EIFF 2012: International Cinema Review
Following last years damp squib of a line-up, which managed to please absolutely no-one and barely seemed to register an interest in global cinema, Edinburgh International Film Festival had a lot of ground to make up and friends to win back. And this year it has returned with all guns blazing and one of the largest and most diverse programmes ever. It has truly been a joy to see this festival restored, in terms of content at least, to its rightful place as one of Britain’s premier film events.
What EIFF has also rediscovered is the word “international”. In recent years, the event was beginning to seem too insular and parochial. The presence of Chris Fujiwara as new artistic director probably has a lot to do with the plethora of cerebral cinema from around the world.
With so many new features on offer, it’s impossible to mention more than a few favourites. The best attitude to the programme, in time-honoured festival style, is to simply see what’s showing next, willing to take the chance on discovering a real gem.
One such film was MNL 143, showing in the Philippine New Wave section. Directed by Emerson Reyes, this quirky bittersweet comedy follows a driver around Manila, picking up various passengers enroute, living in the hope that he will one day run into his lost love from thirteen years earlier. It’s a beautiful little film making great use of the heat and bustle of the city and the numerous characters wandering in and out of the driver’s vehicle and life as he desperately waits for a fateful encounter to set his world straight.
Japanese film-maker Koji Fukada’s Hospitalite equally investigates social discourse between characters, but to more unsettling effect as a shabby interloper and his mysterious wife slowly worm their way into a suburban family business and, gently and delicately as if picking wings from a fly, prise apart and lay bare any fibres of trust remaining between the family members. Similar to Michael Haneke in (very) black comedy mode.
From China, Here, There splices together three interweaving stories located between the rural north of the country, Shanghai and Paris. Director Lu Sheng skilfully uses his locations to evocative effect and while the trilogy of tales never really combine with each other, they clearly all dwell upon displacement of peoples and loved ones through space and time leading to alienation and, ultimately, loss of cultural identity.
But from the international films on offer, my personal highlight must be Iran’s Modest Reception from director, actor (and George Clooney lookalike) Mani Haghighi.
This disturbing and slightly surreal film follows two characters (Haghighi and co-star Taraneh Alidoosti, both giving convincingly powerful performances) as they drive through a poor, mountainous region of Iran with a car trunk filled with huge bags of money. They begin their trip by offering the money as charitable donations, giving vast amounts away to ageing shepherds and small boys, but the journey becomes ever more queasy and sinister as they increasingly tempt and goad their unwilling beneficiaries, wanting to see how far they can be prodded and how willing to abase themselves in return for financial salvation.
While it may be a simplistic moral message for our times, the urgency and brutal clarity of this film makes it quite outstanding and this “End-Of-Days” feel is further reinforced by the desolate winter-bound landscape.