Tuesday, 26 June 2012

EIFF 7: Into the woods

Monday was a busy day here at the EIFF, with four movies plus interviews with two sets of actors. First I spoke with rising stars Cristian Cooke and Harry McEntire about their film Unconditional, and then I interviewed Eva Birthistle, Carlos Acosta and Christopher Simpson (plus director John Roberts and producer Jonathan Rae) from Day of the Flowers. The latter had its world premiere here last night, followed by a Cuban-themed party at The Caves. Meanwhile it's yet another sunny day in Edinburgh - I've only used my umbrella once in the past week...

Home for the Weekend
dir Hans-Christian Schmid; with Lars Eidinger, Corinna Harfouch 12/Ger ****
When a family reunites for a weekend, everyone is hiding a secret, trying to protect their mentally unstable mother (Harfouch), who is feeling great and has decided to go off her meds. And for her husband, their two sons and their partners, there will be serious ground-shifting consequences. Schmid directs this with an easy touch that never feels too heavy even though the themes are rather intense. Each character is going through some sort of major transition, and it doesn't go as expected for any of them. Along the way, the cast's fine performances and Schmid's stylish direction reveal all kinds of details, most notably in the interaction between these family members. They fully recognise each others' flaws, but love each other anyway.

Life Just Is
dir Alex Barrett; with Paul Nicholls, Jayne Wisener 12/UK **.
Filmmaker Barrett ambitiously tackles some enormous themes in this very low-budget debut. We may be distracted by the simplistic sets and inexperienced writing and acting, but if we pay attention, there's plenty going on to engage us as a group of five London friends in their mid-20s grapple with their mortality, faith and purpose. Each is a specific type of person, which makes their close friendship a little unlikely, but the core question is a strong one: when do we have to stop looking to the future for our identity and realise that we are already who we are? Yes, this means that the film is packed with conversation, often extremely awkward and strained. And while Barrett may shy away from gritty reality and the potent force of sexuality, he at least gets us thing about things in ways few films ever do.

Sun Don't Shine
dir Amy Seimetz; with Kate Lynn Shell, Kentucker Audley 12/US ***
With a fiercely inventive experimental style, Seimetz tells a story of two young lovers on the run across sun-bleached Florida. Soaked in sweat, this isn't the likeliest couple: Crystal (Shell) is a purely emotional woman who reacts wildly to everything that happens, while Leo (Audley) is rational to the point that we wonder if he really cares for her at all. The reason for their frantic road trip are a bit murky, but there's a gun in the glovebox and a body in the boot, and Crystal is certainly not happy that they're visiting Leo's ex along the way to get an alibi. Seimetz shoots this in grainy, blinding light, with sparse, softly spoken dialog and vivid physicality that lets the actors create memorable archetypes who clash so regularly that we know this can't possibly end well for them. But their odyssey is compelling to watch, especially since it's probably impossible not to take sides in every argument.

dir Wojclech Smarzowski; with Marcin Dorocinski, Agata Kulesza 11/Pol ****
There's a beautifully affirming story lurking inside this brutal, grim movie set at the end of WWII, when the fate of Poland's German-speaking Masurian region hung in the balance. At the centre is ex-soldier Tadek (Dorocinski), who decides to stay and help shattered Masurian widow Rose (Kulesza) on her pillaged farm. After the brutality of the Soviet army, Rose is now being persecuted by the Poles, and Tadek is drawn into her struggle, which is often hideously violent. Shot in near monochrome, the film looks almost as bleak as Rose's life, which seems to go from one awful event to something even worse, engulfing Tadek and her neighbours. It's pretty relentless, and the glimmers of happiness along the way only make the next horror that much worse. But at its centre this finely crafted and acted film has a real humanity to it.

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