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

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