BIFF 2013 Day 11

Another Bullet Dodged (US) - As yet another chip is taken out of the already pretty shattered relationship, a lazy and irresponsible boyfriend turns up late yet again, to a particularly sensitive appointment.  We hate him and his stupid, innocent face.  And we are meant to; he is an idiot. 7/10

Pearblossom Hwy (US) (facebook)

Yesterday we had David Nordstrom starring in the fair to middling Pincus and directing the affectionate The Livelong Day.  Well, here he takes a turn as writer in an unusual sequel of sorts to a previous film, Mike Otts' Littlerock.  Here, the two principal actors from that film reprise their characters, twist them a little, and reboot the world in which they live.

Cory is a young man in an unfortunate position.  Living in the deep south with a marine for a brother, a mother who died when he was young and a surly, distant father, it's not the best place to grow up with an effeminate voice and an ambiguous sexuality.  Meathead brother Jeff has a short fuse whenever he opens his moth about wanting to go on reality shows, and the band he fronts is going nowhere.  He should have had that gayness pounded out of him, put into the marines, like he was.

Understandably, Cory is a pretty messed up guy, but he remains an extremely likeable one in the midst of all the intolerance around him.  Adorably sharing the innocence and worldly knowledge of Father Dougal, Cory's chance meeting with Atsuko, an immigrant from Japan studying for her citizenship test, allows him to sound off with someone more human than his beloved handycam.  Slowly the two become closer, but Atsuko has her own problems, and if she is to sacrifice her intended life for this new possibility, she needs to know her affections will be returned.

A gentle tale of two delicate lives in a sea of intolerance and hatred, Pearblossom Hwy tugs a few heartstrings but it never gets cloy-ey.  The trailer-trash settings keep things mired in stained, battered reality and the two are not so perfect themselves either.  The result is a sensitive, complicated story. 8/10

And finally we come to the last film of the festival.  There were extended ovations for the festival staff and a neat ticket stub raffle to give away copies of the book, on which the film is based.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Ind/Pak) (wiki)

It has been a difficult decade or so for films directly referencing the acts of terrorism, especially those about 9/11 and beyond.  We have the comedy and satire of Team America and Four Lions on one side, and on the other a number of hard-hitting and point-heavy documentary-style films such as The Hurt Locker.  In the intervening years, it seems like these sorts of films have had to go through a kind of growing pains period before one comes out that can actually speak about the terrorist events in a matured fashion.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is certainly a good step in that direction.  Told through the framing device of a conversation between mysterious Lahore University professor Changez (played by Riz Ahmed, of Four Lions fame) and journalistic writer turned CIA plant Robert, the film charts the progression of a young Changez from go-getting corporate suit in the US to his current lecturer role, in the hope that the wiretap will spill some information about the whereabouts of one of the professors who was kidnapped the night before.  Set around 2001, we see the effects of 9/11 and the measures taken beyond that, on the lives of Muslims living in America.  As quickly as Changez builds a life in his new home, it is taken away from him, and increasingly the call of the east chimes with him; but is he being radicalised along the way?

There will probably be some people for whom the complexities of the film - with no particular bad or good guys - will frustrate them as there is no clear side to 'back', if you will.  Attempting to tell a full story from the many sides of the subject gets a bit busy at times, but the film uses the twin time period dynamic masterfully to obscure the path that Changez has chosen.  Most of all, it gives a taste of lives on all sides of the issue, and keeps them human rather than reducing them to one dimensional evil terrorists or heroic good guys, and this makes for a satisfyingly meaty story.

I understand that the film does deviate away quite strongly from the original book, which I will have to pick up sometime.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a very well accomplished film, and the best example yet of portraying the viewpoint from 'the other side'. 8.5/10

BIFF 2013 Day 10

Bellum (Den) - The unfortunate goings on over a single night as a young soldier - fresh from Afghanistan and now sporting the beginnings of an adult moustache - calls in at his parents house.  The thick, awkward air is dissipated when they find reason to leave him for the night, only to be replaced by a similarly unhinged friend, leading to a night of drunken release of pressure, with his young and impressionable sister in tow.  A dark look at the effects of war on the soul, and fortunately the humanity that sometimes survives it.  Don't watch if you're an animal lover though. 7/10

Cargo 200 (Rus) (wiki)

A second film in a mini-retrospective of films by Russian director Alexey Balabanov, who also did the 'unusual' Me Too from Thursday.  Cargo 200 is the code name given to the shipment of the bodies of soldiers returned from Afganistan, and it becomes clear to deeply corrupt police officer Zhurik that one particular shipment will be of great use to him.  Taking advantage of an opportunity to kidnap a young woman from her drunken 'boyfriend', he proceeds to keep her for his plaything, brooding silently over her about how to go about making her his willing wife.

Balabanov has created a film full of disgusting and immoral acts, and sprinkled characters around to see how each reacts to the situations they bring up.  Powerfully acted and often pretty upsetting to watch, he has brought the atrocities of war right into the civilian setting, and observed the action and inaction that different types of people exhibit in such situations.  The war itself is merely a backstory to the intensely disturbing Zhurik and his desires, not to mention the complete apathy displayed by the people around him who seem to not even notice.  The initial light-heartedness of the film wrong-foots the viewer as the situations worsen, and by the end, you are left both disgusted and impressed, especially when you learn that it was based on a true story. 7.5/10

Short of Breath (Fra) - A teenage runaway Lea and her boyfriend Arnaud fill their days and nights letting off teenage steam, in between visits by Arnauds' 'boss', a child trafficker who brings them small children to take care of en route to their new parents.  Lea's devotion to her boyfriend is tested when the latest child arrives, who responds to her more than she would like.  A darkly curious look at competing types of love.  7.5/10

A Night Too Young (Cze/Slo) (imdb)

Over the course of one night, the lives of two children are changed forever, thanks to an unfortunate set of circumstances.  Promiscuous Katerina is happy to lead on two men she met on New Years Eve, the night before.  Tonight, they have hit a small town in Prague.  David is currently ranking as her new boyfriend, and his friend Stepan is tagging along, secretly hoping that the occasional fluttered eyelash in his direction will develop into something.  So when a couple of kids cross their path, the opportunity to have them buy Vodka for the trio to kick the night off presents itself.  And so as a twisted form of payment, 12-year olds Balushka and Jan find themselves exposed to the sorts of things they hear about through Chinese whispers in class, paralysing them somewhere between curiosity and fear.

As you would expect, this is increasingly uncomfortable but morbidly fascinating for the viewer as the night unfolds; the children suffer because of the selfishness and indifference of the adults around them, and we hope that the flickers of the moral override switch shown by some of the characters will eventually break them free of the macabre lesson they are learning.  The 16mm format and the cramped apartment which makes up most of the localisation lends an extra sense of discomfort, but short of walking out there is nowhere to go.  Brilliantly acted on all sides, it demands your attention despite what it is showing, and if that is something you can stomach, you have a controversial but quality film here. 7.5/10

The Livelong Day (US) - A charming short documentary by the same director of Pincus is an affectionate tribute to the obsessive detail of the members of the La Mesa Model Railroad Club, many of which are current or ex-railway staff who do a days work with the real stuff, and then spend time and cash in the pursuit of recreating the US railway networks of the past.  The film made fine use of alternate footage of the realistic canyon-scale models and actual rolling footage.  8/10

Pincus (US) (site)

David Nordstrom, who directed and starred in last years' Sawdust City, plays Pincus, a slacker thirtysomething who inherited his fathers' construction firm after he developed Parlinsons disease.  He now spends his days ambling along through client projects to the minimum amount he can without having them drop him with his trusty German co-worker Deepmar, and by night caring for his ailing and increasingly confused father - played by Nordstroms' actual father for added authenticity.

The existing elements of Pincus' busy life need to shove up a bit when he claps eyes on Anna, an attractive and very flexible woman in the local yoga class.  Feeling sorry for himself, he joins for all the wrong reasons to be near her, and despite his clumsy feigning of interest in the 'spiritual' interests she has, they start to hit it off, at the further expense of the business.  Pincus' life stands to both lose and gain a lot, and it depends on how responsible he wants to be.

Slow-burner is a good description of this film; Pincus has very few moments that rise above 'ambient' levels of action, with Nordstoms' dialogue being a particularly subdued sarchasm, often met with the polite American penchant of polite but firm confrontation avoidance.  Consequently, the appeal is purely character-based; his interactions with his father being at the forefront, which although sprinkled with sarky comments when things don't work out, clearly have an undercurrent of care and love.

Whether you like Pincus or not will depend on whether you can stomach this low-level simmering and an unusual, vague ending.  It had some moments of gentle mirth, and emotions did briefly register a couple of ticks, but it will give you more of a back rub than a full punch to the guts. 7/10

The 3 R's (Austria/US) - David Lynch may not be known for his Austrian roots, but this is one of the many sixpackfilm entries into this years' festival, and yet another example of a Vienalle film festival preview film.  How many rocks does Pete have?  You don't want to know the answer to that. 5/10

The ABC's of Death (US) (site/wiki)

As it represented the climax of the Bradford After Dark strand, The ABC's of death was pretty heavily advertised as a highlight of the festival.  It's certainly original.  As the title suggests, the film takes us through all 26 letters, each one showing us a different way to die, and this splits the movie into 26 different short films, by 26 different directors from all over the world, connected together only by the macabre theme.  Some are live action, others are animated.  Some are [dead] serious, others funny and more still are completely mental.  In them, we are treated to different instuments of death, ranging from an impending Apocalypse, an orgasm that was a bit too potent, and excessive farting.  One them is even self-referential towards the concept itself, reflecting the diversity of ideas in the execution.

Part of the enjoyment is guessing the word that each five minute film represents (you are told it only after the short film ends) but the best thing about it is that it's basically like a short film strand - some of the films are a little shaky and not worth the payoff, but since they are all five minutes long another, better one will be along soon enough.  It's also one of the easiest films to tell how far you are through it as well.  Predictably, they left the "best" (or perhaps more accurately "crazily shocking") one until last, and wouldn't you know it, it's from Japan.  There will be complaints written about this film.

Horror buffs may initially be disappointed by the relative tameness of the earlier efforts, but there are some truly great and shocking shorts in here as well; Simon Rumleys' P for Pressure short was a powerful take on oppressive marriage (and the director was present at the screening to talk about it afterwards), while the Jon Schnepp-directed W for WTF gives the Japanese a run for their money in crass, vulgar and completely over the top mental cinematography, almost single-handedly earning the film it's 18 certificate.  There are plenty of others in between.  If you want to see an original take on the gross-out horror series, you can't get much more varied than this one. 8/10

BIFF 2013 Day 9

Before Tokyo Waka we managed to see the forgettable Black Ice from yesterday, plus another short film with a similar theme to the main event.

Reindeer (UK) - Also known as 69.4 Degrees North, this was a pleasant but all too brief short film about the large herds of semi-wild Reindeer, who are rounded up in a farmers market in the middle of the beautiful silver-snow night.  It's truly something to see them stampede in a tightly wound swirl of antlers and hooves, but there needed to be more here. 7/10

Tokyo Waka (US/Jpn) (site)

For obvious reasons, this was one of my must-sees of the festival.  The crow population of Tokyo is a cunning and fascinating breed, although I had barely noticed them.  Capable of quickly learning how to exploit the human  stamp placed on the landscape, and evading many attempts to capture them, it is only recently that the population in the metropolis has been brought under control.  This film, neither celebrating nor deriding them (they have admirers and deriders in equal measure) meditates on the impact Tokyo residents and the crows have on each other; how they have been shown to be highly intelligent and emotive creatures, and how their presence has ingrained itself in the culture, art and daily lives of Japanese residents.

But the film is not content with showing us just the crows, and the branching out onto the Tokyo public at large and the day-to-day goings on in the city was an unexpected welcome (although it took a little while to adjust), and provided pauses between the main subject matter of the film.  Having a soft spot for the country, you can imagine this was something I sat through quite happily, wallowing in memories, especially as there were some recognisable sights.  However, some may find the gently undulating subject matter and the repeated digressions difficult to remain interested in for it's short hour-long running time.

As an extra bonus, directors John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson were both present and gave a longer than usual Q+A at the end.  I was in hog heaven. As far as scoring, I loved it (even if some fidgety gits in the audience didn't) but it is a pretty niche subject to have a passion for, so I will be harsh. 7.5/10

Empire (Aus/Thai) - A rare chance to see the short film used to introduce the 2010 Vienalle film festival.  Empire is a short and sweet metaphorical cruise through underground caverns, seeing the shadows bounce on the stalagtites and finding treasures in the darkest crevices.  Okay as the opener to a festival, but lacks a bit as a standalone showing. 5/10

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (US) (site)

Believe it or not, it's 21 years since we were treated - if that's the right word - to the first Universal Soldier.  Back then, it was pretty straightforward fighty shooty action, not much to have to think about; stuff the popcorn into the gaping yaw and enjoy the ride.  In the midst of the documentaries and angst-ridden character studies, it was difficult to see where this film would fit in.

Continuing a theme of 'rebooting' franchises, Day of Reckoning still features lots of action, but this time it's wrapped up in a progression of the Universal Soldier canon, where the Soldiers are turning into renegades, thanks to Luc Deveraux, the original Universal Soldier played by a now crusty-looking JC Van Damme, presumably in moments between making snow angels in the alps.  A wider, chunkier Dolph Lundgren is also present as one of his loyal subjects.

Interestingly, they are not the focus of the film.  The main protagonist is John, whose wife and children are brutally murdered in front of his eyes one night by Deveraux, and somehow surviving, wakes in a hospital bed months later, just as disoriented as the audience.  Without sacrificing too much to the action-heads, the film manages to crowbar in a half-decent  Memento-style tale of memory loss, mixed in with near-The Raid-levels of violence and head-splattering action.

So yes, Day of Reckoning is an unexpectedly good action film, and pretty suitable for taking friends along who might want a little more from their action films, so long as they have a strong stomach.  It's atmospheric, fast and action-packed, and doesn't spell things out for the audience, who have to run to keep up.  It's done the rounds in the US to good reviews (relatively speaking for a Universal Soldier film), and although the 'logic' of the film can be a bit too cloudy in places, it's a worthwhile update.  7.5/10

I should also say two things: Don't go for the 3D, because it was rubbish, and definitely don't go if you are epileptic.

The Apocalypse (US) - Four bored friends learn the hard way during a lazy summers afternoon, that there is nothing more dangerous than an idea.  Literally.  Unapologetically offering no explanation of events, and thus quite funny. 7/10

The Rambler (US) (imdb)

Maybe it was a mistake to hold out for the last film of the night; one of the Bradford After Dark entries.  The Rambler is an unnamed man, in stetsons and a cowboy hat, who has just left prison after a four year stretch.  His wife is impatient and violent, the people don't want him around and everywhere he looks the world is a wreck, so when his brother calls from Oregon with a job offer on his ranch, he packs his guitar and leaves, tramping the roads of the southern states and catching a lift where he can.

But this is no ordinary road movie.  Along the way, he meets increasingly grotesque individuals who help or hinder him in getting to where he wants.  A crazed inventor shows him a dangerous machine for recording peoples' dreams, a self-confessed backstabber forces him to fist-fight his way into some much needed money by pitting him in fights he can't win, and a strange, wraith-like girl both beguiles and haunts him, turning up on his journey at every corner, and often dying in gruesome circumstances.  These roads are a killer.

The Rambler is a Faustian journey through an increasingly grotesque and surreal mutation of the deep south.  Slightly more bearable than The Temptation of St. Tony, as it does keep the viewer within an arms length of a grabbable thread of reality as we go, but where is the film going?  After finally making it to his brothers after witnessing all kinds of horrors, he concludes that it is in fact the thing for him and goes back onto the roads, but does he walk into the sunset with the credits scrolling?  Er, no; the film then limps along for another quarter hour or so as more crazy crap happens and he just bears it.  I find it hard to recommend. 5.5/10

BIFF 2013 Day 8

Inertia (UK) - A night's plotting between a young man and his friend, eager to wrench him from the girl he thinks is turning his mate into a depressive shell of a man, is played out in all it's dysfunctional glory.  The banter between the two friends is a little over the top sitcom style, but it's quite entertaining and funny, and doesn't overstay it's welcome.  Director Will Herbert was present at the screening and told us of his shoestring budget and a freezing November evening in Stockport getting it made, which was a nice bonus. 7/10

Me Too (Rus) ()

Even the most paletable regions of Russia, with it's pleasant architecture and clean streets can drive a man to desperate measures.  Sergey is one such man, although he doesn't seem to be in control of it.  Alone, middle-aged and roaming the streets with his guitar for company; he meets up with his acquaintance, a dispassionate smalltime gangster whose life is so meaningless even his love for killing those people he hates has left him.  But he has stories of a belltower with a mysterious ability to rapture people up, somewhere off in the icy, radioactive wastes of the north.  Lonely and desperate souls with religious upbringings mixed up with 2012-mayan theofubble makes such a journey sound a pretty good prospect, but they have been warned by the reverend - it doesn't take everyone, yet no-one ever returns.

Along the way they pick up various people in similarly desperate frames of mind, and the car slowly fills, full of people saying 'me too' to the redemption at the end of the journey.

Being Russian in origin, Me Too was always going to be a bit 'random' to us westerners; things happen strangely and are unexplained no matter how close to the forefront of the viewers mind the film has stuck it.  A prostitute along for the ride is abandoned at a checkpoint between the warmer and colder climes, because women are not 'saved'.  So what does she do?  Strip naked and follow them on foot through the freezing snow and ice.  Somehow she keeps up with the car.

Its examples like these, not funny, not crazy, just jarringly wierd, that spoil Me Too.  That and the midsection of the film when they fill space picking people up and telling stories, is dreadfully dull, like they are expecting the hilarity to just naturally flow from the dialogue; and the use of heavy thrash metal that abruptly stops with a car door slam is both overused and not remotely suitable for the pedestrian pace.  For the most part, it just meandered to it's conclusion occasionally chucking a strange event in to throw you.

I wanted to like Me Too, the whole thing about desperate belief could have been good, but it was too random and too allegorical to enjoy fully, at least to a foreign audience not able to pick up on the cultural pointers. 5.5/10

Black Ice (US) - Another of the Stan Brackage films, and no less forgettable.  Black Ice takes us on a 2001-style silent journey through ice, blackened by the dead of night save for some coloured lights. It's quite pretty, but thats it. 4/10

Cheap Tickets (Gre) - The rawkus generated by all sorts of colourful characters on a typical night train from the station at Thessaloniki to the bustling and run-down streets of Athens, as experienced by a set of students from the UK. Nothing particularly exciting happens, but it is a fairly interesting slice of life. 5.5/10

What Has Happened to this City? (Ind) (Berlinale article)

Another film showing as part of the Indian film industry's 100th birthday, What Has Happened to this City? is a passionate documentary made in 1986, chronicling the events that led up to the fractious civil wars that have broken out between the Hindus and Sunni Muslims who occupied the Old City and New City districts of Hyderabad, a few years previous.  It was only due to a restoration effort by the 'Living Archive' project at Berlinale that people are able to see this film, as due to it's sensitive content, it's badly worn copies rarely saw the light of day.

Due in part to political wranglings brought about by power shifts in the 1920s, with British Colonial rule ending in 1947 having cut a swathe through the peaceful existence of the communities prior to the period, the crumbling city of Hyderabad became host to many demonstrations and counter-demonstrations focusing on political scandals, housing and food shortages and, eventually, feelings of religious opression of one side over the other.  On both the Muslim and Hindu sides, fundamentalists began stirring up trouble, and the police and politicians were unwilling and/or unable to do anything about it.

One of the most incendiary acts was for both sides to invent and stage processions; normally these would be from traditions stretching back hundreds of years, but now, in increasingly aggressive demonstrations of their faiths (each of course being the 'correct' one), new processions were springing up.  The Hindu Ganesh parade, which began in 1980 to bring together the oppressed Hindus of the Old City was by 1984 hugely politically charged, and that year, all hell broke loose for ten weeks afterwards.

Deepa Dhanraj spent several years putting together footage of the buildup, the rioting, and interviewing both the major politicians and community figures of the time, and the survivors of the terrible attacks on both sides of the conflict.  They have some truly horrifying tales to tell, and often the perpetrators were friends, neighbours, and people they would happily pass on the street weeks before.  Dhanrajs' intention with this film was not to divide further, but to show both sides what damage they were doing to their city, and urging them to start a dialogue.

Even in it's restored state, the film was showing signs of wear, with much of the footage stained and weathered, but it still remains a rare, authoritative account of a nightmare period little known outside the borders. 8/10

BIFF 2013 Day 7

I missed yesterday due to other commitments, and also there was not so much on that I fancied (at least when I could go).  I also managed to get a ticket for the wrong showing of the films of C.H Wood, whose old amateur films of the 1940's onwards would hopefully have brought back some memories of how Bradford used to look before it had the heart of it ripped out - an operation that is only now beginning to show signs of success.  By the time I realised, the later showing had sold out.

Consequently I have only a couple of mid-length films today.

My House Without Me (Pol) (site)

It is unlikely that there will be a shortage of angles and stories to tell about the harshness of life during the world wars, especially while there are still people alive to tell them first hand.  Director Magdalena Szymkow (who was present at the screening for a quick Q+A) adds to the collection with a unique angle; persuading her Polish grandmother, who endured much of the worst without being one of the casualties, to open up about her experiences and put them quietly and slowly to film.  She lives quietly with her clucking chickens in an old, isolated farmhouse.

But the farmhouse wasn't always hers.  It had been given to her family after the war as a place to live, displacing the German family living there.  By a stroke of good luck, Szymkow managed to track down the surviving daughter of that family, and interleaves their stories of both sides of this terrible period, and the process of picking up the pieces afterwards; suffered by millions of people on both sides.

It's a short film at less than half an hour but this keeps the depressive stories from becoming tiring on the soul.  Simple and sad, and a powerful testament to the surviving souls still out there. 8/10

Under the Weight of Clouds (Ned) (site)

The subject matter got no lighter with it's companion film.  Young mother Elena left her young son and family in the Ukraine to make money, and has by some means ended up in a prostitution racket, headed by men who don't take kindly to those who try to escape.  One day, another woman arrives with her young daughter, who promptly goes missing to the relief of the pimps.  They can get on with the job of renting out their lumps of meat at an hourly rate without a brat running around.

So when little Zahal reappears just as things start to get busy, Elena must make a decision - stand by and watch the child be abandoned to the harsh world outside, or help and flee from the brutal reprisals.

A simple film, adapted for the big screen from a Dutch TV programme.  Without being explicit, the film paints a now familiar but no less stark picture of the desperate lives of women who end up using their bodies to survive.  Though powerfully acted and unapologetically grim, it did leave the viewer with some loose ends that they need to tie up themselves; which when you have a desperate mother and child fending for themselves - is something you would hope the film would at least hint at resolving, and this does make the ending disappointingly abrupt.  However, it is still an unsettling but engrossing film. 7.5/10

BIFF 2013 Day 5

My original plan was to see A Dream's Merchant, a three-hour epic Motorcycle Diaries-style road movie whose premise transcended the absurd runtime and made it to my list. But there were technical difficulties, and it was cancelled, and the Thursday showing is out of my watching window. So, on the recommendation of one of the festival directors, I went for Nor'Easter instead, which came with a couple of short films beforehand.  

Rage Net (USA) - One of the films from the Stan Brakhage tribute strand, whose filmography is high in quantity, if not quality at least. Blink and you'll miss it, and to be honest you'll survive the loss. What I presume must be an angry, energy filled animation of paint and colour to represent inner rage, looks more like various static shots of your coffee table if you had a load of 4-year olds round sipping diet coke and doing fingerpainting all over it. 2/10  

Return (Isr) - A young adult, Shay, returns home after a prolonged journey around India, and he is visibly changed for the experience. Now looking to return for study, every tiny problem causes friction between him and his family, who walk on eggshells around him as they try to reconnect with their wayward child. It was a nice film by a young director, but it felt a little flabby around the corners; it needed tightening a bit. 7/10

Nor'Easter (US) (site)

Robert Todd's films had thus far not set my hair alight - shorts Dangerous Light and Habitat were forgettable from day 3, and they were only partially balanced out by the average Master Plan that went with them.

Thankfully, Nor'Easter is a more conventional sort of film, although it's subject matter is not easy to stomach.  Eric, a young and fresh-faced priest arrives at the remote, snow covered town of Northaven to replace the previous incumbent, who had to be moved on.  A grieving family can't let go of the child that went missing five years previous, and it seems the old priest had a hand in his disappearance.  Thinking he was doing the best for his new flock, Eric consoles Richard and his family and encourages them to have a funeral, accept the loss, and move on.

But young Josh isn't dead, and when he turns up out of the blue, it's clear he went for other reasons, and where did he go to?  Josh is tight lipped even to his friends, and the truth of his disappearance places Eric in a dangerous position.

Set amongst the stark, beautiful backgrounds of northern America, these kind of films feed off the ambience of the locations; a sense of isolation and drawn curtains, and secrets running deep under presentable happy families.  So the film is pretty predictable in that it's going to reveal much about the families as the walls fall down that you don't really want to hear; and although the first three quarters stumbles and broods as it establishes the scene, it does shift up a gear or two eventually as the rather disturbing secret makes itself known.

Theres good acting, it's atmospheric and there is a resolution of sorts, but it fails to reach the swirling chaos suggested by it's meteorological namesake. 7/10

BIFF 2013 Day 4

sixpackfilmclassics (Austria)

sixpackfilm is an Austrian film house known for producing such luminaries as Michael Heneke, whose Amour from LIFF last year is still doing the rounds in the odd cinema here and there.  This year, Bradford is celebrating the various works of the studio with some selected films and a couple of short film compilations, of which this is the first; a collection of some of their older works from the last 50 or so years, put together by Sixpackfilm director Brigitta Burger-Utzer.

The Ballad of Maria Lassnig - We were started off gently.  Maria Lessnig recounts for us, in song and animation, her life as a struggling artist and the disapproval she felt from friends and family.  Her different costumes and unembarassed performance was likeable and it reminded me more than a little of last year's charming Grandma Lo-Fi. 7/10

....Remote....Remote.. - A woman sits and works her cuticles** with a stanley knife, occasionally dipping them in milk, to the increasing frustration, and eventually revulsion of the audience, as the knife starts to cut too deep.  Maybe it's effective as a remedy for people who bite their fingernails (as I do), but it was just plain annoying, especially with the repetitive 'dented paint pot' soundtrack. 3/10

Exposed - Excerpts of an old film are obscured by blackness, the only windows through are square windows, moving and darting about and slowly increasing in number, to some more rumbling soundtrack. 3/10

Self Mutilation - Plain odd.  A man - or is it a woman - covered in paint, or porridge or something, wrapped in wires and with things stuck to him, pretends to be in pain as they score their faces with dull blades and butter knives.  Pointless, and fails to be convincing in what it tried to do.  Mercifully, no soundtrack this time. 2/10

Ballhead - Back comes the rumbling, as a woman cuts her hair with a cut-throat razor, and seems fine when she goes further into the skin.  Then she bandages her whole head and then pretends to be a human typewriter with the blood seeping through.  Ladies and gentlemen: avant garde cinema. 2/10

Trees in Autumn - Almost the same rumbling soundtrack again.  Trees.  In Autumn.  Black and white, and lots of clashing images together. 2/10

Our Trip to Africa - Actually not so bad after a succession of rubbish.  The usual rumblings were there over a film summarising a trip to Africa by some fat, unpleasant German businessmen, shooting elephants and lions and just about anything else that moved, as the poor indigenous people went about their business as best they could.  It was quite interesting as it contained fleeting glimpses of Abu Simbel before it was raised to it's current position.  6/10

Chronomops - Basically a few minutes of the Studio Canal intro on steroids.  Geometric neon shapes dance about the screen and pulsing noises assault the senses on a high spin cycle.  Beautiful but too intense to watch for more than a minute. 5/10

Agypten - Not really about Egypt; a selection of deaf people (or at least those who can do sign language) tell stories and talk about things.  5/10

Outer Space - REALLY Not for the epileptic - footage from a horror film (Scream?) is mashed up and spat out, as if they set a wonky film projector going and filmed the output of it slowly destroying itself. 4/10

Then, we had a double-bill of mid-length films on very different communities.

Citadel (Ger/Bol)

A documentary of sorts about an unusual Bolivian prison, where the inmates - 1500 or so of them - live with their families, to create a cramped but vibrant community of tiny apartments, open areas and even some industry capable of keeping the whole thing afloat.  German director Diego Mondaca avoids guiding the viewer through this strange, closed off life and instead drops you straight in the middle of it and lets you fend for yourself, garnering nuggets of information from the sparse interviewing he does as the camera glides around the busy, labyrinthine structures.  6/10

An Anthropological Television Myth (Ita) (site)

The second film depicted the residents of a Sicilian town through the filter of footage from 1990's pre-Berlusconi local public broadcast television.  The big hair from a bygone age and and befuddled looks from villagers with a microphone suddenly thrust up their nose is distracting for a while, but the presumably intended 'meat' of the film - a running theme of upcoming elections, a housing shortage due to failed political promises, mass demonstrations and accusations rife of political bribery and corruption doesn't quite come enough to the fore to capture the viewers' attention, even when that does include gruesome footage of bloody political assassinations. 6/10

Etude (Austria) - Another sixpackfilm short film, and predictably, this meant that we had scratchy, rumbly sound on top of something you couldn't get a narrative out of.  This time, footage of a hand begins to merge with a piano keyboard, as if to represent the actions of an instrument and it's player merging an a performance.  Meh. 4/10

Mother India (Ind) (wiki)

At 175 minutes, Mother India is a true Indian epic, and not atypical in length for films from the region.  At the time of it's production it was way ahead in terms of scope and budget, and is considered a classic of Indian cinema. 

As the bulldozers and cranes strip away the old and replace it with bridges and buildings, an old woman recalls her hard years as a mother and wife.  As a young bride, Radha and her husband Shyamu live hard but happy lives tilling the fields and starting a family.  It's hard, but its about to get a lot harder as Sukilala, the moneylender Shyamus' mother used to pay for the wedding has them by the balls, and is using their reading ignorance to keep them from breaking free of his loan, which is keeping him very well kept indeed, thankyouverymuch.

Cue a succession of crises as land, money and people are all lost and Radha repeatedly hits what seems to be her lowest point, only for more crap to appear on the near horizon.  Despite her strongest will at shouldering all the burdens fate puts her way, all seems lost.  In the ruins of her home after a flood with fatalities all around her, Radha must find within herself the strength to move forward, and calm the vengeful urges of her son, Birju.

Mother India has a special status in India as the film most beloved of it's people.  This comes partly through its primary intent to portray the country in a far more positive light than a much derided book from America of the same name published several years previous.  And story wise, although it does plod through the hours, it is a broad and deep story that crosses generations.  You have the usual Indian songs scattered throughout, but this doesn't stop it also being in turns emotionally engaging and genuinely funny; the midpart of the film, where a young Birju steals the show with his cheekily headstrong attitude is a particular pleasure, even in the midst of the family's life going to crap.  Once is enough at that length, but I'm glad I got to see it. 7.5/10 

Luisa is not Home (Spa) - Elderly Luisa is far too used to her subservant life, a wife to an ungrateful husband and their sterile relationship is at least a comforting normality.  But when the washing machine breaks and she has to go to the laundrette, a chance meeting with a spirited woman who takes an awful lot less before making her feelings known creates a spark in her heart and a realisation that it doesn't have to be this way.  7.5/10

Beware of Mr. Baker (US) (site)

This was a last minute switcheroo, a replacement for a mysteriously cancelled Indian film called I.D, which the distributors mysteriously withdrew from the festival at the last minute.  Ginger Baker is considered by just about everyone with knowledge in the subject, as the most prolific, talented and influential drummer there has ever been.  Best known as one third of Cream; when they split in 1969 after just three years of intense anger and legendary music, his attempts to fit in with others would often spark and burn out, and he would have to move on, often finding himself setting up shop across the globe.

This didn't matter too much to him as he found interesting people wherever he went picking up and setting down influence along the way; problem is he would end up leaving yet again when his short, antagonistic temper got the better of him and those who trusted him into their spaces found the personality too intolerable even for the talent brought with it.

Ginger Baker now lives a reclusive existence with his fourth wife and her kids, having left his first wife and three children along the way a long time ago.  Luminaries from the age including Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, John Lydon and many others give their voices of how the history went for better or worse, much to the shock and anger of Baker, who we see at the start dealing out his opinions on the matter with his walking stick, right in the director's face.  But even those who were wronged the worst share an admiration for the man, who is now a shadow of his former self.  A bright and fizzing biography of a highly unstable and ultimately fragile man, which of course makes it all the more interesting. 7.5/10

Film/Spricht/Viele/Sprechen (Ger) - I've seen it twice now, and I still don't know what to make of it.  German title, cinema style Indian Restaurant advertisements, in French, and supercut all over the shop.  It ended, and the audience let out a bewildered laugh. 3/10

The Perfectionists (Spa) - A spiritual follow up to The Four Magnificos, a similar short by the same director at BIFF 2011.  The Perfectionists are a troupe of method actors, who are trying to attain the perfection of their art, and attempting to get there by following a cult-like instruction.  The complete sense of seriousness in the ridiculous things they do gave plenty of laughs. 7.5/10

Much Ado About Nothing (US) (wiki)

Just after Buffy and Firefly director Joss Whedon finished with the shooting of The Avengers, he found himself in his large house with several of his acting friends from several previous projects.  So he did what we all would do - he made a cinematic retelling of the classic Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing, in just under two weeks.

Whedon brings it up to date with the settings, but the characters remain shackled to the past; the dialog is taken almost verbatim from the play and although this is a brave and novel undertaking, does sneak up on the unsuspecting viewer and takes a little bit of adjusting to.  Once you get over this stumbling block however the film becomes a lot more watchable, especially once the cast thins out a bit - since everyone is wearing suits and it's filmed in black and white, you get a bit lost at the start remembering who is who.  Buffy fans at least (I was never into Firefly so can't vouch) can look forward to many recognisable faces, not least Alexis Denisof who played the prim and upright Wesley, and also Riki Lindhome, who was briefly in Buffy, but is better known these days as one half of the ever excellent Garfunkel and Oates.

And now I'm watching Garfunkel and Oates videos when I should be asleep.

So yes.  It may be slightly too impenetrable for a mainstream audience - basically if you have problems with subtitles you'll also have problems here, but if not, and you like Shakespeare and/or Joss Whedon, I thoroughly recommend it.  But I would give the original a quick read-through first to get the most out of the experience.  7.5/10

BIFF 2013 Day 3

Films By Robert Todd (US)

The opening entry of this years' Uncharted States of America strand featured three films by marathon filmmaker Robert Todd  For better or worse, he makes about a dozen films per year, and this is a choice selection, apparently.

Dangerous Light (US) - You can sort of see why he is able to come up with such a quantity of films.  This is basically all the lightsabre fight scenes from (I believe) all six Star Wars films, but with the contrast turned up high and the brightness down, and set to the rousing operatic score of Wagners Tannhäuser.  It went on too long, and I question whether Todd's knob twiddling to change existing footage a bit was worth the 7-minute run time. 4/10

Habitat (US) - At least Habitat managed to share something with the main film of the feature, but any point that this film was trying to make could have been conveyed in 30-seconds worth of booming, rumbling soundtrack set against scenes of large, angular buildings floating over each other with only the occasional glimpse of tree.  Instead, it took ten, long minutes. 3/10

Master Plan (US) (site)

Initially, and to my dismay by this point, Master Plan began much as the other two did - grainy, out of focus and saturated footage of houses being demolished and rebuilt, and I didn't fancy an hour of that.  Fortunately, the film style slowly matured and it clear the overall theme of this documentary - giving voice to various residents and architects to talk about their living spaces; how they lovingly restore and care for them, and how city planners are learning to redesign the problematic living spaces so blighted by the high-rise apartment experiments of the past.

That all sounds terribly dry and boring, but it was quite interesting, and as it went on, began to hold the attention more and more, despite the deliberately appauling quality of the muffled sound, which acted as a barrier stopping the viewer becoming emotionally invested in the film until you got used to it.  Still, it was varied and rather than getting too preachy about how homes should be, just let different people with different styles tell their stories of what they have now and why it makes them happy. 7/10

Foxes (Ire) - Deep in a near-deserted urban sprawl, a young couple continue their sterile relationship, the last souls to leave the abandoned housing development.  James does his best to bring in the 9-5 cash, but Ellen can't get a job, and is increasingly distant about trying. Her side passion - taking photos of the nature slowly reclaiming the streets around them begins to be an obsessional refuge for her.  A desolate and depressing meditation on our isolated existence. 7.5/10

The Last Dogs of Winter (NZ) (facebook)

What with a cute and adorably troublesome new puppeh at home (who is now fully grown by the way), the prospect of ultra-fluffy dogs playing with Polar Bears couldn't be missed.  A construction boom in the 1970's drew a thin and reedy hippy-like Brian Ladoon to Churchill, Manitoba, and after some time stowing away on merchant boats to see the world, came back and was inspired to begin looking after the Canadian Eskimo Dog - the Qimmiq.  Numbers dropped off massively from their peak of ten thousand in the fifties to just a few hundred today, mainly because of the Canadian government initiating a mass cull around the time to keep the Inuit from roaming the lands, and build communities.  No longer requiring sleds for roaming, and skidoos did the hunting work, the dogs were no longer needed.  Ladoon has his fair share of critics and admirers, and one or two who help him in his task.  In recent years, and by strange happenchance, The Tribe actor and one-time pinup boy Caleb Ross travelled the length of the country to answer a job advert for an assistant for a month or so.  He's been there ever since.

The filmmaker is as aware as Brian and Caleb of the criticism they face from those who see the setup they have at face value.  A few hundred dogs spread over a couple of sites beyond the town boundaries, some chained up and all without shelter in the harsh wind and weathers, and with a contingent of polar bears roaming between them at will.  After some time introducing the environment, Brian is allowed to give his voice to the critics, which underatandably by this point may include the audience, to explain why things are the way they are, and for the most part, makes sense.  It's certainly difficult to ignore the results, and his evergreen enthusiasm cast starkly against the inhospitable backdrop.

The Last Dogs of Winter is a fine documentary highlighting a quirk of coincidence met with a passionate, enthusiastic individual, and the result is very pleasant, occasionally humerous, and never less than beautiful to look at.  8/10

Little World (Spa) (review)

I missed the short film Mothlight beforehand due to some anti-clockwatching, but I am so glad I managed to see the rest of this.  Albert is 20, and since he developed leukemia as a kid which developed complications, he has lost the use of his legs and is wheelchair bound.  He also travels the world.  On his own, and with almost no money, and has been at it for several years.  His slight, elfish, girlish appearance hides a worldly wise and savvy traveller, who relies a little on the kindness of strangers, and a little on the apparent helplessness his appearance suggests to others.

Director Marcel Barrena joins Albert and his recent girlfriend Anna, just as they are about to embark on his latest adventure - travelling to the opposite side of the world - without cash - and surprise whoever lives there by just turning up unannounced.

This should give you an idea of the sheer force of nature that Albert is, and not even his girlfriend can keep up at times.  We follow them through central europe and the middle east, before taking unexpected detours and having the odd near fatal hospital visit.  Against all this, Albert and Annas' bewildered families attempt to explain what they have unleashed upon the world.

A celebration of the human spirit rather than a piece concentrating on someone in a wheelchair doing something you wouldn't expect them to, Little World is an intensely inspirational debut film.  I've been travelling, but I see now I am one of the 'posh backpackers' Albert refers to jokingly as they enter the far eastern part of their journey.  Travellers and those with trepidation about heading out of their comfort zone alike need to see this film, it is truly an exceptional and inspirational work.  8.5/10

Last Night (S.Kor) - A quiet, reserved clothes shop clerk waits patiently for her lover to arrive and take her away from her old life.  But fate, a needful son and a clutch of her more outgoing drinking friends force her to make a choice.  A nice but underwhelming film. 7/10

Kill Me (Ger/Fre/Swi) (facebook)

A young girl stands on a beautiful precipice unable to jump for the umpteenth time.  Adele is suicidal and only her menial task as a worker at her parent's farm is stopping her from taking her tendencies all the way to fruition.

The stalemate is broken when Timo, an escaped convict from the local prison stows away in her room, and sensing a chance to flee from the life she is unable to take herself, makes a pact with him - help him get over the border to France, and he must do it for her - push her over a cliff.

Events conspire, rather conveniently to push the grim event further and further into the future as the pair trek the forests evading detection and capture; and predictably, they end up becoming closer, although more as a father-daughter pairing than the more usual lovers in this sort of setup.

The film would never be able to escape the fact that the audience would know exactly the outcome - i.e. they both find solace in each other - but I was disappointed to find no unexpected twists at all in the film, and worse still a few rather clumsy attempts to pull the audiences' opinion in a certain direction at times.  It is an entertaining film and another variant of the Stockholm Syndrome mechanic, though more of a slow burner than an action flick, and you know exactly what you're going to be getting as soon as you read the plot. 7/10

Hotel Room (Austria) - Erm.. well.  The 'hotel room' consists of a chair, table and bed.  Slowly they get covered in some strange growing substance.  Then you realise they are dolls furniture in a freezer compartment.  You are literally sat there watching ice form. 3.5/10

A Hijacking (Den) (site)

From the same people who brought us Borgen and The Killing, comes something similar set on the high seas.  Mikkel is the ships' cook aboard The Rosen, a Danish cargo ship heading back from Mumbai when it is hijacked by Somali pirates.  Ignoring the pleas of Connor the hostage expert brought in from the UK, hard-nosed and go-getting shipping CEO Peter takes on the challenge of negotiating ransom monies in exchange for the lives of the seven people aboard - the captain of which has fallen gravely ill.

You can tell that this was written by the danes, rather than it being an American flick.  There, the ships cook (who forms the centrepiece of the show) would be like Steven Segal in Under Seige, somehow managing to off all the pirates and steer the ship back home again with his teeth.  Here, Mikkel is weak and afraid like we all would be in the same situation, and just does what he can to stop the people around him from getting killed.

If you enjoyed the various other Danish crime thrillers, and prefer your tension to manifest in a brooding undercurrent rather than full on hot lead justice, then it's a safe bet you won't want to miss this one as well.  It even has the advantage of large sections of it spoke in English (as per the pirates' demands).  Some action buffs may become frustrated however at the lack of a clear winning side, and the boardroom scenes where awkward and stalling negotiations take up much of the runtime.  Personally, I thought it was a great addition to the swelling collection of thrillers from the north. 7.5/10

BIFF 2013 Day 2

Raja Harishchandra (Ind) (wiki)

As a warm-upto A Throw of Dice, we were treated to a screening of the only surviving fragment of the first ever Indian film.  It was 12 minutes long, a mere quarter of it's original length, and choppy, slanted and entirely without sound.  The intertitles were halfway off the edge of the screen and in some variant of English which didn't help either.

A principled king gives up his kingdom to a sage who he interrupted while hunting, right in the middle of some sagely summoning of spirits.  Not satisfied with his new wealth, the dastardly sage bumps off a prince and frames the ex-kings' wife for the murder.  All looks lost until the God Shiva turns up and starts the king back on the road to recovery.  Unfortunately, the film ends pretty abruptly there.  I can't properly review something that is more an important film artefact than a piece of entertainment, so I won't, other than to say I felt privileged to see it and found the experience of looking back a hundred years to another culture and world fascinating.

Side note: I'm not sure the festival organisers did much homework on this - they said this was bit was all that was left, but a quick look on YouTube brings this up which, although it is in even worse condition than what we saw, appears to be the whole film (or at least most of it) plus some behind the scenes footage - they were thinking about DVD extras even then!

A Throw of Dice (Ind) (wiki)

Barely five seconds after the abrupt end of the genesis of cinema came a digitally restored print of a classic of Indian cinema.  Sharing the common narrative source of the Mahabarata with the previous film, the intervening sixteen years made for a considerable leap in the quality of film and production quality.

It centres around the affluent lives of two kingly cousins Ranjit and Sohat who share a passion in hunting big game and gambling with dice.  All is not rosy however, as Sohat is secretly plotting to have Ranjit bumped off so he can take both kingdoms.  When an attempt by a faithful manservant to 'accidentally' poison him with a dart meant for a Tiger, Ranjit is taken to a healer living out in the jungle with his beautiful young daughter, Sunita.  Predictably, both fall in love with her, but Ranjit gets the upper hand on recept of increasingly affectionate bedside manner.  When it becomes clear that the king will not only make a full recovery but also take Sunita as his willing queen, Sohat conspires to ruin their lives and have his 'friend' as his slave.

A Throw of Dice is a very early prototype of a romantic action film. You would expect that an Indian film from 1929 would not have much to offer, especially as it was also silent.  But for the time, it had big ambition.  A cast of extras numbering ten thousand or more, some pretty nifty pan and tracking, fade-ins and outs and even some composite imagery with cameras of a size and weight akin to pointing a grumpy rhino at the actors.  As the tension builds and Sohat's dastardly deeds are discovered, the final minutes could be taken from the climactic scenes of a modern-day epic.

I found myself enjoying it much more than I thought I might.  Nitin Sawhney - who created the bafflingly out of place soundtrack for the digital re-release of The Lodger last year - also got his hands on the soundtrack but I am thankful to say that he was having a subdued day, and has kept the more jarring tunes mostly at bay.  The film doesn't bear up fantastically to the latest and greatest out there, how could it?  But it is entertaining, and has stood well against the 80+ years it has existed for.  It leaves my hopes high for some of the other choice films chosen in the strand.  7/10

Dysmorphia (UK) - A short film introduced by the screenwriter herself to launch this years' Bradford After Dark strand.  Dysmorphia is a known mental condition where some sufferers find parts of their body so repulsive that they want to have them removed.  So we meet a man who is about to do just that to his arm.  We know what is going to happen, as we are introduced to his bag of cutting tools, and part of the power of this gruesome films is in the build-up.  It cuts to the bone of our own repulsion that someone could even consider this.  But that is the power of the film, and if you like to be disturbed, repulsed and feel a need to get out of the cinema then this is the short for you. Disturbingly, disturbingly powerful, but certainly not for everyone.  7.5/10

Memory of the Dead (Arg) (review)

After waking from a dream where her husband Jorge commits suicide in front of her, Alicia finds her husband actually dead, or at least croaking his last.  It's at this point she decides to do something about it.  She has his closest friends around.

So people from Jorges' varied past come over to stay a night.  They are touched by his post-death letter to them all, and settle in for the night.  But Alicia, aided by shadowy occultist Hugo works some spells and surrounds the house in fog, and more importantly, the ghosts of the dead.  Some of them have unfinished business with the various guests, and it soon becomes clear that everyone has something to hide.

Memory of the Dead was actually a more sedate affair than the short film before it, although not by much.  The blood still splattered and it all got a bit uncomfortable, especially when the little girl with no face came on and proceeded to make herself a face using the eyes and teeth of someone else, while they still had use for them.  Being Argentinian, the acting was pitched somewhere around the comedic opera level but without the warbling and a fair bit of fan service, and the over-the-top acting did get a little off-putting when the characters seemed to be concentrating on themselves and somehow ignoring the latest victim being dragged across the floor just out of shot.  Fortunately by the time most of them have tasted the actions of the mischievous ghouls they become a little more focused towards their impending demise.

It was entertaining and unpredictable, with plenty of gore but perhaps not as much horror as you might be looking for.  It is a good example of the horror genre mixed with a bit of family drama which is enough to make it stand out a little further still.  7.5/10

BIFF 2013 Day 1

Another post, another festival begins! My ever-evolving garden will be taking a back seat, coincidentally just as the weather turns to wet, windy crap. The Bradford Film Festival is back; from the look of this years' booklet it is a little smaller in scope than 2012, but hopefully there will be some cracking films in among just waiting to be discovered.

This year, one of the main strands is a celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema, with some iconic titles from the last century. I baulked when I saw that several of them were touching the 3-hour mark, but I will be packing a few of them in as I go.

This opening night was one of trepidation, as the booming drag vocals of Big Spender filled the Media Museum entrance hall as a large crowd of people began to gather to see the opening night film. Though the brochure does tell of 'arbitrary displays of naked flesh', it wasn't until I saw the warnings on the film poster that I realised just how much naked flesh might be on display, and consequently just how much of a shock some of the older members of the upcoming audience would get. I decided not to bring this to anyone's attention.

So we filed in, and the cinema packed out.  After a wait to get everyone in and settled, and a generous helping of festival staff warbling on about their sponsors and trying to think of quirky things to say by way of introducing the festival, we eventually got down to seeing the winning Virgin Media short of 2012 before a bit more waffling, and then the film.  It's a good job I wasn't relying on the train.

Rocket - A charming, short film about a little dog who has dreams of space travel.  Low budget, short and very cute. 8/10

The Look of Love (UK) (facebook)

I had not heard of Paul Raymond before today - the debonair ladykilling (and bedding) 'entrepreneur' who branched out from a career having naked ladies posing in cages with lions in the 50's, to having naked ladies posing on stage in smoky men's clubs, a string of naughty stage plays and the long-time proprietor of 'not pornographic' magazine Men Only. I was about to get a two hour flesh-saturated Soho history lesson.
Paul Raymond's private life reflected the general attitude he had towards his many performers; when he spotted someone new, the old would be quickly abandoned and cast aside. So it was when long time wife Jean became unhappy with his constant flirting, Raymond abandoned her and their children for Amber - a gorgeous and headstrong new beauty who catches his eye and knows how to keep him interested. But Raymond's life grows increasingly unstable and unhappy, despite his re-acquaintance with his troubled daughter Debbie, who stands by him, even though he is too busy with his tongue down the necks of copious women to notice as she falls further into a destructive drug habit.

Last year's opener - Damsels in Distress - was a pretty big let down and not worthy of an opening night film, and I was worried that this one was going to hit similar lows.  Large numbers of well-known faces have not been enough to save the face of films in the past (think Boogie Woogie), but I was relieved to find myself enjoying it enormously, and part of the fun was recognising many famous faces besides Steve Coogan - Anna Friel, Chris Addison, Miles Jupp, Mark Williams, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Simon Bird... some of which have criminally short blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances.  Coogan as Raymond and Imogen Poots as his daughter Debbie in particular are excellently cast and played, and Coogan manages to be varied enough so that you aren't constantly thinking he will segue into Alan Partridge.

The huge amounts of ladyflesh - with a nipple count surely stretching to three figures, not to mention more than a little 1970's style lady gardens for good measure - will almost certainly colour the experience of some people, but The Look of Love does not use them to tittilate, nor attempt to portray the man in a wholly positive or negative light, or even comment on the rights and wrongs of the business he conducted.  Raymond was egotistical and selfish and he treated many of his closest terribly, and is seen to reap the rewards of his attitude.  But he is also seen as a funny and warm man with a soul and a genuine affection for those he loves.  As screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh said in the post-film Q+A, much of the script is in the spirit, rather than the fact, and the film purposely sidesteps some of the less savoury dealings with gangsters and the like to concentrate on his business and his family - upcoming documentary 'The King of Soho' written by his son may well take up those topics in a far more coldly factual manner.

So long as you see The Look of Love as a piece of entertainment based on a true story, and aren't averse to seeing giant breasts coming towards you at regular intervals (I found it surprisingly tolerable), you will enjoy it immensely.  8/10