So the curtain closes on another Edinburgh International Film Festival, and while the wounds from last year’s disastrous incarnation were still clear to see, this year’s event showed promising signs of progress. All that remains is to search through this year’s astonishing selection of movies and bring you the top ten films not to miss from this year’s eclectic program.
As mentioned in last week's dispatch
, the early crowd favorites were Bart Layton’s original and utterly compelling dramatized documentary “The Imposter” and Miguel Gomes’ beguiling love story “Tabu”. Both had already picked up critical praise from their respective spells at Sundance and the Berlinale and managed to continue their successful festival runs by dazzling the audiences at this year’s event. Also mentioned last week was Nathan Silver’s minimalist drama “Exit Elena”, a tenderly observed film which managed to transcend its meager origins and woo viewers with its awkward, yet endearing examination of a fractured domestic dynamic. With a runtime of 72 minutes, Silver’s intelligent and simplistic film made Sergei Loban’s challenging 3 and a half hour “Chapiteau Show” feel like an exercise in patience, however, behind this epic commentary on the altering fabric of contemporary Russian values lay a film of interwoven narratives injected with a series of grandiose, visually mesmerizing vignettes that was undeniably a remarkable achievement in filmmaking and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This year’s program boasted a variety of curious Japanese features. There was Koji Fukada’s endearing mix of Buñuelian surrealism and deadpan social satire “Hospitalite”, Gakuryu Ishii’s detached and extremely introspective apocalypse comedy “Isn’t Anyone Alive?” and Shinya Tsukamoto’ darkly humorous yet deeply horrific “Kotoko”, however there was one Japanese film which unanimously won the hearts and minds of this year’s audiences. Naoko Ogigami’s twee comedy “Rent-a-Cat” is a delightfully idiosyncratic story of self-discovery, which successfully amalgamates the heartfelt tone of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” with the saccharinely sweet sentiment of Studio Ghibli. This tale of a young, lonely woman who rents cats from her pushcart to similarly lost souls is a film created for cat lovers that will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt a yearning for unconditional companionship.
Documentary fans also had plenty to choose from at this year’s festival, yet whilst Penny Woolcock’s “One Mile Away” walked away with the prestigious Michael Powell Award for best British feature, its compelling tale of rival Birmingham gangs is perhaps a little to ‘nation specific’ for American audience. There were, however, two stand out documentaries with far more universal themes and subjects, principally Oskar Alegria’s dreamlike pilgrimage to find the original filming location of Man Ray’s esteemed film ‘Emak Bakia” and Victor Kossakovsky’s metaphysical “Vivan Las Antipodas”.
In Alegria’s “The Search for Emak Bakia” the journey is certainly more significant than the destination, with this meandering love letter to Ray’s cineliterate poem imitating its subject’s unconventional approach to filmmaking, taking numerous ethereal diversions (including stalking a flirtatious plastic glove) to create a surprisingly compelling documentary about a truly fascinating filmmaker. “Vivan Las Antipodas” also takes an unconventional approach to the medium, filming across four different antipodes (places diametrically opposite one another on the earth’s surface – a rare occurrence with the majority of the planet covered in water) Kossakovsky contemplates the differences and similarities between these strikingly dissimilar locations (including Russia and Chile, Argentina and China, Botswana and Hawaii and Spain and New Zealand). Changing the way in which we see our world this evocative and profoundly beautiful documentary is reminiscent of Terrance Malick’s “Tree of Life” visual style whilst recalling the philosophical approach of Michelangelo Frammartino’s sublime “Le Quattro Volte”.
Tallie Medel in "The Unspeakable Act."
There was also a strong contingent of American films, highlighted the burgeoning independent film industry of a country more associated in the UK for producing Hollywood blockbusters. Directed by former Los Angeles Reader Film critic, Dan Sallitt’s “The Unspeakable Act” was perhaps the standout of all of these, taking one of the few remaining social taboos in the Western world and presenting it in an earnest and incredibly charming way. The film’s misanthropic protagonist is Jackie (Tallie Medel), she’s unlike most teenage girls in that she has no interest in boys, well apart from one, her own brother Matthew. This witty drama about an impossible romance takes its controversial theme of incest and presents it in a charismatic and incredibly witty way.
The film closes with a dedication to Eric Rohmer – just in case anyone hadn’t noticed the French auteur’s influence on the film. And like Rohmer, whose work often concentrated on intelligent, articulate protagonists who had a tendency to hide their inner desires, Sallit has created a remarkably honest portrait of adolescent confusion using incest as a curiously enticing narrative device. Traversing the assumed sensationalism behind its subject matter, “The Unspeakable Act” is an intimate, yet thoroughly enjoyable film with far more universal themes of sexual confusion and teenage angst at its heart, than its eye-catching synopsis suggests.
Edinburgh Film Festival has always prided itself on being a festival of discovery and perhaps the most mesmerizing film at this year’s event was Christine Laurent’s “Demain?”. A passionate biopic of the tragically short life of Uruguayan poet, Delmira Agustini, “Demain?” is an unconventional period drama riddled with mischievous symbolism, a delightful narrative stride and a stunning central performance from Laure de Clermont (most recently seen in Luc Besson’s “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec). A film almost as poetic and colorful as the work of its hot-blooded protagonist this delightful romp combines a rich visual aesthetic with the flamboyant direction of a carefully orchestrated opera. Laurent’s script has the rhythm and lyrical dexterity of an erotically charged sonnet, creating a sublimely enthralling tale with an impish charm and heartbreaking finale – certainly one to watch out for.
Saving the best till last, the most astonishing film at this year’s festival had to be Peter Strickland’s profoundly atmospheric and baffling investigation into the roots of fear, “Berberian Sound Studio”. A delectable mix of cinematic nostalgia combined with a Lynchian deconstruction of the horror genre “Berberian Sound Studio” uses sound to punctuate every scene of this thrilling meta horror - closely examining the peculiar relationship between the filmmaker’s desire to scare the audience and the viewer’s appetite to be frightened. Toby Jones is sublime as Gilderoy, the British sound technician sent to Italy during the 70’s to work on a giallo inspired horror, perfectly presenting himself as a character increasingly troubled by both the horrors he witnesses on the cinema screen and those that haunt his memories.
Delving into the recesses of the human psyche far more effectively than the majority of viscerally grotesque horror films “Berberian Sound Studio” is a fascinating deconstruction of fear and the complexities of how sound can blind the preconceptions of our impressionable subconscious - and by far the strongest film to screen at this year’s rejuvenated festival.
To recap here is the complete list of 10 films not to miss from this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival"
• "Berberian Sound Studio" (Peter Strickland)
• "Tabu" (Miguel Gomes)
• "The Imposter (Bart Layton)
• "Chapiteau Show" (Sergei Loban)
• "The Unspeakable Act" (Dan Sallitt)
• "Demain?" (Christine Laurent)
• "Exit Elena" (Nathan Silver)
• "The Search for Emak Bakia" (Oskar Alegria)
• "Rent-a-Cat" (Naoko Ogigami)
• "Vivan Las Antipodas" (Victor Kossakovsky)