After a slow start to day 2 of Lewis Camley’s Edinburgh International Film Festival adventure, he is kicked into action with a break-neck Scandinavian crime caper followed by a film which tackles the effects of the global economic crisis in Hong Kong.
Allowing myself something of a lie-in, my first film of the day was ‘Jackpot’ (Arme Riddere), a Norwegian crime-comedy from director Magnus Martens. Adapted from a story by Jo Nesbø, one of the leaders of the current vogue for Scandinavian crime fiction, this is a rollicking and well paced piece which isn’t undermined by its eventual inability to break from convention.
Beginning with the furious tempo which it maintains throughout, the film takes us back and forward in time as central figure (Oscar) explains to police detective (Solar) how he came to wake up under a dead, overweight stripper in a sex shop, holding a shotgun and surrounded by bodies. His honesty is intriguing, given the rigorous interrogation he is put through by Solar, whose techniques are at once daunting and quite hilarious in the situation.
This is a film about trust, rather than crime: trust between investigator and witness/suspect; trust between the four men – three ex-cons and Oscar, their boss – who win over a million kroner on a football pool; trust between the actors and director to provide the right blend of slick action and energetic comedy. Most crucial is the trust between film and audience, the understanding that this is a film we may feel we have seen before, particularly in the work of the Coen brothers.
This said, it must offer something different and it achieves this in its editing along with sharp imagery coupled with a slick soundtrack and great visual effects. Despite falling in to a few, slightly obvious plot twists, it leaves one major ambiguity for the audience to mull over. By doing this, and by unravelling itself with dramatic changes of pace, Marten’s film manages to steer clear of the numbing conventions of a well-worn genre, using a fantastic story as his basis for a very sharp, cool movie. I only hope it does not need to suffer from a Hollywood remake to reach the audience it deserves.
The buzz around my next film, ‘Life Without Principle’ seemed to have everything to do with director Johnnie To’s relatively high cinematic profile, and not very much to do with the film at all. Coming from and set in Hong Kong, the film contains a fairly simple interwoven narrative, with the much more complex impact of the global economic crash at its centre. This is at once the film’s strength and its debilitating weakness: a plot which shines a light on the effects of the crash on individual people contains flashes of genius but the greater drama of the crisis outweighs the slow-moving and not always well developed stories and characters presented here. A hapless but loyal gangster, a struggling bank worker, and a police detective converge when a profiteer of the downturn is murdered in a car park.
This is not a conventional gangster film though, and other than one flash of violence, it moves slowly and repetitively, hovering over the same tensions, but without any significant character development. I was left uncomfortable by the sympathies which seemed to be encouraged: a young bank worker, facing the sack, appears to be the emotional heart of the film, and yet when she begins to sell high-risk investments to vulnerable pensioners, it becomes difficult to care about her. Similarly Panther, the mob-man struggling to raise funds to bail out his ‘sworn brother’, is likeable in his honesty but abandons a friend to die so that he can make money on the markets.
There are interesting suggestions in the film about the nature of the crash and individual involvement in it, but unfortunately the characters chosen to explore this left me cold, with a series of betrayals and selfish acts undermining any possible affinity. More could be done with the subject.
Get the corn popping and keep your eyes peeled for more from the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival. All the happenings from day 3 and more coming soon to a computer screen near you.