A reel mixed bag
PRIOR to kicking off, the 62nd Edinburgh International Film Festival seemed to have two things it wanted to instil in audiences: that it was now in June and that it was festival of discovery. Well, there was no disputing the former claim, but at times it was a little hard to make a case for the latter.
That’s not to say there was a weak selection of films. On balance, it was a strong programme it’s just that many of the best films michael kors australia tended to come either from well established film makers such as Shane Meadows and Werner Herzog who returned with, respectively, Somers Town and Encounters at the End of the World or directors on at least their second or third movie, such as The Station Agent’s Thomas McCarthy, whose moving, intelligent and grown up New York drama The Visitor was the highlight of the first weekend. Also in that category were Kenny Glenaan, who got a career best performance from Robert Carlyle in Summer, and James Marsh, whose return to documentaries after a foray into feature filmmaking with The King resulted in the festival’s most talked about picture, Man on Wire, a sublime piece about Philippe Petit’s 1974 high wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Centre.
But very few films felt like genuine discoveries, with many first time directors making movies that were easier to admire than love. The British films Helen and Better Things, for instance, both demonstrated masterful stylistic touches and innovative approaches to storytelling, but performance wise they were severely lacking. I was, however, impressed (and disturbed) by Crack Willow, the first feature from Edinburgh School of Art graduate Martin Radich. What began as an uncomfortably intimate portrait of a burly bloke caring for his elderly father soon mutated into a thoroughly unsettling psychological profile of his fractured mental state and featured one 20 minute sequence of sustained, freaked out, demented terror that ranks alongside the best of David Lynch for its ability to ratchet up an atmosphere of sheer dread. I’m still not quite sure what I make of the film as a whole, but it’s a real oddity and it’s going to be fascinating to see what Radich does next.
It’s too bad that such ambition wasn’t present in some of the questionable choices for the festival’s highest profile michael kors australia slots. The Closing Night Gala, Faintheart, was particularly poor. The result of a competition run by MySpace to create the first publicly generated movie, any curiosity value in its origins soon dissipated once it became clear that what was in store was yet another mediocre British comedy about marginalised men having to grow up and face reality. Written and directed by first timer Vito Rocco, the plot was a depressingly familiar hybrid of The Full Monty and Shaun of the Dead, with Eddie Marsan cast as a nerdy Viking obsessive suddenly forced to get his act together when his long suffering wife (Jessica Hynes) kicks him out.
With scant character development and a script full of lame sitcom style gags and “be true to yourself” platitudes, there really wasn’t much to distinguish it. Even its geeky backdrop of battle re enactment clubs felt disingenuous, the result of a cynical calculation designed to tap into the kind of huge cult followings Hynes’ former collaborator, Simon Pegg, and Clerks director Kevin Smith have built up thanks to their confirmed fanboy status. To this end, the excruciating subplot revolving around a Trekkie (played by Ewen Bremner) searching for love was particularly specious and groan worthy. In fact, the whole enterprise was a reminder that the democratisation of film making isn’t going to lead to lots of new and exciting stories being told; it’s going to lead to a lot of the same crap, which is an odd thing for a film festival to be celebrating.
The festival also did itself no favours in its bid to become “the Sundance of Europe” by including the latest dreary Merchant Ivory production Before the Rains and the abysmal Stone of Destiny among its gala premieres. The latter, American actor turned director Charles Martin Smith’s feeble caper about the Scottish nationalist students who stole the coronation stone back from Westminster Abbey, was by far the worst film of the festival: a thoroughly embarrassing and badly out of date slice of tartan tweeness, which served only to illustrate that the otherwise noble impulse to showcase national product shouldn’t come at the expense of all quality control.
There was another spectacular error of judgment in the choice for the Surprise Movie. After much speculation about what it might be (security guards with anti piracy night vision goggles briefly raised my hopes that we might be treated to the unveiling of The Dark Knight), there was a collective shrug when third rate School of Rock rip off The Rocker began. It was a juvenile choice especially when you consider that last year’s London Film Festival served up No Country for Old Men as its mystery movie.
Uncharacteristic gaffes like these may just have been the result of the festival being in a transition period (let’s hope so), because there was certainly plenty to savour. The macabre Swedish coming of age tale Let the Right One in was the only film to generate a lot of buzz, even receiving a thunderous ovation after its first press screening (which was the only time that happened). Though visually very different, director Tomas Alfredson’s film evoked the spirit of Guillermo del Toro in the way it put a sensitive, imaginative and very dark spin on both childhood and on one of the horror genre’s oldest myths (I’m not going to tell you which one) to tell the story of a bullied, introverted 12 year old boy who strikes up a complicated friendship with the mysterious girl next door.
Also good was Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, which is the kind of ambitious and crazy film it’s always a pleasure to come across in a festival. Having tried to make this elaborate, globe trotting fantasy film for more than 15 y michael kors australia ears, Tarsem (as he likes to be credited) was unable to secure funding and so decided to piggy back his high paying advertising and promo work to shoot a few scenes at a time whenever he was in an exotic location. The result is possibly the most visually lavish independent film ever produced.
The documentary strand was again very strong. Sleep Furiously, Gideon Koppel’s dreamy, heartbreaking portrait of a Welsh farming community edging into decline, proved surprisingly absorbing and moving, and, at the other end of the spectrum, Three Miles North of Molkom was a hugely entertaining insight into the wonders of an annual Swedish spiritual festival, with added frisson coming in the form of Nick, a straight talking Australian rugby coach horrified to find himself among a bunch of tree hugging hippies.
The latter went down particularly well with audiences at the weekend, especially when the directors brought Nick out to participate in the Q session his frank and funny answers proved that absolutely nothing about him on film was contrived. Shared experiences such as these made up for the disappointments, and even though it’s not yet the festival it claims to be, it certainly seems to be on its way to achieving its goal.
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