I’m not actually attending the Edinburgh Film Festival this year, but here are some short reviews of some of the films I’ve seen already, thanks to previews, screeners and the FestivalScope website.
For Those in Peril
It’s a great story idea: a novice trawlerman is the sole survivor of a boating accident, but when he returns home the inhabitants of the closeted fishing village turn against him, wishing his elder brother had survived instead. I was familiar with Paul Wright’s shorts before I’d seen this film, so I wasn’t surprised to see his effective marshalling of a mysterious and ominous atmosphere. But it was more unexpected that Wright produced such a taut and precise film, given how his shorts usually outstayed their welcome. In fact you might have presumed Wright would attempt to be some kind of British slow cinema exponent from the style of his shorts.
This is nothing of the sort (probably due to the insistence of his BFI and Film4 backers) and it’s generally fairly accessible. The mixture of footage techniques and styles is nothing new these days, but it’s impressively done. The resolute and almost masochistic way the protagonist deals with the unwarranted nastiness of the townsfolk reminded me somewhat of the tone of Lars Von Trier (although he surely would have preferred a female character to bear the brunt of the misery).
The Story of Children and Film
In many ways more impressive than The Story of Film, simply because Cousins doesn’t have to accommodate both general viewers and scholars of film history. It’s even more personal than that film, which was a personal odyssey itself. To be honest I’m not particularly convinced by Cousins’ observations about childhood (lest we forget he doesn’t have kids himself), but Cousins does know about films, and he examines convincingly how themes of childhood cross incredibly diverse extremes of national boundaries and cultures. The film is a cinephile’s dream and contains clips from obscurities that even the most knowledgeable of worldwide cinema students won’t be familiar with. (I know for a fact, for instance, that Jonathan Rosenbaum hadn’t heard of one of the included Iranian films.)
The Colour of the Chameleon
An oddball Bulgarian thriller than attempt to tackle the era of East European cold war paranoia with more gusto and imagination than the somewhat sterile (but obviously very good) Barbara and The Lives of Others. The film veers with occasional ungainliness between sardonic political drama and exaggerated fantasy.
A young man with an unsure past and an unstable future is seemingly the perfect recruitment candidate for the Bulgarian spy agency. Tasked with infiltrating a random collection of misfits accused of publishing a dissident magazine, Batko’s mission is aborted when it transpires they’re all harmless dilettantes. But the insistent Batko decides to continue anyway, himself recruiting his onetime subjects as spies with the mission of uncovering a series of bizarre plots, such as research into a new type of orgasm and the search for a nail from Jesus’ cross, purportedly in conjunction with the CIA and MI6.
The idea of a protagonist with a personal history of deception influencing the political system with those same deceptive characteristics is one that would surely have found favour with the Bernardo Bertolucci of the early 1970s.
Taking in such wild reference points as religion, subversion, metallurgy, Casoblanca and much more besides, the film sounds on paper like it could be some kind of East European absurdist classic. But unfortunately director Hristow (a well travelled DP before his directorial debut) literally loses the plot and the film spirals out of control long before its enigmatic conclusion. Worth a look though.