Edinburgh International Film Festival Round-up

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Long dubbed as the world’s oldest its kind, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is in its 68th year and boasts a programme full of World and UK Premieres that in the past have proceeded to be lofty successes such as Taxi Driver and Blade Runner, to the more recent likes of The Hurt Locker and Moon, naming but a few.

Having only been up in the city for a few days I managed to cram in as much as possible. The spectrum was broad in tone, subject and nationality; very much living up to the festival’s motto and heritage.

First up, the debut from the latest emerging member of the famous filmmaking family; Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto is based on a collection of short stories by James Franco. At times, films from the Coppola family tend to fall into self-indulgence but this meditation on the jungle of adolescence manages to keep afloat. Two stunning lead performances from Emma Roberts as April and Jack Kilmer as the forgiving rebel Teddy.  Both perfectly play with the contradiction in the search for meaning and identity and the inherent void within it. Nat Wolff plays the unhinged Fred who leads Teddy astray and has his own self destructive arc that is negated. Franco himself plays Mr B, a predatorial teacher who engages with April and brings that intoxicating charm that he does so well.  A strange cameo of Val Kilmer as the eccentric dad feels out of place within the scope of the film; on subsequent research, the film is shot within his home but still fails to explain his relevance. Overall, the echoes of American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused ran all too familiar with this teen patchwork. The charm, however, comes in the direction of performance and the magic hour cinematography.

Following in a similar vein of teen angst and exploration, Australian drama Galore promised sun sex and bushfires; and gave all three in copious amounts. The film focuses on a love triangle that evolves into something more complicated as friendships are tested; all against the hourglass of summer and the onslaught of bushfires. Director and Writer Rhys Graham carefully develops this complex relationship and delivers a real blow as the drama unfolds in the rural landscape of Canberra. In terms of a teen story; this felt fundamentally more real and evaded the gloss that Palo Alto’s sunny ‘urban’ California hid behind.

Political espionage thriller from John le Carre’s post 9/11 novel A Most Wanted Man, directed here by Anton Corbijn – known for the Ian Curtis biopic Control and led music videos by Nirvana and Arcade Fire. The film garnered press attention because of it holding one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances as Gunther Bachmann, leader of an anti-terrorist team in Hamburg. Hoffman really lives the role and makes for a slightly haunting experience. Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright all deliver fine performances. Were it not for the film’s impressive climax the payoff of the methodical pace could have led to its downfall. The cinematography is suitably drab yet expertly framed but the only life that seemed to breathe in the film is Hoffman’s performance – the one memorable element.

Snowpiercer; the sure-fire cult hit has just hit the USA this weekend amid mounds of controversy and distribution strife between the Weinstein Company and director Joon-ho Bong (The Host). The film is as eccentric as its premise suggests: a post-apocalyptic train that manages to circle the globe every year and holds a dystopic microcosm of human civilisation. Similar to JG Ballard’s High Rise, the more affluent take the front carriages where the lower classes inhabit the tail end. A revolution threatens the train’s existence on its pilgrimage across globe. The ensemble here is evidently brimming with names: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris and Octavia Spencer just to start. Not all get their due: Swinton is the standout as Mason who sounds like a northern Thatcher.  Comparisons to Brazil are perhaps far-fetched, the satire isn’t as biting or as funny. In truth there is probably more of a relation to the Randian critique of Bioshock than anything else. There is a lot fat that could have been trimmed (although the issue of length may have been down to it being the 4th film out of 4 that day!). The film reeks of cult success though, the same that followed low budget sci-fi hits like Iron Sky and Moon and will no doubt be adored by countless fans. Not to say this would be undeserved but perhaps it would require more finesse for it to truly stand out and resonate.

Georgian drama Blind Dates by Levan Koguashvili paints a darkly comic view of single life. Sandro is a middle aged teacher who stays at home with his parents and gallivants with best friend Iva and both find themselves single nearing 40. They’re blind double dates are awkward and hopeless pursuits. One of the parents of Sandro’s pupils builds a relationship with him only to be side-tracked by the release of Tengo from prison which creates an amusing environment where Tengo is oblivious to his wife’s excursion, hires Sandro to be his driver. The conclusion is for the audience more heart-breaking then it seems at first for Sandro, aligning with the very low-key tone in what seems an unemotional film. The cinematography was exemplary, a welcome departure from the shallow focus handheld homogenous style of all the films mentioned so far (and it could be said of a lot 21st century cinema in general). Blind Dates breathed with locked off, deep staged compositions that really emphasised Sandro’s struggle and passivity to his lonely existence.

Danish filmmaker Nils Malmros’ Sorrow and Joy concludes, as he put it in the subsequent Q+A, his oeuvre and life’s work. A premise that baffles and intrigues: a filmmaker’s wife murders their baby girl which leads to him, along with the community, to fight for her release as he acknowledges the path of events that led them both to this horrific act. On paper alone the plot would make for a powerfully told film, except that every event in the film is autobiographical, making it the perhaps one of the most personal films ever told by a filmmaker. Unflinching and brutally honest, Malmros deconstructs the events that took him 30 years to tell and combines his personal struggle with the artistic one. The film acts as a primer for Malmros’ catharsis with dealing with these events. Having a Q+A after the film was an incredibly profitable experience, supplementing the intimacy of the film and answering the burning questions of the audience as to the real events that shaped the narrative. A work that will stay with me for a long time and out of all the films mentioned deserves to be seen and released to as wider audience as possible (fingers crossed for a wider release in the UK).

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