EDINBURGH 2008 MOP-UP : COMPLETE with final 4 Moreau reviews and a Vern quote, 9th OCTOBER 2008

Published on: August 4th, 2008

short comments on films seen at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival and not reviewed in June/July for The Hollywood Reporter or Tribune

Part 1: New films

ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD   [8/10]   Werner Herzog
It's somehow predictable that, after two high-profile Herzog films (Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn) that have been widely overpraised, his real return to form seems to be flying under many people's radar. This documentary about Antarctica – and the oddball people who live and work there – is easily one of the year's most surprising, engaging, hilarious and visually beautiful films, the latter achievement notwithstanding the fact that it was entirely filmed on digital video.
   Herzog, though frequently either audible or visible, is less of an intrusive editorial presence than is usually the case, instead showing great empathy with the human and non-human residents of this, the most unspoiled of continents, and also his wonder at the natural splendours which he finds all around him. He proves a terrific guide – genially intelligent, acerbically quizzical when appropriate – and his film, while often disarmingly comical, presents a deft and topical analysis of some very pressing ecological issues: the "end of the world" referred to in the title isn't just a geographical description.

A FILM WITH ME IN IT   [6/10]   Ian Fitzgibbon
A Film With Me In It is a likeably engaging little Irish black-comedy which, despite the odd hilarious moment here and there, lacks the water-tight structure and the escalating absurdity that distinguish the best farces (such as The Ladykillers, which it not-so-coincidentally resembles.)
   This is the sardonic tale of Mark (Mark Doherty), an oft-unemployed actor whose Hollywood dreams are shared with – and encouraged by – his boozy, aspiring-screenwriter neighbour Pierce (Dylan Moran). Their routine of fuggy, sub-Bohemian inertia is shattered when Mark's dog, brother, landlord and girlfriend die in freak, unconnected accidents – all during the same day.
   Though the metafictional film-about-a-film talk feels distractingly extraneous, the picture works best as a two-hander contrasting hangdog, monosyllabic Doherty (who also wrote the script) with the delightfully languid, over-articulate Moran. Their interactions and antics ensure proceedings remain watchably droll, even when the plot veers from impausibility into silliness just after half-way.

OF TIME AND THE CITY  [8/10]   Terence Davies
Davies puts the "I" firmly into "Liverpool" with this wonderfully erudite and blazingly personal love-letter – albeit one that's often bracingly sour in tone – to his home town. A kaleidoscope of footage – some shot especially for the film, much of it judiciously extracted from the archives – is accompanied by Davies's own booming tones recounting his mercurial relationship with the place he grew up in, while also recording its historical, social, economic and cultural changes.
   The tone is elegaic, confessional, sometimes blisteringly sardonic, with results that combine the poignant with the laugh-out-loud amusing: Davies thus proves an unexpected and rather high-faluting addition to the legendary ranks of Liverpool "funny men." His intentions, however, are fundamentally serious: he has numerous axes to grind and does so with meticulous determination in an eloquent, extended polemic that, crucially, neither outstays its welcome nor slips into hectoring preachiness. This is a salty serving of 'scouse' – perhaps a little too rich for some palates, but an appetising little feast that will hopefully herald a belated return to the limelight for one of Britain's most world-respected auteurs.
[a longer review will appear on this website during week of UK release]

THE PRINCESS OF NEBRASKA  [6/10]   Wayne Wang
It's less than two months since I saw this low-budget, character-based drama set in San Francisco and dealing with the everyday lives of young Chinese immigrants to the city – with particular emphasis on a headstrong, twentysomething woman who arrives with the intention of arranging an abortion. But I can recall surprisingly little about its meandering storylines, other than being impressed by how unsympathetically the protagonist was presented at times, and bring struck by an audacious – if somewhat arty – coda which plays a particular (and, by now, somewhat over-familiar) Antony & The Johnsons track in its entirety.

RED   [6/10]   Diesen & McKee
Small-town, character-based thriller is essentially TV-movie fare, greatly elevated by the presence of Brian Cox in the central role of Av Ludlow a proud sixtysomething mid-westerner with an astonishingly tragic family history. When his long-time canine companion is callously killed by the wayward son of a boorish, rich businessman, Av sets out for justice – or, if that isn't available, he'll settle for revenge.
   Picture has a troubled production background which involved it being worked on by two separate directors, but a bigger problem lies in the script, which has a cobbled-together and features several underdeveloped subplots (Kim Dickens is particularly ill-served by her slackly-written role as a crusading news-reporter who picks up Av's case.) But from first to last Cox treats proceedings as if he's acting in the most austere and penetrating RSC tragedy – forcing us to take it, whatever our misgivings, equally seriously.
   The supporting cast is also surprisingly high-calibre for this kind of fare, with a startlingly slimline Tom Sizemore as the immoral businessman with lousy parenting skills, plus Robert Englund and Amanda Plummer in extended cameos. Standout among the minor roles, however, is relative newcomer Kyle Gallner as the mutt-slayer's conscience-haunted pal.
150

sleep furiously   [7/10]   Gideon Koppel
It may be premature to start hailing Gideon Koppel as a youthful, British version of James Benning, but the documentarian's debut feature most certainly establishes him as a talent to watch. The sensitive, quiet and beautifully-composed study of a small community in a damply scenic corner of Wales, it's not without its minor pretensions (that all-minuscule title, a quotation from Noam Chomsky; a score almost entirely composed of 'found' tracks by The Aphex Twin), but Koppel's careful, painterly attention to quotidian detail is sufficiently impressive to negate their impact.
   Gradually we piece together evidence that the director has a personal, family connection to this particular place and to certain of the people who inhabit it, but these "hints" are largely oblique, and enticingly ambiguous.  A stately, unhurried affair that may test the patience of certain audiences, sleep furiously has a gentle, cumulative power that rewards every scrap of attention which it demands. It'll be fascinating to see where Koppel proceeds from here.
[a longer review will appear on this website during week of UK release]

SUMMER    [7/10]   Kenny Glenaan
The story of a friendship between two men in an economically-depressed corner of the East Midlands, Summer touches on terrain recently and profitably explored by Shane Meadows but is much more formally ambitious in the way it switches between three separate time-frames. We follow the fortunes – mostly misfortunes – of the two blokes, played as adults by Robert Carlyle and Steve Evets, from their childhood through to their time as school-leavers, when a series of traumatic events prove crucial in determining how their lives are going to pan out.
   On paper, much of what happens in Summer might sound maudlin or melodramatic, but Glenaan's sure touch ensures that instead the film is affecting and plausible throughout – it's surprisingly easy to overlook (or at least forgive) the fact that Carlyle's character retains a strongish Scots accent in youth and maturity, despite geographical factors which should make this distractingly unlikely. Long a critical favourite, Meadows has achieved a much higher profile with the public via his last couple of films – on this evidence, Glenaan is deserving of great prominence, although Summer's downbeat subject-matter may make it a rather tough commercial proposition.
[a longer review will appear on this website during week of UK release]

TRANSSIBERIAN   [5/10]   Brad Anderson
A disappointingly lukewarm thriller – almost entirely set on the famous train of the title – from the director who showed a certain amount of genre flair with the likes of Session 9and The Machinist. Anderson is very much a movie buff – he once expressed an interest in remaking legendary Val Lewton chiller The Seventh Victim - so it's surprising how little his film, in which a pair of American tourists (Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer) get mixed up with various Eastern European baddies and goodies while travelling across snowy Russia, draws upon the venerable train-pic tradition exemplified by the likes of Horror Express, Runaway Train, Terror By Night, The Lady Vanishes or Murder on the Orient Express.
   Instead it's an overlong, convoluted affair that boasts a small handful of tense sequences – most of them involving Mortimer, who turns in a game effort under the circumstances – but otherwise struggles to maintain sufficient levels of suspense and interest, with Ben Kingsley conspicuously wasted as a scheming Russky cop. The cumulative impression is that either the script needed another rewrite, the footage needed another edit – or, preferably, both. As it is, the wheels come off the wagon some way before the end of the ride.
[a longer review will appear on this website during week of UK release]

Part 2: Jeanne Moreau retrospective

THE ADOLESCENT   [4/10]   Jeanne Moreau
Apart from a little-seen 58-minute documentary on Lillian Gish in 1983, Jeanne Moreau hasn't directed a film since The Adolescent - and, to be blunt, she chose very wisely in concentrating her considerable talents elsewhere. Written by Moreau herself (who doesn't appear) this is a trifling, autobiographical-seeming reverie about a 13-year-old girl (Laetitia Chauveau) who's evacuated from Paris to the countryside shortly after the outbreak of World War II.
   Visuals have a honeyed, fuzzy look that gives proceedings an air that's stodgily old-fashioned rather than evocatively atmospheric of bygone times, while the narrative bubbles along without ever really threatening to come to the boil – this despite some potentially dramatic subplots involving a paedophile cobbler (who lusts after our gamine heroine) and a dishy Jewish doctor (upon whom she develops quite a crush) which are never properly developed.
    It's left to Simone Signoret to keep things watchable with her warm, wry turn as a worldly-wise Granny – but the picture overall lays on the elegaic/bucolic charm just a little too thick before finally dribbling away into a decidedly forgettable evanescence.

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK   [5/10]   Francois Truffaut
Though stylish and intermittently diverting, this is ultimately an uneven hollow exercise in style from Truffaut, adapting a novel by 'William Irish' (pseudonym for Cornel Woolrich) with the apparent primary aim of saluting his hero Alfred Hitchcock. But whereas Hitchcock was able to take even the pulpiest novel and turn it into tautly-plotted suspenser, Truffaut seldom seems fully engaged in his material – the somewhat daft tale of a woman (Moreau) ruthlessly hunting down and bumping off the men she blames for the death of her husband-to-be on her wedding day.
   The explanation for the bridegroom's demise, when it comes, isn't very satisfying – and while individual episodes in a very episodic, flashback-dominated narrative are able to fly (it helps that the likes of Michel Lonsdale are deployed for character turns), overall there's something rather leaden and self-conscious about the enterprise.
   Moreau, though looking somewhat puffier-faced than usual, is always watchable, and if nothing else treats her character's unlikely trajectory with seriousness and respect. For Truffaut, however, it all seems essentially like a blow-off: jolly japes executed in ironic/sardonic mode.

DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID   [7/10]   Luis Buñuel 
Octobrish mists rise from the damp leaves piled around a crumbling French chateau: we're deep into Diaboliques country, this time via gleaming widescreen monochrome, and that almond-flavoured fug in the air is the miasma of bourgeois hypocrisy. A miasma through which our newly-arrived Parisienne protagonist – chambermaid Celestine (a jarringly brunette Jeanne Moreaui) – imperviously sails. The chronology is slightly askew: it's the 1930s, but it feels like the 20s. "Salle juif!" snaps the mansion's impotent, Fawltyish monsieur; virulent anti-semitism is in the pitchy air (Celestine is aloof, immune), strange political currents are brewing.
   For a particular, slightly impoverished aristocratic family, life chugs along as usual. Until, that is, a young girl from the village is cruelly slain. Celestine, whose rectitude and moral code have marked her out from first blush, must turn detective, and Agatha Christie vibes start to intrude – but there are also rather un-English erotic undertones and overtones here as she navigates and manipulates her hazardous environment's various power-networks, power-dynamics (sexual/marital dysfunction abounds, multiplies). All men, it would appear, desire our educated chambermaid. But what is her agenda? What does she desire?
   We never quite find out, Bunuel – for much of the running-time sharing his heroine's contemptuous bemusement at human folly and perfidy – delivering one of his trademarked wrongfooting climaxes that suddenly widens the canvas to take in the whole of a dangerously wayward society. The foibles of the dozy, penny-pinching rich, their bad-sex bedroom farces, suddenly seem like very small beer, as from the lower strata (via fault-line intersections of law, army and church) seep the sulphurous tendrils of a noxious new vapour.  

JULES ET JIM   [6+/10]   Francois Truffaut
Jules et Jim - scarcely, if ever, referred to by its English title Jules and Jim - is an acknowledged classic of cinema, one of the seminal works of the French New Wave, and also, perhaps more importantly, genuinely beloved by many cineastes worldwide. I'm therefore wary of writing too much about it just now, as I have only experienced the film via an unsatisfactory digital projection which rendered the sound dead and the image flat – no greater advertisement for the superiority of celluloid** could feasibly be devised (especially if one had seen the lovely prints of Lift To The Scaffold and Diary of a Chambermaid - reviewed above.)
   I need to see a 35mm copy of the picture before forming any definite conclusions, but so far I must confess that I wasn't bowled over by Jules et Jim. Based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, it's the freewheeling, time-and place-hopping story of a three-way love affair between Jules (Oskar Werner), Jim (Henri Serre) and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) before, during and after the first world war – which later expands to include a fourth key player, Gilberte (Vanna Urbino).
   Narrated by an unseen Michel Subor (star, much more recently, of Claire Denis' superb The Intruder), the film unfolds as a breakneck series of elliptical episodes ("a little truncated, perhaps?"), which whizz by with a speed that's exhilarating but at times slightly grating – we're too dazzled and disoriented to really feel anything, which is something of a problem as the movie deals with the most intense emotions and passions, not to mention the macrocosmic tumult of major world events.
   Populated by overarticulate, overanalytical characters who are constantly examining themselves and their motives via sardonic, ironic, erudite, sometimes amusingly cod-poetic dialogue ("what she loves is the Buddhist in you"), the picture is verbosely obsessed with explaining every last little detail – with results that are often beguilingly romantic, just as often headspinning in their zappy cleverness ("life was a spree"), aided by an array of visual tricks and gimmicks and Raoul Coutard's skittishly mobile camera.
   It's as if Truffaut, sensing that Roche's novel might need considerable jazzing up on the way from page to screen, determined to chuck in every bit of experimental ingenuity and "movie-ness" he could think of. But it still doesn't quite come off – especially during a final act which tips over into rather jarring melodrama and arbitrary, capricious tragedy, capped by an incongruous coda involving Nazi book-burnings. "Moins cigale, plus fourmi," indeed.
 
LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD   [8/10]   Louis Malle
Terrific, atmospheric, Parisian noir thriller about two lovers scheming to bump off the woman's arms-dealer/businessman husband. Their plans go awry thanks mainly to the unreliability of machinery – most notably when the boyfriend gets stranded in an elevator for several hours as he tries to flee the crime-scene.
   But this is a film which pays particular attention to modern gadgets, mechanisms, contraptions and niftily-designed gizmos of all kind, large and small – all of this obliquely pointing towards the unacknowledged cinematic machinery (the camera, and then the projector) upon which the movie itself nimbly relies.
  In addition, there's much more going on here than just an intricate, enjoyably twisty and pulpily coincidence-happy plot (of the kind that Alfred Hitchcock would have relished.) Among many alluring monochrome images by cinematographer Henri Decae, the most memorable are extended, cleverly-lit sequences of Jeanne Moreau as the faithless wife, a melancholy kind of flaneuse wandering the city streets in search of her absent lover – her 'noctambulism' leading her deeper into genuine existential despair. 
  Indeed, the whole film – though lively enough as it skips between three separate but interlocking sets of characters – is suffused by a mood of downbeat fatalism and propelled by a particularly bitter strain of irony. Pretty much everyone we see is trapped – a prisoner of circumstance – to a greater or lesser degree, while their nation is, we learn, is enmeshed in tricky foreign engagements in Algeria and Indochina.
   And then there's perhaps the most famous aspect of the whole production – an improvised jazz score by Miles Davis that is, considering its reputation, surprisingly sparingly deployed, but adds another crucial layer of stylish class to what could very easily have become a rather implausible, hokily contrived melodrama.

Neil Young
August/September/October 2008

  THE ADOLESCENT : [4/10] : L'adolescente aka An Adolescent Girl : France 1979 : Jeanne MOREAU : 92m : seen 27.June FH1 public ( £6.50)
  THE BRIDE WORE BLACK : [5/10] : La Mariée était en noir : France 1968 (copyright-dated 1967) : Francois TRUFFAUT : 106m : seen 27.June FH1 public ( £6.50)
  DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID : [7/10] : Le journal d'une femme de chambre : France/Ity 1964 : Luis BUí‘UEL : 96m : seen 21.June FH1 public ( £6.50)
  ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD : [8/10] : USA 2007 : Werner HERZOG : 99m : seen 25.June FH2 press
  A FILM WITH ME IN IT : [6/10] : Ireland 2008 : Ian FITZGIBBON : 88m approx : seen 27.June CW2 public ( £8.00)
  JULES ET JIM : [6+/10] : aka Jules and Jim : France 1962 : Francois TRUFFAUT : 102m : seen 22.June FH1 public ( £4.50) – digital projection (grrrr!)
  LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD
: [8/10] : Ascenseur pour l'échafaud : France 1958 : Louis MALLE : 89m (BBFC timing) : seen 19.June FH1 public (complimentary ticket) 
  OF TIME AND THE CITY : [8/10] : UK 2008 : Terence DAVIES : 74m : seen 19.June CW2 public ( £8.00)
  THE PRINCESS OF NEBRASKA : [6/10] : USA 2007 : Wayne WANG : 78m : seen 26.June CW6 press
  RED
: [6/10] : USA 2008 : Trygve Allister DIESEN and Lucky McKEE : 93m : seen 21.June CW6 public ( £6.40)
  sleep furiously : [7/10] : UK 2008 : Gideon KOPPEL : 94m : seen 19.June CW6 public ( £6.40)
  SUMMER : [7/10] : UK 2008 : Kenny GLENAAN : 82m : seen 24.June FH1 public ( £6.40)
  TRANSSIBERIAN : [5/10] : Spain/Fr/Ger/Lith 2007 : Brad ANDERSON : 111m : seen 25
.June CW7 press

Edinburgh cinemas: FH = Filmhouse; CW = Cineworld
underlined timings are hand-timed (and rounded up or down to the nearest minute)

**Vern hath spoken upon this subject:

   Watching a giant dvd doesn't ruin the movie but it's not worth the money since it JUST DOESN'T LOOK AS GOOD AS FILM. Why should the theater chains go broke again just to save the studios some money and make the audience suffer? I'll take back all the scratches, the dust, the splices, for just some good old fashioned smooth lines.
   It has been suggested that anyone who doesn't like the inferior look of digital projection is in the minority, and therefore must've seen a faulty presentation. I think this is a load of horseshit. I'm sure some day they will be able to vastly improve digital projection and make it presentable, just as they have done with digital video (which admittedly looked fine in the Yoda picture). But it will never be as good, because of the way the technology works. Let's take a look:
   REAL FILM = a bright light shining through photographs
   DIGITAL PROJECTION = photographs broken up into squares and projected onto a screen
   No matter how small those squares are, they're always gonna be squares. And the human eye is no pushover. It may fall for the illusion of movement but it ain't fallin for this little squares making up a giant picture bullshit. It will always know they are there.