Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013


Edinburgh International Film Festival

19-30 June 2013

Edinburgh, UK

EIFF website

Beyond its general focus on British and international, independent and arthouse cinema, the Edinburgh International Film Festival offered two notable retrospectives this year: a comprehensive showcase of Jean Grémillon’s films from the late 1920s until the late 1950s, including feature films as well as shorts, and a smaller selection of films by Hollywood legend Richard Fleischer. The official selection, on the other hand, was a mixed bag yet again, with only a few discoveries to be made. Below, Pamela Jahn and David Cairns take a look across the various EIFF programme strands and report on the highs and lows of this year’s 67th edition of the festival.

Taboor (Vahid Vakilifar, 2012)

Not everybody’s idea of science fiction, this Iranian object of beauty follows a depressed exterminator around a nocturnal city, sometimes at great length. The shots are extraordinarily beautiful, and the intrigue behind his lonely perambulations keeps one watching. Why does he live in a tinfoil-lined house? Is he really at danger from microwave radiation? Confident in its own stylistic language, the film even manages to pull off a perverse bit with a dwarf that doesn’t seem like a Lynch crib, attaining its own shade of askew elegance. DC

7 Boxes (Juan Carlos Maneglia, Tana Schémbori, 2012)

Although easily mistaken as a ‘teen movie’, due to its fun, high-energy yet light-hearted approach, 7 Boxes is a riveting, amiable ‘easy-job-gone-terribly-wrong’ action ride that is worth almost every second of its 100-minute running time. The film follows 17-year-old Victor (Celso Franco) through Asunción’s jam-packed urban market, where he makes a poor living as a delivery boy with a wheelbarrow, while in his dreams, he is soon to become famous in Hollywood. When he’s offered the chance to take care of seven mysterious boxes with unknown contents from a butcher’s shop, in exchange for 100 dollars, guarding them with his life while police search the place, he simply can’t say no. But he soon regrets his decision as he finds himself chased by both the police and a bunch of unscrupulous gangsters, in their search for their macabre goods. Although danger is largely played out in shrewd twists instead of serious scares, 7 Boxes makes deft use of its bustling setting and the market’s tangled net of loose and calculated social connections to drive its story along. A small, terribly engaging film with a bitter-sweet heart that is more satisfying than much of the standard Hollywood action fair. PJ

Watch the trailer for 7 Boxes:

Constructors (Adilkhan Yerzhanov, 2012)

A fractured family have one week to build a house on a patch of land they own, or else the state will take it away. Alternately funny and sad, this haunting Kazakh film is most notable for the way it transforms its wasteland setting, dotted with building sites, into a vision of ineffable beauty, in which back-lit plastic sheeting and old, half-perished water bottles glow like alien artefacts. DC

My Dog Killer (Mira Fornay, 2012)

One would have thought that, by now, the general appetite for bleak, stark East European social dramas with non-professional actors and no hope to be found anywhere, has somewhat waned, but Mira Fornay’s Slovak–Czech film My Dog Killer, one of the three Tiger Award winners at Rotterdam earlier this year, proves that the formula still works. After setting her debut feature, Foxes (2009), in Dublin, this time the director works in her home turf as she follows the apathetic 18-year-old Marek (Adam Mihal) and his dog, Killer, through his daily struggles in a dead-end village near the Slovak–Moravian border, where an all-embracing anger, dodgy dealings and open, anti-Roma racism are the order of the day. When Marek finds out that he has a half-brother with gypsy blood in his veins, he doesn’t think twice before taking drastic action. Though Mihal delivers a strong lead performance (with Marek making the most of his screen presence), in the end the only thing one really cares for is poor Killer. This is a drab, hate-filled film which might well tick all the right boxes to become a solid force on this year’s circuit, but anyone looking for some fresh, less formulaic and more inventive drama may want to investigate further. PJ

EIFF_Fantastic Voyage
Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage (Richard Fleischer, 1966)

The Richard Fleischer retrospective explored the Hollywood handyman’s knack for exploiting visual possibilities in any story. There was no film to represent his graceful use of 3D, alas, but several films showcased his Cinemascope compositions, and this one adds psychedelic special effects to the mix, as a team of secret agents and scientists pilot a miniaturised submarine through the circulatory system of a comatose Russian defector. Their mission: to destroy a blood clot in his brain with a laser gun. It’s all absurd, and exploited better in Joe Dante’s Innerspace, but this movie does have a cheeky sense of humour hidden away, and embraces its own corniest elements quite knowingly. There’s an early appearance by Raquel Welch, who plays a surgeon’s assistant and doesn’t disgrace herself: she’s not exactly convincing in the role, but neither is she the calculated insult to womanhood embodied by Denise Richards, nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough. DC

The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013)

James Wan’s follow-up to Insidious is perhaps too similar, despite a 1970s setting and a thin veneer of faux-documentary posing. But so what? The shocks are guaranteed to lift cinema audiences out of their seats, the suspense in the early stages before the serious manifestations is quite tantalising, and the movie is cheekily good-natured even as it scares the bejesus out of you.

The one real misstep is the citing of the Salem witch trials as backstory for the (barely explained) supernatural happenings. Don’t haul in a real-life, historical tragedy in which the women tortured and killed were innocent, Mr Wan! This is a filmmaker with a serious talent for playing an audience via misdirection and timing, and all he needs to make a really good film is the deeper application of his intelligence. DC

Watch the trailer for The Conjuring:

Betrayal (Kirill Serebrennikov, 2012)

Sleek arthouse mystery and anomie from Kirill Serebrennikov, director of Crush (2009). Two couples are intertwined in a web of infidelity, suspicion, attempted revenge-sex and acts of God. I found the ending unsatisfactory, but until then, this is a quite remarkable exercise in compelling the audience’s attention via slow-burn mystery, left-field surprises, noir glamour and loooong dramatic pauses. Breathtakingly lovely in its deep colours and spectacularly framed urban landscapes, and very much in love with its female characters’ bodies, in particular with red-headed Franziska Petri’s glassy stare. DC

Outpost 3: Rise of the Spetsnaz (Kieran Parker, 2013)

The latest sequel in the Scottish-shot, zombie-Nazi franchise, Outpost 3: Rise of the Spetsnaz plays more like a video game than ever. The most obvious, long-running problems of a disinterest in character and a sloppy attitude to its own concepts continues to blight these movies, with a hateful bunch of Russian elite soldiers battling no less horrible German Nazis and their mad science experiments in a low-budget bunker. The Nazis are led by a spectacularly unconvincing, amateur-dramatics Christoph Waltz knock-off, and everybody speaks with corny ‘Allo ‘Allo! accents.

The monsters seem to be merely deformed Germans this time, supposedly superpowered but actually defeatable by ordinary men, so what’s the point? When one of the ’heroes’ gets treated by the fiendish radiation device, some measure of complexity hovers shimmering on the horizon, but he’s soon killed off before anything interesting can result. The brutal action and carefully harnessed production values are fine, but the artistic bankruptcy is palpable. Surely this series has hit a reinforced concrete wall? DC

Watch the trailer for Outpost 3:

L’Etrange Monsieur Victor (Jean Grémillon, 1937)

The Jean Grémillon retrospective provided many treats, including this indefinable 1937 drama. When a gangster is murdered by fence Raimu, innocent Pierre Blanchar is jailed for the crime. Raimu cannot enjoy his bourgeois life with Blanchar behind bars, and when the convict breaks out, Raimu shelters him in his own home. And now Blanchar, spurned by his own trampy wife (Viviane Romance), is falling for Raimu’s (Madeleine Renaud, who plays jilted lovers and neglected wives in a startling number of these films). Everybody in this film is tortured by guilt of one kind or another, except the really guilty ones. Making it odder, the script provides plenty of humour for Raimu, a boisterous and inventive comedy player who can’t resist making the most of it, so the tone is violently uneven. But it’s all beautifully done, with Grémillon’s usual documentary attention to the details and textures of small-town life, Blanchar looking soulful and tortured with great cheekbones, and Renaud and the brazen Romance embodying the kind of parts they excelled at: angel and demon, respectively. DC

Festival report by Pamela Jahn and David Cairns