Cambridge Film Festival 2014

If it's good enough for Buster Keaton...

If it’s good enough for Buster Keaton…

The 34th Cambridge Film Festival (CFF) is done for another year and it’s been a cracking festival, which is especially heartening given the uncertain future of its home, Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, seriously threatened by an earlier ludicrous ruling from the Competition Commission (so who’s still here huh Comp Comm? It’s US!) The situation is still not finally resolved but the story is best read here: http://movieevangelist.wordpress.com/competition-commission/.

Moving the festival dates by just a week to the end of August/beginning of September has definitely worked – box office receipts are up 30% on last year and I didn’t have to work every day – the two don’t necessarily go together I hasten to add. In a year of brilliant films (so many that my developing Top 10 list has exploded), CFF added quite a few more to that list. As expected the Gerhard Lamprecht films were utterly gorgeous (here’s my introduction to this prolific German director for Take One: http://www.takeonecff.com/2014/introducing-gerhard-lamprecht), and the digital restoration of Le Jour Se Leve (Marcel Carne) was spectacular. From the first two days, two films have stayed with me: Tamar van den Dop’s Supernova and Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves more than exceeded expectations. To those I’d add Cherry Tobacco (directed by Katrin Maimik and Andres Maimik) and Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Ida, both films with leading girls in their first films. Disappointments were few: Wong Kar-Wai’s Grand Master, the surprise film, was devoid of any narrative or interest. It looked amazing but couldn’t hold my attention. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film A Most Wanted Man just didn’t get going, although PSH was on top form – either the story itself is too thin or the screenplay has been cut too much. Regrets? I have a few: The Japanese Dog, Stations of The Cross, Violet, and Beloved Sisters. They go on the to-watch list. So here we go:

DAY 1


Supernova (Belgium, 2014) is a fairy tale with a hint of the Wild West but set in rural Holland. Meis is 15/16 years old; she lives at the frontier of adolescence, death and deep water with her family in a battered solitary house on a sharp bend in the road. Over the years several cars have hit the house and this seems to be a metaphor for their life: nothing much happens for most of the time then an explosion of activity, excitement and danger. It’s a tale of bursting sexuality, of pushing the boundaries – and then being scared by what might happen. Meis is reading one of her mum’s erotic fiction books, the storyline becoming so entangled with the film’s narrative that it’s impossible to know whether she is experiencing certain events or is fantasising. The entire focus isn’t on Meis, however. Her dad has been disabled in a car crash and can’t (or won’t) work, Mum is overworked, resentful and furious about their life; Granny has dementia, is mute and constantly shakes her head; Grandad has recently drowned himself, which turns out to be the defining element of Meis’ life so far. Director Tamar van den Dop, who also plays Mum, has a steady hand, likes the close-up, and isn’t afraid to delve deep into how (some) families work. The cinematography is beautiful, precise, fluid; in conjunction with the impressive soundscape, the film creates a sympathetic picture of growing up. Supernova is a languid, slow-paced film that effectively explores family life, with all the usual excitement, loneliness, boredom, grief and yet still being able to look forward.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (France, 2014). A bizarre mockumentary (horrible word I know) about an apparently real event in the life of one of France’s most famous and revered writers. Michel plays himself. Inexplicably, he is kidnapped by a gang of burly thugs, who turn out to be complete softies at heart. Their entire family is involved in ‘looking after’ Michel throughout his incarceration – but he calls the shots. He loves a bottle of wine, a pack of ciggies and the company of a girl in his bed. It’s very funny, constantly surprising and baffling – we have no idea what the truth might be but it’s a very entertaining ride. The director, Guillame Nicloux, took part in a good-natured bi-lingual Q&A afterwards, in which he revealed that none of the participants are actors and that he was trying to offer a ‘pot-pouri of [Michel]s emotions, other than the usual media portrayal of him’.

DAY 2

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2013 film round up: fashionably late

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2013 was a satisfyingly good film year!
Image: http://www.sodahead.com.

It’s been a hectic end of 2013/start of 2014 so my screen roundup has taken a back seat for a few weeks. Now though (before it really is too late) I’m knuckling down to thinking about what a very good film year it was. For the first time I managed to watch 100 films in a year: a drop in the celluloid ocean compared to some of my film friends but it’s pretty big for me. Cambridge Film Festival in September was hugely enjoyable, meeting lots of lovely new people, seeing many unexpectedly good (and a few bad) films and writing some reviews for Take One. I started a blog, penpaperaction.wordpress.com, where I post about film, theatre, books and anything else that catches my eye. The most-viewed posts are A Bit Of A Yarn: Knitting For The Cinephile and It’s A Stitch Up! (do have a look, click on titles), which are explorations of the connections between film and knitting and sewing. It’s a surprisingly fruitful thread, if you’ll pardon the pun.

2013’s films started for me with The Angels’ Share at the community cinema I help run; it went down very well and surprised many of the audience, some of whom hadn’t expected to be so brilliantly entertained. 2013 was a big year for community cinema generally, as it seems to have made a small mark on the BFI Film Forever plan, with promises of potential funding and support to develop the network. Organising a community cinema is huge fun, very rewarding and a lot of work. We’ve managed to achieve near or complete sellouts throughout the year, with just a tiny autumn dip in attendances, and we’ve been delighted to hear positive responses to A Separation, Les Diaboliques and The Spirit of ’45, amongst others. Our new line is offering (sold out) film classes thanks to a BFI/Cambridgeshire Film Consortium pilot scheme; so far we’ve enjoyed Hitchcock’s Women, Introduction to film, Millions Like Us: Home Front cinema and Close Readings of 10 films.

In September, the Competition Commission announced its bizarre and ill-informed decision that Cineworld, the Picturehouse chain owners, must divest themselves of three cinemas, most likely Picturehouses, in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. This soaked up many hours of thinking, emailing and discussing and the outcome remains uncertain, despite a high profile media campaign that was even debated in the House of Lords. So we enter 2014 not knowing if the Arts Picturehouse, so important to Cambridge culture, will survive the year; meanwhile 2014’s programme forges optimistically ahead. The Movie Evangelist’s blog is the best place to find out the ins and outs of this shambles.

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