Thursday, 28 June 2012

EIFF 9: Sunshine or rain

Well I'm heading back to London today, missing the last few days of the festival here in Edinburgh. But yesterday was pretty full-on, with four feature films, eight shorts and two parties going late into the night. So I was pretty exhausted by the time I walked home in the rain at 1.30 am! Today I've just had two screenings before heading to the station for the train to London. I'll carry on blogging until Sunday.

California Solo
dir Marshall Lewy; with Robert Carlyle, Alexia Rasmussen 12/US ****
It's not easy to tell a powerfully emotional story without resorting to soppy sentiment, but this thoughtful drama manages to get the balance just right, thanks to sensitive writing and a terrific performance from Carlyle. He plays a Scot who has lived in California for decades, working quietly on a farm after his big-time rock band dissolved. But his tranquility is about to be shaken by a drunk-driving charge, which brings to light problems with his immigration status. Carlyle is terrific as the guy who feels like he can't go home again, due to guilt and regret over a past he has never confronted. But instead of boiling over into melodrama, writer-director Lewy keeps things earthy and real as the story heads to a conclusion we don't quite expect. A gentle gem.

Future My Love
dir Maja Borg; with Jacque Fresco, Nadya Cazan 12/Swe ****
Swedish filmmaker Borg gets a little carried away with her own artistry in this mash-up of documentary, film essay and visual poem, which explores the question of why humanity hasn't sorted out our problems even with enough information and technology at our disposal. Borg combines music, historical footage and an elusive black and white parallel story to explore this theme. At the centre is an extended interview with genius futurist Fresco, who explains the technocracy movement of the 1930s, a realistic plan to wipe out hunger, poverty and unemployment. And why this hasn't happened is simple: greed. The rich aren't willing to abandon a system that is no longer working if I means they can't accumulate as much private wealth as they want. Which basically makes this one of those beautifully made films that clearly explain what's going on but leaves us with no hope for a solution. Well not in our lifetimes, at least.

dir Ti West, Joe Swanberg, et al; with Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes 12/US ***
Anthology meets found-footage horror in this crowd-pleasing collection of video-based shorts, each of which hinges on a terrifying twist. As with most of these kinds of collections, the results are hit and miss, but there's something to enjoy in each segment, including the framing story of a group of thugs searching for a videotape in a very dark and creepy house. The strongest story centres on a married couple taking a holiday to the Grand Canyon while being stalked by a sinister intruder. But even in this segment, the logic of the format is broken as we see things no one would ever film as part of a holiday video. Other infractions include flashbacks and gimmicky effects, but there's plenty of gore, nudity and clever visual inventiveness to keep us entertained.

Exit Elena
dir Nathan Silver; with Kia Davis, Cindy Silver 12/US ***.
This low-key improv-style comedy is so wilfully quirky that we keep expecting Lena Dunham to appear in the next scene. Elena (Davis) is a nurse assistant who takes a live-in job with a seriously dysfunctional family that simply won't let her just get on with looking after Grandma, intrusively trying to get her to become part of the family. This plays out with one awkwardly hilarious scene after another, as Elena tries in vain to maintain her privacy, then realises she has to let them into her life if she wants to survive. The story is very clever, and the performances are all so realistic that it's often a bit freaky to watch (Silver is particularly hilarious as the pushy mum). But the film's lo-fi production values and meandering style may put off some viewers.

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