Saturday, 2 April 2011

17th Bradford International Film Festival - Other midweek films

(Temporary home for my Film&Festivals magazine coverage until the new website is up. Please feel free to agree, disagree or anything in between in the comments)

Outside of the few thematic midweek posts I have put up were the following films, some of which could conceivably have been wedged into one of the other posts, but it would have been tenuous. HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER for instance, a Russian film, could have gone in the European Cinema post, though it is aesthetically quite different to the films I had posted that day. CURLING, another film covered here was even closer to what could (in a largely generalised fashion) be termed as a European aesthetic, even though it’s Canadian (the French speaking pushed me toward making this connection I guess). It falls apart completely though with GREENWASHERS, the third film I cover here, which wouldn’t have really fit in anywhere, so I decided to put them all up in the same post as ‘other films’ I have seen this week.

The first one I will touch upon then is Denis Côté’s CURLING; a pleasantly slow paced Canadian film set in a snowy, desolate part of Quebec. The relatively insular Jean-Francois Sauvageau (Emmanuel Bilodeau) goes to some lengths to prevent his adolescent daughter, Julyvonne (Played by Emmanuel’s real life daughter Philomène Bilodeau) from interacting with the rest of society. Post-film, there was a lot made of its similarities to DOGTOOTH (which conveniently I saw in pretty much the same midweek BIFF slot last year), only in a much more conceivably plausible situation, as opposed to the cartoonish, surreal nature of Dogtooth’s Greek lockup. Rather than the over the top societal seal that the characters in Dogtooth live in, Jean-Francois simply imposes his almost lifeless void of a personality onto his daughter, subtly deterring her from taking part in society. Yet, her life isn't completely locked off; she knows of the outside world, but just isn't fully a part of it. Therefore it is a much more complicated suppression placed upon the impulse to act, rather than being completely forbidden from society. Not that the extreme nature of Dogtooth works against it, it’s what makes it what it is. I am just illuminating the difference in tone.

Just as Julyvonne’s life isn't completely isolated, nor are the characters' motivations (as they are in Dogtooth). We aren't spoon fed any sentimental reasoning or anything, but we do see glimmers of what may have motivated this man to want to protect his daughter from some of the darker sides of the world. The film's ability to drop in these almost partial explanations without painstakingly tying up loose ends is what makes it such a measured story involving real characters. Jean-Francois therefore, whilst having some clear flaws, is a compelling, convincing and sympathetic portrayal of somebody who cannot quite handle life; who doesn't have all the answers; answers he perhaps feels pressured to have, being a single father.

The title CURLING refers to others' attempts to let him know that he needs to not be so insular and to let somebody or something in; a hobby of some kind to invest himself in. So he is invited by a co-worker to join their curling team. Not just a hobby, curling is a team activity, a social experience, requiring trusted communication between ends.

There is a wealth of depth in every relationship throughout the film and is well worth tracking down. I know very little about Canadian cinema, which is something I intend to rectify ASAP. I am now even more gutted I couldn't make it to any of BIFF's Canadian strand last year.

The next film shares the snow induced feeling of desolation, but pushes the isolation to further extremes. HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER (written and directed by Aleksei Popogrebsky) is the story of two men stationed on an island in the Russian Arctic Cirlce, taking temperature readings every day and relaying these back to the mainland. The older and senior Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) decides he is going to vanish off fishing for a few days (against protocol), leaving the younger, inexperienced Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) to fill in for him. It is at this time that some distressing news for Sergei comes from the mainland, but Pavel is conflicted as whether to tell him or not.

Having missed this film when it played at Leeds International Film Festival, due to being on the Short Film City jury, I was keen to get it watched here even though I am sure it will be getting a pretty decent distribution. I am really glad I did as well; after remarking that I wanted a few films this week to slow down, I had my prayers answered with this one. The film is such a patient and meticulous build up of tension; the whole thing hangs on a knife edge. To carry a two hour feature with essentially only the two characters in this baron, arctic wilderness, the film has its work cut out, but it is handled with real maturity.

The arctic landscape really takes on its own character and identity as it engulfs the screen, with the camera and the pacing perfectly capturing the desolate feeling of isolation; of being cut off from almost any form of civilisation.

The motivations of the characters are difficult to read, which draws you further in. The way they acted at times seemed irrational, which was refreshing; people act irrationally, especially under extenuating circumstances. They don’t always react in ways we are used to seeing on screen, which is what adds that extra dimension of humanity; the fallibility of human instinct or emotional reaction. This is another thing that gives these characters and this story so much weight and sincerity.

There is a generational difference evident throughout, being that both men were from different lives almost, different breeds of Russian it almost seems. The use of technology played the largest part in this difference. Including Pavel’s videogame playing, the way he teaches Sergei what a smiley is (in the context of text speak). Yet the main factor of this was the whole point of the Pavel being there; to trial a new electronic system of measuring these temperatures, thus eradicating the whole of Sergei’s existence. 

Just a few words to end on here about GREENWASHERS, the final film of this midweek roundup. I don't want to say too much as it somewhat underwhelmed. It is a documentary intending to expose the absurd industry of 'greenwashing'; an industry of consultants that exist in order to help companies 'appear' more green than they actually are.

I was underwhelmed because the subject matter is so important and I just felt that most of the film failed to live up to how it started. It began by exposing the real beliefs of a top CEO within one of these farcical organisations. It then spent most of the film following some mock greenwasher sales representatives, working the floor at a number of green trade shows. This would have been a great approach if they had exposed some people of being into their ludicrous schemes - in the same vein as THE YES MEN - but that didn't really happen. They persistently attacked and mocked working class salespeople, most of which actually trying to do good. They were people at the very bottom of the chain, who need to get paid and have no influence in their company. The amount of people who either actively tell them that what they are doing is wrong, or are too polite to say this so decide to grin and bear it, only served to prove that people at the bottom do care. I would have much preferred this mock approach expose the controlling, influential people at the top. Especially because the mockers were so good at what they were doing, it would have been nice for them to have some meatier opposition.


  1. You've interested me with CURLING ... i think Canada is becoming a much bigger player in the film circuit!

  2. Yeah it really is. A lot of it is to do with their government's positive outlook on the film industry, via tax breaks and the likes. I aren't fully clued up on the details, but there was a Canadian filmmakers whose short was playing in competition (unfortunately I didn't see it). She was at the festival and was then going to Hong Kong where her film was playing that week. This trip was paid for by the government.
    There is a similar emphasis and support given to many other areas of the arts. Videogames are a prominent example as last year Canada officially overtook the UK as the third largest videogame producing nation (after Japan and the US) last year