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

Continue reading

Film review: a silent Hunchback of Notre Dame

Image

The bells! The bells!

One dark February night a couple of weeks ago, I joined a 200-strong audience in a bone-chilling Ely Cathedral to watch the silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’, Lon Chaney. I have seen quite a few brilliant silent films but this one was staged in an unusual and atmospheric setting that transcended the hammy acting and plodding production that pervades this early blockbuster. A silent film show in an English cathedral is a rare event; all credit to Ely Cathedral staff and Ely Film Society for devising such an innovative meeting of space and celluloid. It was a magical experience.