Edinburgh International Film Festival: Day 5

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After a week of film watching, the art starts to reflect reality for our film boffin Lewis Camley. All the highlights – and a fair share of lowlights – from day 5 of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Having been briefly home for the weekend, I started the second week of the EIFF with ‘Home for the Weekend’, an intimate family drama with a rather challenging twist. Luckily, the title was the only connection between film and reality. Hans-Christian Schmid’s quietly sinister film takes place mostly in the homes of two generations of a single family, as mother Gitte and father Günter prepare to welcome their adult sons, Marko and Jakub for a reunion. Günter’s retirement from a highly successful publishing career appears to be the reason for the rare get-together, but in fact Gitte has a secret to announce: after thirty years, she has stopped taking the anti-depressants which have defined and controlled her emotions.

‘Home For The Weekend’: picture courtesy of EIFF

After an airy beginning, which is both intimate and yet relaxed, there comes a stark change in the tone of the film. The story becomes that of the difficulty of family connection, taking an interesting view at the dynamics of a group struggling personally and professionally under the weight of a shared past and asking how they can hope to move forward with their lives without damaging each other. This is of particular importance to Marko, whose relationship with his own son Zowie is strained by their visit while his relationship with estranged partner Tine demands attention. Similarly, Jakub has come with his new partner and a struggling business. The floundering of their parents’ relationship and the problems of loneliness and neglect which can arise around a career are laid bare, but petty jealousies and the faltering stability of Gitte prevent the sons or Günter from developing. In a dark turn, Gitte disappears after an argument, and the film seems to suggest that only through the removal of a source of tension and trouble can these three men be free. Distressingly, the wife and mother Gitte is this source, and the concurrent happiness and success of Marko, Jakub and Günter is soured by their inability to live positively with her. A strong and quite symbolic film which is not afraid to be controversial, ‘Home for the Weekend’ poses a number of worrying questions without cheaply answering any of them.

‘God Bless America’: picture courtesy of EIFF

‘God Bless America’ promised even greater controversy, and delivered that if nothing else. Eventually taking the form of a spree-killing-road-trip movie – think Natural Born Killers for instance – it starts strongly, but constantly hits the same notes, and despite its deeper notes, feels a little too shallow. Frank (Joel Murray), pushed to breaking point by the vacuity of modern American culture, the cruelty which he sees on TV and in reality, the loss of his job and his diagnosed brain tumour, takes off on a quest to punish the people ‘who deserve to die’ for being, basically, mean. After murdering a high-school prima donna who stars in a ‘My Super Sweet 16’ style show, he is joined by the similarly angry and disturbed Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), and together they form a likeable, almost father-daughter pair. The comedy of the first half of the film is fuelled by overblown violence and withering disdain for everyone from talent show judges to jocks who high-five. However, Bobcat Goldthwait’s film gets stuck in a rut of repeated blood-spilling and dialogue which rarely breaks a cycle of “you know who else I hate?”, and this really undermines the ability to mount any serious challenge to cultural decline. Perhaps by making these ‘saviours’ violent and a little unhinged the film is suggesting that both extremes in the debate around modern culture are as dangerous as each other; if so, no positive alternatives are offered. Frank is a bit of a loser, and I couldn’t help wonder why, if TV is so awful, he didn’t turn it off and read a book. Perhaps cultural collapse has affected him more than he realises. This was a film that I wanted to love, but was left feeling cold: the humour quickly dissipates, murder gets repetitive, and semi-political preaching is ineffective. So much more could have been said.

Morality was a central theme of Iranian director Mani Haghighi’s ‘Modest Reception’, a strange and compelling film which steadily darkens to reach a quite harrowing climax. Opening at a frenetic pace, we follow a couple driving in the Iranian mountains as they give money to the poor or the needy. But this is neither as pure nor as smooth as it may sound. Unfolding episodically, the pair tests each of their recipients, creating stories to bombard and confuse them, challenging their resolve and tempting them with bags of clean cash. This starts with humour, and we are intrigued to know why they are being so diligently, even angrily charitable; but it becomes harrowing, with suspicious peasants and grieving fathers offered cash in exchange for immoral deeds. The film becomes a little too dense and indecipherable towards the end, but remains engrossing while we are offered only hints toward their real agenda. Perhaps a parable on the corrupting influence of money or the failure of charity to really solve problems, Haghighi’s film is crisply shot and constantly exciting, even if its obscurity may create some difficulties in fully accepting the unfolding action.

‘Small Creatures’: picture courtesy of EIFF

I ended the day watching ‘Small Creatures’, the first feature from British director Martin Wallace. The film tells the story of a young teenager Coggie (Michael Coventry) who struggles to avoid being sucked in to a world of violence and retribution because of his loyalty to the thuggish Ste (Tom Pauline). The film is a fairly conventional social-realist drama, working in the same vein as Shane Meadows. However, with intense close-ups and even some colour-washed scenes, the film has apparent pretensions to arthouse techniques; but these are drowned by a film which is relentlessly bleak and not particularly original. The acting is weak in places, and seemingly because the plot concerns poor adolescent males, relies in large part on shouting matches. Coggie, who would appear to be the character with whom we should sympathise, was not developed enough to be found appealing, and for all his quietness and lonely forays in to the woods, he didn’t come across a great deal more sensitive than Ste. The heightening tension and fairly predictable turning point were standards of a well-worn genre, while the ending felt rushed and not quite explained. It was a difficult film to watch despite some promising cinematography, and while it seems likely to have a fairly wide release it has certainly been one of the weaker films of the festival so far.

Coming soon – three strong films of very different character, including the excellent political and poetic documentary ‘Future My Love’ directed by Maja Borg, with whom I discussed the film. Stick with The Saint for the best from the fest!

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