The Illusionist
The Illusionist

What Lies in Wait: Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010

Edinburgh’s annual film soiree gets underway on 16 June. We shine a spotlight on three sections of the festival that are ripe for discovery
Feature by Rachel Bowles, Chris Buckle, and Gail Tolley.
Published 01 June 2010

The Opening Gala

The 64th Edinburgh International Film Festival opens with the highly anticipated animation The Illusionist.  The film was conceived when an unproduced script by the late, great French director and comic Jacques Tati was given to the director Sylvain Chomet (of Belleville Rendezvous fame) by Tati’s daughter Sophie. The narrative centres on an illusionist, Monsieur Tatischeff (Tati’s real surname), a reserved, sympathetic figure befuddled by the quickening pace of modernity in a post-war Europe. Contemporary rock & roll bands make his antiquated magic act, complete with an overweight, unruly white rabbit, virtually defunct and Tatischeff is forced to take increasingly obscure and questionable gigs in order to support himself. When he performs for a remote village in Scotland, his sleight of hand convinces a young girl that magic is real. When she believes he can conjure up expensive new coats and ferry tickets, Tatischeff nearly bankrupts himself to maintain the illusion, so as not to dash her childish innocence.

This sad, charming tale has a real-life tragedy at its heart: Tati is thought to have written the script as a love letter to his abandoned, estranged daughter Helga, whom he never met. Chomet, however, clearly intends the piece to also be a tribute to both Tati and to Scotland. In Tatischeff, Tati’s physicality is delightfully caricatured, as are the stylistics of his films (namely, Mon Oncle and Playtime) in which careful observations of the world often give way to gentle physical gags and a distrust of modern consumerism. Much like Tati’s work, considerable space is given to sound, with a heartbreaking score, though Chomet adds his most original auteur feel through the animation, painting rural Scotland with a stunning, muted palette, populated by indifferent Angus cows, and crowning Auld Reekie in unashamedly nostalgic, gothic beauty. [Rachel Bowles]

The Retrospective

This year’s EIFF retrospective attempts to fill in some gaps in the history of British film with a strand entitled After the Wave: Lost and Forgotten British Cinema 1965-1979. It proffers rare prints of undervalued works that failed to breach the canon first time around, including efforts from the likes of Stephen Frears and Ken Russell. By reviving such infrequently-exhibited films, the retrospective helps reframe a period of British cinema often overshadowed by more glamorous, contemporary movements in Germany and the US, or glossed over entirely in accounts that leap from the sixties’ kitchen-sink realism of Karel Reisz, Lyndsay Anderson and Ken Loach, to the hyperbolic ‘the British are coming!’ 1981 Oscars (with the years in between abbreviated to bawdy comedies and Hammer Horror’s decline).

Seeking to readdress the balance are Stephen Frears’ debut feature Gumshoe (1971) starring Albert Finney as the titular bingo caller turned private eye, freshly-topical political satire The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970) which charts the ascent of Peter Cook’s Tory pollster and John Mackenzie’s pre-The Long Good Friday drama Made (1972) about a single mother’s relationship with a rock star. And if you crave something self-referential try Maurice Hatton’s Long Shot (1978) which was filmed at the Festival in 1977 and features cameos from Wim Wenders and John Boorman. It tells the humorous story of two ambitious filmmakers attempting to pull together the means to make a movie.

EIFF’s promotional posters ask ‘2010: What Will You Discover?’ beneath a formidable list of past premieres: Manhattan, Wild Strawberries and Fitzcarraldo. With such a strong mix of curios and cult classics on offer in this year’s retrospective, perhaps the EIFF should reframe their question: In 2010, What Will You Re-discover? [Chris Buckle]

The Underground Selection

In the last few years Edinburgh has showcased an impressive array of low-budget and underground films that have embraced the subversive. This year is no exception, with two strands dedicated to movies with an alternative slant. Under the Radar features the world premiere of Zach Clark’s Vacation! He returns to the festival after the success of last year’s Modern Love Is Automatic which included a memorable performance by Melodie Sisk who also stars in his latest project, described as “an existential beach party movie about life, death, sex and drugs”.  Ryan Denmark is another director revisiting the festival (his feature Romeo and Juliet vs. The Living Dead screened in 2009) this time with a contemporary comedy called Chase The Slut about a girl with a bad reputation who attempts to seduce the son of a local minister. 

Horror buffs would be wise to check out the Night Moves strand. It includes Greek zombie thriller Evil: In The Time Of Heroes directed by Yorgos Noussias and rather unexpectedly starring Billy Zane; expect a blood-filled parody of this genre du jour. Another infestation prevails in Gareth Edwards’ independent sci-fi Monsters, about a quarantined area of Central America where an alien life form has begun to breed following the crash of a NASA spaceship that was returning to Earth with non-human samples. Having received top reviews at SxSW it’s one that’s worth seeking out. And local talent can be seen in Colm McCarthy’s Outcast which stars James Nesbit and Kate Dickie and was shot partly in Edinburgh. This chilling tale of modern day witchcraft set in a decaying urban landscape also comes fresh from SxSW and follows a mother and son on the run. [Gail Tolley]

Correction: this article has been updated to correct the name of Colm McCarthy's film Outcast.