Two Extraordinary Documentaries In One Day at EIFF

Just a brief note to say that if you are free today there are two extraordinary films worth seeing at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

A late discovery, Mouth of the Wolf is a truly original and unique documentary stylistically and partly reminiscent of Terence Davies Of Time and the City and partly  a portrait of a low-life ex-gangster. Commissioned to make a film about the Italian city of Genoa, film maker Peitro Marcello has created a kaleidoscopic montage of present day and archive footage depicting a city in a state of constant post industrial change, a city in turmoil with itself.

The titular Wolf is Enzo, a violent ex con in a life long relationship with Mary, a trans-sexual he met and protected whilst doing a ten year stretch inside. The camera follows Enzo and other 'lowlifes' as he haunts the seedy bars, passageways and underbelly of the city. The film is worth seeing simply for an extraordinary sequence inside a bar where Enzo and his fellow boozers hang out, josh around, dance and threaten each other. How the film maker was able to capture this very intimate drunken interplay without the characters being self conscious is a questionI'd like to put to him.

Another moving and powerful documentary but this time one that couldn't be more different in content or style is the remarkable Restrepo. Film makers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger were embedded with the Second Platoon Battle Company in Afghanistan's beautiful but notorious Korengal Valley. Restrepo is the name of one of the platoons fallen comrades and in tribute to him they name a strategically placed outpost in the valley after him. Surrounded by an unseen enemy and fighting an unwinnable war of attrition, the film documents the miltary tactics, the failing hearts and minds campaign ('we will take their hearts and then we will take their minds' jokes a soldier off camera), the routines of camp maintenance, moments of ennui, the tension of waiting for something to happen, blended with brief and unexpected moments of joy and of course the horror and fear that goes with the job and engagement with the enemy.

Think of all the well worn cliches of Vietnam and Iraq war flicks, the choppers, the music, the men's male bonding routines, the disastrous foot patrols, the macho bravado and finally the catastrophe and grief of sudden loss both civilian and military. Then you realise and remember that this is not a drama but a documentary. This is what makes Restrepo highly unusual in that it feels at times like a movie. Even the relative technical slickness is misleading at times and it's easy to forget for a moment that what you're seeing is real. Even the battle footage is well composed and I was thinking 'how the hell are these guys holding the camera steady in the midst of all this?'. It does contain some disturbing and upsetting scenes but paints a striking portrait of decent ordinary guys doing the unthinkable, desperate to go home and confronting the horrors of what they have seen and felt.

Mouth of the Wolf screens at 7.45pm in Filmhouse

Restrepo screens at 5.50pm in Cineworld. Both today (Friday 25th)

I have just been informed that Enzo is not the 'titular wolf' but in fact the name of a bay in the Genoese coastal area and / or harbour.