Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2007

Well, I've seen my last film in this year's film festival (making six in all). Hereinunder * be potted reviews of them all.

(* Ain't that a great word?)

The Monastery: Mr Vig And The Nun

A lovely low-key documentary by Pernille Rose Grønkjær about an old man in Denmark who owns an old castke which he wants to have used as a monastery. He persuades the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow to send a priest and some nuns, one of whom is the forceful but delightful Sister Amvrosija. The film follows the building work as the castle is made ready, but it's really Mr Vig's film. An 82-year-old bachelor, he admits that he's "an emotional cripple", unable to feel love (except for his late father) or really relate to people. The word "curmudgeon" was probably invented for Mr Vig, but Sr. Amvrosija has the measure of him in most respects. Most of the dialogue is in English, presumably because it was the only language in common between the Russians and the Dane. Sometimes it has a surreal quality, as when Mr Vig is despairing at the delapidated state of part of the castle and describes the walls as "worthless". Sr Amrvrosija responds thay they are not worthless, they are simply "haunted by the weight of the roof".

I was able to stay for a Q&A session with the director, and as much of the session was spent talking about Mr Vig as about the film itself. Well worth seeing. I believe the DVD is coming out in September.

Teeth

A comedy horror movie by Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of the more famous Roy) about a teenaged girl with teeth in her vagina. (You heard me right the first time.) What's not to like? Jess Weixler gives a tremendous performance as Dawn in her first major film role (not unlike Alicia Silverstone or Drew Barrymore; there are a lot of sight gags and lines of dialogue which are funny when you know what's happened or is about to happen; there are three amputated penises and four-and-a-bit amputated fingers; there's a shower scene, a running operating theatre gag.... It's enormous fun (come on guys, it has a line in the credits saying "No man was harmed during the making of this picture"!) and I shall be watching out for the DVD (not sure this one will get a general cinema release.....) My only quibble is that the brooding power station behind Jess's home is apparently supposed to be a nuclear one (from interviews with the director), the idea being that Dawn's mutation has been caused by its radiation (cf Godzilla). Well, the power station belches so much smoke (see the opening page of the website!) that it never occurred to me for one moment that it was meant to be a nuclear one. Ah well.

Not one for a romantic evening in (unless you want to ensure that no sex will ensue - maybe a niche market there) but well worth watching.

I'm A Cyborg But That's OK

A film by the Korean Chan-wook Park, whose previous work I was unfamiliar with but has been recommended to me. Cyborg traces the story of a mental patient, brought in after a suicide attempt, who won't eat because she is convinced she's a robotic killer. She is befriended by one of the other patients who persuades her to eat. Weird? certainly. Interesting and thought-provoking? Check, check. But I found it just a little too odd even for me, ideally.

Strawberry Fields

I can't add much to the description I've linked, except that yes, it shows the harm that the occupation is doing not only to Palestinian farmers but to Israeli export agents through whom they have to deal. Oh, and I learned that strawberries ("Coral" brand) are the only Palestinian produce marketed in Europe as Palestinian: all the rest is branded as Israeli. Worth thinking about if you're intending to boycott Israeli produce: that a lot of the vegetables at least are actually Palestinian.

Bridge Over The Wadi

A wonderful film about an Israeli school teaching Jewish and Arab children together. There are three such schools, and this is the only one in an Arab village. My reaction was apparently typical of non-Israeli audiences, which is to say I found it a very optimistic film, giving me hope that there may come a time when the two communities aren't at each others' throats. According to Barak Heymann, who did a Q & A after the screening, Israeli audiences tend to be much more pessimistic, saying that if these enthusiasts for multiculturalism haven't made the school perfect (in its first year, which is what was filmed) then it's clearly a waste of time.

The film shows the kids all getting along just fine, learning each other's languages and traduitions, and making good friends. I wish could say as much for some of the parents on both sides. There was a lot of "Learning their language is all very well but if I suspect my child is becoming any less a Jew/Arab then I'll pull her/him out of the school". And one parent at least did just that. Then we had a Jewish grandmother grilling a poor Arab kid who was playing with her grandson: "Do you parents tell you all about the suicide bombers?" "What do you think about the bombers?" (Response from Arab kid: "I don't like it - everyone has the right to live". Response from his Jewish pal: "He doesn't know anything about it; they don't tell him because they don't want to scare him.") Grandma: "They think their children have the right to live but they don't tell them about the suicide bombers." And on, and on. And just when you're wishing a bomber would in fact take out the evil old hag, we switch to another pair of firm friends, girls this time. We see them having a slumber party at the Jewish girl's home, and then we see the Arab girl's Dad. Asked by the Jewish girl what he'd say if his daughter said she was in love, he simply said that was forbidden, that it wasn't how they did things, that he wouldn't listen. sked by the cameraman (Barak) what he'd say if his daughter was 25 and wanted to go and live by herself (apparently the original question was even blander, stressing that she had been a model daughter and so on). The response came, deadly serious, that he would shoot her. The Jewish friend was shocked by this: the Arab daughter herself was very quiet and thoughtful, as well she might be. The again, we saw a Jewish mother saying she thought her child was making friends with people who would grow up and kill them, and a Jewish child explaining to his colleagues (Jew and Arab) that when the Jews grew up they'd have to join the army and kill Arabs whether they wanted to or not.

The parent I liked best was the only one of the Jewish parents at the school to be in the army. His daughter (the one whose Arab friend had the murderous Dad) said she had homework: they'd had to pick a question from a list to discuss with their parents and answer. The one she'd picked was "Does Israel have the right to exist?" "Couldn't you have picked an easier one?" asked her father. "Isn't it easy?" she replied (which I thought was rather a good response, actually.) Her father explained that the Jews had been kicked out of their land a long time ago, and had returned to it in 1947 because they'd never forgotten it, just as though their family had had to leave their house but had always remembered it. Then when they came back they forgot that there were people now living in the house/country, and that they hadn't done anything wrong, and should be treated with respect. That, he said, was the mistake Israel made. (And I feel it applies equally to the Palestinian "right of return" to their expropriated property.)

It was that soldier's daughter who was so moved by the story of the Naqba (the expulsion of the Arabs to form Israel) that she felt like crying when she thought about it, because it was her people who had done this horrible thing. I like to think that maybe someone took her aside and said "Look, what happened, happened. What's important most is that Jews and Arabs treat each other decently today. And you are very important in that, because you're one of very few Jews who have an Arab as a best friend; who knows how to speak some Arabic; who doesn't think of Arabs simply as potential suicide bombers who shouldn't be in Israel at all. It's people like you who are the future of Israel, because without you Israel doesn't have a future. After all, how many Jews remember the Naqba at all on Independence Day?" (Naqba Day for the Arab community).

The film-makers shot 468 hours of footage for the one-hour film. Much of it was about the problems in establishing the school, with parental suspicion and government indifference or hostility. That all ended up in the bin, and instead they told the story of the first year of actual operation. I am happy to report that the school doubled its intake the next year, and has continued to grow until now it's in its fourth year.

Weirdsville

Another great black comedy, rather like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels meets Cheech and Chong, set in Canada. With added dwarfs. In chain mail. And Satanists. Best line: the lead Satanist dismisses a helper from their ritual site "Walk in the ways of Satan (don't step on the pentagram!)". Wes Bentley (American Beauty,. Ghost Rider) was very good as one of the stoners.

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