The Edinburgh International Film Festival is one of the oldest of its type and this year it celebrated its 65th birthday. 2011’s incarnation was intended as an interactive social gathering for all the cinephiles who religiously head to the Scottish capital yearly for a dose of unadulterated cinematic delights, offering an alternative to the mainstream fare of the multiplexes. Due to the abolishment of the UK Film Council and the fallout of advertisers associated with it, this year’s re-think was an attempt to rejuvenate the festival whose funding had been drastically slashed. The most striking amendment to the previous format was a proposed stronger emphasis on the films showing instead of the usual pomp and paraphernalia normally associated with these celebrations of the medium.
Gone were the indulgent red carpet galas, as was the use of the city’s Cineworld as a venue, which over the previous few years had hosted these embarrassing attempts to recreate the star fuelled facade of the Cannes croisette. The prestigious awards ceremonies that were previously used to celebrate aspiring British talent were also scrapped in favour of a more intimate approach. Events were scheduled throughout the city that purportedly aimed to be an insightful window into the inner workings of the industry and an alternative to the glitz and glam of the festival’s European contemporaries.
With the number of films on show dramatically condensed down to almost half of the normal quota, and the embarrassing inclusion of Countdown To Zero, which had already gained its UK premier at the festival the previous year, many looked at the diminished selection on offer with a degree of trepidation. Glaring omissions from the programme, such as Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s Cannes success We Need To Talk About Kevin (Starring former festival patron Tilda Swinton) and the Palme D’or winner The Tree Of Life (despite a print being available in town for press screenings), felt like potential ingredients which may have sparked some much needed excitement outside of the city, as well as an incentive for its already culturally spoilt inhabitants to fill the half empty cinemas and disperse the subdued atmosphere which surrounded the venues.
The Edinburgh Film Festival will always have a committed audience, and if you read between the lines of the numerous negative press statements, and the critical mauling of those who have been unapologetically dismissive of the festivals funding problems, there was a wealth of challenging and exciting films lurking below the negative ambience which unfortunately over shadowed this year’s festival…
If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise…
The pretty girls and boys visiting this secluded woodland could never have imagined the madness they were in store for – and neither will you, as Rabies violently breaks all the conventions of the slasher genre whilst simultaneously executing all the most successful scare techniques from every critically revered horror film of the last century.
This masterfully created Israeli film positively revels in misdirection. Opening like a torture porn with a young pretty girl trapped within a metal cage before suddenly the rug is pulled from under our feet and we find ourselves thrust into the middle of a physiologically tense thriller, hunting down a psychopath who’s been setting traps throughout the forest, whilst the less than helpful appearance of police does little but add more fuel to the contagious fire of un-mitigating madness which appears to be in the air.
So fast does the pendulum of horror swing from style to style that we never have time to acclimatise ourselves, resulting in a heart pounding level of confusion and fear which subtly edges towards a degree of perverse excitement that should surely be illegal. Indeed, this assured mixture of well executed genre conventions, with some unique scare techniques that are so perfectly timed you could set your watch by them, all culminates in a film which never gives you a moment to catch your breath and is all the more enjoyable for it.
Rabies use of unconventional bright colours and subtle twists of comedy helps prevent the uncomfortably framed close ups and audacious use of gratuitous violence feeling too claustrophobic. The film transfers you into a bizarrely comatose state of being, completely transfixed and unable to turn away, despite the natural desire to do so the moment you realise that mallet isn’t going to be used for the purpose it was intended for.
The film’s lack of any discernable plot and absence of a conceivable explanation as to why all those who enter this seemingly pleasant woodland end up committing the most malevolent acts of utter madness never distracts from the overall enjoyment of what has to be one of the most strangely unapologetic pieces of ultra violence since A Clockwork Orange. This nihilistic, gutsy film’s combination of rich ideas and a cultivated ability to deliver all the scares you desire from a good piece of suspenseful gore is an unconventionally infectious example of how thriving the film industry of Israel is becoming.
After a terrifying journey to hell and back, Jean Marc Calvet must now face his biggest demon. After rising from the ashes of a life shrouded in paranoia, this now famous artist must embark on a harrowing voyage back through his troubled past in order to find the son he abandoned almost eighteen years ago in this brave and thoroughly touching documentary.
A onetime drug addict and rent boy, the young Calvet slowly built himself a life and a family out of nothing before rejecting it all the moment the prospect of a life of unimaginable prosperity came calling. A childhood riddled with abuse, amongst a backdrop of poverty, had provoked anger within the young man, driving him to a lifestyle of violence which led to careers in the Army and eventually as a bodyguard for a rich American business man who made him the job offer he couldn’t refuse.
Leaving his homeland and moving to America, he soon realised that this new lifestyle was a million miles away from the stereotypical American dream. Deeply involved within a world of unsolicited and highly illegal business deals, he soon became disenfranchised with the broken promises that appeared to have shackled him into this life of drug trafficking and underground crime. He ultimately made a phenomenally brave decision which, whilst freeing him from this oppressive lifestyle, ultimately led to another filled with destructive excesses that would eventually incarcerate him within a world of mental instability and drug fuelled paranoia.
Using art to free himself of his internal demons, Jean Marc Calvet is now very much a reformed man. His expressive paintings with their uniquely personal style have attracted interest from art critics worldwide, affording him a comfortable lifestyle, whilst also giving him an outlet for the anger which once consumed him. The only thing missing is to make amends with the son he left all those years ago…
Dominic Allan’s film is almost as painterly presented as Calvet’s masterpieces. These rigorously framed flights into Calvet’s troubled past are as visually alluring as the most accomplished of fictional movies, creating an absorbingly intense portrait of a man who has lived through more in his turbulent life than seems humanly possible.
Never coming across as even moderately voyeuristic, this incredibly personal expose of a truly fascinating man resonates with a message about the importance of family that a thousand fabricated tragedies could never come close to replicating. This life affirming adventure into the abyss and back of one truly fascinating character has a social message that ought to be heard by all. Calvet’s wish that love and the power of family is more than just a dream is a belief we should all be able to relate to.Arrietty
Much loved by adults and children alike, Studio Ghibli’s contribution to the world of cinema has so far been a continually welcomed dose of adult friendly, childhood fantasy, which continues to accelerate beyond the now seemingly redundant benchmark Disney had previously set for hand-drawn animation. Last year’s Ponyo managed to mesmerise audiences with its charming retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, so with Arrietty similarly adapted from a much loved children’s classic (The Borrowers) it would be fair to say that expectations are high…
Arrietty is a young borrower, or ‘little person’, as they’re known to those who believe in them. She lives within the walls of a house inhabited by human ‘beans’ and has done so comfortably for all of her life, enjoying the overgrown playground of the neighbouring garden whilst frolicking with the local insects and creating her own floral haven at home from scented herbs and flowers. Thanks to an essential combination of ingenuity, accelerated adaptability and some crafty ‘borrowing’, Arrietty and her parents have managed to fight the odds and survive in this oversized world fraught with perils at every turn, unbeknown to the humans they’re dependant on for sustenance.
One morning, a young boy, pale and fragile, arrives at the house. His name is Sho and he’s returning to his mother’s family home to stay with his aunt in the hope the fresh air and quite solitude of the countryside will help him gain some much needed peaceful rest before his forthcoming, potentially fatal but unfortunately necessary heart operation. He’s aware of the mythology concerning these ‘little people’ from his mother’s handed down tales of youthful exuberance and childhood adventures whilst growing up in this rural paradise. However, he took little notice of these imaginative stories until one night he awakes to the sound of a fallen sugar cube accidentally dropped by Arrietty whilst embarking on her first borrowing trip.
Despite her parents’ warnings about making herself visible to the humans, Arrietty soon embarks on a touching relationship with Sho which, despite its unconventional nature, will ultimately give them both the strength they need to overcome the future obstacles they must face…
From the rigorous attention to detail to the heart-warmingly imaginative inventions used by these petit scavengers, to the soft lilting score that gently flows through the film’s innocently sweet dialogue, it’s difficult not to fall in love with Arrietty. This fantastical voyage into a magical realm of child fantasy imbued within reality may not reach the higher echelons of the Ghibli franchise, but it comfortable sits amongst the company’s already delightful back catalogue of dutifully loved animated gems.
Celine Sciamma won much notoriety with her debut feature Water Lilies, a female coming of age drama which stood as another example of French cinema’s gloriously joyful ability to capture the raw emotional energy which surrounds adolescence.
Tomboy very much carries on from where Water Lilies left off, dealing with female insecurities. This time our central protagonist is Laure (Zoe Heran), a 10-year-old girl with issues of gender confusion. When her family moves to a town just outside Paris, Laure, with her indistinguishable dress sense and short hair, takes this opportunity to recreate herself not just with a new identity but a whole new sex.
On her first encounter with one of the neighbourhood kids, she announces herself as Michael in what is just the start of a lie which naturally spirals out of control. It’s not a difficult thing to believe as this glorified tomboy, in her grey vest and unisex hoodie, has yet to enter puberty and could easily pass as either an effeminate boy or manly young girl. Even Lisa, a young insecure girl from the same apartment block, is convinced, and develops a crush for Michael, which Laure has no qualms in reciprocating.
She goes to great lengths to hide her true sexuality from her new found friends, from roping her younger sister into this game of deceit all the way to running into the forest every time she needs to urinate. As the stakes escalate, she even goes as far as destroying her bathing suit to create a more masculine pair of speedos, whilst fashioning a crude makeshift penis out of playdough to finish of the look.
However, as she falls deeper into this new artificial persona, cracks start to appear within her fragile facade. Suddenly, the realisation dawns that once these gloriously fun filled summer holidays come to an end and the school term commences, it’ll become almost impossible for her true identity to be shielded from her new group of friends, some of which, Lisa included, may not take so kindly to such a gross degree of deceit…
Sciamma’s minimal direction in this insightful exploration of the mystifying awkwardness of childhood allows the performances of her strikingly assured young cast to tell the story with great effect. Zoe Heran and Malonn Levana, as the two sisters, have the type of naturalistic, immaculately constructed on screen relationship that should by rights be impossible to recreate by those so young. Heran’s appearance as our eponymous tomboy is exceptional, pulling of this unisex role with great aplomb and never seeming uncomfortable with the mature subject matter or complex issues asked of her. Despite the minimal use of dialogue, she confidently uses body language to capture the internal conflict of her characters self-imposed dilemma, whilst simultaneously her strikingly expressive eyes maintain a level of innocent charm that both conveys her confused mental state whilst also driving the narrative forward.
This subtly natural observation of the difficulties which envelop the seemingly all important search for acceptance amongst pre-teens is a lovingly crafted, confident and refreshingly unique film, which perfectly encapsulates its subject matter in what can only be described as a joyfully pure and lovingly sweet tale which deserves to be seen by a much larger audience.
This Berlinale Silver Bear winner is rumoured to be Bela Tarr’s directorial swansong. Turin Horse is a deeply personal and philosophical film that masterfully uses the impoverished and desolate backdrop of the Hungarian countryside to take us on a harrowingly bleak journey through six days of spiralling despair and misery.
There are many who will no doubt perceive Turin Horse as little more than an example of overly pretentious art, striving to alienate its audience in some vain attempt to be heralded as a masterpiece. It’s an understandable viewpoint, which is very difficult to argue against as Turin Horse, like all of Tarr’s work, is a very subjective film that often relays its message at the expense of the audience’s patience. However, Tarr’s work is a prime of example of art which gives back as much as you’re willing to put into it. Turin Horse is truly a hypnotic film which, if you allow yourself to be consumed by its dark foreboding atmosphere of fear and repression, will ultimately leave you feeling as emotionally effected as even the most poignant and depressingly divisive of tragedies.
It’s impossible to ever come to a clear interpretation of the film’s hidden meaning, but there are still plenty of interestingly profane elements of symbolism from which to shape your own personal opinions. Opening with a voiceover re-telling the extraordinary tale of how philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche apparently once stopped a cab driver from ferociously whipping his horse before the famed philosopher collapsed and spent the next ten years of his life in demented silence. At first, it seems like a curiously irrelevant opening to a movie but, on closer observation, it acts as a key into the realm of Tarr’s deeply cogitative and abstract vision. Subtle comparisons between the way the daughter treats her father and their work horse lead to some interesting conclusions. The way in which she helps her father undress is strikingly similar to the manner in which she removes the horse’s bridle, and draws comparisons with this elderly man and his numerous shared mannerisms with the horse (including the way he eats his potatoes like a horse using its hoofs). Tarr appears to use the unrelenting gale which continually plagues this bleak rural wasteland as a metaphorical representation of the coachman’s whip, attacking this old man and slowly forcing him into submission. Leading many to believe Turin Horse is a visual representation of the cruelty Nietzsche observed, recreated to express the increasing level of human brutality encountered in these more improvised areas of Eastern Europe.
The most interesting explanation of this seemingly uneventful, yet visually majestic exploration of one man’s vision of the world is the belief that Turin Horse is in fact a surreal interpretation of the apocalypse. Reading from the book of genesis, it would appear these six days of increasing deterioration are in fact the reverse of how God is purported to have created the world. It’s a monumental game changer once realised, and a potential revelation which only adds to the already mesmerising visual symphony of human misery which has over the years become a trademark of this intellectually challenging director.
Turin Horse is a remarkably dense and intriguing film which begs you to return to its fascinatingly subtle blend of symbolism and sublimely framed shots of psychologically penetrating desolate beauty, which, as a farewell to filmmaking, fittingly leaves us desperate for more.
Directed by renowned surrealist Alex de la Iglesia, The Last Circus throws us straight into the action when a circus performance in Madrid is interrupted by the sound of gunfire and explosives. All the men in the audience are pulled out and forced to fight, this includes the performers, notably one of the shows bedraggled clowns who, despite his opposition, is thrust into this bloody conflict against general Franco’s advancing armies. The carnage which ensues would be enough to titillate even the most jaded of extreme cinema fans, but throw in a clown dressed in drag, wielding a machete, and the excitement scale burst uncontrollably under the weight of its own absurdity.
The bulk of the film plays out 36 years later, as we follow this heroic clown’s son, Javier, also a circus entertainer (following in his father’s footsteps but interestingly choosing the role of the ‘sad’ clown due to his miserable childhood and tarnished soul affecting his ability to affectively convey inner joy). He soon becomes obsessed with his stage partner’s tantalisingly beautiful wife and, as to be expected, relationships begin to fray, affecting not just this unconventional love triangle but everyone involved in this touring sideshow. What eventually unravels is a series of gruesome and profane events that spiral this professional rivalry into madness, far transcending the farcical roles of their stage characters, to the point of no return.
This gorgeously presented, glorified B-movie is a film which seems to have divided audiences and critics so far. On one hand, its beautifully maddening story has pushed some to the limits of what they find enjoyable, whilst others have positively revelled in it, transfixed by its visual assault which strikes you with the magnitude of a thousand cream pies to the face.
All the classic conventions of revenge and romance stories are dismissed in this gothic nightmare. Instead, The Last Circus strips down the emotional devastation that loss and infatuation can create to its mentally unstable core. Once the stage is set, it leaves us with nothing but the madness love can create and without a second thought, and amplifies it well past a socially acceptable level, into a realm of cinematic entertainment that far surpasses the simplistically generic ‘midnight movie’ tag some have labelled it with.
The Last Circus is a unique and unforgettable film which shatters genre conventions, but through its bizarre storytelling and gratuitous violence is a movie which will no doubt alienate many. If you’re looking to push the boundaries of what a film can be and suspend your disbelief entirely then perhaps you’ll to fall in love with this visually stunning , beautifully crafted and joyfully over elaborate piece of cultural trash.