuquerque and finds himself in the Antarctic instead of Miami beach just in time to save a cute penguin from an Eskimo hunter.)  There They Go-Go-Go (7/10 - another Road Runner feature well into the franchise, with the usual assortment of explosive gags.) and Rabbit Seasoning (8/10, a continuation of Rabbit Fire, where Bugs and Daffy debate which season it is, with Bugs always coming out on top thanks to some great wordplay)

Kevin Brownlow: The Birth of Widescreen

Thanks to some last minute shifting about of films I ended up with a free slot here, and since I hadn't managed to fit any in (in thanks partly to the strange decision not to allow the Cinerama features to be included in the BIFF pass).  It is by scheduling convenience rather than choice that I got to see a live talk by film historian and sometime director Kevin Brownlow on the subject of early attempts at widescreen cinema, an art form we take for granted now, but struggled with technical difficulties, viewer indifference and a massive girth of formats during the formative years in the late 19th Century.  Standard 35mm 4:3 ratio films would remain in vogue for a half century until slowly it began to pick up.  An early widescreen attempt, the Triptych, must have been particularly impressive; for the few films that supported it, the standard 4:3 central screen would be joined for the finale of the film by two more, either side to give a panoramic experience.  But the scratchy, silent examples we were treated to (on a reduced format, standard widescreen rather than via the Cinerama experience) were out of sync and did not properly match up, thanks to the odd design of the recording equipment, with three cameras mounted clumsily on top of each other.

The talk was quite interesting, although hard-going when you are unfamiliar with the names and concepts and for the most part you were hearing a talk rather than seeing actual film.  For an event that was part of the Cinerama experience, it would have been nice to actually have some examples of panoramic cinema as well but the curtains stayed closed.  I might track down some of his documentaries sometime. 6/10

One Smart Indian (US) - A simple tale set in the ether between bouts of inspiration.  An author in advancing years suffers writers block, bringing into focus the things around him that would otherwise be neglected, such as his now distant daughter. 7/10

The Color Wheel (US) (indiewire)

Brother and sister Colin and JR squabble and fight whenever they are together, and their frantic back and forth of deadpan put-downs fills the air.  So when JR calls on a favour for Colin to help her move out after breaking up with a professor she had a fling with, which involves a couple of days drive to the city and back, it's going to have plenty of banter.  Reserved younger brother Colin feigns hatred of JR's free, immature spirit and can sympathize when the rest of the family don't invite her, but deep down it's clear that he wishes he was more like her; as brother and sister they have a very close bond that allows nobody else near.

I really enjoyed the back and forth of the leading characters.  While the banter felt a little reconstituted it was nevertheless pretty sharp and often funny.  It would have been a pretty damn good black comedy from an aspiring director if it kept to that, but the rather shock ending felt completely disjointed and out of place with the rest of the film which spoilt things a bit. 7/10

Decapoda Shock (Spa) - A stupid-funny short from Spain in the style of such Japanese WTF-ery as Executive Koala.  An astronaut hurries back from Mars having turned into a crab.  With the help of some epileptic imagery and some zoomy-inny-outy tricks he needs to solve the mystery of his missing family and some satanic scientists on his tail.  Completely daft, but it's difficult not to smile. 7/10

Livid (Fra) (wiki)

I know the French can do a good thriller (Point Blank is an excellent example) but I'm not aware of their horror movie output.  In a remote French coastal town young Lucie takes an assistants role with the local care nurse as she does the rounds of the local elderly.  The nervous look in their faces and the missing children signs littering the streets bode for something bad coming, and when they finally arrive at the dilapidated mansion house of the town's scary old woman, whose life consists of an oxygen mask and a bed, she is keen to get out of there as soon as possible.  But rumours of the old lady's hidden treasure somewhere in the myriad of rooms catches her ear.

Will, her boyfriend smells a way out of his unimpressive fisherman's job and has no scruples about breaking in with his friend, which Lucie finally comes round to, so long as they are careful.  But the house is big and full of dusty, locked rooms with who knows what in them, and that old woman is more animated than she is letting on.

Starting slowly, Livid builds up the tensions until the half-way point when things quickly get violent and bloody, evoking a Hammer-style film with lots of low-budget scares and a few buckets of blood.  It could have gone all Scooby Doo with a big old mansion but it managed to keep the action lean and trim and didn't drag or become repetitive.  A good choice for a bloodthirsty horror nut. 7.5/10

Samsara (US) (site)

There is a strand of film called non-narrative; these are films with no plot as such, and are usually just the director showing you a series of scenes.  Yesterdays rubbish Voluptuous Sleep was one example, but perhaps the most well-known are the Qatsi trilogy of films, which Samsara director Ron Fricke worked on as well.  Samsara, and it's predecessor Baraka are both very similar to the Qatsi films, and this is neither a bad thing nor a coincidence.

The subject matter is similar, exploring the beautiful imagery of nature and humanity; their successes and failures, and how they behave and co-exist as seen from a high vantage point.  The major difference here is that Samsara is filmed on cutting edge high definition film, meaning it is about as crystal clear, as beautifully real as you could ever expect from flat film.

A low-res trailer just can't do it justice.  Samsara is serene, occasionally humorous, bizarre and discomforting, but always a hypnotically beautiful exploration of the world and while it weighs in at approaching 2 hours, when it's up on the screen in front of you hitting your eyes and ears with it's astonishing beauty, this will seem brief.  Despite a lack of a traditional narrative, some may criticise Fricke for some slightly heavy-handed messages about consumerism, violence and the modern disconnection but this is life, and it is presented without comment before us, and we have to recognise the problems and make the connections. 8.5/10

BIFF 2012 - Day 10

Characters A-Go-Go! (US)

My second collection of Chuck Jones cartoons, and yes the popcorn munching kids were out in force, as if it was put on for them or something.

The Hypo-Chondri Cat (7.5/10, with Claude the cat whose hypochondria allows two hungry mice to have a bit of fun with him), Elmer's Candid Camera (6/10, an early Merrie Melodies cartoon - before it was officially part of Warner Bros - with a barely recognisable and rather shiny Elmer and the one of the first appearances by Bugs Bunny.  The action is gentler and less focused and the tunes are more wacky, but you can see the beginnings of what becomes the golden era).  The Oscar-winning The Dot and the Line - A Romance in Lower Mathematics (7.5/10 - about as abstract as you can get about a straight starched line and his attempts to woo the dot of his dreams - better than it sounds), Hare Conditioned (6/10, another early Bugs Bunny one but Bugs is more recognisable as the thorn in the side of a department store manager who wants him taxidermied, and includes an early example - of many - of Bugs in drag).  Cheese Chasers (8/10, a clever reversal of norms where mice hate cheese and poor Claude the cat can't eat mice.  Darker humour than some but the best of this bunch).  Guided Muscle is a Road Runner film (7/10, early enough not to feel tired and less repetitive than some examples) A Bear For Punishment (7.5/10, the long-suffering dad of Junior, the oversized, under-developed son who with his tolerant mother tries to make it the best Fathers Day ever), and finally Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century (7.5/10, where Daffy and Porky Pig end up sparring with Marvin the Martian over who stakes claim to Planet X and it's exclusive shaving cream minerals.)

Voluptuous Sleep (US) (review)

In a feat of scheduling genius, the same Duck Dodgers cartoon played before this started.  C'est la vie.  Voluptuous Sleeps' director, Betzy Bromberg is all about visual trickery.  She's worked as a visual effects supervisor on several films you've almost certainly seen. Terminator 2, Last Action Hero, True Lies and more.  But this film is perhaps what you get when you let someone from an effects department swig a bottle of brandy and then come to the front and do her own thing.

Her own thing it seems, is taking several arty shots of water - running from a tap, dripping to the ground, draining away through the natural channels in a stone, and then put them through a filter (or just turn the light off in her bathroom) to make it look ethereal and moody. 

I was hoping for something Qatsi-like, like Samsara which I am hoping to see tomorrow, but it seemed the director was trying to say to me.. have you seen water up close?  I mean have you, like, reeeeally looked at it?  Look: here is some water up close.  Now look at it for 2 minutes.  Now look at this other water.  And this.. isn't it just fascinating?

The first section was called 'Language as a Skin'.  I didn't stay for the second. 2/10

Mr. Bugs Bunny (UK) (imdb)

So what I did was take time out to see this; an Omnibus special from 2001, a year before his death.  It is one of thousands of programs available in the TV Heaven section of the museum, and had been highlighted by the festival because of it's obvious connections.  Steven Spielberg, Matt Groening, John Lassetter and most importantly an elderly but still fully functioning Chuck Jones himself come together with clips from dozens of films, taking us through the early influences of Chaplain and the Marx Brothers, and up to the golden years of the Warner Bros. output.  It's clear that there is some tension with Jones in the programme as it stops dead in the late 50's with little mention of his MGM output and nothing at all about his split with Warner Bros. and the thorny relations and slow decline of his cartoon output afterwards. 

Instead, the hour is filled nicely with upbeat tales from Jones and some other surviving animators of the time, and platitudes from his famous fans who understandably list him amongst their major influences. 7.5/10

Late August, Early September (Fra) (wiki)

The Dot and the Line (above) played before this one just to rub in my schedule choices. D'oh.

Buoyed on by Oliver Assayas' brilliant Carlos from earlier in the week, I was anticipating this film, another in his retrospective.  It's a complicated story about two friends, struggling authors Gabriel and Adrien and the relationships they have with the women in their life.  Gabriel's ex girlfriend Jenny is now going out with Adrien, and Adrien has a questionable bit on the side with starstruck young teen Vera that Jenny has no knowledge of.  Gabriel is trying to make a new life with Anna, but her fiery nature keeps her at arms length and he and Jenny can never quite let things go.  The film charts six or so months in their lives as everyone hesitates with the life choices they made (usually involving puffing on a large number of cigarettes), especially when Adrian's health begins to degenerate due to an illness he is keen to assure everyone, is nothing like as bad as it is.

Assayas' melodrama is kept going at a rate enough for it to never get whimsical or cloying but never particularly reaches the emotional heights that it needed to do; none of the characters, who seem to not suffer from the normal breakup consequences that people outside of France have to deal with, are especially likeable, so when the inevitable happens I just didn't care enough to join them in their grief.  It's a competent enough drama with a complicated tangle of relationships (read: don't watch if you're half distracted) that tries hard to capture your heart, but never quite succeeds. 7/10

Faust (Rus) (wiki)

Those crazy Fr... Russians.

Faust takes place in a remote coastal town, centring on a doctor taking the first stabs into the world of actually working out how things work rather than attaching leeches and hoping for the best.  Top of the list is the location of the soul in the human body, by means of cutting them open and having a good old rummage around.  Faust's father's profession is old hat, his random attempts at curing people have turned Faust into an early man of science.

One fateful day he meets with Mauricius Muller, a creepy looking pawnbroker who could get him some cash for medical research, but he doesn't seem interested in riches and wares.  When a pub altercation ends with Faust killing the soldier brother of Margerete, a young woman who has captured his heart, Muller sees his chance to ask for something more useful - his soul, in return for her forgiving heart.

For many cinemagoing people, Faust will prove to be quite an impenetrable experience.  Operatic acting - bumbling idiots and drooling beasts, fair maidens with heaving bosoms - but mercifully no musical numbers mean that you really have to concentrate and pick out the little bits that move the story on in among all the confusing bustle.  It's undeniably beautiful to look at, it's barbarism harking back to it's very earliest roots, though this interpretation is set in the 19th century.  Those who have read and digested Faust in some other form will probably be the ones that get the most out of this film; for others, it is a laboured experience. 6/10

Fast and Furry-Ous (US) - The first Road Runner cartoon is actually one of the best.  Jones was still creating quite detailed backgrounds at this point in his career and it results in a noticeably different overall effect.  The various forms of Road Runner-capturing devices are fresh and new here (a highlight being the ski/fridge method of propulsion) which makes it much more watchable. 7.5/10

The Raid (Indonesia/US) (site)

To clear out the fug left by Faust, how about a film where lots of people get horribly killed?  The raid is a simple excuse for gratuitous violence, which it does very well indeed.  Rama is a young cop with a pregnant wife who is about to go on a dangerous mission.  Part of a team of 20 or so armed police, they are to storm a large, fifteen storey towerblock, a depressing concrete prison where a few remaining honest types keep their doors locked and their noses clean, lest they bother the large percentage of violent low-level criminals or worse still, vicious gangster and drug dealer Tama who resides on the top floor.

All goes according to plan until floor five and then all hell breaks loose as their until then stealth mission is compromised and they find themselves being fired on from all angles.

As far as I know, this is the first film that I have watched where for several scenes I have had to mop my brow when the action momentarily abated.  The Raid is relentless like no other film I have ever seen, in it's violent, intensely choreographed action and you feel the punches, kicks, gunshots, stabs and bodies being flung against concrete posts that the actors must have gone through to get the shots.  It's incredibly impressive and manages for the most part to come at you so strong that you just don't have time to think of it as a string of set-piece fights.

I joined the rest of the audience in the gasps, winces and sudden intakes of breath at what we were seeing, not quite believing that it wasn't all done with computers.  If you want a film that can leave you winded and gasping just by looking at it, and you can stomach the bone-cracking scenes of barbarity, this is definitely the film for you. 8/10

BIFF 2012 - Day 9

The Proposition (Australia/UK) (wiki)

Maybe intended as an accompaniment to the film to give us an appreciation of the cloying heat of the Australian Outback, the Cineworld theatre had the heating turned up high and was like a sauna for the first half of this film.  Thankfully one of the work experience kids re-read the instruction book and turned a dial for us so we survived.

But the actors must have had it much tougher as they were shooting this film, dusty sweat stinging their eyes; and the people of the colonies who lived through that time even worse.  Of course, the ones who had it worst, whose short lives were made truly wretched were the Aboriginal population of Australia - a branch of humanity slain by their thousands by the righteous British colonial settlers, spurred on by flag and faith in the 19th Century, 'civilising' every pocket of resistance in their path.

Capt. Morris Stanley (another part played well by Ray Winstone) is one such patriot doing his overseas duty, running sword and bullet through criminals on his patch.  His drunken squad care little for justice, replacing it with vengeance whenever the actual perp can't be easily found. But one band constantly eludes him; the Burns brothers.  When finally he captures two of them, young Mike and his protective brother Charles, only Arthur, the eldest and most dangerous remains.  Striking a deal with Charles to track him and bring him back before Christmas, or Mike is hanged, Morris foolishly reckons he's solved the problem and can concentrate on more civilising.

Yet another Ray Winstone entry, The Proposition takes a little time to warm up but gives a horribly authentic-looking portrayal of wretched lives scraping a living with few comforts to hand, and the Aboriginals who are treated as either pests to exterminate or a resource to herd and exploit in the harsh beauty of the hell they live in.  Both Stanley's gang and the Burns brothers are dark shades of grey rather than a defined good and bad side, and you will find yourself backing the fortunes of both at various times.  It's a grisly, hard film to watch, with an uncharacteristically but perfectly reserved performance by Winstone and a view of a world that should not have taken place. 7.5/10

Departure (UK) - Two astronauts on a long-distance mission through space learn that the valve leak they just had has drained 80% of their water supply.  Only enough left for one person to get home.  At this point, you're probably thinking.. water rationing, urine filtration systems, or a hibernation state.  But apparently the director didn't. 6/10

I am a Good Person/I am a Bad Person (Can) (wiki)

This is deeply strange.  I am sat in Cubby Broccoli cinema, looking at the screen as the film plays.  The scene shows a pan of the seating for the Cubby Broccoli cinema, and SOMEONE ELSE IS SITTING IN MY SEAT.  Consider my mind blown, man.

Director Ingrid Veninger (who was present at the screening for a Q and A, and also the star of the film just to increase my confusion) plays Ruby White, a wife with 2 kids and a film-making career of sorts.  She is about to tour some festivals to promote her latest film, 'Head Shots'.  It's a film about a woman taking pictures of penises.  Yes.

Along for the ride is her bookish daughter Sara and the two of them go to last years Bradford Film Festival, and after a terrible reception to the screening, Ruby drags her daughter along for some liquid soothing and the best music Bradford has on offer.  Not long afterwards they agreeably part ways.  The rest of the film follows their respective experiences; Sara meeting with her friends in Paris and enjoying herself, except for the whole boyfriend thing, and Ruby touring Berlin, suffering that thing many struggling filmmakers at a festival must do - going hoarse asking passers by to please see her film.

Unique for a Bradford audience perhaps, the first half of the film felt like a highlight, seeing places you'd just walked through and re-living last year's festival experience, only to flatline in the second half while both parties go off and do their own thing.  Both stumble upon some realisation about their life in the process but it comes as an inevitability rather than revelation to the viewer.  I suspect a non-Bradford festival goer may extract less enjoyment, rather than more.

It was quite enjoyable, but it just didn't wow me.  But it gets an extra half point for the use of Foux du fafa. 6/10

So Much For So Little (US) - Back in 1942, US Healthcare was a right rather than a privilege, and if you showed this Oscar-winning public information film to the current US movie-going public, chances are half of them would scream abuse at the screen and accuse Chuck Jones of being a Communist.  That says more about how the US has changed rather than the film, although purely as a warm-up act before a feature, it's not that entertaining. 7/10

Sing Your Song (Ger) (site)

Prior to this film my impression of Harry Belafonte was as a singer from the past who at the very mention of his name my mum would always go coy and say how much she loved him.  Day-O is a competent enough song but little more than novelty pop (with an even more obscure version on an old tape from the 80's I have somewhere).  I suspect that for those of my age and below who have even heard of the man, many will have a similar, indifferent opinion.

But this film opened my eyes to all that.  A perfect accompaniment to Mama Africa from last year (shared footage of Miriam Makeba and Belafonte connect the two films), Sing Your Song allows Belafonte, now over 80 to chronicle his considerable life in full.  Sometimes sounding a little proud of himself perhaps, but he has a right to be.  From his birth in Harlem and upbringing in Jamaica where he picked up the simple workmen songs that he would come to be known for, through  his early acting and singing career (which were both dogged by racial conflict, especially in the American south who issued a collective gasp at even a black man and white woman touching), past the civil rights movements and standing with Martin Luther King and John Kennedy, the 1963 March on Washington, Bloody Sunday in Alabama, Wounded Knee, USA for Africa and countless more.  Belafonte has played a significant part in all these major milestones in American, African and global civil rights history, and he is still going strong despite at several times in his career being stung with that oft-used label by threatened right-wingers, a communist.

His voice is now raspier than before but the spirit and determination to confront injustice is still as strong.  His current project concerns the youth of America, giving them a voice after being shocked at a report of a 5-year old girl trussed up with handcuffs for being 'rowdy'.  America, and the world in general has very far to go before we reach a state where we can all be happy, but it's people like Harry Belafonte who get us there, and this brilliant documentary opened my eyes to that. 8.5/10

BIFF 2012 - Day 8

If you're looking for day 7, there isn't one.  I spent some quality time with Ms. Plants, and it didn't include films.

The Bear That Wasn't (US) - The last ever MGM cartoon short.  By this point the MGM output was distinctly different (lower budget and, for my money a poorer quality output), but you can still see the echoes of Chuck Jones' best times in this final goodbye, although his style at this point had become so abstract as to barely resemble the output from 20 years previous.  The Bear wakes from a peaceful hibernation deep beneath the forests to find a new scene above, and the suits in increasing positions of power won't budge from their insistence of being right that the silly man should take off his fur coat and get back to work.  I would have hoped the last cartoon would be a final hurrah for the cinema short but its more of a poorly-animated whimper in a faux-Disney style, using and reusing frames to cut back on development time, something Chuck Jones must have looked at with frustration when he saw the final product. 6/10

Wrinkles (Spa) (site)

One way to approach the sensitive subject of the steady slide into the fogged ether of Alzeihmers is to use a medium other than traditional filmmaking.  Wrinkles uses animation rather than live action to allow the viewer to have a degree of distance between the artificial (though believable) lives on screen and what may be going through the heads of the viewer.

The audience for this screening was noticeably populated with many elderly, filling out the theatre quite nicely.  Probably raising nostalgic warmth from their youth by the short, Wrinkles may have been a bit too close for comfort.  Set in a specialist care home for the elderly, with large metal gates and chain-link fences just beyond the pleasant gardens, ex-bank manager Emilio - capable of the odd moment of confusion, but generally lucid - begins the first day of the rest of his life.  He shares a room with shady dealer Miguel, who has the measure of his fellow inmates and has learned to give them what they think they want, for a couple of the euros they won't be using anyway.

Miguel's selfish don't sink attitude to life causes problems, but when Emilio's possessions start to disappear its clear that Miguel as chief suspect is crossing a line.  But Emilio's fears about his failing health and further descent fill his faltering mind and as his time gets increasingly desperate, an escape for a final fling is too enticing to refuse.

Made on a lower budget than your average Disney flick, Wrinkles is noticeably choppy - the frame rate is quite low (relying on computer animation here and there for smoothness, which makes some traditionally animated things like a car pulling away look even worse), and the lip sync is not much better than a Japanese TV animé, but fortunately the story underneath is worthy enough to ignore these small things.  Wrinkles feels well-researched and tackles the sensitive subjects with humour and gentle wit without ever feeling cloying or saccharine.  It's intended audience may love it or loathe it for it's accurate portrayal but you can't fault it for that. 8/10

Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z (US) - My favourite WB cartoons from my childhood were always the Road Runner ones - but looking back many of them are basically very similar slapstick sequences that kind of merge into one.  This is one of the more inventive examples, the use of the 'Bat Man' suit and the painted road put some variety in between the anvils and dynamite. 6.5/10

Crooks in Cloisters (UK) (wiki)

A low-level band of criminals, after yet another botched robbery where the police are a step ahead of them, decide it's time to lay low for a bit.  Gang leader Walter and his squeeze 'Bikini' (Barbara Windsor) has sorted out an unorthodox guise for their gang to hide out - replacing the monks at an island monastery off Newquay (which is actually filmed in Portloe, Cornwall).

Jail-type cells and some slim pickings in the vegetable patches don't convince the gang members, but the cavernous basements make for an ideal place to print money and forge jewels, all they have to do is look monkish for the occasional visitor and keep Bikini's implausible hairdo hooded over.

My only Babs Windsor Retrospective film in the festival.  Crooks in Cloisters is everything you would expect from a low-budget late 60's comedy flick from these shores.  Lots of xylophone-based incidental music, a bleached colour scheme and a range of people falling over and being generally boorish and clumsy.  If that sort of thing will put you off a film, there's probably not much here to lift you into enjoying what it has to offer.  But it is pretty enjoyable if you can stomach the carry on skin and the ending is almost sentimental. Almost. 7/10

Negative (Isr) - An older woman and younger man strike up a conversation after she catches him in the lens of her camera, and takes him back to her place to show him some exposures.  But before they can get down to anything, her granddaughter visits, and she likes the look of him too.  A nice little film about taking what you want even if convention says it's not for you, and a refreshing change from output from the middle east, which often involves some sort of hard-edged conflict. 7.5/10

The War Zone (Ita/UK) (wiki)

The first of a double helping of Ray Winstone films.

A 2+2 family move from London to the Devon coast to a Father Ted-style house in the middle of nowhere.  Mum is about to have her third baby and Dad is loving and doting when not on the phone to work.  Tom and Jess are brother and sister with a rebellious streak and the usual moody moods, which on the way to the hospital for a hurried birth, ends up with the car on it's roof and the baby born in a puddle.

So far, it's a gentle melodrama about a family recovering after an accident, and the siblings' attitudes and contemptuous faces are viewed as products of their hormones.  But the audience is forced to see things in a different light when Tom's suspicions of his otherwise ideal husband father are raised a couple of notches.  A shared bath here, a set of explicit photos there and the audience quickly runs out of excuses to think he is whiter than white.  An old machine gun bunker on the rocky coast gives Tom and the audience the final confirmation, and it is horrific.

Ray Winstone's performance looks necessarily subdued and out of character at the start but gathers an unsettling momentum as the layers fall away.  The performance by the young leads are fantastic and daring, and the pain experienced is real.  Tilda Swanson did just have a child (with the associated post-pregnancy tummy for authenticity) and when Jess burns herself with a lighter to take her mind off the nightmare, there is no safety net.  A shocking, chilling film with little cause for optimism, but a powerful experience. 8/10

Rabbit Fire (US) - The best of the Warner Bros. cartoons (I've decided, from my current adult perspective) involve Bugs and Daffy in their roles as sparring comrades.  This is a great example, where we have the brilliant 'Rabbit Season/Duck Season' clash around a largely clueless Elmer Fudd.  Sharp, smart slapstick. 8/10

Beowulf (US) (site)

In a time of Danish Vikings on a cold, unforgiving Scandinavian coast, the old Norse gods still roam.  The king of the Danes is plagued by Grendel, a towering troll who objects to loud music playing keeping him up all night, and because they party hard in ignorance of this, Grendel decides to throw some of them into walls and bite their heads off.

From across the waters comes Beowulf the Geat, bringing with him tales of heroism, looking to settle a favour owed by his father: to come and kill the beast. But though Grendel is fallable, he has a protective mother and she has different ways of overcoming her foes.

Falling foul of the prejudices I often bemoan in other people, I was expecting Beowulf, what with it being a computer animated film to not be particularly icky.  I was wrong.  Beowulf is the first film in a long while to make me wince at gratuitous violence involving sharp swords and decapitation, even though the computer graphics capabilities of 2007 still hadn't quite made it to a photo-realistic standard.  Grendel's early attack on the village is particularly bloodthirsty with blood and limbs flying everywhere, not to mention Grendel himself, a disgustingly disfigured troll-creature that slavers and sweats over his many victims. Gaah.

So, if anyone thinks of seeing this (surprisingly) 12A film with their kids 'because its a cartoon and cartoons are for kids' I would say perhaps you shouldn't just this once unless you fancy a shock.  The barbarism is mixed with a good deal of nudity, and I could swear the naked body double for Angelina Jolie is no computer model but actual sexy curves in the flesh.  Anyone else who fancies an eye-popping IMAX film with a good quality 3D interpretation of the original legend and a decent plot that doesn't become just a series of fights (thanks to Robert Zemekis directing and Neil Gaiman helping write the screenplay) could do a whole lot worse than this. 7.5/10

Handschlag (Swi) - A lonesome plasterer gets the opportunity for a taste of what it is to be a father when he is given an 'immersion partnership' - an apprenticeship lad to teach the ways of DIY.  But things get complicated when his colleague questions why it is not his kid getting life lessons. Competent but nothing special. 7/10

Beyond These Mountains (Swi/Ger) (site)

Two best friends, about to take their medical exams, look to getting an apartment together.  Heidi is studious but Milena isn't so bothered about an academic future, seeing her part time job at the shoe shop as some sort of badge of adulthood.  Boyfriends, money and lecherous managers get in the way of realising their dreams.  Or something like that.

Maybe it's one of those times when I'm too tired, but this film just seemed too loosely strung together to make much sense.  In the end they may have got their flat, one might have found a boyfriend, and the other gets the sack, but little else happens and then there's a metaphorical mountain climb at the end where one gives up halfway and the other carries on into the fog in unsuitable shoes.  We were told that the director had a knack for framing his pictures with interesting objects, which I suppose it did (there were some nice pictures of the Alps) but maybe some work on telling a story as well would have been nice. 4/10

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

BIFF 2012 - Day 5

Malaventura (Mex) (trailer - warning: noisy)

I arrived late for the screening thanks to some train troubles, but the gremlins that dog the Cubby screen were out in force again, I should have known to trust them. By the time I had arrived, the long opening scene (where our hero wakes in his dingy flat and gets ready to go out as the world comes to life outside) had just about finished - without sound. A wait followed by a second attempt with the backup DVD came with audio, and just as that same scene had finished, the DVD stopped.

To save us spending a third morning waking with the old man, I got them to scoot it on a bit, and finally - some 40 minutes late - we were watching uncharted film, with sound.

If only it had been worth the wait. Malaventura is an hour in the life of an unnamed old man. His empty life involves much isolation and, mumbling around the streets of some Mexican town, he wiles away his few remaining days drinking, walking and sitting studying the young people and old buildings around him with a sorrowful look.

It felt as if it should have been a short film; five minutes worth of ambling around to give us the idea of the terrible emptiness of a life without contact, but I guess that was the point. There are millions of such people around the planet who spend days without seeing or saying anything to anyone. The convenience of reducing that to a five minute short is wasted on the viewer.

I got that; but a film has to go somewhere. Long, static shots of a shuffling man in various parts of the city tell us nothing the previous scene communicated, and the resolution offered up at the end made little sense and did little to make me feel like I had learned something. 4/10

He Whose Face Gives No Light (Can/Mex) (synopsis)

Playing as part of a double bill with Malaventura, this is actually the more enjoyable piece of work, though not by much. Whereas Malaventura deals with the storyline, such that it was of an old man straining the last dregs out of life, this counterpart film, whilst not quite being a 'behind the scenes' DVD extra, attempts to give some voice and life to the people who played the characters in the film. Filmed as scenes from Malaventura were being shot - indeed some have 'alternate camera angles' of certain scenes, the elderly Mexican residents talk about anything on their minds - at least until the clapper-board shuts, and then you get the protracted silence of a film set during a take. Mildly distracting, but not enough to make the whole thing worthwhile. 5/10

Those Who Can (UK) - The final day of the career of a school teacher, driven to distraction by unruly kids who will just not give him respect or attention. Pivotal moments are sliced up and shuffled, as the man recalls the event in retrospect, or perhaps it hasn't happened.. yet. A film to make you uncomfortable with your reactions. 7/10

Belle De Jour (Fra/Ita) (wiki)

Pierre Climénti, the gangly and awkward-looking French actor/director is getting a retrospective at this years' BIFF, and Belle De Jour was my chosen film to see. It is perhaps the most famous of the films on offer, and stars the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve in a typical role (see Repulsion) where she plays a woman with a bit of a screw loose.

Still, Deneuve's character Severine has reason to be a bit off, as we see in choice flashbacks to her childhood; she was abused more than once, meaning that as an adult, her relationship with doctor husband Pierre, who loves her unconditionally, is awkward and strained. Specifically, she can't share a bed with him or be physically affectionate. Though Pierre exerts the patience of a saint, Severine knows it won't last forever, and her subconscious is feeding her dreams where her repressed sexual fantasies are channelled through her guilt and are becoming ever more perverse.

A chance conversation about brothels by Pierres' friend Husson where he happily admits to frequenting them when he wants some fun, pricks up her ears. Not knowing quite why she visits out of curiosity, and Madame Anais inside, mistaking her for a new girl, signs her up. Not able to resist and seemingly not in control of her actions she takes it on. All goes well until low-end gangster Hippolyte shows up with his unhinged assassin Marcel (Clementi, who despite looking awkward and a rubbish assassin in the stills, evokes a brooding rage and danger behind the eyes), finding reciprocated desire, but not love from her.

Male sexual desire was being explored on film in increasingly explicit ways by the mid-60's though this film is probably an early example showing that women had naughty thoughts too; a concept some men are still finding a surprise. Severine's dreams speak of her sexual leanings, and the use of a brothel to face the fear of another person's touch is subtly explored through psychological allegory. Stylistically the film is now very much of it's time, but it stands strong as an exploration of the fragility of human desire. 7.5/10

Carlos (Fra/Ger) (site)

By coincidence, the next film was also part of a retrospective, this time for the director Oliver Assayas. This is perhaps the work he will be most remembered for. A shortened film version of an original Golden Globe-winning 3-part TV miniseries. Even with half of it on the cutting room floor, the film is not to be taken lightly, getting close to three hours in length.

Being careful not to refer to 'The Jackal' - the name thought up by the media and not by his comrades or anyone unfortunate to tangle with him, the film spans two decades of his life. In 1973, he was trying to prove himself worthy enough for a PFLP revolutionaries group led by Wadie Haddad, and though Carlos showed guts and promise, his individualistic approach to terrorism, culminating with a horribly botched kidnapping of the OPEC Committee in 1975 got him kicked out, long after his increasingly bloodthirsty attitude towards the treatment of those in his way lost him old comrades, and got him in with some unhinged new ones.

Assayas portrays the fall from grace expertly; Carlos (played brilliantly by Édgar Ramirez) changes his hairstyle, face fungus and waistline as quickly as the fashions of the time, betraying his wayward principles and propensity to live the decadent capitalist western life he is trying so hard to show he is against.

Coming out of the film after such running time, I was surprised to find myself disappointed that I wasn't watching the full, uncut version (although mercifully I would do it in the intended three parts) as it was clear that key events and scenes had been cut. What remained was an excellent cinematic version of praised works such as The Killing or The Wire, and one day I will try and pick up the unabridged work to see how much I have missed. 8/10

Brotherhood (UK) - Two Kurdish brothers live meagre lives in a Yorkshire town. Ibrahim is trying to become a doctor and studies hard. His brother Rafiq is slowly drifting away. He loves his brother but their lives cannot change unless he starts taking on some shady jobs for extra money. How they reconcile this difference will play out when Ibrahim discovers his brothers' latest package. A well-acted performance by local amateur actors. 7.5/10

Avé (Bul) (interview)

As we meet Kamen, he is just being told the bad news: his friend is dead. The funeral is across the country in Ruse, and he has no car, so he hitch-hikes. On the way he meets a young girl going in the same direction, and after they attract the attentions of a car big enough for them both they get on their respective journeys; except - this girl is now chatting up the driver as if they are lovers. Perhaps from a mixture of shock, confusion and maybe some flattery, Kamen sits dumbfounded. But as the vehicles change the tales get taller until the inevitable happens and Kamen speaks up, immediately spooking their ride into kicking them out.

Ave's bare-faced cheek and confident charm are enough to keep the story interesting, although her confidence is a thin shell around a confused girl with reasons of her own for travelling from wherever she was. Bulgaria is shown in it's drab, downbeat nakedness as winter sets in and the inevitable romance is suitably tender. A quiet little film with touches of happy and sad, and an impressive first film from director Konstantin Bojanov. 7.5/10

BIFF 2012 - Day 4

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (US) (wiki)

Ray Winstone joins Babs Windsor in this years BIFF in having a retrospective of films playing, and this film is the least well-known of Winstone's output. The Stains was basically buried by Paramount as it's punk-era plot was becoming too old-hat for the early 80's. It had a week run in Denver and that was about it, and this is apparently the only copy of the film remaining.

Winstone is not centre stage in a theatrical sense; that goes to a young Diane Lane who plays Corinne 'Third Degree' Burns, lead singer of The Fabulous Stains, a nearly-nothing band made with a sister and a friend and with barely a song and a tune to work for. With both parents dead and a brattish attitude, she pins her hopes on gigging, and by good fortune, a touring group happens to be headlining on the same day. Thanks to some unusual stage dress and some provocative shouting, she raises some eyebrows; not least of the band organiser, a group of local girls looking for the next big thing, and the local news.

The Fabulous Stains is an exercise in fleeting popularity and the fickleness of the public, who will flock to the latest non-conformism: It's also a snide comment how the industry and the artists interact at the entry level, and the backstabbing and moneymaking that naturally fuels it. Winstone's band The Looters (made up of Sex Pistols and Clash members no less) enjoys the limelight and reacts with hate to the old glam rock Metal Corpses at everything they represent without a sense that he will so easily be in their place, and when a promising relationship between Billy and Corinne goes bad, angry teens and thirst for stardom mean all sides will get burned.

Though Paramount argued that the punk era was on it's way out, its clear that the suits that be back then didn't get these universal themes still playing out today and will forever for the next big thing, and pigeon-holed it as a flop past it's time. It says more about the studio than the film. 7/10

A double-bill of short-ish films followed with a connecting theme, the recorded travels of the essayist and philosopher Walter Benjamin.

The Angels of Portbou (Fra) (site)

Serafin, a well-meaning but wet behind the ears young man has taken it upon himself to trace the journey of Benjamin through the French countryside over the border to Portbou in Spain, where after a gruelling journey with failing health, he committed suicide lest he fall into the hands of the Nazis. When his friend Paul doesn't turn up as expected, his flame-haired sister Gabrielle, knowledgeable of the trail fills his place and shows him a thing or two about growing a pair, despite Serafin's initial reluctance to be escorted by a girl.

During the journey, Serafin finds himself in the company of the mysterious girl, whose own ancestors had stories to tell about the period, and she seems to have a knowing otherworldly confidence and charm that puts him (and the viewer) slightly at unease. A travelling dialogue with a little mysticism, spoiled slightly by Serafin's constant attempts to take control of the situation. 7/10

Moscow Diary (UK) (site)

A decade or so earlier, Benjamin was deeply in love with Asja Lacis, a beguiling but unpermitting source of desire for him. Director Adam Kossof (who was present for a Q and A) meticulously retraces the steps chronicled in Benjamin's diaries from late 1926-27, visiting buildings and landmarks still standing from the period, narrating diary extracts to his contemporary mobile phone footage of the places, cleverly weaving in modern versions of the subject matter that also gets a mention between the chapters of the slowly evolving and tragic love story.

Though Kossof's narration of the story warms the cold words with subtle emotion, and the combination of old words and modern footage is interesting, it isn't as fascinating as it should be. The use of camera phone makes for blurry picturing and the 'effect' constantly used to zoom the camera in to scenes, repeating them to an uncomfortable length does nothing to help and just annoys. Getting rid of them alone would make for a more enjoyable film. I would recommend the book over the film. 6/10

Me or the Dog (UK) - A young man's dog seems to know a little too much about his girlfriend's hijinks when he's not around, or is it just a projection of his phyche? An amusing though slightly underwhelming use of Martin Clunes' voice. 7/10

The Lord's Ride (Fra) (site)

A French Roma** community, made up of the bad, the good and the indifferent litter the countryside near an unfortunate village with their daily detritus. Inner skirmishes between bickering families keep things interesting, and gives the increasingly rotund men something to do in their lives when not being thieving pikeys. The only other thing they manage is to visit the local church congregation occasionally and soothe their conscience by nodding along to the stories of being saved. After all, if god hasn't punished them for their crimes, the only explanation is that he is ok with it, yes?

The usual slobbing, thieving, fighting and larking comes to an end for Frederick, who after a night of drinks appears to have an experience with a messenger from god, in an upturned caravan. He comes out of it with a dog, that has become his responsibility, and is convinced of the divinity of the experience.

Colleagues are not convinced, and even less impressed when he claims he is going straight - not so good when he is chief car nicker, and have to try and shake him out of his nauseating sense of higher purpose before their latest client becomes loses patience on his promised BMW.

Jean-Charles Hue spent some time living with a real-life community, and everyone you see in the film is playing a version of their real-life selves. And they do a remarkably good job, with acting talents on a par with the professionals. What you get then is an authentic, well researched slice of Roma, whose residents aren't all gittish slobs (though anyone else in this film get a background part at best) delivering an entertaining and fittingly scrappy story. 7/10

Conference (Austria) - Since Adolf Hitler is the most played part in film, I guess it makes sense to enumerate them into a single short film. You'll spot everyone from Mel Brooks to Charlie Chaplin to Robert Carlisle to John Cleese (but unfortunately they missed Dermot Morgan), although the film is deliberately scratched, black and white, and whatever each Hitler is saying, is distorted (granulated) beyond comprehension. I guess that was meant to say something about Hitler's views and how they should be treated, but they could have done it less annoyingly. 5/10

How I Filmed the War (Can) (site)

Starting immediately afterwards, and regressing the theme back to World War I, How I Filmed the War is a study of the achievements of 'Geoffrey H. Malins', aka the flawed but undeniably brave Arthur Herbert, who was one of the few 'war movie' men of WWI, going to the front of the front line and risking death filming the goings on for the people back home, whose only comprehension so far had come from rousing newspaper stories and the odd grainy photograph. Malins didn't have the technology to hide in the trench after pressing a handy button, he had to wind the film manually, putting himself directly and conspicuously in the line of fire.

Let me get this out of the way for anyone thinking this is a film to catch: You will end up reading a book on screen, much like last years' Sailor only more so. The story is told through Malins' memoirs from 1920, including notes from a subsequent biographer. Pages of the stuff. If you don't go into the theatre realising that and accepting you'll be doing a lot of reading, the first half of this film (where Malins' actual footage is scarce) will bore and/or annoy.

But get that out of the way and this documentary begins to show it's colours. The director takes the easy route by literally cutting and pasting the text onto the screen rather than telling it through his own eyes, but Malins is an effective writer and storyteller. Concentrating on the leadup and filming of The Battle of the Somme, a propaganda film seen in 1916 by an estimated 2 million people, and the first time the public at large could see for themselves the horrors of the war, albeit as Marlins himself concedes, a heavily censored version to spare the worst and make sure people left their cinemas on a high.

If you can face just over an hour reading a giant book on the screen, scratched and bruised by time, and not hear a single word in that entire time, there is an informative and even entertaining documentary here. But it will take a degree of patience to show itself. 6/10

Albert Nobbs (UK/Irl) (wiki/site)

Small, unassuming Albert works at the Morrisons hotel as a waiter. He is kind and humble and trusted completely by his bosses and colleagues. He labours hard at his work and slowly, painfully saves every last penny to someday work for himself. A local shop up for rent has Nobbs thinking of setting himself up as a tobacconist.

His mechanical existence is threatened by the arrival of painter and handyman Hubert. A large, burly man who needs a place for the night while he does some work on the hotel. It's during an uncomfortable night in the same bed that Nobbs' cover is blown - she is a woman, working as a man to get by, in a time where women have a tough time taking home the pay.

Hubert has a few secrets of his own, so for the moment they can both keep mutually quiet, but when he beguiles Nobbs with talk of his own family life, desire for companionship are awakened, just as the young and cocky Joe lands himself a role at the hotel.

Glenn Close has spent many years in front of the camera, but little behind. A personal project, Albert Nobbs comes from a short story and Close felt close enough to the character to bring it fully to the big screen. The mileage available to the story of women pretending to be men in order to get on, and what happens within a society barely aware of, let alone tolerant towards homosexuality, when love blossoms means there is plenty of branches for the story threads to follow. One particularly joyous scene which begins as light relief, where Nobbs steps out in a dress after years acting manly in a suit is worth the ticket price alone, but there is a great film beyond that here too, not overworked or sentimental, and able to get under your skin without being preachy. The best film of the festival so far. 8.5/10

BIFF 2012 - Day 3

Shine Shorts

Bradford certainly has plenty of shorts on show to swell my film count, since most of the major films have one running before or after it, but I got up early this morning (eschewing the possibility of a welcome lie in) to make it in for this segment. As things turned out, not for the first time there were technical gremlins (which seems to happen all too often at Cubby Brocolli) but finally, we could both see and hear the stories.

Ab Morgen (Here, Now and Tomorrow) (Ger) - A man's thoughts of returning to his family after getting an illegal transplant operation over the border are put to one side, when he realises that the man he had to share a room with overnight is the donor of his shiny new organ. The consequences of his decision span far beyond the bounds of his family when he wakes. A touching opener. 8/10

Humiliated and Offended (Prt) - As a confused old man wanders through the city without the memory of the streets he used to know so well, his (adult) children frantically search all over for him, never quite being able to stop bickering over whose fault it was. A powerful but slightly overlong film about the dissolution of the close-knit family unit. 7.5/10

Kinderspiel (Child's Play) (Ger) - What appears to be a kidnapping and ransom by a young boy on a child right under the nose of it's mother is not quite as it seems. The gradual sense of the real picture crept up nicely and was well acted. 8/10

Ora et Labora (Pray and Work) (Austria) - An abstract and surreal film; an old man who never leaves his house shuffles and mumbles from window to chair, where his TV is his only contact with the outside world - which is completely at the mercy of his mood. In a reality where an old man's desires to do something about the imperfect idiots he sees every day can be made real, nobody is safe if they step out of line. Unsettling but original and fun. 7.5/10

The World Turns (UK) - Roger is a stereotypical white van man, prowling the roads of London with an arrogant confidence to his driving - until one day he causes an accident and drives from the scene in panic when a cyclist is lain waste on the road behind. Brazen cockiness fallen away and with a stark awareness of mortality, he reassesses his life and decisions up to that point, but will he do the right thing? A credible study on the psyche under stress, which could have done with a more satisfying ending. 7/10

Theory of Colour (Nor) - A film steeped in metaphor. Several parents and their adolescent offspring, each wearing a number wait outside a room for theirs to come up. Get the colour right inside, and you're accepted into adulthood. Get it wrong, and number seven will get angry with you. A nice take on the conservatism of the old versus the rebellion of the young, but it did feel a little too much like an old advert for non-conformist styling gel for my liking. 7/10

Musical Mayhem (US)

The first of the Chuck Jones cartoon collections; eight shorts chosen with a generally musical theme. Good news: it was dirt cheap and allowed people of a certain age to wallow in some childhood memories. Bad news: many members of the audience decided to introduce it to their children too, so a nice quiet theatre then.

There were two road runner cartoons (Beep Beep 5/10 - one of the first road runner shorts which lacked some of the touches of Scrambled Aches 6/10 but had all the base elements of later examples). In the middle was an example of the MGM Tom and Jerry cartoons from the sixties (Bad Day at Cat Rock, 4/10 where you can almost feel Jones' disdain as he sees the end of his particular era where cartoons managed to be both a popular medium and a source of subversive humour, and the slow gradual slide into low budget, tired slapstick). Thankfully things got better with Feed the Kitty 8/10 was the inspiration for the Boo/Sulley relationship in Monsters Inc, and retains it's feeling of lighthearted humour with a surprising degree of emotional punch.

The rest were Bugs Bunny cartoons, often using Opera - which seemed to be a fascination (or at least a constant puffed-up target to parody) - to frame the slapstick around. Baton Bunny (5/10, a late-era short where bugs conducts an orchestra, as stupidly as possible), Rabbit of Seville (6/10, where Elmer Fudd gets several close shaves to the music of the opera), Long Haired Hare (8/10 - the one with the angry opera singer and Bugs as Leopold, giving him the beating of his life) and a rather worn copy of What's Opera, Doc? (8/10), arguably the pinnacle of the Jones-era cartoons showed a gradual refinement and composure of the animation, tempered slapstick and character development together as one.

Overall, seeing several in quick succession does show up some reuse of concepts, particularly how many ways a bad guy can be made to look stupid, but the best ones made the experience well worthwhile. Pretty much all of these films and others on show through the fest can be seen on various tube-related sites if you go looking. 7.5/10

Three Stories (US) - Made by the same director and shown before The Last Buffalo Hunt, and using some of the base footage that would eventually make it's way into that film, Three Stories attempts, Qatsi-like, to provide a picture of America - or certain less travelled parts of it, concentrating on what used to be the old western frontier. Mass graves, particularly of Custers' men and the Indians they slayed sit awkwardly in the shadow of the cheesy tourist kitsch that has grown up around it. An eager crowd stands waiting on a Hollywood street trying to get sight of some Oscar winners, as grown men stand naked but for a thick layer of glitter selling statues and clapper boards. It seems that the things that made the most impact in America, shaping it's history for better or worse, cannot shake the relentless moneymaking schemes that come with it. Though the film succeeded in painting a picture of parts of America, those parts were disjointed and it was difficult to work out where the three stores were delimited. 5/10

The Last Buffalo Hunt (US) (site)

The North American Bison (not a buffalo, despite the hunt being called as much) was virtually hunted to extinction before the 20th Century even started, apparently as part of the plan by the settlers to badger the indigenous tribes out of their way as the Frontier headed west. Today, only a few small herds of naturally roaming bison remain, and one of them is at the Henry Mountains in Utah. For a short while each year, hunters are permitted to git thair guns out and spend a few weeks heroically hiding behind rocks taking shots from a safe distance, and then standing over the freshly turned and posed corpse for a picture to frame.

The hunt can bring in the cash; the meat goes into the local butchery, the head and hide will often make it to the taxidermists who manage a constant trade of producing heads for above your fire with animatronics inside so it will flap it's ears at you and look around, perpetually or at least until the batteries die. There is also a good income coming from the 'clientèle' - various well-off sorts who pay good money to be furnished with a rifle and take some pot shots.

As you can probably tell, I'm pretty riled by what I saw. I understand about the way of life thing, and the need to control numbers while also providing the family with food and/or money. But I would not have had the steely-faced and cheery patience of Lee Ann Schmidt, the director who followed a couple of hunts armed only with a handicam and an overriding desire to let the people do the talking with minimal prompting. But even she must have been clenching her fist and/or teeth when one of the hunters' wives talked blithely about going on safari to shoot a todo list of animals (without, it was implied, eating or otherwise utilizing the kill), and then taking several shots to kill a bison as she laughed about how bad a shot she was and how the pesky beast would just not die.

But the film as an informative documentary has much to tell, even though it's titular theme is somehow almost lost by the observations of hunts, kills, butchery and the family life that surrounds it. 7.5/10

Revelations (UK) - Chris has an unfortunate name and address, leading his stalker to make a big assumption about his higher purpose in life. A dryly amusing short that, like a giggling teen, tries to take itself seriously for five minutes, just to demolish it all for a laugh thereafter. 8/10

Sawdust City (US) (site)

In the snow-covered town of Eau Claire, two brothers meet during Thanksgiving. The elder, Bob, is well into family life, with a pregnant wife seeing to the last minute party arrangements. Bob's big surprise for the occasion is Pete, back after completing navy training and seeming a little distant. Of course, Bob's ulterior motive is to down a few pints with his brother like in the old times, something he hasn't been able to do since his leash was tightened. Figuring he can do both and then be back before evening, the task becomes triple when he realises his father has gone missing, watering himself at one of the many drinking holes in town. A combined pub crawl, brotherly meetup and parental search all in one? Count him in.

As they get further away from the party, and increasingly drunk, the wasted but opportunistic Gene takes advantage of a full wallet and a passing familiarity with their father to tag along and get any free food and drink he can before he outstays his welcome. Gene is boorish and clumsy, and both brothers start to learn details about their father neither new as they follow the trail of clues through the bars, via Gene's increasingly loose mouth.

Sharing actor Lee Lynch who played Gene with The Last Buffalo Hunt (where he co-directed), Sawdust City is an unassumingly deep study of the close brotherly relationship that exists between siblings, and how, given the right alcoholic catalysts, any secrets between them can soon rise emotionally to the surface. Bob and Pete are a convincing pair of brothers, growing up and apart from each other but sharing that special bond. Gene is a perfect bum waster whose talents and presence are criminally underused towards the end (although it could be argued his move out of the spotlight gives the opportunity for the brothers' defining moments to become centre stage). The constantly fruitless search for their father means that all the attention can be given to a full rounding out of both the characters and the family unit of which they are part, though we never see directly, and this is Sawdust City's greatest asset. 8/10

Sudd (Swe) - I saw this one last year and it's pretty impressive. A mixture of live action and animation tells of a world turning slowly to paper, and the desperate actions of one woman determined to escape it no matter the cost. 7.5/10

Goodbye First Love (Fra/Ger) (wiki)

Camille and Sullivan are young teenagers in love. Being French, they declare it daily in a flamboyance of words. But Camille loves him more than she can communicate, and her subsequent need to control is beginning to suffocate Sullivan, and when his friends suggest another trip around South America to help him find himself, he accepts, and Camille, whether she could be persuaded or not, is not invited.

Sullivan is young and inexperienced in deep love, and is also confused, and for long enough he seems to have been suffering the problems to be with a girl he feels a deep need to be with, at some point of his life. That said, the sexytimes can't plaster over the cracks for ever. At least he does the rightish thing and heavily hints during a final summerhouse trip that maybe they should use the time wisely to explore other avenues, and as the letters back to Camille slowly dry up, his last correspondence spells it out.

Director Mia Hansen-Løve has created a deeply personal account, spread over a decades worth of a young woman's life, of what it is like to have to reconcile the many forces acting upon a love affair; commitment, honesty, trust and above all the recognition of when it is truly love and not merely a coupling forged in the name of companionship, status or comfort. Camille, played by Lola Créton (who was also in Bluebeard back in 2010) - who shoulders much weight with a powerful portrayal of girlhood and womanhood whilst still only 17 at the time of filming. Excellent acting and an often beautiful score result in a film that will hit home any person who has spent years of their life in and out of love. 8/10

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