Sunday, 19 June 2011

EIFF Day 4: Past, present, future

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival hosted the premiere of David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense last night, with a starry list of guests including the filmmaker and the reunited Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner. Then continued on into the night at the festival's annual ceilidh. Meanwhile, the stripped-down festival continues to feel a little underwhelming. Despite some very strong films, the lack of a dynamic festival atmosphere makes it more like film school than a party. Here are some highlights today...

Page Eight
dir David Hare; with Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz 11/UK ***
For his debut as a film director, writer Hare chooses a low-key political thriller based on recent headlines about secret prisons and torture - although the point here is who knew about them. Nighy is terrific as usual as an intelligence agent who spots a face on page 8 of a report that has the potential to topple the government, and what follows is a tense series of situations in which he tries to come out of this alive. The superb cast includes Weisz, Michael Gambon, Judy Davis and Ralph Fiennes, and the plot is intriguing enough to hold our interest as events twist and turn. It's a little preachy at times, and also never really gathers a full head of steam. But the story is enjoyable and very pointed, the characters engaging and the actors a joy to watch.

dir Niall MacCormick; with Jessica Brown Findlay, Felicity Jones 10/UK ****
This British coming-of-age comedy-drama is thoroughly enjoyable even though it never quite figures out whose story it's telling. Essentially, it's about a 17-year-old (Jones) whose life as a promising, serious student is shaken by her constantly rowing parents (Sebastian Koch and Julia Ormond) and the wild-child antics of her new best friend Emilia (Findlay). Although by the end, the film is actually more about Emilia's affect on Beth's family. This lack of focus doesn't undermine the film's entertaining dialog and performances, although it keeps us from getting emotionally involved. But the central theme, about not letting our past interfere with our future, gets us thinking.

dir Baldvin Z; with Atli Oskar Fjalarson, Hreindis Ylva Gardarsdottir Holm 10/Ice
It's obvious why this has been called the Icelandic Skins: it's about a group of 16-year-old friends exploring their independence. As they grapple with alcohol and sexuality, they are also discovering that they have a responsibility for each other. Meanwhile, the adults in their lives are panicking, invasive, nagging and useless. Or worse. Yes, it's all a bit overstated, trying too hard to be young and cool. But there are several wonderful scenes along the way, and a real sense of the relationships between the characters. The strongest strand runs right through the whole film, as Gabriel (Fjalarson) grapples with his own sexuality in a remarkably honest way while also getting involved in what his friends are going through. Events sometimes boil over into melodrama, but it's always engaging and sometimes quite emotionally resonant.

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