My week in film: SQIFF and more…

Having presented a scattering of screenings since announcing their existence in summer 2014, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival had its inaugural full festival edition last week, running from 24-27 September and opening with the entirely enjoyable, Dyke Hard. Ushered by fabulous pink poodles into CCA theatre, audiences then saw the SQIFF team share the spotlight before the screening, introducing their inclusive ethos by explaining their use of subtitles, British Sign Language interpretation, wheelchair accessible venues and gender-neutral facilities wherever possible. Such a positive attitude to their visitors is a very welcome aspect of SQIFF, and shows their commitment to encouraging engagement from the entire queer spectrum.
2_Teem_Dyke_HardAt Dyke Hard, director Bitte Anderson was present alongside key cast members (appearing in character) to prepare the audience for a low budget B-movie, but her almost apologetic assurances were unnecessary because the film was a thrill from start to finish. The plot sees the titular band formed in high school but fall on hard times when nasty lead singer, Riff (Lina Kurttila) abandons them. When their manager also dumps them and their mobile home is blown up, Dyke Hard members Peggy (Peggy Sands), Scotty (Maria Wågensjo) and Bandito (Alle Eriksson) hit the road aiming for TV’s battle of the bands. Along the way, a Thai boxer called Dawn (Iki Gonzalez Magnusson) joins them helping them to fend off the attempts of an evil millionaire called Moira (Josephine Krieg) to bring them down. Horny ghosts, a sadistic prison warden, bikers, ninjas, and a roller derby gang are all part of the danger Dyke Hard face on the road to musical success.
4_Teem_Dyke_HardThis genre mish-mash was hewn from Anderson’s vision of putting all the ideas thought missing from genre film and queer cinema together in one film, and Dyke Hard certainly utilises the absurdity of the gang’s adventure to witty reflexive effect. Another key success of the film is the way it wraps up its ‘message’ at the end. To love oneself first of all, is delivered with both sincerity and sauciness.

Sadly, this new Dyke Hard fan missed the rest of the weekend’s plethora of shorts, participatory events, retro screenings and parties (due to attending Berwick Film Festival) but the opening night served as a promise of more fun, action and stimulation to come. Roll on SQIFF 2016!

Also viewed: Fruitvale Station (2013) directed by Ryan Coogler, an authentically sensitive impression, based on real events, leading up to the shooting of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) in 2008.

Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival (23-27 September) – installations, a very strong film programme, spooky storytelling and musical performances. Report coming soon for Sight & Sound.

IFFR 2015: The Chambermaid Lynn, interview with director Ingo Haeb

Approaching his adaptation of Markus Orths’ novel, director Ingo Haeb knew that he couldn’t take the narrative of a cleaning-obsessed chambermaid only at face-value; ‘’it was clear that it was a modern, adult, fairy-tale’’ says Haeb. Whereas the novel presented the experience of Lynn plainly, without any doubt as to the actuality of her experiences, when envisioning the source as a more ambiguous, cinematic work, for Haeb; ‘’the distance between the audience and the character is gone, so I wanted to keep it open.’’

The Chambermaid Lynn follows its titular heroine as she goes about her weekly routine, working at the Eden Hotel cleaning the rooms with a fastidiousness that outstrips the efforts made by the other chambermaids. Lynn (Vicky Krieps) is fascinated by the lives of the hotel’s guests, and examines the remnants of their lives – clothes, books, etc. that they leave behind when they go out. One day hiding under the bed to avoid detection, Lynn is immediately hooked on another aspect of one guest’s life, when he hires dominatrix, Chiara (Lena Lauzemis). Having compartmentalised her sexual life, much like work, exercise and cleaning, Lynn is desperate to know what it would be like disrupt the order that she has created, and so makes a date with Chiara too.

Visualising Lynn’s world involved meticulous planning by Haeb, who focused on the smallest details, such as the colour of a telephone, or the way Lynn’s hair is parted, in order to convey the structures that the character has put in place in order to go unnoticed, which meant that for the production design; ‘’everything becomes important.’’ This careful approach also extended to making sure the audience could understand the origin of Lynn’s obsessiveness, through the relationship with her mother (Christine Schorn). To do so, Haeb consulted a psychologist/philosopher, who could advise what kind of maternal relationship would produce Lynn’s particular coping methods, and her attitude to sex – says Haeb; ‘’with this kind of mother, she [Lynn] would have the psyche that ‘I never had sex, but sex is done to me’.’’ Such an important relationship becomes key to understanding Lynn’s initial reticence when attempting a less passive approach to intimacy with Chiara.

Far from being the familiar story of a sexual awakening however, The Chambermaid Lynn is successful in showing the shifting power dynamic between Lynn and Chiara. For someone for whom sex is simply a perfunctory activity, it is feeling at all – rather than feeling for a woman – that is important. Says Haeb; ‘’this is not a coming out story’’ rather, Lena was cast as Chiara for her androgyny, having neither the particular energy of a man or a woman; ‘’she’s neutral [to Lynn].’’ While Lynn begins to gains confidence in the new feelings she’s experienced, for Chiara, her feelings – and Lynn’s – make her vulnerable. Plunging into something new is all part of human nature for the director however, and though we see Lynn grow and take risks in the film, for Haeb; ‘’getting what you want and going too far’’ is inevitable.

Originally published in the Daily Tiger, 28 January 2015. Republished with permission from International Film Festival Rotterdam.

IFFR 2015: Interview with Norfolk director, Martin Radich

In writer/director Martin Radich’s Norfolk, screening in the Hivos Tiger Awards Competition, a nameless man (Denis Menochet) – a mercenary – lives an almost solitary life in a run-down farm house in the titular region. Aside from his son (played by Barry Keoghan), the only contact he welcomes from the world beyond is through six televisions, arranged on chairs, transmitting the news and entertainment of the day. An apparently self-imposed isolation is explained by way of a dream he describes to his son, the meaning of which seems to be: if we try to help each other, we will hate each other in the end.

Norfolk’s pessimistic outlook is emphasised by an aesthetic that imbues the English countryside with dread. Using a palette of colours all on the spectrum of gloom and dirt – ochre, brown, impenetrably dark blue – Radich and cinematographer Tim Siddel, present us with a locale that’s neither wholly past nor present. This is a place where loss hangs in the air, the characters seeming to carry their ghosts with them as though hope is a luxury they can’t afford. Having worked extensively as a cinematographer, Radich admits he was perhaps unusually particular about finding the right person to achieve his vision of a timeless Norfolk; ‘’I wanted to find someone who wasn’t part of that London advertising aesthetic… someone who had the same philosophical outlook as me.’’ On working with Siddel, Radich describes it as ‘’a joy’’, the pair utilising in-camera techniques for ethereal soft focus, and a ‘’children’s camera’’ to allow for spontaneity on set. Melding different shooting formats was important in achieving the right texture for the film, says Radich; ‘’If you’re going to be committed to an idea, just commit.’’

At the centre of Norfolk is Menochet’s striking performance as the mercenary tasked with one more kill that will threaten his son’s future happiness. Whilst writing the screenplay, Radich imagined a ritual enacted by the character before he commences his deadly missions. Whilst shooting, the director allowed Menochet to interpret these sequences in whatever way he felt; ‘’we did no rehearsals at all, he just did what he did and it was very, very powerful.’’ Without discussing with Radich the connection he would draw upon for the performance, Menochet’s gesture’s in the resulting scenes evoke a deep, deep rage that the director feels are; ‘’an indication of how dedicated he was to the character.’’

In Norfolk the deadly serious tone is broken by moments of odd humour in the performances that play with the timelessness of the piece as a whole. Despite the mercenary’s economical attitude to communication, punctuated by allegorical lessons and statements about moral relativity, his gravitas is countered by a logical self-awareness on the part of his son, and Keoghan delivers his lines with a straightforward approach that re-situates the action in the present. Radich says this incongruity was essential for the film; ‘’the intention was always to have a bit of humour in this dark place.’’

Originally published in the Daily Tiger, 24 January 2015. Republished with permission from International Film Festival Rotterdam.