Wednesday, 25 November 2009

LEEDS FIM FEST REVIEW: White Night Wedding



One of the most absurdly comedic films I have seen in a long time! You just come out of it thinking, “blimey everyone in Iceland is nuts!”

The story is told in present time, but then we get flashbacks of the main character’s life from a year ago, too. They both have strong storylines, and because a degree of mystery is held within the flash backs (what happened to the first wife) it keeps you interested all the way through. Not that it wouldn’t anyway, because the characters and their zany ideas and habits keep you thoroughly entertained as the story rolls along.

Jon is getting married again but he doesn’t seem too happy about it, but his bride-to-be – one of his former students and a lot younger than he is  – adores him and can’t wait for the wedding. Her parents – battleaxe mother and drunken opera lover dad – want what’s best for their daughter, but the mother in particular doesn’t like Jon because he owes the family a lot of money from a ridiculous golf resort venture (very funny). His friend and best man/organist for the wedding shows up on the island where they live, and there’s time for a bit of drunken play and antics before the wedding the next day. Coupled with the extremely odd residents of the island (the shopkeeper is JUST like the hypochondriac shop worker in Amelie!) it all leads to one riot after the other.

There were some really funny scenes, mainly connected to Jon’s best friend Lars, and the vicar of the island who was BRILLIANT, and definitely my favourite character. I love how pissed off he gets at the wedding, has to apologise to God for being angry, and then goes outside to find it’s ‘raining money’ and whoops about trying to catch it all! hee hee. And the operatic dad was also amazing! He has so much contempt for his wife but it’s humourous, and the part where he gets really drunk and wades into the sea belting out an aria is priceless! At times it really reminded me of a Greek or a Roman comedy: based around the family archetype/group of drunken men and the humour very farcical. They sure as hell drink a lot of spirits over in Iceland! Loved the ending scene where they all chase after the absconded groom and they have to get married in the middle of the sea and hoist the vicar over on people’s shoulders so he can perform the rights! (I want a wedding in the sea!!)

I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get more of the beautiful landscapes referred to in the blurb: the island it was filmed on seemed quite a desolate place, but I loved the thought of it not ever getting dark on one night of the year, and how that must really screw with your body and mind – hence why all the drama and craziness and the wedding MUST happen on this day and no other!

Such a fun film to watch, and even though the underlying message is actually quite despondent and depressing compared to the energy and laughter of the story, you still come out of it with a big smile on your face. Fingers crossed for the Oscar nominations!




Monday, 23 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Cracks


A film I have wanted to be made for such a long time – it was utterly brilliant from start to finish. Beautifully shot, with a plot dealt with the slightest of hands from director Jordan Scott, and an excellent cast headed by the gorgeous and mesmerising Eva Green, who delivers one of the finest performances of her career – and in film this year – as Miss G.

Firstly, as I’ve said time and time before, I LOVE boarding school stories, especially ones with a sinister undercurrent, that play on the isolating surroundings and the abundance of pubescent females full to the brim of jealousy, obsession, desire, curiosity, greed, and so forth. It’s an intoxicating set-up. This film (making a few changes from the book by Sheila Kohler) is set in a rural English boarding school in the 1930s, where all the rich parents send their daughters because, quite frankly, they can’t be bothered parenting them. The girls, led by Di and Penny (identical twins of Pauline and Juliet from Heavenly Creatures to an astonishing degree!), bond together and are united in their love and idolisation of Miss G, one of the teachers at the school, whose vivacious and charismatic personality is so uncharacteristic of the stuffiness of the rest of the staff captivates her pupils into believing they can do whatever they want in life, and have amazing adventures around the globe just like her. With so many of the girls having absent and uncaring mothers, Miss G becomes their only role model, and for some of them the infatuation is more than passing.

Then to break up the comfortable scene, an exotic addition joins the class. Fiamma is from Spain, and although she is the same age as the other girls, she has acquired vast amounts of knowledge and experience as part of a royally blessed family. The girls initially shun her, especially when she shows more style and prowess than they do in her appearance, airs and her athleticism. But it’s this difference that catches the eye of Miss G, and slowly a role reversal forms in the classroom, and the object of desire and approval is no longer for the teacher.

The film starts off slowly, and steadily builds through a series of episodes involving the girls and their jealousy towards Fiamma, and then ultimately towards the climax at the end which is not as violent as Heavenly Creatures, but is thoroughly disturbing and shocking all the same. What is captured brilliantly is the deviance of Miss G, a woman who you believe has done it all, and then you slowly begin to realise how messed up and deluded she is as Fiamma breaks her down. Because the girls adore Miss G, they fail to grasp the truth and they hate Fiamma more for trying to fault Miss G. It’s this turn of events which makes the climax even more deadly and tragic.

The character of Miss G has to be one of the most beautifully unravelled on the big screen (and Eva Green is excellent in executing this). Because she is the spotlight, the person we all desire to be, to go from this to utterly despising her at the end is some accomplishment. The wordless stare between Miss G and Di as events unfold around them at the end is powerful and unnerving, and will leave you chilled to the bone. Excellent acting and direction.

Obviously some of the acting from the younger girls was a bit ropey at times, but the lead two or three are surprisingly polished and give convincing and affecting performances – after looking at their resumes on imdb afterwards I see they are building very promising careers indeed!

Was slightly disappointed by the ending – I thought it seemed a little bit ridiculous compared to what we had seen of their lives before it, and dare I say a little melodramatic which spoiled the subtlety of the film which works really well in building suspense. There are times during the film when you wish they would push things further, but if you’re patient, you’ll be fully rewarded by the end.

With echoes of Heavenly Creatures, resemblance to French film Innocence and hefty doses of Lord of the Flies, Cracks can cast all of these comparisons aside and sit aloft as an impressive, sophisticated and ultimately stirring film, with an engrossing and disturbing story brought to life with a terrific cast and a director to keep your eye on. Go and see it, I think it’s my favourite film of the year, not just the festival.


Thursday, 19 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Love and Rage


One of my absolute faves of the festival. I can tell a film is good when I become so immersed in it that I don’t a) start thinking about how much more there is left, and b) start reviewing it there and then. The story was so intense and it unfolds superbly moment by moment until you’re at the end and – deep breath – you have to assess what’s just happened.

Daniel is a musical prodigy, with an extraordinary talent for classical piano inherited from his father. His dream is to go to a top musical school in New York and to do that he acquires the services of the best piano teacher at his academy, Pierre to coach him.  He has problems with his nerves when playing in front of an audience, but other than that Daniel is a normal teenager with a passion for music. Until he meets Sofie (the indie beauty Sara Hjort).

Now we get the ‘Love’ – Daniel becomes infatuated, and stalks her to get information so he can ‘arrange’ to bump into her at a gig. His luck’s in as she is taken with him too, and soon the two of them are a young, happy, lustful couple.  He takes her free-spirited and spontaneous comments as gospel (“I’ll come with you to New York and we’ll live together!”) and his mind is so consumed with thoughts of her his piano practices begin to suffer. It’s around this time we learn what has happened to Daniel’s father – he was very depressed and he killed himself a year earlier, and a line uttered by Pierre “maybe you inherited more than just talent from your father” begins to come true. A minor disagreement in the cinema on a date with Sofie leads to an outburst from Daniel so horrifying and violent he ends up in a prison cell overnight and his girlfriend shaken to the core.

And so begins the ‘Rage’. Daniel’s mother begins a fling with Pierre and Daniel becomes fiercely jealous – that he is having to share someone so important with his mother. And when Pierre begins to teach Sofie, things slowly begin to spiral out of control. Daniel becomes fixated with the possibility of Pierre sleeping with his girlfriend, especially when Pierre leaves his mother. His behaviour becomes increasingly disturbed and dangerous – stalking Sofie (and this time not in a playful way), spying on her, watching her intently as she sleeps, his mind distorting her image so she is with Pierre. After a successful solo at the academy concert he has a full-blown argument with her as she begins to become frustrated with his possessive nature. Sofie and Pierre are innocent and they both love Daniel, but no amount of words or actions can change the idea Daniel has in his mind. The results are painful, brutal, immensely powerful and heavy to watch.

The acting in this film is excellent. The actor who plays Daniel in particular is a tour de force – there is a vulnerability to his appearance, but his descent into madness – just like his father – is wonderfully executed and pitch perfect. It is hard not to feel for him, but at the same time he is no longer a civilised human being and his actions cannot be undone. I’m sure there must be something dangerously consuming about being a pianist that leads to extreme emotions being created! This film reminded me a lot of a French film called ‘The Page Turner’ in that regard, and there have been other examples in film too. You wouldn’t get the same problems with a flute, I reckon.

An absorbing, potent film that gives as good as its title states – two uncontrollable emotions that are impossible to align and once mixed lead to huge explosions. It deserves so much success – here’s hoping for a wider release in Europe and good reviews spreading the word. I suspect it’s going to get tons.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Slovenian Girl


Ahhhh, Slovenia! How I adore thee and will watch anything remotely involving your fair country. I was excited about this film as soon as I saw it in the programme, so couldn’t wait to finally see it and look out for places I may recognise – hee hee. (I am interested in the film too…honest)

And I didn’t have long to wait – the opening scene (and catalyst event for the rest to come) concerns the Slovenian Girl, a prostitute, visiting a client in a hotel room who just so happens to be a member of the German parliament. As she enters the room, she finds him barely able to breathe on his bed. She phones for help, but as she does so he drops dead from a heart attack. She takes the money she would have earned, and quickly leaves the hotel. AND THAT HOTEL’S NAME WAS…. heh heh. It was the Best Western Hotel in Ljubljana! I stayed there during the Summer – I recognised that corridor from The Shining immediately! ha. It was a very exciting moment. As was numerous shots of the train station. And the ticket office. And the main shopping street. Anywaaaaaay….

….back to thoughts on the film. I have to say I didn’t exactly love it – for me, it was a really interesting and blunt portrait of a girl who has, through difficult circumstances, had to resort to selling her body to earn money and the unhappiness and trouble this brings her, especially after the incident with the German Minister and the police on her trail. She cannot speak to them because that would mean exposing her duplicity to her family and friends, and this is something she cannot contemplate ever happening. So follows a life of ducking and diving, lies and deceit, humiliation and sadness. It would make more of an unsettling watch if ‘Slovenian Girl’ was a likeable character, but she’s a bit sour faced to be truly sympathetic. She has ultimately got into this mess herself, and her reasons for pursuing this way of life are selfish, shallow ones (keeping her flat, University fees). It poses the question of admiralty – how far would you go to possess independence?

There isn’t much plot to the film either – it ambles and meanders along as we follow ‘Slovenian Girl’'s life and the big event that occurs at the start of the film peters out to have no impact on proceedings at all, other than gaining her notoriety. There are some strange inclusions as well, such as the reforming of her dad’s band, which I thought was going to serve a purpose at some point later on, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. And that’s a statement that can be said for the whole film.

It’s a decent watch – definitely not boring or badly acted or written – and she’s a compelling and strong character to digest. I just wish the film as a whole had a bit more to say, as it felt like a snapshot into someone’s life, and not a particularly memorable one.

(Incidentally, I would suggest watching the trailer before you watch the film, as the voiceover in it narrates things we weren’t even told in the film!! Ha! How strange)






Tuesday, 17 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: North


A real find of the festival! This has flashes of absurdity, hilarity, tenderness and moments of “OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED!” North is a thoroughly enjoyable Norwegian film which takes the ‘let’s go on a roadtrip and meet lots of quirky characters along the way’ device to a whole new level of brilliance.

Jomar has a lot of nervous issues connected with panic attacks and depression, and his lethargy causes his girlfriend and his four-year old son to leave him for the very north of the country. His best friend convinces him to go out and find them and to win his girlfriend back. So off he sets with some alcohol on a ski jet across the snowy drifts and plains (burning his cabin down in the process!).  Along the way he meets three very distinctive, odd characters which define just what a solitary and desolate place the tip of Norway is. One is a lonely teenage girl who lives outside of the main village with her grandmother and she is desperate for company and attention – even his. There’s a young man – it’s not clear whether he is either a repressed or curious homosexual – who likes to play party games – ridiculous party games. And then, best of all, there’s an old man he meets living in a tent who embraces the emptiness and finds a friend in Jomar at a time when he is readying himself for the end.

The images of the blindingly white covered landscape are stunning, and it really opens up your mind as well as your eyes to this hushed,vast place which hardly anybody inhabits and very little is known about. I’m definitely going to be doing some google-mapping in the near future! I love Norway already, one of the reasons to see this film was for the bonus scenery.

Jomar is a gem of a protagonist, possessing the ability to cause mayhem (and fires!) wherever he goes and yet touch people’s lives at the same time.  He cannot fail to win over the viewer as he’s priceless to watch; a hard-on-his-luck guy whose determination and personal courage to reach his family makes him a true hero.
The subtle gentle ending is just perfect, but this film will be forever lauded for one hilarious, cover-your-mouth-in-horror scene (yes, you’ll know the one when it happens) which is absolutely not to be missed by ANYONE.

A great film from a gorgeous country. Pass me some skis!




LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Puccini and the Girl


OK, let’s not pretend to be anything other than honest here: I didn’t have a clue what was going on. But this doesn’t matter, as nor did anyone else!

It wasn’t overly stylised or pretentious, it was the lack of dialogue (other than through spoken letters and songs) and the numerous undefined characters that clocked up the confusion and left you feeling completely lost. But it was a good kind of lost to be.

This was a real filmmaker’s film, which wouldn’t look amiss on the syllabus of a film studies course. It was beautifully directed, with an arty elegant vision. In one shot the camera is strategically placed on the staircase so that the figure ascending is seen only as a shadow, and then as that disappears from eyeview it transposes into almost silhouette animation. It was a delight to watch.

At 84 minutes it’s a good length because as early as ten minutes into the film you begin to realise you’re not going to follow the storyline so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the beautiful music, the idyllic beauty of Italy and the delicate and effective cinematography. You’ll need to jump on the internet straight afterward (“Ohhh, so that’s what was going on!”), but it’s definitely a worthy investment of your time and one of the most exquisite enigmas I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through in the cinema.





Monday, 16 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Samson and Delilah


What is it about senseless violence being in every film I see at the film festival?! I sense a disturbing pattern emerging!

This film suffers from Staggered Ending Syndrome, and should actually have ended about 15 minutes before it did. Yes, it would have been horribly depressing, but it also would have been powerful and satisfying. The last 'act' drags it down.

The film follows the relationship between two Aborigine teenagers – Samson and Delilah – whose courtship consists of throwing stones at each other and Samson following Delilah around as she cares for her elderly sick nana.  The reason for this behaviour soon becomes clear as the two ‘lovers’ don’t speak a word to each other (and they don’t throughout the whole of the film) because of language difficulties. Samson has trouble speaking any words at all, even his name, and whilst Delilah can speak and is seen conversing with her grandmother, because she is from a different tribe to Samson it is possible she speaks a dialect of the language he doesn’t understand. Instead, their love is depicted as a loyalty to one another and a soul deep devotion and companionship.  We begin to accept and route for them as a couple through their actions towards one another, and it’s a testamount to the power of love.

After the death of her nana and a vicious beating from her tribe who take it as her fault, Delilah is rescued by Samson who steals the community car and they drive off together to try and survive alone on the streets of the nearest town. The harshness of their lives is only compounded by the prejudice they receive from the locals, and Samson’s ongoing substance abuse which he becomes reliant on to escape their day to day difficulties.

The pace of the film is quite slow (heightened by the lack of dialogue), so episodes of high drama are really startling (at one point something so unexpected and violent happens I was able to watch from my viewpoint the whole audience flinched and gasped in unison!). There are intervals of comedy too, with the cheerful homeless man they befriend in the town who sings about how great it is to be having spaghetti for his breakfast!

The lack of conversation between the two leads means they remain slightly aloof from the audience making it hard to truly relate to them, but the film is worth watching for the engaging story – because with all its flaws, it still remains a triumphant fight against injustice and a victory for love. Although I still would have preferred depressing…




LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: West of Pluto



This was one of those stand out teen angst films with well-drafted, interesting and complex characters that was infinitely watchable: you just want it to go on and on and on!

At first it comes across as a docu-drama style film, where teens directly address the camera and speak about the big issues that are affecting them. But then a narrative develops, and the plot then becomes about a house party that gets gatecrashed by ‘the popular crowd’ and then the drunken, messy antics of the night that follow it.

The two characters with the most appeal were the two outsiders: there’s Emile who is uncomfortably picked on by the cooler girls at the party, hassled by her older brother and still grieving over the loss of her father. She is easy to relate to and sympathise with, and the actress wrestles some real emotion out of her trauma. And then there’s Jerome, who is deeply in love with one of his classmates but is too shy to tell her – and then he watches as she goes off with another boy at the party (GRRRR!). Despite all of this, at the end of the film he still presents her with a dinosaur tooth he spent all of his money on, telling her it is “eternal” – like his love for her. He is completely impossible not to like - I love the scene where he’s so angry she has gone off with the other guy that he gets a microphone and stands in the middle of the ice rink they’ve appropriated and yells out the poem he has written for her in front of all of their classmates. Superb!

I also really liked Pierre’s step-dad who doesn’t have a clue about parenting, but is trying his best just to clumsily get along with the best of intentions (“have you been bullied? I saw something about that on TV – they take your hat and your shoes.”). The unlikely alliance he strikes up with Pierre’s friend after he finds him beaten up on the side of the road and then takes him to A&E portrays one of those pivotal moments in someone’s life that will change who they are as a person – unconsciously – forever. It’s a really nice inclusion into a film that has so much to contribute on many levels.

The one thing that was slightly odd and unnecessary about the film was the attempt to make a link between the lives of the teenagers and the space shuttle mission to Pluto, the smallest planet in the solar system that has now been downgraded to a star. I wasn’t sure what they were trying to get at with the comparison, as it never seemed relevant to anything that was happening on the screen. Still, it didn’t harm it in any way so I won’t pick at it too much!

Oh, and I LOVE Quebec – it remains one of my favourite places in the world, and it's really lovely to see such great cinema coming from it.




LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Can Go Through Skin


I missed the first couple of minutes of Can Go Through Skin, and considering that’s when the BIG EVENT happens I missed the lead up to it so was a little bit confused about the circumstances. I’m not sure that extra insight would have helped actually, because the film itself is quite confusing and it’s hard to tell what is actually happening, what is a flashback, what is a fantasy and what is a dream. The director has really mastered the ability to trick the audience, and thus she puts the main character (Marieke) through the ringer and then some.

Recovering from the nasty events at the beginning of the film, Marieke moves to a dilapidated farm-house in the Dutch countryside to try and get over her trauma. The bleak loneliness of her surroundings (very akin to the Yorky Moors I thought) and the recurring memories of the events send her into a disturbing pattern of behaviour, showcasing almost a split personality at times – she is friendly to her neighbour, she yells at him to leave her alone, she welcomes his offer to mend her drain, she then hides from him when he knocks at the door (poor bloke must have thought she was barmy!). Meanwhile she tries to find solace in chat rooms on the internet, and strikes up a ‘friendship’ with one user who preys upon her weak state of mind and tells her to take revenge on her attacker. Marieke is already having fantasies about locking up and torturing her assailant, and this only feeds the fuel of her desire – but to make it a reality. Simultaneous to this, ‘happy’ Marieke becomes friendlier with her neighbour and sleeps with him one night, resulting in a pregnancy.

I was confused by events towards the end of the film, as it seems to rely heavily on flashback and plans to meet up with the chat-room user to plan out and take revenge on her attacker. I’m not sure whether this actually took place or whether it was all happening in her head – I started to question the time line of the whole film and it all got a bit crazy! It didn’t make me want to throw up my hands in despair however, and storm out of the cinema. It’s intelligent storytelling rather than messy, and it has all the makings of one of those films you need to watch several times before you begin to appreciate the real depth and complexity of the plot.

The central performance of Marieke is a raw and unyielding spectacle for any hard-nosed viewer. The actress who plays her is throughly amazing at being able to convey all the emotions, all the stages that a victim of an attack goes through with such force and authenticity. Give this girl an Oscar! And what else was brilliant was the inventive and original film making, particularly use of sound and background audio – it was extremely effective at creating suspense in a scene, or helping us understand the turmoil raging inside Marieke’s head – it was especially good during the court room scene where the situation presses in on her and she just has to get out for some air. And the theme of water throughout the film was expertly used as well – the film ends with an almost identical scene to one at the beginning, but this time with a very different connotation. It was really well done.

A taut and complex Dutch thriller from a really exciting director, boasting a stunning performance from its lead actress. Hopefully lots more people will get to see it and admire what it exudes. Another call from me for wider distribution, please! Oh, and more reviews online so I can find out exactly what was going on nearer the end…

Friday, 13 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Some Voices


Not a new release for the LIFF: this is a pre-Bond Daniel Craig playing a middle aged man beset by mental illness, paranoid and in denial about his condition. He doesn’t trust the pills his brother (David Morrissey) is giving him and he finds it hard to relate to other people and communicate in a way we consider socially acceptable.  He then falls into a relationship with a Scottish girl (Kelly MacDonald) who is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, but he loves her and the happiness she brings convinces him that he doesn’t need medical help, so he goes on a hiatus from the pills and things slowly spiral downwards from here on in.

I didn’t recognise Daniel Craig at all when the film began as he looks so different – older actually, compared to how he is now! He is excellent in this, managing to portray a difficult and complex condition in an authentic and discerning way.  I’m not a huge fan of Craig, but this is certainly one of his break out performances. It’s a very strong British ensemble actually – and that adds to the credence of the film and the characters. The relationship between Ray and Laura is lovely to watch because you are routing for them both to be happy together. And there are some overly romantic implausible scenes to enjoy as well – watching as she comes out onto the balcony to see him standing on the beach in the middle of a crop circle he has drawn in the sand is pure gooey.

The problem was the script – it was all too neat; too much of an exemplary tick the boxes screenplay. He meets girl, he’s happy, he gives up pills, he starts becoming paranoid, he becomes erratic and unstable, there’s a big explosive climax, and then an ending where he’s recovering and EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK. I think they could have been a bit more inventive and imaginative with the storyline and his behaviour. If he had been a bit more up and down throughout the film it might have created a bit more excitement and interest about what’s going to happen in the end. Instead it was pretty predictable and unoriginal. That said, the film didn’t over schmaltz things too much (there is all the cooking scenes with his brother…) and that saves the film from being completely innocuous.

It reminded me of a film I saw recently, Adam, where the girl needs saving by someone who thinks and sees the world differently to her but ultimately that difference means they can never permanently be together.  I think it’s nye impossible to have a good mental illness/disability film with romance being the driving theme, and I don’t expect there to ever be one (this coming from a girl who hasn’t seen Rain Man or A Beautiful Mind – shhhh!).

The acting and chemistry between the cast is enjoyable - worth seeing if it’s ever on, but don’t expect to be profoundly blown away by it.





Thursday, 12 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: La Pivellina


A delightfully moving Italian film that actually left me feeling quite broody – ha ha!

Circus worker Patty finds a two year old girl abandoned on the swings in a park with a note attached to her saying to look after her daughter and she will be back to collect her soon. Despite initial reservations and protests from family and friends at the travellers camp, Patty embraces the little girl into her life and takes on the role of surrogate mother almost instantaneously.  The little girl gives a cute, infectious performance – one of those HOW DID THEY GET HER TO DO THAT? performances – and the happiness she brings to everyone she interacts with is clearly evident by the beaming grins and looks of contentment on their faces whenever she is present.

There’s not much of a plot, more of a moving tableau watching the characters’ love grow and develop for the little girl. There’s some wonderful little snapshots: when the teenage boy on the camp takes her to a pizzeria, or when he puts adult sized Wellies on her so she can splash through the puddles.  It is hugely apparent that they adore her, and they don’t want to have to give her back to this ‘mystery real mother’. Patty wants her permanently as a daughter – she doesn’t have any children herself - and the little girl has completely captivated her.  Her attempt to try and fill in adoption papers is a real heart tugger.

The ending is deliberately open-ended – the little girl falls asleep in Patty’s arms after her goodbye party, and they wait for the real mother to show up. We never know if she comes or not or what the eventual outcome is.  But that’s sort of irrelevant: the film is over, and the last scene is Patty content with the little girl who is safe and happy. And I think that’s all we need to know.

Warm, uplifting, funny, stirring and oodles of cute! Go see!

La Pivellina won the Golden Owl Award for best film at the 2009 Leeds Film Festival.




LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Misfortunates


This film surprised me a lot. I thought it was going to be a bit crude, a bit Jackass, and unappealing. But again, it was a case of the premise in the programme being completely wrong! I wouldn’t say it was “hilarious” and it will “split your sides” – yes, it is amusing and the characters get themselves into some right situations with their outlandish behaviour, but I would class this more as a family drama – perhaps a black comedy family drama. Please don’t assume this for an out and out filthy slapstick comedy because it is so much more than that!

We follow events through the eyes of Gunther, who he is now grown up and looking back on his childhood living with his family of losers, who indulge in alcohol, naked bike rides, alcohol, singing filthy pub songs and corrupting the kids, more alcohol, living in squalor and LOTS AND LOTS OF ALCAMAHOL. Of course this provides the funniest and most outrageous moments of the film, but at other moments when someone’s life is put under the spotlight it can lead to violent and messy blow ups.

The relationship between Gunther and his father – separated, unemployed, alcoholic – is central to the film, and is brilliantly played by the two actors. Celle treats his son like a yo-yo – disowning him one moment and then awkwardly showing his love the next. When he goes into rehab you find yourself really, really wanting him to get better so that he can be there for his son, so when his brothers lead him astray again it comes with a wave of sadness. You want so much for them to be a normal family, but they are dysfunctional addicts and cannot change. The grandmother was also a stand-out character – she is effectively Gunther’s mother with his real one out of the picture, and it is so affecting when she says she was the one who phoned the social services to come round when we know already it was the school. That and the end, when grown up Gunther is thanking her for everything she did for him as a boy but she can’t understand him because she has dementia is a moment so full of emotion and poignancy it underlines everything that was so surprising about this film.

Full of depth and warmth and with an emphasis on the importance of loving and standing by your family no matter their shape, size or sobriety this is definitely worth a punt for those wanting generous doses of humour and drama.





LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Stay The Same Never Change


This was a REALLY odd film, and not at all how I expected it to be from reading the blurb in the LIFF programme:

“…featuring real people in their own real homes who have taken on the lives created for them by the director.”

I assumed we were either going to see a snapshot of someone’s life or they would speak about themselves, and then the director would come in and present them with a scenario/storyline or character to be, and then we would watch them take on that role and act it out, and see how they dealt with issues as they came up. But it wasn’t like that at all! It was one of those disillusioned suburban-America films, a type of misery memoir for the homemade video generation, following the lives of several characters – mainly teenage girls – who all live in the same neighbourhood, vaguely connected, but they are all beyond strange. One spends her time leaving monotone sympathetic voicemail messages on the phones of tornado victims, one is a super-emo obsessed with love and death, one girl is transfixed with going to the local races*, and the other has a boyfriend the shape of a life size blow up muscle man doll.  Is this them living out their real lives, or is it fiction? It is never clarified.

Usually for me, quirky pieces like this are enchanting and charming and really stand out as something to be admired and cherished, the way you love a cult film that no one else has heard of. But this was slow and dreary and didn’t seem to have a point to it. I did like the lack of melodrama, but it was almost comatose of drama at times. You began to just accept they were all a bit mental rather than actually being shocked or unsettled by their actions (an emotion the director was clearly seeking). I was actually nodding off towards the end of it – with so many long days and so many films to see, this was not a stand out to get me excited or inspired.






*or something like that – I didn’t quite catch it what it actually was. She just kept dressing up as a crocodile monster…

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: A Thousand Oceans




HARROWING! This film really turns on its head half way through from a mystery drama into something quite upsetting and devoid of hope.

After an amateurish start littered with terrible acting, protagonist Mikel (last seen in the brilliant German film The Wave) is whisked off to the Maldives by his best friend and away from his initiation into his father’s car company, a move that has been decided for him and that he doesn’t want. There are some idyllic scenes in the Maldives as the two friends laugh and chill together on the beach with new friends, but this part is rushed through and we don’t get to see much of their experiences or adventures here. As the day comes to fly back home, Mikel’s best friend decides he doesn’t want to leave the islands, so Mikel is left to go back alone to face the wrath of his father.

This is where the mystery kicks in:  his family start acting strangely, he’s constantly thirsty for water, his mother becomes obsessed with Princess Diana’s death, his dad closes the car company, his younger brother is studying brains, and he discovers he can’t go back to the Maldives to get his friend back because the resort they holidayed on ‘is barred to visitors.’  Then suddenly a bloodied girl is spotted on the staircase at Mikel’s home and it all goes a bit WTF!

Suddenly the film switches (ahhh, the classic “One Week Earlier….”) and we find out that what we’re watching isn’t really happening at all. Mikel never went to the Maldives -  there was a car accident on the way to the airport that has left him in a vegetative coma.  Everything he is experiencing is his unconscious warping reality: his constant thirst is down to the fluid being pumped into his body; his father closed the company because he is distraught about the accident; his younger brother is studying brains to try and understand Mikel’s injury; the island is barred to visitors because Mikel’s best friend died in the car accident, and he cannot go to him because Mikel is still technically alive.

It all gets very depressing from this moment onwards as the family begin to realise Mikel is lost to them. By contrast, Mikel is inhabiting an increasingly surreal world inside his unconscious (being followed by a giant walrus) and the focus of the film now rests on the impossibility of these two sides to communicate directly with one another – to ever be able to communicate.

I have a few qualms about the overall effect of the film. It would have worked so much better if the director had portrayed the relationship between Mikel and his best friend in more than just random childhood flashbacks and we had seen more interaction between the two of them in their daily lives/on the Maldives. Films should show, not tell! There was a glaring lack of depth, which – at 82 minutes – could easily have been accomplished by adding in 20-30 minutes of extra detail and pathos.

The use of metaphor and symbolism was at times questionable, too. The Princess Diana stuff seemed to make no obvious sense at all – the reasoning “car accidents are not meaningless, they can restore feelings in people” was spread awfully thin. It’s as if the director just had to have her mentioned in the film for some bizarre reason!

With more characterisation and back story this film could have been amazing -  some clever elements to the narrative and script just needed a bit more polishing and refining. (And I must say, although I’m not sure how in bad taste this is, the lead actor was so much better playing someone with a severe brain injury than a bored and frustrated 24 year old!)

A special mention about the music used in this film – it was haunting and melancholy and used at peak times of despair and gloom. Lovely stuff, and I might seek out the soundtrack later.

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Dogtooth


Wow. How do I begin describing this film? I have never seen a film like this before. After it finished the only things I could think to compare it to was The Cement Garden, with traces of A Clockwork Orange (in terms of style, anyway). A lot of people have mentioned the Fritzl case, but I don’t think it’s as deliberately cruel as that*. It’s a case of discipline and conditioning gone horribly wrong; how misguided intentions to protect a family can lead to violence, depravity and savagery.

Dogtooth is about a father who strives to protect his family from the outside world/strangers in society by feeding them lies, changing their language and perceptions, and conditioning them to believe amongst other things:  they must not leave the perimeter of the house, cats are a dangerous predatory enemy, salt is the phone and a zombie is a yellow flower, planes are the size of your hand and often fall from the sky, and most decisively, that they cannot move away from home until their ‘dogtooth’ falls out. The dogtooth is actually an upper incisor tooth, and of course, it’s not supposed to come out, and it never will. The children unquestionably believe everything they are told.

Their inability to properly communicate and to learn the dynamics of a ‘standard’ family leads to bizarre, erratic and feral behaviour. One of the first shots of the film is the youngest daughter (they don’t have names, they are now aware of names) snipping off her barbie doll’s feet, hands and face and screaming in a high pitched tone for the doll as she does so.  There are many unsettling and odd scenes like this, glimpses into their world where they undergo strange tasks (such as being blindfolded and having to find their mother) in order to earn ‘reward stickers’.  But when not being given tasks their boredom manifests into dangerous games – burning themselves, holding their heads under water and testing new anaesthetics on each other (“whoever wakes up first will be the winner.”). It’s perhaps only natural then that when they get into fights with each other they lash out in extreme ways using knives and hammers (cat lovers should avoid this film like a hot poker).

And yet there’s a strange beauty to all of this – watching how they conduct themselves in their daily lives is akin to observing an alien species: it is impossible to look away, and not to become invested and fascinated in their peculiar, unhinged lives.

What the director fails to tell us – and he doesn’t tell us much, granted – is whether the rest of society is the same as this demented family unit or whether the father has chosen to make his family this way and isolate them.  What is intriguing is the character of Christina, who is a regular visitor to the family, brought in by the father (blindfolded) to have sex with the son. She does not seem suspicious or repulsed by the family’s situation and she comes across as a contained, almost sad character, like the children.  It’s therefore possible that she could have been brought up in a similar fashion, but we are never explicitly told this. But the character of Christina is integral because she is the catalyst for a destructive set of events.

She begins exploiting the eldest daughter, who in return develops a curiosity about the outsider and the gifts she brings her every week.  Watching her first ever DVD has an effect upon her so horrific it won’t fail to leave you reeling. And THAT ENDING! One of the best and most charged endings I have ever seen on film, and there is no other way it could have ended.

You will not see a more powerful, cruel, brutally astonishing film for perhaps the next 10, 15 years, so if you get the chance to see Dogtooth I urge you strongly, intensely, to do so. It is a rarity in cinema: bold, shocking and designed to leave you talking about what you just saw for ages and ages afterward. But definitely not for the mainstream, easily disturbed crowds!





*although there are allegations made by some that Josef Fritzl is mentally ill and didn’t realise he was doing anything wrong.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Mother Joan of the Angels


On my first proper shift at the festival I got to see a rare 1960s black and white Polish film called Mother Joan of the Angels.  I was slightly perturbed about this one, the premise focusing on a convent where ‘all the nuns are possessed by demons’ not particularly being a topic I enjoy watching (I’m still nursing fresh wounds from Paranormal Activity and deep psychological damage sustained by watching The Exorcist much too early in my youth!).  So I approached this one with some trepidation, and ready to make an excuse and leave if it all got a bit head spinny. I do love horror, but there’s something about supernatural horror that really freaks me out, and I can find it truly upsetting at times. I think it’s the uncontrollable element to it – the fact that you can’t understand or control the ‘it’ and everybody is susceptible.

But ah, what I forget is how un-scary old black and white films are, no matter how hard they try to be inventive and creepy with their limited resources (they probably were terrifying in their time, to give them credit). So I quickly dispelled any notion I was going to be scared out of my wits, and was intrigued instead by how the plot itself was delivered.

It was certainly curious.  A priest enters the convent after being briefed on the on-going troublesome situation with the nuns by the locals at a nearby inn. His approach up the hill to the convent and the first sighting of the nuns is heavily veiled (cough) with tension - silence in a horror film is always unnerving - and the camera angles are deliberately surreptitious to maximise suspense and uneasiness. The first encounter between Father Josef and Sister Joan/Mother Superior is a fine bit of acting and cinema as you wait for the demon to manifest itself within her body/behaviour.  She changes, suddenly, by flicking her head back to the camera with a malevolent glint in her eye, and watching her creep along the wall of the enclosure back to the priest in her ‘possessed’ state is such a startling transformation and makes a really effective and memorable scene.



There are some other great scenes as well: nuns scattering musical style as priests fling holy water over them during an exorcism, and particularly standing out, a murder scene where we see the reaction of the horses rather than the victims. Very original!

I did find myself wondering after a while whether the nuns were actually being possessed by demons, or whether the isolation and disciplined diet and lifestyle had sent them all a bit cuckoo. I may have been convinced if the ending hadn’t totally refuted by suspicions! In order to free Mother Joan, the priest takes the demons on himself and goes to monstrous ends to be ‘forever by haunted by the demons’. There’s a line at the beginning of the film where the priest is told by a local fortune teller that he “will love a crooked one” that now holds acute relevance. Can’t get much more crooked than Satan!

To set a precedent for such films as The Exorcist I thought this was an interesting and atmospheric film with some great performances.  Even if it was a bit bonkers-crazy.

Friday, 6 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Bright Star


One of the perks to volunteering is all the free tickets we seem to be getting! And I was VERY lucky to be offered two free tickets to the VIP LIFF opening night film of Bright Star.  I’ve been a John Keats fan since studying him for A Level several (eeeek!) years ago, and have been looking forward to seeing this film for ages. I was going to get tickets anyway,  so this was all a bonus! I’m also a big fan of Abbie Cornish ever since seeing Somersault earlier this year and I hope the release of this film gets her a bit more promo and recognition.

And the film is exactly like a John Keats poem – beautiful, romantic, affecting and manages to be both magical and otherworldly without appearing unreal. And I was quite choked up for a while after it finished, too!

The relationship between Fanny and John is so well developed and you’re sucked into a moving and inspirational love story before you know it. Fanny is completely different at the start of the film – independent, strong willed, sarcastic and cynical, and to watch her change as she begins to have feelings for another person, it is genuine and delicate, and makes everything inside you soar. This film is perfect for showing just how enhancing and transformative love can be. Fanny almost becomes a female embodiment of Keats herself – love becomes a sickness and a drug (hemlock! hemlock!). The beauty of Jane Campion’s directing is that everything is so slight and ethereal you are never left thinking that these two people are dangerous for one another, or that their relationship is fake or excessive. The ending, even though you know it’s coming, is like having your heart squeezed like a sponge. It is truly upsetting and agonising and will stay with you for long after.

The two leads are flawless. I love Abbie Cornish, and with Fanny she has created a female protagonist who is the stronger of the couple – she is smart, loving and brave and I really, really hope she gets a lot of good reviews from this, and is recognised for expertly playing such tormented female roles (such as she does in Somersault). This role is also the making of Ben Whishaw as well – I haven’t seen Criminal Justice which he was readily applauded for, but here he is just wonderful as John Keats – fragile, innocent, wistful – just adorable! A confused but very brilliant man.

The rest of the cast are delightful too – particularly Fanny’s siblings (oh hello little boy from Love Actually, yes I did know that face!) and the way they say very little, yet their devotion to their sister and their love for John, and Fanny and John, is more than evident.  There’s a darling little scene where Fanny and John are following Toots back to the house and everytime she turns around they freeze frame.

Another thing I loved – other than giggling stupidly whenever long quotes of Eve of St Agnes or Nightingale come up! – was the use of the countryside and nature in the film – particularly the butterflies in the bedroom, and where they share their first kiss in the wildflowers. It’s all so perfectly realised and really adds to the overall tone and feel of the film which is understated, natural and oh so very British.

It’s a gorgeous, tender, sensuous film and I urge anyone who has loved, is in love, or wants to experience the pure unadultered thing to treat yourselves to this little wonder.