Inverness Film Festival 2010, Final Day – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Honeymooner, Symbol

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a divisive film, almost provocatively light in anything you could conventionally acknowledge as plot, incident or character development. Happily I am a fan of the recent trend towards deeply decelerated Slow Cinema. Just as well really. Here’s a summary: Boonmee, close to death with collapsing kidneys, is visited by the wraith of his dead wife, and the non-human ghost monkey form of his missing son. As death approaches he takes himself off to a cave where, he remembers, the first of his incarnations was born.

Er, that’s it.

I understand that there was something of a backlash at the Cannes Festival this year after Uncle Boonmee won the Palme d’Or. I can dig this. It’s not Toy Story 4 by any stretch of the imagination. It’s hard to recommend to anyone who’s not acclimatized to long, meandering films that may or may not mean something. The best I can say is that my own personal thumbs remained untwiddled.

Ghost monkey business

The curse of the unavailable print struck again with Uncle Boonmee unfortunately. “Our” copy of the film was apparently in Köln rather than Inverness so we had to make do with a less than perfect promotional print.

The PR company’s logo remained in the top right corner of the film right the way through, and we got regular onscreen prompts reminding us that we were watching a promo copy. Hey ho.

On the plus side: ghost monkeys and a talking catfish. I am very easily pleased

Honeymooner, my next film of the afternoon is Uncle Boonmee’s polar opposite. An indie British romance about a guy dumped just before his wedding and his two blokey-blokey male pals. I’m not a gong-banger for North London hipsterism, and my sympathy is not particularly aroused by the piffling woes of attractive, talented, wealthy twenty-somethings, but there was something beguilingly bittersweet about the movie’s candour.

When you get down to it there just are not that many British films dealing maturely with men’s emotions, and it was nice to see a film whose primary concern was the feelings of its male characters. No pantomime male infantilisation here. Plenty of exploration of the duplicitous manipulative side of women though.

It is a bold endeavour, and I became very engaged with writer/director Col Spector’s representation of the film in the Q&A afterwards. He talked extremely bluntly about how difficult it can be putting a film together in Britain. Kudos to him indeed for bringing this in (with huge use of deferred fees) for 43 grand.


And then back to the domain of the doolally with my last film of this year’s festival Symbol, or if you prefer Shinboru, a patently ridiculous and yet deeply, deeply loveable Japanese film.

In Mexico a family goes about their everyday business, cute kid, his termagant of a mother, his gentle granddad, his father who is a masked wrestler and his sister who is a chain-smoking nun.

Simultaneously a Japanese man wakes up clad in clownish yellow patterned pyjamas in a featureless white room. We follow him in a bizarre Scott Pilgrim meets Tomb Raider quest to get out. These two stories are intercut despite seeming to bear no relationship to each other at all. They do converge eventually however, in a way for which the word “unexpected” seems barely sufficient.

In all honesty it is completely purposeless writing about this bonkers film. I might as well do you a little dance about it. It is tremendously absorbing though and I commend it to you highly.

And there ends this year’s Inverness Film Festival at which I had fun in abundance.

Thanks Paul. Thanks Eden Court.

Same time next year?

Inverness Film Festival 2010, Days 3 & 4 – Monsters, The Edge Of Dreaming, Outcast

Days three and four of the mighty Inverness Film Festival were blighted by a couple of no shows: Of Gods And Men and A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop. I wasn’t too fussed about not seeing the first, but had been massively looking forward to the second, a Wushu style remake of Blood Simple seemingly. Bum.

Still, worse things happen at sea and all that. Extra style points to Eden Court for managing the situation with more elan than anyone had a right to expect. The fault, for those looking to fling blame, lies with the film distributors who seem to be as random now as they were the last time I had anything to  do with them, which was in 1987. (Young people, check with your parents. There were years before 2000.)

I remember hearing once of a Science Fiction convention which ordered up a movie for their film programme. I forget which one. An SF movie beginning with S – Solaris or Saturn 3 perhaps. Anyway the print duly arrived from the distributors but, on inspection, turned out to be a copy of Shenandoah. It was sent back for replacement as a matter of urgency and at some expense. The replacement arrived the next day and was –ta da! – another copy of Shenandoah.

The convention ended up showing Shenandoah at three in the morning to an appreciative audience. They’re a flexible-minded lot SF fans.

Bloody film distributors though. Makes you go “Tch.”

I got three films in anyway. First off, Monsters.


There’s been a lot of publicity about the big-balls on a budget exhibited by this film, and it’s all fair comment. Brought in reportedly for under $500,000, with director Gareth Edwards claiming to have done the effects on his laptop, Monsters looks the absolute business.

Set some years after an infestation of aliens has turned the territory between Mexico and the USA into a highly hazardous no-go area, the film follows the adventures of a rough diamond photo-journalist and a pampered rich girl as they try to negotiate their way back home after getting stranded in Mexico.

The background is utterly compelling, and it is uniquely to the movie’s credit that the action takes place six years after the infection took root. There is no invasion trauma here. The characters pretty much all know what’s what, or, perhaps more importantly, think they do.

I adored that aspect of the film. I was less entranced by the developing relationship between the two main characters as the story unfolded. The exemplars the director had in mind are probably Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen or Gable and Colbert in It Happened One Night. These are noble role models, but Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, delightful though they are, are not quite in this league.

That’s a micro-quibble though. The film is another British triumph in a year which is already rich in them.



The Edge Of Dreaming is a miraculous documentary. Directed by Amy Hardie, whose speciality is scientific documentaries, this is a shamelessly personal work that uses scientific methodology to approach a subject that initially comes across as “spiritual” or “supernatural”.

Having had a vivid dream about her horse dying and then discovering the next day that he had, in fact, died during the night Hardie took it very seriously when she had another vivid dream about her former partner (now dead) telling her that she would die aged 48. Unable not to take it seriously, but sceptical of supernatural explanations Hardie then documented the year between her 48th and 49th birthday, and this film is the result.

Without wishing to spray spoilers around: Hardie was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness during the year, but she didn’t die.

The film is a highly moving interleaving of the personal and the detached. There are scientists talking about dreams, and how they might relate to perceived reality. There’s even a brief debate about the validity or otherwise of the word “reality” when talking about our consciousnesses and perceptions. Beyond the science though is the story of an intelligent woman and her loving family addressing the practicalities of mortality.

I loved this.

Amy Hardie took part in a Q&A session afterwards. Her thoughtfulness and clear-sighted answers made this the highlight of the festival so far.

Web details herewith:



And then at 22:00 on Saturday…

Outcast which is a macabre marvel: urban horror in the tradition of the Hellblazer comics, the works of Ramsey Campbell and early Clive Barker (his “good” period). I’d had low expectations because of the participation of James Nesbitt and my personal antipathy towards him. Possibly he’s a very nice guy, but I’ve always found him a bit of an enervating presence. I have a low tolerance for whimsical blarney, and I cannot abide a twinkle.

No worries here though. He’s a revelation, channelling a seething Plutonic darkness that I would previously have thought well outside his range. He plays Cathal, a supernaturally tooled-up Irishman seeking his son who is in hiding under magickal protection in Edinburgh.

Director and co-writer Colm McCarthy does an exemplary job of evoking a foreboding atmosphere. He’s particularly strong on eerie juxtapositions, contrasting the desuetude of central belt sink estates (fried breakfasts and dingy branches of R.S. MacColls) with arcane language and sigils daubed in blood on council flat walls.

There’s a strong through-line, some good shocks and an ending I didn’t see coming. Great cast too though (in a classic Feexby moment) the girl I dismissed mentally as being a Karen Gillan wannabe turned out in the credits to be Karen Gillan.

Hee haw.


Outcast showed with a supporting short called I Love Luci. Written and directed by Colin Kennedy it’s neat, sweet and tidy. I laughed but, bloody hell Scotland, not so much of the puke and the poo next time, eh?

Inverness Film Festival 2010, Day 2 – Another Year & Rare Exports

The Inverness Film Festival is trundling along rather wonderfully. Web details for the remainder of the programme ici:

It’s a magnificent line up of films. There are unique opportunities to see short Scottish films supporting some of the features. Also Eden Court is just a damn spiffing place to be.

Two movies today for me. Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

Slope-headed, knuckle-dragging fan, as I am, of robots that change into vampires and any movie where one character throws cars at another character it is not often that I cross paths with the Mike Leigh oeuvre.

My stupid fault. Yes, I am an idiot.

The thing is every time I actually see a Mike Leigh film I love it. The problem I have is tricking myself through the door of the cinema in the first place.

It’s hard, therefore, for me to rank Another Year against other Leigh films, but what I can say is that on its own merits it is a brilliant piece of work. Will we see a better British film this year? I would guess not.

Leigh’s practice of starting without a script but building up the lines through improvised rehearsals sounds risky to me, but it evidently works. Nothing here sounds stilted or forced. The characters, their relationships and they way they talk to each other feels entirely evolved and organic.

It was interesting for me to contrast this with last night’s Scottish premiere of Never Let Me Go. The themes of the films are very similar. They each deal with transience, frailty and, ultimately, mortality. But whereas Never Let Me Go (which I think is a fantastic film) makes a virtue of being schematic, elegant and symmetrical Another Year comes across like a chaotic gnarled thing grown out of a particularly fertile soil.

Indeed the central couple’s allotment is a fixed reference point throughout the evolution of the story.

Another Year is a transfixingly gorgeous mapping of the lives of Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) through four seasons as their friends and relations come and go. The subtlety on display is breath-taking. I kept wondering if some of the dabs of humour were too gaudy, or if some of the depressing declines were too theatrically sad, but no. Everything about the film is perfect.

Jim Broadbent is now at whatever stage of sanctity lies beyond “national treasure” and Ruth Sheen is as warm and complex as she was when I first saw her in High Hopes back in 1988.

If you have any interest in contemporary British cinema please grab your chance to see this.

Fags! Booze! Another Year

Another Year was supported by Adam Stafford’s short film The Shutdown. Set in Grangemouth it’s the tale of an incident at the town’s petrochemical plant. It’s based on a short story by Alan Bissett, who also narrates. The detail is convincing. The visuals are hypnotic.


Rare Exports on the other hand is a broad cinematic act of psychotronic Finnish lunacy. A cross between Miracle On 34th Street and 30 Days Of Night for which the world may not quite be ready.

On the Finland/Russian border a cull of reindeer fails because something more deadly than the hunters gets to the reindeer first. The hunters blame wolves, agitated by the explosions and drilling coming from the Russian side of the border.

Is it wolves, or is it something more sinister? Young Pietari, who knows more about the Russian drilling operation than he should, thinks he knows the truth. The difficulty lies in convincing anyone.

I don’t want to give any more detail away as, really, the less you know about the film the better. And I do strongly urge you to see it, particularly if you have a sense of humour that tends towards the dysfunctional. Occupying a point on the festive axis somewhere between A Muppet Christmas Carol and Silent Night, Deadly Night it’s a worthy addition to the elite league of fine Christmas films. Drily witty, but at the same time horrific and ultimately rousing, there isn’t anything else quite like it out there.

One note that may count as a possible spoiler: Finnish filmmakers, I have now seen enough scary elf penises and scrotums. Thank you.

Inverness Film Festival 2010, Day 1 – Never Let Me Go

There is a feeling I get that I don’t know the name for. Basically if you make an equilateral triangle of Despair, Ennui and Contempt and then extrapolate upwards to form a tetrahedron, then the emotion I’m trying to describe is the pinnacle of the pyramid.

I get it every time a soi-disant literary author has what they think of as an audacious, innovative idea which turns out, in reality, to be a well-worn science fiction device.

The usual form is for the author to deny that they are writing SF at all when its obvious to anyone who’s actually done genre writers the courtesy of reading round a bit that it effing well is effing Science Fiction. Just wanting it not to be isn’t enough.

Every time Margaret Atwood states that her SF books aren’t SF I wince as though she has actually physically punched Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Lisa Tuttle (or any honest SF writer with a feminist agenda) right in the face.

I cringed through the late seventies and eighties when Doris Lessing distanced her Canopus In Argos: Archives series from the Science Fiction genre and, seemingly the whole of literary society was too polite to say, “Nice one Doris, but what you have done here is to pointlessly re-invent the wheel. Or in this case pointlessly re-invent the Dune trilogy.”

I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go with that same dismaying nameless feeling described above. The idea, his amazing idea, of a secondary class of humans cloned solely to provide organs for “proper” humans is only surprising if you’ve not read any SF ever. Indeed the same year that Never Let Me Go was published the Michael Bay film The Island was released at cinemas. It’s pretty much the same story.

The Island is a dire film. Truly a crass, artless, thudding, bombastic, cock-wagging mess of a movie. But, in its defence, it is quite clear about its aims. There’s a perfectly serviceable basic three-act structure to it. Set-up. Conflict. Resolution. Crucially, low though they may have set the bar, the creators have had a specific intention and have seen it through.

Never Let Me Go (the novel) by contrast comes across as a meek, bovine version of the same story.

There is a superb axiom in writing that the author should strive to “show, not tell”. Marvellous. Except I think that the most important part of that is “to show”, whereas Ishiguro seems to think it’s “to not tell”.

It’s maddening the lack of explanatory detail in the book.

My generous understanding of it is that Ishiguro has created the lacunae and the vagueness as a sort of literary negative space. An absence into which we are invited to project our own interpretations of meaning.

My less generous understanding of it is that there was in his mind no clear concept of what he was writing about.

So where is the wisdom in trying to bring that book to the screen?

One of culture’s most unwatchable debasements happened when Fernando Meirelles (a bone fide brilliant director) tried to adapt Blindness a novel by Portugal’s greatest living dead writer, Jose Saramago, for the screen. The mimsy, farting mis-shape that resulted is awful; a grunting insult to Day Of The Triffids and 28 Days Later and numerous other narratives of integrity. What was the original point of the book? No idea. The film has had any trace of artistic accomplishment ruthlessly expunged from it. Whatever muse was ever involved in its inception was bludgeoned to death long before I got a chance to see the film.

So whilst the prospect of a Never Let Me Go movie was, for me, generally a grim one I could never quite let go of the fact that it was directed by Mark Romanek.

I still recall vividly the galvanising effect that Romanek’s first movie Static had on me the one and only time I saw it in 1986. It stars under-exploited treasure Keith Gordon as a worker in a crucifix factory who collects all the malformed crosses that would otherwise be thrown away. In his spare time he has invented a machine which, he says, can see into the afterlife. Static seems subsequently to have been disowned by Romanek. I think this is a shame. I’d dearly love to see it again.

Romanek didn’t make another movie until 2002 when he wrote and directed One Hour Photo, a film of incredible control and nuance.

In the intervening years he worked as a director of music videos including an emotionally ravaging one for the Johnny Cash version of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt.

I’m always going to watch Romanek stuff then, whatever the apparent pedigree. But add to that a script from Alex Garland (who is much more comfortable writing for the screen than the page) and the acting talents of Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield and suddenly I’m up for it.

The film is quite beautiful.

It is beautiful visually thanks to Romanek’s masterful eye for frame-filling and use of colour, but it has a beauty beyond the mere superficial. With a few plot changes (choice rather than expediency) and the occasional inversion of the implicit to the explicit, this story has suddenly becoming an unbelievably moving experience.

From a novel I thought reticent, clumsy and monochromatic has come a very rich experience indeed. Romanek and his shockingly talented cast have uncovered a lot in this narrative that simply wasn’t evident in the book however closely you read it. Themes of purpose, transience and the compromises we make. And, most witheringly, a stark exposure of the futility of all the expectations and hopes we have, and the pointlessness of the suppositions we make as we huff inelegantly from alpha to omega.

A great film which I cannot wait to see again.

Rachel Portman’s score is lush too.

Pictured: Spider-Man versus Sally Sparrow