David Hudson declined to aggregate much coverage from the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year. He limited himself to a couple of the festival press releases, and one article each from Indiewire, Filmmaker and The Scotsman. This speaks volumes, should anyone be listening.
A first round-up for Little White Lies covering week one, give or take, is posted here.
The second, covering a conspicuously more vibrant week two, is posted here at the same venue.
And for Critic’s Notebook, five films deserving a further few hundred words:
Killer Joe is a wicked black comedy about male impotence and a reminder that Gina Gershon knows no fear.
7 Days in Havana is over-extended but catches aspects of Cuba that normally get left behind.
Dragon is Western-friendly wuxia with a Weinstein Company flavour.
Shadow Dancer sits at the point where TV and cinema theoretically overlap but where TV usually wins out, the same space that Page Eight occupied last year. But Andrea Riseborough can do no wrong.
Meanwhile, the British remake of Pusher occupies a space all on its own.
No room in any of them to mention Flicker, the black comedy whose vision of life in Swedish industry stirred many repressed memories, most of which I was glad to find were still there. I wore that hat.
Those caught on the receiving end of my enthusiasm for Paul Verhoeven films will be surprised that I remembered to ask Sebastian Koch about his new film Albatross, and didn’t spend our entire interview grilling him about Black Book. In fact my cunning plan to spend the interview asking about Black Book and then shout some questions about Albatross at his retreating car as he left for the airport worked perfectly. He’s lucky I didn’t follow him onto the plane.
Albatross is a sprightly attempt to goose some life into a template from which most life has already fled. Miserable married men have been seen losing their footing over precocious young girls who forget to wear bras since the invention both of movies and of bras; and this one does it in an English seaside guest house, a venue already pre-loaded for farce. Sooner or later someone’s going to leap into the broom cupboard when their spouse comes round the corner, and sure enough they’re dressed as the Pope at the time.
Most of the goosing comes from the actors, vivid and surprisingly cosmopolitan bunch that they are. Director Niall MacCormick has a lighter touch than Brit-coms usually have to withstand, and a while back he cast Andrea Riseborough as Margaret Thatcher so safe to say his instincts for performers are habitually spot-on. This is a lucky break for Albatross, since the actual plot and its Be Yourself moral, arriving courtesy of sad grandparents and snotty upper class twits, provides hardly any goosing at all. After seeming determined to grab an odd bunch of ingredients and charge up a particularly British sit-com cul-de-sac just to see what happens when it hits the wall at the end, the film decides to settle for a nice cup of tea instead.
But better a light touch than no touch at all. The very English Jessica Brown-Findlay sashays around the more urbane Julia Ormond as if touching her would set off an alarm, while Sebastian Koch squeezes his oversize Germanic frame into tiny rooms that don’t fit him and simmers with nameless frustrations. Between them they look like the New Europe crashing into a ditch.
My chat with Sebastian Koch is now online over at Little White Lies. Albatross is an opportunity to see this fine dramatic actor stretch his comedic muscles, play the fool a little, and dance a shimmy. So naturally I asked him about Nazis and the Holocaust and Hauptsturmführer Ludwig Müntze.
The absence of grit in A Better Life is more about director Chris Weitz taking a thought experiment out for a spin than any lack of nerve. All the space that a story of migrant workers and familial strife would normally fill with hand-held camerawork and hard-core frowning gets used instead for deliberately lush photography of some very un-lush bits of East Los Angeles and a sweeping score by Alexandre Desplat. Much of the rest is occupied by the very fine Demian Bichir, honest self-sacrifice oozing from every pore in exactly the way it didn’t when he played Fidel Castro as a self-propelled agent of revolution in Steven Soderbergh’s Che a while back. Weitz’s tactic of addressing the immigrant experience through colour and music and high production values rather than friction and noise and aggression is clearly deliberate, the work of a man who knows whose shoulders he stands on. So naturally he’s getting some stick for it.
My talk with Chris Weitz about the film and why he made it the way he did is now online at Little White Lies.
The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival was what it was. Some of the well-publicised flaws were not technically disasters, just a substantial retreat from the glory days of old. And some of them were so fundamentally wrong-headed that they seem unfixable short of breaking the festival back down to the ground and rebuilding from scratch. On top of which, for every truly stupefying mistake concerning ticketing or press relations or unfortunate programming, there was an act of god which just made the whole unlucky enterprise seem cursed. Many of these involved the Cameo’s lavatories.
For Little White Lies, a festival report in two parts.
Part One including Celine Sciamma’s tender view of childhood uncertainties Tomboy, and a sympathetic portrait of Bobby Fischer’s internal torments.
Part Two including David Mackenzie’s divisive Perfect Sense, the clearly star-making Albatross, and the poignant Life In Movement which happens to be one of the best documentaries about dance I’ve ever seen.
I also did some interviewing for LWLies, to appear at various points in the future. Here’s one: Craig Viveiros and John Lynch talk about their bruising prison drama Ghosted.
Mubi Daily Notebook once again picked up some of my coverage.
Over at Critic’s Notebook, four films worthy of deeper wordage:
Perfect Sense is an emphatic return to form for a director last seen disappearing beneath the waves of Hollywood seemingly never to return. And a litmus test for film reviewers, by the look of things.
The Last Circus is so utterly bonkers that Carolina Bang swinging on a trapeze in front of a big picture of Telly Savalas counts as one of its more rational moments.
Page Eight really had no place being at the festival but gave me newfound appreciation of Bill Nighy’s approach to tailoring.
The Divide is every bit as downbeat and dour and post-apocalyptic as its makers intended, which is a lot.
EDITED TO ADD: Wayward programming can have its advantages.
Hello again, Lightbulb Kids.
All change at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. My interview with James Mullighan, the new man in charge, is over at Little White Lies.
The deluge of commentary in July about what’s happened at EIFF will be vast. Let’s see if it shows any interest in reading a timeline, spotting the difference between corporate decision and personal preference, and remembering that the writing on the wall at last year’s festival was clear.