Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012: Top Ten Picks
What a difference twelve months make. This time last year, selecting a film to see at Edinburgh's 65th International Film Festival was a bit like choosing which party snack to try from Kerry Katona’s Iceland-sponsored Christmas buffet. This year the spread on offer is far more appetising and exotic. Below are the ten films I’m most keen to catch at EIFF 2012, which kicks off on 20 Jun.
(I should note that while compiling this list I discounted a number of films with exciting names attached – The Fourth Dimension (Harmony Korine, Val Kilmer), V/H/S (Ti West, Joe Swanberg), 7 Days in Havana (Julio Médem, Laurent Cantet, Benicio del Toro, Gaspar Noé, Josh Hutcherson, Daniel Brühl) – the reason being that they’re portmanteaus, and as anyone who’s sat through Paris Je T'aime; New York, I Love You; Grangemouth, You Smell, etc. will know, there’s always at least one clunker in these types of anthology films. I’ve also left out the festival’s bookends, Killer Joe and Brave, as it goes without saying that I’m desperate to see them too.)
PP Rider (Shinji Somai // 21 Jun) and every other Shinji Somai
For me, the most exciting element of this year’s festival is the opportunity to dive into the world of Shinji Somai. I’ve managed to track down a few of his films already and they’re remarkable: the direction is so dynamic, the editing so nimble. His trademark is a roaming camera that pirouettes in long takes around his characters (most of whom are adolescents), expressing their pent up emotions and frustrations. This fluid camerawork is juxtaposed with Somai's fondness for Roegian structures that throw us back and forth in time, mixing scenes like a deck of cards and concealing plot revelations like a teenager ripping the most heartbreaking pages from his/her diary. PP Rider is the first Somai film showing at the festival, but I’d urge you to see as many as you can. You might not get another chance.
Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland // 28 & 29 Jun)
Peter Strickland exploded on to the UK filmmaking scene via Transylvania with his chilly Romania-set revenge movie Katalin Varga, which was one of the highlights of EIFF 2009. He’s back this year with an even more tempting prospect: a horror set in Italy during the 1970s when giallo was in its prime. A British Foley artist (played by ubiquitous vertically challenged thesp Toby Jones) is brought to Rome to add sound effects to one of these movies and, as often happens to visiting foreigners in Italian horrors, is terrorised. What makes the film all the more tantalising is that it's reported that Strickland will be breaking from the earthy visuals of Katalin Varga and will instead be channeling the baroque insanity of Italian horror masters Mario Bava and Dario Argento.
God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait // 29 & 30 Jun)
There are two reasons why I love Bobcat Goldthwait. First, his films are wonderful. He’s American cinema’s great taboo breaker who manages to blend black humour and caustic satire while also giving us characters we care about. Second, he’s achieved this critical respectability despite being most famous for playing Zed, the helium-voice nut-job from the Police Academy movies. His latest acerbic comedy, God Bless America, is a tale of an Average Joe who cracks after seeing one too many episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and goes on a killing spree righting the wrongs in America. So basically it’s Falling Down, but, you know, funnier. Looking at the trailer, noisy cinema-goers appear to be one of his targets, which will surely endear the film to the festival crowd. It is screening at Cineworld, however, so the chance of copycat killings are high.
Tabu (Miguel Gomes // 23 & 24 Jun)
Never judge a film by its trailer, but if I were to break this cardinal rule I’d say Tabu is one of the festival’s must-sees. Set in Lisbon, it concerns three elderly neighbours in an apartment complex, one of whom has a secret to reveal, and is told in an idiosyncratic structure with multiple narratives. As the trailer reveals, it is shot in trembling 16mm monochrome, and it promises a bracing aesthetic experience if nothing else.
Life Just Is (Alex Barrnett // 23 & 27 Jun)
The post-graduation funk between university and gainful employment has been well explored by American movies of late, primarily through the mumblecore movement, but it’s a subject rarely tackled in UK cinema. When British film does dip its toe into these waters, however, the results can be remarkable – see The Low Down (2000), Jamie Thraves' perceptive debut, and the too cool for school Unmade Beds, which screened at EIFF 2009. Life Just Is, the debut from Alex Barrnett, appears to be in a similar mode and seeing as I, myself, am having a particularly long grace period between university and adulthood proper, it’s a sub-genre that really appeals.
Kotoko (Shinya Tsukamoto // 25 & 26 Jun)
Although he can no longer attend the festival in person, one of the biggest names at this year’s EIFF is Shinya Tsukamoto, whose batshit cyberpunk masterpiece Tetsuo: The Iron Man, along with its equally intense sequel, will receive a welcome revival. Also screening in this mini-Tsukamoto season is the filmmaker’s latest movie, Kotoko. From reading the blurb in the EIFF brochure, which describes the film as “darkly humourous, horrific, compelling and disturbing,” it sounds like the great man hasn’t lost his touch.
Jackpot (Magnus Martens // 23 & 24 Jun)
Jackpot is a black comedy that sounds like a Nordic riff on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Three ex-cons working at a plastic Christmas tree factory win, along with their supervisor, a fortune on the pools. They quickly come to realise that 1.7 million kroner four ways is pretty sweet, but one way is even sweeter. My curiosity has also been piqued as it’s based on a story by Norwegian pulp fiction gold mine Jo Nesbø. All I know of his work is Headhunters, from earlier this year, but that film was such a joyously surreal and, unlike the dire Millennium trilogy, unpretentious thrill ride that I’m interested to see more cinematic interpretations of his novels.
Hospitalité (Koji Fukada // 22 & 30 Jun)
I hate having house guests. As Samuel Johnston said, like fish, they begin to stink on the third day. But I suspect some of my animosity stems from the movies. So many great films have been made about a stranger entering someone’s life and slowly turning it upside down – see Performance, Knife in the Water, The Servant, The Shout, See The Sea, Teorema. Koji Fukada’s sophomore film Hospitalité, about a dour Tokyo businessman who gives an old acquaintance room and board, only to find he’s brought his Brazilian wife along too, looks to share some DNA with these films, albeit in a gentler comic style. (American drama Exit Elena (Nathan Silver), which screens at EIFF, also belongs to this home invasion sub-genre.)
Dragon (Peter Chan // 23 & 24 Jun)
The EIFF programme describes kung-fu actioner Dragon as a blend of History of Violence, TV’s Sherlock and Chang Cheh’s classic One-Armed Swordsman. I’m there, especially since Gareth Evan’s The Raid has made me nostalgic for my teenage kung-fu movie watching heyday.
Mondomanila; or, How I Fixed My Hair After a Rather Long Journey (Khavn de la Cruz // 22 & 23 Jun)
There are some off-the-wall titles at this year’s festival (Eddie – The Sleep Walking Cannibal, The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus, Rent-a-Cat, It’s The Earth Not the Moon) but the winner goes to this film from Khavn de la Cruz, which comes from the Philippine New Wave section. When I saw this new strand I racked my brain to think of any Filipino films I’ve seen but I came up blank. This fun looking feature, described in the brochure as 'all-stops-out splatter-punk cinema,' is as good a place to start as any. There are ten other Filipino films showing at the festival, along with a programme of short films and a documentary on this film movement, so if, like me, you’re clueless about the cinema from this area of the world, you’ve no excuse to be anywhere else come 20 June.
Okay, I can’t stop at ten. Here are a few more that I’ll be seeking out:
The Imposter: A 13-year-old Texan boy goes missing in his home town and is found by authorities three years later in Spain. His parents welcome him back with open arms despite the fact his hair and eye colour have changed, as well as his accent. Unbelievably, this is a documentary.
We Can’t Go Home: Rare screening of a late abstract work from Nicholas Ray.
What Is This Film Called Love?: With imaginary sidekick Sergei Eisenstein in tow, this is Mark Cousins' evocation of three days he spent as a flâneur in Mexico City.
Shadow Dancer: James Marsh is a celebrated documentarian, but his narrative work (1980, the strongest of the Red Riding trilogy, and the underrated The King) is also top notch. Set in Belfast during the Troubles.