EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL 1998

BEDROOMS & HALLWAYS ^ * * * * ^ Bedrooms & Hallways is a 300% improvement on Rose Troche’s previous film, Go Fish. The two films are utterly dissimilar in style and quality. While Robert Farrar’s clever, fresh and funny screenplay deserves some of the credit Troche’s direction is equally witty and enjoyable. She must have been practicing. The film tells the story of Leo – a gay man who has been confident of his homosexuality since his school days. Brendan, who’s been in a relationship with Sally, Leo’s ex-girlfriend, for the past seven years, knows that he is straight. When the three of them get together, however, they realize that sexual identity is not as absolute as they had previously believed. ^
Bedrooms & Hallways is a thoroughly entertaining film. It contains fun, vivid characters brought to life through sparkling dialogue and all around energetic and engaging performances. Kevin McKidd (“Trainspotting”), as Leo, is an accessible and sympathetic leading man while Tom Hollander (“Martha Meet Frank, Daniel and Lawrence”) steals the show as Leo’s theatrical, sexually adventurous friend and flatmate. While filmmakers must be credited with having the bravery to confront certain previously taboo areas of gay cinema the film ultimately does present a somewhat glib, Disneylandish attitude towards relationships. It also contains one two many suspensions-of-disbelief straining co-incidences. Overall, however, the film is funny, intelligent and consistently entertaining with slick production values and a fast paced story.
GET REAL ^ * * * ^ Despite the cliche ridden plot Get Real, Simon Shore’s first feature film, manages to tell sweet, moving story about the difficulties involved in being young and in the closet in suburban Britain. Steve Carter, a 16 year-old sixth form student, has been aware of and comfortable with his homosexuality since the age of eleven. His plump, strong willed best friend, Linda, is the only person who knows his secret. When Steve falls in love with John “sex-on-legs” Dixon Ð the repressed school athletic hero Ð he’s forced to face his fears regarding telling his peers and parents about his true self. ^
The rather unoriginal script, co-written by Shore and Patrick Wilde (who wrote the stage play upon which the film is based), has roughly an equal number of clever lines and embarrassing clunkers. It tells a simple and facilely inspiring story about bravery and being true to oneself. Simon Shore’s direction is energetic and colorful, but it’s the actors who keep the film entertaining and raise it to a level beyond an after school special. Ben Silverstone, who played the young Humbert Humbert in Adrian Lyne’s Lolita, gives a thoroughly engaging and believable performance as Steve. He draws one directly into his character’s mind while managing to make Steve’s thoughts and emotions radiate out through his skin and eyes. The rest of the universally pretty cast of unknowns are equally watchable. Additionally, one can somewhat forgive the film’s lack of originality by taking into account the fact that it is obviously targeted at teenagers.
THE TICHBORNE CLAIMANT ^ * * * * ^ A well-shot and directed, pleasantly entertaining first feature directed by David Yates and scripted by Joe Fisher. The Tichborne Claimant tells the true story of Andrew Bogle, the African manservant of the Tichborne family, who is abandoned when his charge, Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, is lost at sea. Ten years later Bogle conducts a search for the missing heir and comes up with a drunken butcher living in Australia who somewhat fits the bill. Bogle gives his chosen claimant a Pygmalion like training in the art of behaving like an English gentleman. Upon arrival back in England, however, the Tichborne family refuses to accept Bogle’s claimant as the rightful heir to their estate and a well-publicized lawsuit ensues. Robert Pugh gives a strong, comical performance as the claimant while John Kani is sober yet affecting as Bogle. It’s an amusing, well-structured story told in an attractive and commercial style with the requisite number of laughs and a sufficiently moving and sentimental ending. Rather than groundbreaking cinema, this is a well-made, professional film that will charm mainstream audiences if they are willing to overlook the lack of box office names. ^
TITANIC TOWN ^ * * * ^ Titanic Town tells the inspiring true story of a West Belfast housewife who had the courage to stand up to both the English occupying government and the IRA during the 1970’s. Her initial na•ve plea for a 9-5 cease-fire is misconstrued and Berni finds herself first vilified for daring to criticize “the boys,” then used as a political pawn by both sides of the conflict. Meanwhile, her family’s resentment grows at what they see as her selfish need for attention. ^
The story approaches “the troubles” from the cinematically unique perspective of the everyday person. Anyone can identify with Berni’s desire to allow her family to go about their daily lives without the fear of being shot. Surreal scenes of young soldiers crouching in the family’s flowerbeds work well. Unfortunately, much of screenwriter Anne Devlin’s witty dialogue is buried by choppy editing and Roger Michell’s lackluster direction. The somewhat jerky narrative, along with stiff performances by the younger members of the cast, adds to the overall unimpassioned quality of the film, despite Julie Walter’s engaging and charismatic performance.
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS ^ * * * * * ^ Guy Ritchie, the 29-year-old writer/director of LS&2SB, is one of those rare creatures who possess a combination of talent, technical skill, and the ability to tell a smart yet accessible story. He’s a new and improved Danny Boyle and makes Tarantino look like a corporate video director. If we’re lucky Hollywood (who has already snapped him up along with his 26-year-old producer, Matthew Vaughn) won’t grind him into dust and we’ll be seeing more of him in the future. ^
The film tells the story of Eddie, a young West End geezer who’s speciality is card playing. Eddie and his three best mates, Bacon, Soap and Tom, pool together £100k so Eddie can participate in porn king/gangster boss Hatchet Harry’s high stakes game of three card brag. Harry, of course, has no intention of losing to this young punk and Eddie and his mates end up stuck with a £500k debt due within a week. The way in which the boys go about “earning” the necessary cash brings them in contact with British criminals of all varieties. The cast, which includes some authentic gangsters, universally lives up to the quality of the script. Bad boy footballer Vinnie Jones does a fine job as a menacing yet very reasonable debt collector with a soft spot for his precocious young son.
The film is hilarious yet also contains a good quantity of tension and drama. The fast paced, complex story involves numerous characters and about five different interconnected plot lines. Ritchie’s screenplay, however, is logically sound and easy to follow. His dialogue is beautiful Ð it’s musical and witty and skilfully captures the diverse speech patterns of a whole variety of Brits from posh stoners to daft Liverpudlians. One scene is even subtitled for those of us who aren’t fluent in cockney rhyming slang. Ritchie, however, is not only an excellent writer. His use of the camera is fresh, creative and totally effective. Dextrous editing, in combination with David A. Hughes and John Murphy’s sharp and catchy score, gives the film an enjoyable manic energy. The high produced by watching this film remains potent for several hours after the film has ended.
URBAN GHOST STORY ^ * * * ^ Urban Ghost Story is an ambitious yet not entirely successful film from the writing/directing/producing team of Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe. It combines elements of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Hideaway and Carrie to tell the story of Lizzie, a 12 year old Glaswegian girl. After surviving a car crash in which her best friend is killed, Lizzie becomes convinced that her family’s flat is haunted. Her mother contacts a tabloid newspaper and soon their flat is overrun with reporters, scientists, spiritualists and anyone else who thinks they can make a buck out of the situation. Stephanie Buttle portrays Lizzie as a belligerent, expressionless adolescent. Her performance is adequate, but not particularly affecting. The shaky production values betray the low budget and inexperience of the filmmakers. While the ugliness of the setting is obviously intended to enhance the ominous mood and highlight the grinding poverty in which Lizzie’s family lives, the unrelenting gloom and lack of creative visuals quickly becomes wearying. ^
What initially seems to be a rather humdrum ghost story eventually develops into something more interesting. The story explores grief and guilt from the perspective of a girl too young to really understand what she’s going through. The strange occurrences in Lizzie’s flat could be seen as either evidence of a poltergeist or as external manifestations of Lizzie’s internal turmoil. Unfortunately, the story is far too long and disorganized Ð any tension built up by the groaning pipes and throbbing front door is diffused during the murky and static second act. Certain elements Ð such as the romance between Lizzie’s mother and a tabloid reporter Ð aren’t entirely convincing. While the eventual climax is satisfyingly cathartic, it is also both predictable and formulaic.
IF ONLY ^ * ^ Clumsily executed piffle. If Only is a one-dimensional film covering similar territory to Sliding Doors (apparently both films were shot during the same time period.) Victor Bukowski breaks up with his girlfriend, Sylvia, regrets his decision, and is then sent back in time and given a second chance by some magical garbage men. The paper-thin, contrived and illogical plot scripted by Rafa Russo isn’t helped by Spaniard Maria Ripoll’s awkward, rhythmless direction. Her visuals are alternately bland and mysteriously distracting (why exactly is the pianist practicing Lamaze breathing techniques?) The script is poorly structured with stale, on-the-nose dialog. The actors do the best they can with their inconsistent, one-dimensional roles. Douglas Henshall (“Angels and
Insects”) is crustily attractive as the constantly unshaven Victor, but has absolutely zero chemistry with either pretty but vacant Lena Headey as Sylvia or Penelope Cruz as Louise.
THE GOVERNESS ^ * * * ^ Commercial director Sandra Goldbacher’s first feature is beautifully filmed and covers interesting thematic ground. Unfortunately, it also suffers from a somewhat incredible and melodramatic story. Minnie Driver plays Rosina, an adventurous young Jewess who is forced to pose as a Christian in order to secure a position as a governess with a gentile family living in a secluded Scottish estate. She quickly seduces Charles Cavendish, the patriarch of the family, while assisting him with his experiments in the budding science of photography. Complications ensue when her lover proves unable to give her the complete attention that she craves. When Minnie Driver isn’t staring yearningly through gauze at the camera she puts in a typically energetic and engaging performance. ^
The film is gorgeously shot in a lush, sensual style that owes quite a large debt to Jane Campion: several scenes appear to be directly lifted from The Piano. While the imagery adds to the mood it ultimately feels overdone and self-indulgent. The Cavendishes have an inordinate amount of candles, tapestries and cushions lying about in odd places. Additionally, it’s not exactly clear why Rosina appears to be dressed in PVC and leather.
Goldbacher’s screenplay does an admirable job of exploring aspects of identity, grief and obsession. It also provides the characters with refreshingly complex minds. While the film contains some beautiful moments, the story isn’t entirely successful. Rosina is a rather unsympathetic heroine who behaves like an irresponsible and over passionate teenager. She enters the Cavendish family and willfully destroys it showing no thought or compassion for innocent parties. The film’s contrived ending leaves the story feeling incomplete and unsatisfying.
LOVE IS THE DEVIL ^ * * * * * ^ In his first feature length film music video, commercial and short film director John Maybury provides a virtually identical sensation to that of looking upon one of Francis Bacon’s paintings. This is in spite of the fact that Bacon’s estate forbid the production to use any image that bore even an implied similarity to Bacon work. In a style demonstrating the influence of Lynch, Goddard and Fellini Maybury communicates sensually, rather than logically, drawing one deep into the emotional vortex of Francis Bacon’s turbulent sado-masochistic relationship with manic depressive gangster, George Dyer. The resultant film is exhausting and devastating but also deeply satisfying. ^
Derek Jacobi gives a powerful performance as Francis Bacon. He imitates the late artist’s mannerisms and mode of speech to an eerily accurate degree. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the more elusive Dyer is equally disturbing yet effective. This is no conventional biopic. Maybury set out to “create atmosphere, not historical detail.” The narrative takes second stage to the visceral experience of absorbing the film. The performances, the sound effects and music, the set designs, the way each scene is framed, and each word of the rather sparse dialogue all contribute to making Love is the Devil is a nightmarish, sordid, claustrophobic, yet supremely beautiful and communicative film.




Posted on September 14, 1998 in Festivals by
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