5,001 minutes at the movies

Posted by in July's Magazine

I got the ticket late in the day and didn’t realise this was black tie. So now I sit scruffily amongst the frocks and falsetto laughs, the shined pates and shoes. The lights dim, the screen glows and it begins, Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012. We have all become equals in the darkened cinema, as it should be. When you strip it down it’s about nothing more or less than a room full of people, light and sound.

The film is king.
And here it was William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, a brave and enjoyable opener for EIFF. The initial shot of Gina Gershon’s coiffed bush was an instant defibrillator for a festival reported by many to be in cardiac arrest. Yet it was more northerly hair that proved the true indicator of change. New Creative Director Chris Fujiwara’s bleach blonde helmet was omnipresent. Like an unlit match head he toured the venues and events, visible, engaging and approachable. A breath of fresh air, thankfully he has signed up for another three years.



But film festivals can mirror the catwalk. Some movies, much like that sausage meat bowler hat were never intended for the real world, purely for a distinguished few making harmonies with their aahs and oohs. So here I became your filter, attending 9am press screenings with only your benefit in mind. The richness of worthy misery and art-house experimentation sat uneasily like gateaux at breakfast. Yet I endured a long hard diet of four films a day for two weeks. And what you must realise is that film critics don’t really enjoy watching the films, only talking about them afterwards. The movie itself is simple fuel for our verbosity. Still I struggled onwards, and although I didn’t really want that third glass of after party vino…I took it, for you. And so after two weeks of nocturnal darkness on an alcohol drip; after mutating into a bloated, pulsing white pupae, what now do I have to offer you?

Well, Dragon for one. Whether you are highbrow, lowbrow or monobrow, I implore you to watch this film. It is entertainment in its purest form. A sumptuous period-set murder mystery interspersed with skull crunching kung fu. Donnie Yen is a watermark of quality and here he maintains his reputation, performing both as lead actor and high-kick choreographer. There should be a firing squad outside cinemas for anybody exiting this film without an expression of wonder.

Cruel imprisonment
For those with deeper darker tastes, Berberian Sound Studio will more than satisfy. This is one of the finest British films in years. Peter Strickland’s second feature is a tribute to Italian Giallo cinema and a frightening distortion of sight and sound as one man’s madness infects us all. Beautiful, clever and mysterious; a treat for anyone with a love of cinema. To have its world premiere at Edinburgh was a real coup.

Two more were the UK premieres of Tabu and Shadow Dancer. The former a Portuguese tale of secrets and loneliness that proved to be the critical hit of the 2012 Berlinale. The latter, a thriller from master documentary maker James Marsh, he of the Oscar winning Man on Wire. All these films should be coming your way so if you missed them at EIFF be sure to catch them on general release.

The next is rarer game, yet I’m sure even James Marsh would have been in awe of this man, the first of EIFF’s spotlight stars. Wang Bing may not top many of our favourite film lists but currently sits at the international pinnacle of documentary film. He brought along his three-hour epic Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, a harrowing reminiscence of a woman’s idealism broken through cruel imprisonment. If that sounds like endurance just be thankful that he left behind his nine-hour mega epic West of the Tracks. What’s best is that he was often to be found smoking ciggies out front of the Filmhouse, completely unnoticed.

Then there were glances to both the past and future. The Philippine New Wave strand showed us what film can become with fierce independence and flowering creativity. Expect to hear of this archipelago increasingly as it claims its rightful place in the world of international cinema. And keep your eyes and ears open for the name Emerson Reyes, MNL 143; his story of a lovelorn taxi driver was a highlight for me. Turning back there was a retrospective of Shinji Somai, a master of Japanese film and until now a Western blind spot. Here was the ideal cure to our ignorance.

This piece is no critique of the festival (let others pontificate at length over that), just some incoherent blether and a heads up on things to check out. Yet I will say finally that for me EIFF has rejuvenated itself in 2012 and should now aspire to move onwards and upwards. It seems to have the right man in place to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *