Saturday, 30 June 2012

EIFF 11: Waiting for that call

Well, I finally made it home last night, 30 hours after I set off on my train journey back to London. A bit mind-boggling really, especially since I could have travelled to Sydney more quickly. But I'm happy to be home, and I'm following the festival from afar now. For example, I know who has won the awards (more on that tomorrow), and also that John Hillcoat's Lawless was the surprise film last night. On the other hand, I missed the press screening of Brave, so will have to catch up on that later.

Shadow Dancer
dir James Marsh; with Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen 12/UK ****
Slow and steady, this will appeal to filmgoers who like to get involved in a complex, intelligent story that refuses to follow the rules of more bombastic thrillers. And it rewards patience with a moving story about the collision of family and political values... FULL REVIEW

Dragon (Wu Xia)
dir Peter Ho-sun Chan; with Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro 11/Chn ****
A fascinating combination of wuxia action and police procedural, this riveting, well-made film holds our attention right from the start, as we witness a surprise attack on a small-town shop, during which a mild-mannered family man Jin-xi (Yen) fends off two ruthless killers. Enter detective Xu (Kaneshiro), who pieces together the fight and realises there's something fishy going on. Clearly Jin-xi is actually a master fighter, which means he's not who he says he is. Indeed, the story hinges on Jin-xi's past coming back to haunt him with a vengeance. And it's in the quiet drama that the film really works best. The action scenes are inventively choreographed, but are shot in close-up with far too heavy editing, so we can never quite see the proper context. So it's a good thing that the interpersonal drama, including a fascinating journey for both of these central characters, is so engaging. And moving, too.

Sexual Cronicles of a French Family
dir Jean-Marc Barr, Pascal Arnold; with Mathias Melloul, Valeria Maes 12/Fr ***.
There's a slightly uneven tone to this ambitious drama, which probes under the surface of a French family that has never spoken to each other about sex, even though they talk about everything else. So not much different from most Western families, then. But everything changes when Mum (Maes) decides it's time to start talking, and invasively starts asking questions of her two sons, daughter, husband and father-in-law, all of whom seem a bit relieved to be talking about these things for a change. The film also shows all of them engaged in sex with their partners, which kind of makes it feel like a (soft) porn movie, although each encounter is so detailed and realistic that it's clearly not meant only to titillate. And in the end, the film does have some great things to say about the dangers of repression, and the joy of accepting all of your humanity.

¡Vivan las Antipodas!
dir Victor Kossakovsky; with Abel Perez, Jack Thompson 11/Ger ****
Observing human life and behaviour from a fascinating perspective, filmmaker Kossakovsky takes on four sets of antipodes, places on opposite points of the planet: Russia-Chile, China-Argentina, Botswana-Hawaii and New Zealand-Spain. The imagery is simply stunning, as the cameras capture the colours and flavours of life in these places, including people going about their daily routines, flora and faun, weather and geography. There's an expanse of water in every one of these places, which is notable because most of us have antipodes that are in the middle of an ocean. And every sequence also features a pet dog. In addition to exploring the commonalities between all of these disparate people, these scenes also show some key differences in the way our lives have adapted to various settings and weather patterns. But best of all is the film's intimate, emotional tone, which holds us in rapt attention.

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