EDINBURGH ’09 dispatches (page 7) Fri.26.June : ’35 Shots of Rum’, 2 walkouts, and 1 whinge

Late. Very late.
   A rather good evening, by any standards
   1. Stella : [8/10] : Enfin! By some way my film of the festival. I'm in love with it, a little bit.
   2. Crying With Laughter : [7/10] : Along with Moon, the best of British. Stephen McCole is The New Brian Cox.
   More to follow. Tomorrow.

Dispatch #11 : 5.10pm
Progress! Managed to make it through a whole movie without scurrying exitward after two reels. The film in question is billed in the catalogue as 35 Shots of Rum, though the subtitles on the print itself translate the original French title (35 Rhums) as Thirty-Five Shots (as dutifully noted by the ever-vigilant BBFC. But while this latest work by acclaimed French writer-director Claire Denis (as usual, she collaborated on the script with Jean-Pol Fargeau) is by far the most accomplished thing I've seen today, that isn't saying much considering the morning's debacle double bill.
   And 35 is a decided disappointment by the standards of Denis's last narrative feature, her 2004 masterpiece The Intruder (no link to the Roger Corman picture of the same title which was shown previously at this year's EIFF.) This is a much more conventional, orthodox and sentimental affair, focussing on the tender relationship between a father and his daughter in an unnamed French city which one presumes must be Paris.
   It's a bit like a more urban version of Couscous, with its emphasis on family, community, cookery and music, but more oblique in that the exact relationships and background connections of the characters is seldom made explicit. The film works best as a framework for the fine performances therein: it's interesting that the actors are the only participants named at the start of the movie, and their names are on screen for a protracted amount of time (in a touch that's more intriguing and original than anything that follows). The names of the crew, meanwhile, are displayed much more briefly – about a dozen are shown in one go, for about ten seconds. I've never understood why opening credits give such special prominence to actors – and this is an extreme example of the trend. The polar opposite: Neil Labute's Storytelling, which (uniquely, in my experience) takes a commendably even-handed approach to the various personnel involved in making a movie.
   Two movies remaining, and I still haven't been knocked out by anything I've seen here. Then again, I have contrived to miss out on many of the most popular word-of-mouth titles, such as Mary and Max, Seraphine and The First Day of the Rest of Your Life. So maybe it's my fault, not the festival's…

Dispatch # 10 : 12.20pm
Oh dear. Another low-budget, DV-shot British film, and another walkout: I managed 40 minutes of Wasted [3?/10] – anthem for doomed youth; Glasgow junkies in love; chiaroscuro excursions to stygian squats – before tiring of the lack of imagination, originality and verve on show in both the writing and the direction.
   I'm back at the Delegate Centre on Bread Street (handy for the Cameo, where my next screening kicks off at 2.35) and picked up a copy of The Hollywood Reporter (for which I am filing reviews) from a pile on a table. Page 6: Less action on sets – UK filming slides. 
   It's quiet out there — too damn quiet as UK film production collapsed on itself during the first quarter. That's according to newly released statistics from the UK Film Council. … Only 19 films with budgets of more than  £500,000 ($800,000) [went into] production during the first three months of the year, compared with 31 during the same period last year.

   My instinctive reaction to this story, given what I've seen here over the past week or so, is "not before time."
   Of the British productions that I've caught, I'd say that only Moon – which you'd never actually guess was anything other than American – warrants a proper cinema release. Exam, Kicks and Le Donk are marginal cases. I walked out of Follow the Master, Wasted and The Calling – and only torpid inertia stopped me doing the same with A Boy Called Dad. And it's not just me – a programmer for a leading northern-European festival was complaining to me yesterday how she'd spent all day in the videotheque combing through new British features, and was stunned by the parade of mediocrity on display.
   For many years Edinburgh has been the showcase for new British cinema, and I can see the rationale in such a USP. But this does mean that, time after time, below-par efforts are placed in a particularly unforgiving spotlight. Even more depressing: there are countless refusniks languishing in the videotheque, British films which the festival couldn't find a space for in its programme. The conclusion I draw, regretfully, is that we are making far more films in this country than our talent-pool can justify. 
   Our film-schools are churning out a flood of ambitious graduates, and can it be a coincidence that the best British debuts of the last couple of years - I'm thinking about Joanna Hogg's Unrelated, Olly Blackburn's Donkey Punch, Eran Creevy's Shifty, Gideon Koppel's sleep furiously (those two among the standouts of EIFF 2008), and Duncan Jones' Moon - tend to be made by directors with more "unorthodox" backgrounds? 
Managed 45 minutes of The Calling [3?/10] before bailing out (Amanda Donohoe fainting at the funeral snapped my patience). Self-consciously quirky/bittersweet British picture about a 23-year-old woman who decided to become a nun, to the (cartoonish) consternation of her friends and family. Emily Beecham (lead) and Brenda Blethyn (in the "mother superior" role) pretty good, other performances rather ropier; so-so direction; hopelessly ropey script. I reckoned I could use my time more profitably by heading to the Filmhouse to pick up tickets for public screenings later in the day: 35 Shots of Rum, Stella and Crying With Laughter. Next up: two hours of Glasgow miserabilism in Wasted back at the Cineworld: it got one star from the Herald. I'm optimistic.

Neil Young

Jigsaw Lounge Edinburgh 2009 index page

THE CALLING : [3?/10] : UK 2009 : Jan DUNN : 105m (walkout after 50 mins) : Cineworld (press)
CRYING WITH LAUGHTER : [7/10] : UK 2009 : Justin MOLOTNIKOV : 93m : Filmhouse (public – complimentary)
STELLA : [8/10] : France 2008 : Sylvie VERHEYDE : 100m approx (house lights came on before end of credits) : Filmhouse (public – complimentary)
35 SHOTS OF RUM : [6/10]35 Rhums aka Thirty-Five Shots : France (Fr/Ger) 2008 : Claire DENIS : 101m (BBFC) : Cameo (public – complimentary)
WASTED : [3?/10] :  UK 2009 : Stuart DAVIDS & Caroline PATERSON : 110m (walkout after 40m) : Cineworld (press)