Final round-up: Leeds International Film Festival

Finisterrae

A SECOND week of films from the vast selection at Leeds International Film Festival threw up some oddball additions, not least of all Open Wings competitor, Finisterrae.

In what is undoubtedly one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, two ghosts who have tired of their other-worldly existence go on the road to Finisterre to seek advice on returning to the human world.

This debut work from Spain’s Sergio Caballero – co-director of the famous Sonar music festival – features snippets of an eclectic soundtrack, though its brilliance does not distract nearly enough from the heavy-handed manner in which the film desperately tries to push existential boundaries.

There are moments of humour to break up the obtrusive weirdness – the deadpan narrative between the ghosts’ dialogue does tickle on occasion, particularly when it transpires one of the two is depressed and there’s debate over the usefulness of keeping an appointment with a psychiatrist.

But rather than laughing at the film’s content I was rather more amused by the thought of its production, with camera crews sneaking out on night time jaunts to industrial estates to film two men covered in bed sheets standing in a ring of fire.

I also couldn’t help but wonder if animals – like children – are subject to the same rules and regulations of shorter working hours, and was the third main role of the steed in fact a job share with a second horse?

Having said that there was an erroneous scene where a fake horse with a rotating head replaced the real deal, for reasons largely unknown…

Together

Lukas Moodysson’s Together was a largely more comical affair than I anticipated as it followed the lives of those living in a hippy commune forced to make room for a housewife and a pair of precocious brats.

It’s the adults who live in this supposedly harmonious home who are exposed for their hypocrisies – flouting social norms for no real reason other than it was radical to do so – and the children who remark on their stupidity.

Marxists, nudists and vegans all get in a look-in as their 70s pad implodes with the frankly mundane: unrequited love, divorce, family spats, etc, but the film does strike a nice balance between funny and touching.

Shut Up Little Man

Music documentary Shut Up Little Man introduces us to an audio phenomenon that captured an underground music movement way before the internet reared its head.

Mid-west punks Eddie and Mitch have noisy neighbours and paper-thin walls to thank for their creativity as they set about recording.

Going viral before it was cool to do so, the pair recorded snippets of rows and recorded them to mix-tapes for friends,  which in turn sparked the interest of movie producers.


Sure, the dream was shortlived, but director Matthew Bates’ interviews with the protagonists provides a bittersweet ode to one of the earliest musical subcultures.
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Catch-up: Leeds International Film Festival

From Effie to Cathy: not much of a stroppy leap.

DOZENS of films have already graced screens across Leeds this week as the city celebrates its 25th annual international film festival.

Kicking off the opening gala was an adaptation of Bronte’s classic novel Wuthering Heights – a masterpiece which has tortured generations of GCSE and A-level students with its verbose layers of allusion.

But if you’d plonked them down in front of Andrea Arnold’s version of events I doubt anyone would have got less than an A grade in their exams thanks to an over-zealous use of the camera’s lingering gaze – y’know, for those who need it spelling out.

One thing worth mentioning: I never thought of Bronte’s work as a particularly hairy piece of literature but in Arnold’s hands there’s such a heavy-handed fixation on tangled tresses, matted fur and coarse manes that it borders on abuse of the metaphor.

In small doses, the attention to detail is  necessary – the first time Heathcliff and Cathy touch, seemingly insignificant, is by way of sharing a horseback ride. Sure, the second her wild locks tickle his face as they gallop across the moors, he is clearly and unashamedly in lust. But there’s no need to hammer the point home with such regularity.

On the other hand, some of the constant camera abuse is balanced out by the stripped down aesthetic – there’s very little in the way of fancy technology employed and the wilderness of the moors is captured by frame-after-frame of no-frills filming.

Stark white skies meet verdant green fields, hand-held cameras capture first person rambles over the hills, and if the camera crew had a wind muffler in the van, it certainly wasn’t used as they scaled the moors to capture moody scenery. 

The theme of ‘the wild’ – a key feature in the novel – is rarely far from the action. The characters snap with short tempers, the horses bray and rear uncontrollably, and the brisk winds batter the actors’ faces and carry away their words.

Not that Heathchliff was ever particularly chatty mind – some of the scenes are punctuated with brusque Yorkshire put-downs and half-intelligable threats of violence but not much else of note. 

But of all the oddities of the film, the one that jars most is the casting of Heathcliff with a black actor.

At the crux of Bronte’s novel was straight up class prejudice – Heathcliff was an outsider first and foremost because he was a poor orphan. In Arnold’s adaptation, the hatred towards the young rogue is explained away with scenes of blatant racism, which is an unnecessary re-write at best.

Jarivs: A-OK...

Over in music documentary land, The Beat is the Law – Fanfare for the Common People, takes the audience on a decade-by-decade breakdown of Sheffield’s burgeoning music scene from the 70s to present day, putting Brit-poppers Pulp at its heart.

If you ever wondered what occupies the space between the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” and Pulp’s “Common People”, this film tells you.

Carefully weaving industrial revolt and its effect on the arts scene in the Steel City, The Beat is the Law takes you on a journey that stops off for a chat with Cabaret Voltaire, ABC and obscure house and dance acts, Chakk and Clock DVA.

For music buffs with a love for the bizarre, this social commentary on a South Yorkshire city’s battle with the death of its industries is an epic history lesson.

Golden Owl competition entrant, The Other Side of Sleep offers a truly disturbing account of a youngster’s battle with sleep deprivation.

In echoes of Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis, a teenager wakes in the woods wrapped in a duvet and lying next to a corpse.

She wanders through the film like a zombie, occasionally nodding off and waking up covered in scratches. It’s never altogether clear what’s real and what’s fantasy – we’re led to believe she has committed a dreadful murder but the film employs a dreamlike atmosphere which acts as a constant and confusing mistress throughout.

I'm sure the director had best intentions too...

Finally – and I won’t labour the point too much – the fact I fell asleep three times during Romanian new wave effort, Best Intentions, probably speaks louder than words.

While there were moments of pure absurdist theatre – not least a psychiatric patient who lurked magnificently in the background wearing a rabbit mask, – the monotony of the plot dragged the film into the ground.

As a fan of experimental cinema and a lover of the avant garde, it was a disappointment to see moments of brilliant camera work wasted on mundane dialogue.

More to come: Finisterrae, Together, Shut Up Little Man.

Visit http://www.leedsfilm.com/for more info.

Preview: Leeds International Film Festival

Carey Mulligan in Shame

FILM: a breathtaking exercise in bringing the fantastic to life, a notion so wonderful it has captured the minds of film-makers for more than a century. For Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF), this year marks the city’s 25th celebration of the cinematic world.

The three-week event – which runs from November 3-20 – boasts a sparkling schedule of screenings, split over six categories bulging with new discoveries, exclusive previews and cherry-picked selections.

At the heart of the festival is its Official Selection category, showcasing emerging directors, fresh talent and classics from the archives.

The cream of the cinematic crop bookends LIFF’s special events with Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold kicking off the opening gala with her bold adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights on November 3.

Closing the gala on November 18 will be Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed Shame starring Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in what preview reviews promise is his finest performance to date.

Sandwiched inbetween on November 9 is an exclusive presentation of Silent Clowns – a homage to some of the finest pre-talkie actors in film history – hosted by one of Britain’s best-loved comedians, Paul Merton.

Irish murder tale, The Other Side of Sleep

Across the calendar, potential screen stealers include psychological drama Take Shelter which has Hollywood disaster-movie appeal, and Irish murder story, The Other Side of Sleep, which battles alongside 11 other UK premieres in the Golden Owl Competition.

Quirky selection entries include oddball fantasy, Finisterrae, hippy comedy, Together, and Romanian new-wave gem, Best Intentions.

Those who love their cinema served with a side of gore will rejoice that the much-loved Fano

Brit-pop beats: Pulp is the law

menon duo of events, Night and Day of the Dead, return to satiate the appetite for aliens (November 5 and 12 respectively).

For fans who love music and film in equal measure, this year’s home to documentary comes under Cinema Versa: a series of special events based on the festival aesthetic.

Tipped for success is The Beat is the Law – Fanfare for the Common People, which traces Sheffield’s musical history, with a large chunk dedicated to Brit-poppers, Pulp.

On an underground note, Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure tells the tale of a viral phenomenan borne of paper thin walls and noisy neighbours.

Finally, and further proof audiences will be spoiled for choice this year, LIFF also boasts the world’s largest comic celebration, Thought Bubble, a selection of world animation and short film, and experiemntal showcase, Cherry Kino.

Visit http://www.leedsfilm.com/ for ticket prices, venues, and screening information.