It’s been a while since I updated this blog, and if you peruse my index page you’ll see why – my recent film writing has been in the form of contributions to other outlets, mainly Sight & Sound online and award winning site, CineVue.
For both I reported from Edinburgh International Film Festival, writing daily reviews (CineVue) and a look at the Black Box experimental programme (Sight & Sound), which was consistently excellent, and, along with Tsai Ming Liang’s Journey to the West, and Stray Dogs, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, Ebrahim Golestan’s 1965 masterpiece, The Brick and the Mirror, and the shorts programmes I caught, my highlight of the festival.
I’m hopeful that EIFF’s commitment to experimental film will only grow, as this year more than ever I embraced the unique and concentrated experience of screenings of daring and creative work, within an enthusiastic and welcoming audience environment. My full report can be read here
Of the films I reviewed for CineVue, my favourites were To Kill a Man and Club Sandwich, both subtle and carefully paced character studies, one a thriller, the other a tender mother-son coming of age tale.
Coming soon on the blog, I’ll review the latest DVD release from Second Run, and perhaps indulge my long gestating investigation into Anna Faris.
At Edinburgh Film Festival in 2012 I had the pleasure of meeting director Mania Akbari ahead of the European premiere of her film, One. Two. One (Yek. Do. Yek). Mania was polite, charming and possessed of a fiercely intelligent wit – as her beautifully accomplished films demonstrate. During her introduction to One. Two. One, Mania described her fascination with micro expressions – that the smallest facial movement or hair falling across the face could reveal so much about the inner feeling of the character. That One. Two. One is composed of mainly close-ups and two shots attests to this fascination, showing the full extent of each impressive performance, most notably Neda Amiri as central character, Ava. Beginning in a skin therapy clinic where Ava is being treated for facial scars inflicted as the result of an acid attack, the film then consists of a series of conversations between people connected with her and the incident, including her friends, family, lovers, and the man responsible for the attack. Shots are still, with camera movement limited to panning back and forth between characters, oscillating between two points of view that gives gesture central prominence. Ava’s physical disfigurement is not the only damage that has been inflicted on her, as she feels deeply the pressure to hide her imperfection from a society that places a high value on a woman’s beauty. In the clinic her treatment is accompanied by advice and comments from friends, whilst visits to the Psychiatrist and fortune-teller focus on the anxiety of Ava’s dreams.
In Akbari’s From Tehran to London, another character (also called Ava and played by Neda Amiri) is seen with her husband getting ready in the bathroom, the repetitive gestures of grooming emphasised using close-up in the mirrors’ reflection. Both Ava and her husband, in this scene, tease and taunt each other in a playful prelude to the dramatic fall-out that awaits them. Here, Akbari focuses on female beauty in a film that uses the construct of marriage to examine gender inequalities in Iran. With One. Two. One gender is again explored, but the tone – established by the tightly composed framing and still shots – is more sombre, exploring deeply the psychological implication of attempting to conform to acceptable standards of beauty whilst hiding half of one’s face.
Now exiled from Iran following the making of From Tehran to London (the director fled in fear when members of her crew were arrested), Mania Akbari is the subject of a BFI retrospective that seeks to celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of this most courageous filmmaker. One. Two. One is unexpected pleasure, a moving, considered and important work, that benefits from repeat viewings.
Its that time of year again – I’ve said goodbye (or avoided doing so *sniff) to my Edinburgh International Film Festival colleagues and I’m looking forward to the next job, more films and new experiences. EIFF 2013 was such a great success however that I don’t want to let it pass without reflecting on the fantastic films in the programme and personally, the amazing filmmakers I had the privilege to meet.
White Epilepsy by Philippe Grandrieux is a challenging, experiential film and the first part of a trilogy of works collectively titled, Unrest. Using the vertical, rather than traditionally, horizontal frame, Grandrieux asks the viewer to think of cinema as an event – dispensing with narrative – instead presenting two bodies, one devouring the other. Our two Q&As were fascinating, with Philippe expressing his distaste for such banal filmmaking devices such as script or shooting schedule and describing the dark nights over which filming took place.
Next came Virginia Gilbert’s A Long Way From Home, starring James Fox, Brenda Fricker, Natalie Dormer and Paul Nichols. The film had its world premier at EIFF on 20th June, but on Saturday 22nd, I had the pleasure of hosting a Q&A with Virginia and Natalie Dormer, who were both intelligent, witty and courageous in the way they shared their experiences of making the film.
The film itself is a very thoughtful and mature piece not only about ageing and desire, but the nature of transitions throughout life, bolstered by excellent performances from the whole cast.
The Berlin File by Ryoo Seung-wan is an exciting, brilliantly choreographed espionage thriller, with a complex plot that even its director admitted, is hard to follow. Director Ryoo was an fantastic presence, modestly claiming that his success can only be attributed to the talented crew he continues to work with.
Rusudan Chkonia proved insightful and confident at the Q&A for her film, Keep Smiling – a dark comedy/tragedy about the absurdity of televised talent contests.
Die Welt is a beautifully inventive exploration of an young, Tunisian man experiencing an identity crisis, where cultural, political and personal themes are brought together with wit and sensitivity by director, Alex Pitstra.
My final Q&A hosting was for Before You Know It by PJ Raval, a stunning portrait of three elder gay men as they face the various challenges of age, illness, family and love. Raval truly committed to his subjects, gaining from them (over the course of three years) total trust to reveal their inner lives, the result being a warm and affectionate tribute to their courage and uniqueness. Audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive, which made it a truly special end to my festival experience.
If there’s one thing I feel is particularly unique and important about programming film, its that you get the opportunity to be an advocate for the film and its makers, celebrating the successes of the work, even in cases where the whole work might not have achieved its intention. By looking at the elements of a film that are exciting and inventive – showing the ambition inherent in creating new work that pushes the definition of cinema – there is the opportunity to promote and encourage true artists and future masters of their craft.