I watched this one in the Videotheque and had to restrain myself from fast-forwarding it. I think that’s cheating: either switch it off and hand it back or watch the whole thing.
“Solid Air” deals with a hidden scandal: that of workers who contracted asbestosis through their jobs and the merry jig the courts and employers made them dance to get compensation. A young man named Junior tries to get a witness to help out in his dad’s case against his employer before he dies, scouting out people his father worked beside, who are all in various stages of respiratory disintegration. He seems like the perfect son, but as we get further into the film we wonder if he is truly trying to get justice for his father’s condition or if he is trying to get the compensation to pay for his own gambling debts.
While this is a well-made film, it’s just so damned slow that the characters seem to be moving in slow-to-no-motion, with many scenes playing out in real time. Maybe I’m just conditioned by music videos and adverts and whatnot to expect speed over content, but when a film is flowing like treacle in front of your eyes it really gets to be a drag and my eyes often flicked back to the clock on the video recorder to see to my despair that it had hardly moved.
The twist at the end, lifted straight out of “Sixth Sense,” didn’t help much. However, the film is dedicated to director May Miles Thomas’s father ‘and all the others’ and genuine anger at the way these unfortunate men have been used and ruined and cruelly cast aside comes through loud and clear. As she shows, there is no such thing as justice, the law and lawyers and courts are for the rich, lawyers are worthless amoral scumbag guns-for-hire, and when it comes to compensation some companies would rather drag a court case into infinity than pay out. And how right she is.
Man, I had such high hopes for this one. Detailing the lives of a bunch of Glaswegian working class chancers and schemers and schemie dreamers, this video production started out really funny and I was thinking yes man, sooperb, genuine cutting Scottish comedy, this is so rare. Then it just got more and more grim, heaping misery upon misery upon misery that I was slumped down in my seat under the weight of it all by the end.
It starts out with this Glaswegian called Paul (Gordon Grant) who gets mugged and robbed of £1,000, his entire wage. He has to try a few schemes and scams to get the cash back, so he sets off to find his twin brother to see if he can help him out…and things get more and more mental from there on in.
In between trying to win or scam his money back, Paul has to go out learning the double glazing sales trade with his new employer, Big Al, this scumbag who will do anything for a sale. This film contains one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen in a film, and I am giving it the three stars it has for this one scene in particular.
Big Al and his protégé go to a house too make a sale. The owner goes into the kitchen. Big Al notes a joint in the ashtray and tells Paul that they must take a toke if offered, so that they can get into the guy’s confidences and sell him windows. Paul shrugs and reluctantly. When the owner comes back in, he offers them a draw…and they take it. We then time-jump to an extremely stoned Big Al, saliva dribbling down his chin. He gets up and walks out without saying a word, with a stoned Paul bluffing that Big Al is off “to see a client.”
Meanwhile, Big Al wanders the streets, stoned out of his mind and dazed and confused. He hails a taxi and tries to get home, but ends up alienating the driver by insulting him. The driver throws him out and tells him to “get ta fuck ya arsepiece.” You may have to be Scottish to get the beauty of that scene, but it’s one of the best things I have ever seen in a film. Just great to see a certain level of society represented so well and so humorously.
On which note.
The catalogue says of this film that the accents in it “could strip paint from a wall.” This is incredibly, incredibly offensive. How dare an Australian come across to our country and mock our accents? The accents here are not a million miles removed from my own one. How do you think the people in this film would feel when seeing that? This is, after all, how they really speak. But this just shows the societal and cultural divide between some Scottish filmmakers and the actual Director of the festerville itself. He will not associate with real working class Scottish people when he is in this country, merely middle class artholes, and nobody he ever meets will ever talk like the people in this film.
As I said, this started out really funny, and ended up really grim. Paul gets fired. His dad has a stroke and is completely incapacitated. His girlfriend tries to look after both their newborn child and his father and, without money or hope, cracks under the strain and wheels Paul’s father out into a field in his wheelchair where she leaves him in the rain. This helpless, confused old man being soaked through is the final image.
I really wish writer/director/editor Duncan Finnigan had kept some of the humor here to help the medicine go down. It really woulda made the film a lot easier to take. However, as it was obviously done on a shoestring budget, it’s definitely a good indicator of things to come. But stick with the laughs next time, Duncan, eh? It would make all the difference. And get Big Al stoned again. That would make a brilliant film in itself. I’ll even provide the dodgy soapbar FOC big man…
Yet more lighthearted fare, this time based on the spiraling suicide rate amongst young Scottish men. So if I don’t finish this review, you’ll know the reason why…
As per the clue in the film’s title, Wilbur, a melancholy mofo played by Jamie Sives, wants to pop his clogs. He tries various methods of self-destruction – gassing himself, hanging himself (in a really painful-looking scene), slashing his wrists, overdosing and, in one funny scene, drowning, only to find out the water only goes up to his thighs – but still dejectedly shuffles this mortal coil.
Concerned, for obvious reasons, with his brother’s well being, Wilbur’s brother Harbor (very subtle) brings him in to live with himself, his new wife Alice and his step-daughter. But, whilst Wilbur and Alice are getting jiggy, Harbor finds out he doesn’t have long to live (oh the irony) and things start to unravel.
I had a couple of problems with this thing, foremost of which was Wilbur’s seemingly effortless ability to attract any woman in his suicidal radius. I just couldn’t see women being so attracted to a hardcore suicide-head cos, well, who wants to get close to somebody who’s only gonna top themselves? The women he gets involved with weren’t crazy damage cases, quite the contrary – one of them was his therapist from hospital and Alice, his brother’s wife, was very wholesome. Maybe Wilbur brings out the mother hen in these women, but I couldn’t quite buy it. Most right-minded women would run a mile from somebody with problems so deep.
The tempo of this film was pretty interesting. It generally hit you with some quite grim material and then had a genuine belly laugh to draw you up out of despair. This worked really well, really lightening the melodramatic horror-upon-horror-upon-horror tone of the thing overall. And there’s one scene, where a revoltingly precocious child has her pristine party dress vomited on at a birthday party by a drunk Harbor that was a classic set-up straight out of John Waters.
Wilbur is a Danish-Scottish co-production, between Danish outfit Zentropa and Glaswegian company Sigma Films. It was written by a Dane, which meant that some of the dialogue was somewhat stilted and awkward and grammatically incorrect, and I really felt that the filmmakers should have given the completed script to a Scottish writer for a dialogue polish. However, it was an engaging, beautifully shot, genuinely funny film, and definitely bodes well for any future co-productions the two companies may care to do.
Danish director here, Lone Scherfig, said that she had tasted blood shooting this, her first English-language feature, and we can only hope she comes back vampire-like to drink some more soon. Just don’t leave any razor blades or bottles of painkillers lying around when she does…you know why…

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Posted on August 29, 2003 in Festivals by

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