I’ve written reviews for my absolute favourites of the festival so far (it’s impossible to review everything I see, but you can follow me on twitter to keep up with that @NathanaelSmith) but here is an informal paragraph on each the other things I’ve seen. There’s loads of gems in here for you to check out, and many are worthy of a lot more attention than I give them here.
First Position is a documentary about a group of 9-19 year olds who compete in the Youth America Grand Prix – the most prestigious ballet competition in the states where futures and careers are at stake for the young dancers. Think of it as Black Swan but real and without the clumsy psychosexual stuff. It’s both fascinating and appalling to see what these kids and teenagers put themselves through for the sake of their art, and the film is held in a balance between admiration for their skill and a horror at the lengths they go to in order to achieve that. The parents are the strangest figures on show, some oddly absent whilst their children strive to impress, others pushing their children every step of the way. The direction displays nothing especially remarkable, although it does perhaps feature too many characters meaning that some get left by the wayside. But it’s worth watching for the kids themselves who, even when being precocious, are utterly winning, though occasionally heartbreaking.
Tahrir: Liberation Square
6 days into the revolution in Egypt earlier in the year, one documentary director decides to join the protesters in Tahrir Square, the hub of the revolution, and film everything that goes on. His access at ground level allows him to capture the thoughts and discussions, as well as the fighting and rallies, of those campaigning for democracy. As such, it’s as immersive a film as you could get about the events, but a lack of clear focus and one chant too many means that the it lacks the impact a film about such a momentous occasion should have had.
It’s The Earth Not The Moon
On the island of Corvo, in the Azores, there are 450 people, probably as many sheep and two documentarians determined to capture every face, every event, every field of the island. At just over 3 hours long, it’s possible they may well have achieved that. The film is at its strongest when letting the inhabitants of the island speak for themselves. It’s a lot weaker when the director gets involved with his ponderous voiceover and needless filler shots. When a film is THIS long, we could do without blurry shots of driving at night. Interesting but should be about half the length. Still, he gets a nice hat.
It Looks Pretty From A Distance
It may look pretty from a distance, but sadly the community shown in this Polish drama are very, very up close. A miserable little film, although with a nicely effective use of offscreen violence.
Elliot Gould is on one of the juries at the festival this year, and is the big name in this drama about an elderly couple slowly succumbing to dementia, and the difficult choices their children have to make. Yet it’s A Serious Man’s Fred Melamed that steals the show as his son, although all the performances in the film are strong. It’s a shame then, that the film is rather underwhelming dramatically, hampered by a lack of direction and ever so slightly ruined by a dream sequence towards the end that just feels clumsy and out of place. Unremarkable for everything except the acting.
Johnnie To directs this intelligent, talky thriller about markets crashing and morality going down with them. Following three interlinking stories of people on different rungs of the social ladder – a gangster, a policeman and a financial advisor – as they each struggle with the economic world falling apart around them, Life Without Principle is structured in a way that keeps it pacy even when the action is basically people discussing investment management. There’s a murder mystery that keeps things ticking along too, and as it builds to its genuinely unpredictable climax this becomes one of the most interesting and likeable thrillers of the year.
Jonathan has reviewed this fully, but here’s my two cents. If it’s fake, then it’s also slightly pointless. If it’s real then it’s a deeply disturbing and unethical film that partakes in the exploitation it is supposed to be criticising. A fascinating piece of film making, no doubt, but a troublesome one that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Made with approximately the same budget I had for dinner the day I saw this, Exit Elena does a lot with very little. Elena is a newly qualified nurse who moves in with an awkward family to help look after an the man’s ageing mother, and it follows her as she tries to cope with her new situation and as she slowly warms to the pushy couple and their troubled adult son. It’s an often acutely uncomfortable watch, but in an amusing, light hearted way. Kia Davis as Elena is the stand out, using her big eyes to great effect. Light, but charming in every way.
Documentary about, believe it or not, a lifeguard. Ruling his beach in Chile with a keen eye for rule breakers but a curious reluctance to go in the water, Mauricio defies his laid-back rastafarian look and is all the more interesting for it. The beach itself becomes a microcosm for the nation as whole under the camera’s eye, but the real interest here is in Mauricio and his rivalry with his lazy lifeguard neighbour Jean Pierre. It starts off slowly, but it builds up to a climax that is curiously moving. The final shot, in fact, is so devastating that it’s worth the ticket price alone.
A children’s film which was made to portray the street kids of India not as poverty stricken and miserable, but as intelligent, kind hearted and full of ingenuity. The eponymous hero, Gattu, only really cares about winning a kite duel with the mysterious Kali, ruler of the skies in his town. But in order to do this, he has to make some friends, go to school and somehow get a hold of the best kite he can find. It’s a wonderfully positive, light hearted film that children are sure to love and although the ending is contrived, it’s also marvellously triumphant.
Victor Kossakovsky directs this observational documentary about life in 4 pairs of countries that are diametrically opposite to one another (or antipodes). There’s very little to it beyond an appreciation of the beauty of the world, and all of the variety therein. But with a swooping camera catching beautiful vistas in ways you may never have seen before, it doesn’t need to do any more than just that. Possibly the most visually stunning film you will ever see.
What Is This Film Called Love?
After the mammoth enterprise that was The Story of Film, Mark Cousins wanted to make a more personal film for a lot less money and in a lot less time. So he filmed himself for three days talking to a laminate of Sergei Eisenstein, pondering life, films and the nature of ecstasy. That premise should tell you everything you need to know about the film. A very singular film from a remarkably individual and unique director. What is this film called love? Well I’m not really sure.