In his preview for the BFI of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, opening today and running through June 28, Neil Young notes that 2015 “marks the 69th consecutive edition of an event which, while technically younger than Cannes and Venice (both established in 1932), boasts a longer unbroken run than either. It’s tough to maintain freshness and relevance after so many decades. And there’s something pleasingly paradoxical about this year’s festival program being so very promising on paper, precisely because it includes such a large proportion of archival fare.”
Along with an onstage conversation with “93-year-old doyen of American cinematography,” Haskell Wexler, “Hong Kong giant Johnnie To, also present for an on-stage interview, is represented by 2006’s Exiled, ‘a crepuscular paean to male group loyalty and rueful joie de vivre’ (J. Hoberman). Walter Hill: The Early Years is a strand comprising the first seven features of the genre-reinvigorating maverick, including two collaborations apiece with cinematographers Andrew Laszlo (Southern Comfort, The Warriors) and Ric Waite (The Long Riders and 48hrs).”
“When it emerged last September that artistic director Chris Fujiwara was stepping down after just three years, there was an unmistakable feeling that the event was almost back at square one,” writes Brian Ferguson in the Scotsman. “And when it was announced in December that his replacement, film critic Mark Adams, was unable to start until March—three months before this year’s festival—it felt like he had been left with an extremely tall order…. So the festival team, and Mr. Adams in particular, deserve huge credit for the program they have pulled together against the tightest of deadlines.”
On another page, Ferguson notes that Ewan McGregor, who plays both Christ and Satan in Last Days in the Desert, will be at its UK premiere and will also discuss his screen career—21 years after launching Shallow Grave at the festival—in an ‘in person’ event. He leads the strongest home-grown line-up for years, along with EIFF patron Robert Carlyle, whose directorial debut, The Legend of Barney Thomson, will open the event, while Peter Mullan, James Cosmo and Martin Compston will all unveil new films.”
Also in the Scotsman, Hannah McGill notes that “representation of female talent is strong, and numbers have been crunched to prove it: 26.7 per cent of the festival’s new feature films have been directed or co-directed by women; over half have at least one female producer; one in three has a female screenwriter.”
At Female First, Helen Earnshaw looks ahead to some of the films women directors are bringing to Edinburgh: Jane Linfoot (The Incident), Helen Walsh (The Violators), Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl; reviews), Isabel Coixet (Learning to Drive), Karen Guthrie (The Closer We Get)—and Amy Berg.
Alistair Harkness talks with Berg, who’ll also be serving on the jury for this year’s Michael Powell Award. “And this is on top of premiering her other two new films: the harrowing documentary Prophet’s Prey, about a fundamentalist sect of the Mormon church, and her fiction debut, a crime drama called Every Secret Thing, starring Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane and Dakota Fanning.”
The documentary Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream “makes the case that the indie scene which swept the final quarter of the 20th century in the UK and beyond had altogether different origins—in Scotland, and specifically Edinburgh.” David Pollock talks with director Grant McPhee.
“We took a punt on The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, the debut feature from Jake Chapman, one half of the Chapman Brothers art-making entity,” writes David Cairns. “The film is sometimes icky, as you’d expect from the guy who assembled child mannequins with sex organs for faces, and indeed from the brother of the other guy who did the same thing. It’s also sometimes funny, I have to admit…. Actually, I’m kind of glad something as peculiar as this can get made, even if for basically silly reasons.”
Update: “Robert Carlyle enlists the help of national treasure Emma Thompson for his directorial debut The Legend of Barney Thomson,” writes Screen‘s Fionnuala Halligan, “and it is her audacious turn as a mottled Glasgow bingo-loving senior which distinguishes this black comedy, adapted from Douglas Lindsay’s novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson. Casting himself as the eponymous, hapless middle-aged barber-turned-serial-killer, Carlyle takes an Elmore Leonard-style scenario and films it with the Coen Brothers and David Lynch to the front of his mind, but struggles to lift his head from under the dead weight of their influence.”
Update, 6/18: More on The Legend of Barney Thomson. For Variety‘s Guy Lodge, “this grisly farce finds the helmer giving himself a generous showcase as the eponymous chump, a socially inept barber who quite accidentally becomes a modern-day Sweeney Todd. Still, it’s Thompson’s frayed, frightening turn as his unexpectedly devious mother that gives a salty kick to an otherwise minor diversion, in which simple twists of fate are as thickly matted as the characters’ Glaswegian brogues.”
In the Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young finds that Carlyle “doesn’t yet possess the timing and touch upon which all such farces depend…. As is often the case with such fare, as the bodies pile up so does plausibility recede and any concrete connection with the real world. That isn’t a major problem here, as we’re obviously seeing the universe through Barney’s eyes… Conspicuously, however, there’s zero mention of politics, religion or football—in a city where all three notoriously intertwine throughout the social fabric—and two of the most senior coppers on view, foul-mouthed Superintendent McManaman (a game Tom Courtenay, self-consciously playing against type) and blunderbuss Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone) are audibly and unmistakably English.”
Demetrios Matheou for Thompson on Hollywood: “That the film is ultimately so enjoyable comes down to the script, the director’s evocative but un-oppressive feel for his locations—Carlyle and cinematographer Fabian Wagner give a heightened, almost fable like sheen to this world of pubs, social clubs, dog tracks and tenements—and for the skill of the lead performances.”
Update, 6/20: “I can’t really review The Legend of Barney Thompson because I’m very good mates with the screenwriter, Colin McLaren,” writes David Cairns. “And, frustratingly, I can’t give you any gossip either, because I don’t know very much and I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone. I mean, I know who modeled for the prosthetic severed penis, but I just can’t tell you…. And I know whose mum Thomson’s performance is partially inspired by, but I don’t think I should go into that either.” That said, “Carlyle seems like a real director, not just for the strong performances he elicits, but for his visual sense and narrative control.”
Update, 6/22: “Malcolm McDowell was due to talk about his career during a special appearance at the event next week, as well as unveil his latest film, Bereave, with co-star Jane Seymour.” Brian Ferguson in the Scotsman: “But the festival had been under pressure to pull the plug on the ‘in person’ event over the unpaid wages which are still due to the former crew of the ill-fated Monster Butler film, about a Scottish serial killer.” So the event’s been cancelled.
Updates, 6/26: And the award-winners are, as reported by Screen‘s Andreas Wiseman:
- Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film: 45 Years (Andrew Haigh). Reviews.
- Best Performance in a British Feature Film: James Cosmo (The Pyramid Texts) and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years).
- Best International Feature Film: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller). Reviews.
- Best Documentary Feature Film Award: The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle). Reviews.
- The McLaren Award for New British Animation: Stems (Ainslie Henderson).
- Student Critics Jury Award: Black Mountain Poets (Jamie Adams).
- Best Short Film: Scrapbook (Mike Hoolboom).
To catch up with a few reviews… “A raddled rocker belatedly regains his long-lost mojo in Len and Company, a modestly promising first feature from much-garlanded commercials director Tim Godsall,” writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Primarily a showcase for the spiky charisma of star Rhys Ifans, it’s a low-key study of strained family relations that creates and sustains a certain wryly flinty mood up until a disastrous 11th-hour lurch into violent melodrama.” More from Guy Lodge (Variety).
Also: “A homeless hero goes on a personal odyssey through 21st century Britain in Jake Gavin’s Hector, a quietly affecting addition to the country’s admirable social-realist tradition. Sensibly placing the ever-dependable Peter Mullan front-and-center throughout as the eponymous senior citizen, first-time writer-director Gavin—previously best known as a photographer—makes a highly encouraging transition to moving images with this low-budget road movie.”
And in the Notebook, David Cairns writes about Macario (1960). Roberto Gavaldón “was one of the top directors of Mexican cinema’s golden age, along with Emilio Fernández and Tito Davison (Buñuel was always something of an outsider). While his work includes the elements of melodrama, social realism and a tinge of film noir which characterise much of this period, he also incorporates a streak of what might be called magic realism, and this is at the forefront of Macario.”
Updates, 7/8: “A double treat at EIFF—a screening of Johnnie To’s gracefully kinetic action-crime flick Exiled, followed by a Q&A with the man himself.” David Cairns: “Like Walter Hill’s The Warriors in a way, sort of, Exiled throws the audience into a moving plotline right away, zero prep, and lets you catch up with who the people are as you go. This is made smoother by the fact that every scene is a set-piece, a masterclass, a triumph of some aspect of film technique. Just the choreography of four men getting into a car becomes a piece of film poetry.”
Sight & Sound editor Nick James writes about Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared, “a documentary about the work of Bill Drummond, former member of the music act KLF, who were notorious for having publicly burned £1 million in cash and deleting their entire back catalogue. Drummond is a commanding presence, and this Swiss-German-produced documentary mostly focuses on The17, an impromptu choir whose members (an indeterminate number) Drummond recruits from ordinary folk in ordinary situations—a factory floor, an elderly ladies’ religious group, construction workers, an extended Asian family.”
Also: “Following a Bengali sailor on a 30-day voyage aboard a cargo ship, Montreal Canadian Félix Dufour-Laperrière’s Transatlantique is pure seduction. Shot in black and white, in static tableaux, with no voiceover and not much dialogue to speak of, yet simply put together from poetic shots of the sea, dramatic shots of the ship smashing through it and intimate scenes in the cabins and galleys, it has a rare precision of vision. To give you an idea of its scale and ambition, it does a brilliant job of making a cricket match played in the huge empty bowels of the ship fit gently with its brooding aesthetic.”
Also writing for S&S, Tim Hayes argues that “no AD can move the month of June to a different part of the calendar, and the films either available or agreeable to screening at Edinburgh remain subject to myriad seasonal pressures and constraints. This has become particularly apparent in EIFF’s program of British films, which with due allowance for small shifts in emphasis—and even the occasional gem—has sailed on a resolutely consistent track for several years and through several ADs, raising a few legitimate questions about whether festival-goers or indeed the festival are being particularly well served.”
“Poetry is less the medium of love than a muddler thereof in Black Mountain Poets, a delightfully shaggy mistaken-identity comedy from dampest Wales that finds romance and sisterhood in a very British brand of mortification,” writes Variety‘s Guy Lodge. “Not remotely a study of the American projectivist school for which it is playfully titled, Jamie Adams’s madcap miniature builds a seemingly one-joke premise—two dim-bulb fugitives hide out in a granola-earnest rural poets’ convention—into a deftly escalated farce as humane as it is hilarious.”
More from Neil Young, who also reviews David Street’s “unassumingly inspirational Scottish documentary” Battle Mountain: Graeme Obree’s Story, which “follows the veteran inventor-cum-cycling-champ as he seeks to break new records in his late 40s, traveling to the eponymous Nevada location for the World Human-Powered Speed Challenge.”
And also in the Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Dalton: “An atmospheric exercise in philosophical science fiction, writer-director Simon Pummell’s debut dramatic feature explores questions of identity, surveillance and the universal human hunger for self-improvement. A Holland-based Brit best known for his experimental documentaries Bodysong and Shock Head Soul, Pummell has also worked as a visiting professor at Harvard. Premiered at last month’s Edinburgh Film Festival, Brand New-U is a rich and allusive work, intellectually ambitious and visually arresting. But it also has budget limitations and formal flaws, and may prove too willfully esoteric for the sci-fi fanboy masses.”
Update, 7/13: Michael Pattison has indexed his coverage.