Edinburgh is arguably the biggest film festival in the UK, and in recent years has beaten the London Film Festival to unveil the hottest premieres, whilst developing some coherent and useful strands. Two of them, Mirrorball (pop videos and shorts) and Scene By Scene (interviews with stars and film-makers) have spun off into their own separate TV entities. It is also able to effortlessly generate decent quantities of that elusive sense of ‘festival spirit’. This is partly down to the close proximity of the main venues, the generous amount of special guests, and all the other festivals raging on around it. For English delegates the vibe can be mainly attributed to the liberal licensing laws that make Edinburgh such a fine and welcoming city. Downsides this year were the constantly shifting status of our delegate’s passes and the fact that industry screenings seemed to be filled out with feral packs of restless American college students (no offence intended).
Much of the programme was Cannes highlights – kicking off with Lars Von Trier’s eagerly awaited musical Palme D’Or winner “Dancer In The Dark” starring Bjork, and closing with Wong Kar-Wai’s equally anticipated “In The Mood For Love” (they’d even managed to persuade the notoriously shy Wong to talk). As well as these high-profile titles which everyone knows about, there were plenty of lesser-known gems to be stumbled upon.
One major highlight was Alejandro Inarritu’s sprawling, supercharged Mexico City thriller “Amores Perros” (Dog Love), which tells three stories locked into place by a car-crash and all loosely themed around affection for canines. Dogfighting, supermodels, hitmen, and botched bank robberies are all thrown into the mix by the director (an ex radio DJ who knows a thing or two about segue-ways), but it’s violence is refreshingly unsensationalised and Inarritu’s grip on narrative dynamics is astonishing.
The Hungarian director Bela Tarr is one of those Euro-auteurs whose work exists only as a rumour in the UK. When the industry screening of his latest “The Werkmeister Harmonies” was cancelled due to a destroyed print, it looked as if that wasn’t going to change. However, the Festival team managed to fly him over and persuade him to allow a print to be shown that he’s completely unhappy with. Tarr’s work is slow and stately, and will have the ‘plex kids chewing their limbs off, but the luminous black and white photography, extremely committed acting, extraordinary visual images and beautiful music work their own brand of cinematic magic.
“Coming-of-age” dramas seemed to be the hidden strand this year, and there were a number of fine examples of this post-teen, pre-life crisis sub-genre. “101 Reykjavik” was the Icelandic contender – lewd, crude and very funny, it’s about a charismatic slob living with his mother and passing his days getting high, drunk, laid and surfing the net for porn. Change comes in the form of Victoria Abril’s energetic, bisexual Spanish flamenco teacher. “Chill Out” is a very low-key and well-crafted German film about the relationship between an itinerant gay con-man and a straight (and promiscuous) female researcher, both hanging desperately onto their rapidly disappearing youth through mindless hedonism. Without any major theatrics or too much navel-gazing, “Chill Out” quietly manages to be affecting and truthful. Jamie Thraves’ first film “The Low Down” also fit into this mood – a painfully spot-on exploration of friendship, relationships and the everyday complexities of urban living amongst British underachievers. Thraves definitely hits nerves, and rumour has it that The Lowdown was quickly snapped up for UK distribution after the first screening.
Another unusually impressive British feature was Ben Hopkins’ anarchic, apocalyptic farce “Nine Lives Of Tomas Katz,” which although flawed has a lunatic energy and visionary quality virtually unseen in homegrown cinema these days.
Of the American stuff I saw Miguel Arteta’s “Chuck And Buck” got the great reaction it deserved. I’m on the verge of seeing the Weitz bothers’ presence in the film as evidence of some kind of submerged, intelligent ‘gross-out’ genre emerging in the wake of Todd Solondz’ “Happiness”. Neil LaBute’s “Nurse Betty” didn’t work for me, relying as it does on a plot development that’s extremely difficult to swallow, but it’s a good stab at making a subversive commercial film. “Groove” has its foot-tapping moments, but fails as an attempt to capture the intensity of the rave/club experience, rather it’s like a rogue, ecstasy-fuelled episode of Dawson’s Creek complete with sentimental story-arcs, useful life lessons and meaningful(less) conversations.
“Girlfight” was an another audience favourite – its confidence and impact are undeniable, but it’s stuffed with cliches and is utterly predictable.
Seeing as Asia is, lets face it, where all the good cinema comes from these days, I expected more from Edinburgh – a lot of really great sounding films from Cannes didn’t make it. Of what was on offer the week I was there, the Japanese trend for genre films was well represented. Hideo Nakata’s “Ring” is obviously a superb piece of psychological horror, and a large number of delegates tried to attribute their lack of sleep on its haunting imagery and sound design. But the two sequels are disappointing, and should probably have been left well alone.
One of the most intense cinematic rides available was Miike Takashi’s “Audition,” the seemingly simple story of a middle-aged businessman’s quest to find the perfect wife. Takashi displays a dazzling ability to maintain a credible sense of ‘reality’ whilst pushing the imagery and action into dark realms of horrifying excess rarely seen in mainstream cinema. Whether you take it as a study of masculine paranoia or just a deranged audience mindfuck, it makes Hollywood’s current roster of ‘slasher’ flicks look particularly slack. Immediately after the (9am) screening of “Audition” I unwisely decided to try and have my festival pass upgraded and realised too late that I was unable to form coherent sentences.
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