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Edinburgh International Film Festival

The 68th Edinburgh International Film festival ran from the 18-29th of June, and I was lucky enough to score a press and industry pass for the occasion. Showcasing over 124 films, including 11 World Premieres, 8 International Premieres, 7 European Premiers and 95 UK Premieres, the festival boasts a range of indie surprises alongside several recognisable faces. Inviting glamour and red carpets to Edinburgh for 12 days, the atmosphere inside and outside the various showcasing screens was incredible. Buzzing with industry casts and crews, there seemed to be an infinite amount of activities to ignite excitement in any cinephile. From question and answer sessions, panel discussions, outdoor movie screenings, and interactive workshops, it became hard picking the best events to attend out of an overall impressive list. I was very thankful for the final day, entitled: ‘Best of the Fest’, allowing a catch up of some great films I’d unfortunately missed. And since I know how thankful I was for that day, to anyone who missed the whole event, here is my article for you: a chance to hear about the 2014 festival and a guide to some brilliant independent films.

An elegant red carpet masking the familiar floors of your local cinema is not something you experience every day. Either is Elljah Wood casually strutting along said walkway, for the World Premiere of his new film, Set Fire to the Stars. Albeit a classy and VIP filled event, the welcoming atmosphere of the fest really made the world of film feel accessible. Not just something we sit back and watch behind a screen, but something anyone who appreciates cinema can be a part of. Stick on a nice dress and anyone might think you’re some sort of elite tycoon. Furthermore, the director of Set fire to the stars, Andy Goddard, is a past graduate of the BA (Hons) course I’m currently attending, and it shows success is clearly possible so very far from Hollywood.

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Feeling just slightly underdressed in my jeans and T-shirt, I sat next to a couple sporting a picturesque tux and frock. With high expectation of Set Fire to the Stars, I was marginally disappointed. The film is a semi-biographical portrait of the complicated relationship between the poet, Dylan Thomas, and John Malcolm Brinnin, the manager of Thomas’s final American tour of 1953. I felt that the idolisation John felt towards Dylan wasn’t portrayed effectively enough, and I didn’t feel the emotions, or believe the bond, that was trying to be conveyed through their relationship. After the end applause, I was asked by the smartly dressed lady to my left what I thought of the film, and I said just that, not knowing she was in fact the sister of lead actor and co-writer Celyn Jones… Thankfully, before I gained this information, I also mentioned that the film was beautifully shot, well acted and an interesting depiction of a literature hero. She told me very proudly that Celyn had wanted to make the film since he was 13 years old. As I listened to him answer the audiences’ questions during the afterwards Q and A sesh, I truly admired his ambition and determination. It evidently paid off in the end.

Although it would be impossible to comment on all of the many movies that appeared at the festival, there were a further three significantly accomplished films that captured my interest. Firstly, Uncertain Terms uses a very organic and raw approach. It may not be the first ever film to use improvisation, but it’s the first indie I’ve ever seen that didn’t shoot with a pre-written script. Director David Silver has a small role in the movie himself, alongside his own mother, and ‘Exit Elena’ cinematographer David Dahlbom. Keeping it personal within his circle of family and friends, the film is based loosely on his mothers own experience as a pregnant teen. The girls starring as the pregnant teenagers attended the LA film festival just a few weeks prior, wearing their pregnant stomach suits for the occasion. Shame they couldn’t make it across the ocean, but Silver’s Edinburgh attendance was just as appreciated.FMG Arts

A second personal piece, which isn’t so loosely based, is the autobiographical final film of Nils Malmros: Sorrow and Joy. The tragic account of the Danish directors adult life depicts the death of his infant daughter at the hands of his mentally ill wife. The directors presence made the viewing deeply intimate due to the sensitive issues the film deals with. Pouring the most personal time of your life onto screen is intense, let alone opening the floor to prying questions, which Malmros commendably did. However, my favourite film has to be Jim Michle’s revenge thriller Cold in July. Being a huge Michael C. Hall fan, it was a rather strange experience seeing him sustain the role of feeble redneck Richard Dane, who accidentally kills an unarmed intruder. The intruders father, a felon recently released from prison, eerily sets out to inflict justice upon his son’s murderer, leaving Richard fearing for his families safety. I felt a part of me was waiting for the Dexter in him to come out and show everyone who’s boss… And although this didn’t happen, moral justice is served up rather nicely with a trio vigilante team. I’m glad I didn’t watch the trailer before watching the film as it annoyingly gives far too much information away. All i’ll say is there’s something satisfying about initial enemies teaming up and working together. The film corresponds a tense atmosphere with unpleasant brutality, and some subtle aspects of comedy. Its electro soundtrack also adds a sleek and stylish vibe. It was the last film I seen at the festival, and I’m glad I ended my experience on a high.

So there we have it. Your short recap of the Edinburgh International Film festival. And since I feel the small amount of films I’ve discussed doesn’t even nearly do the 124 films shown justice, I shall leave you with two final films that also deserve a watch. The powerful drama Joe, directed by David Gordon Green and starring an emotionally complex badass/hero Nicholas Cage, and the independent horror film Honeymoon, which follows newlyweds Paul and Bea to a cabin in the woods. Best known for her Game of Thrones role as feisty wildling Ygritte, Rose Leslie was present for the films UK Premiere at the festival. I hope you check out these films. I hope you enjoy them. And see you all next year!

The Wind Rises – A Farewell to Hayao Miyazaki

Wind Rises

On the one scorching Scottish summers day, of the year probably, I sat alone in my local cinema screen, anticipating the experience of Hayao Miyazaki’s farewell Studio Ghibli film. As a second audience member entered the dark empty room, we glanced a look of understanding and approval; we had both made a fine and wise choice on how to spend this sunny afternoon.

The darkness began to unfold into a bright other world. A recognisable world full of imagination familiar to any Ghibli fan. However, The Wind Rises departs from Miyazaki’s distinctive style of magic and mythical creatures, providing audiences with something slightly more mature.

Based on a true story, the 72 year old visionary director portrays the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an aspiring engineer fascinated by the creation of airplanes. We embark upon a journey spanning from Jiro’s innocent childhood dreams, through the hardships of his life, and to the end reality of his accomplishments as a renowned airplane designer during WW2. Although the inspiring beauty within Jiro’s dreams and passion is unmistakable, Miyazaki’s use of juxtaposition allows the exploration of serious ethical issues. Supporting our protagonist dreams and success is fundamentally supporting the creation of machines that aided the Nazi Regime and caused many deaths.

We see this moral contrast within Jiro’s dreams. The endless blue skies and vivid colours prove Miyazaki’s escapism into imagination and fantasy is still definitely present, but we also see the opposite in Jiro’s nightmares. He foreshadows the future with flames and death, and cannot dismiss his guilt of what his magnificent designs will eventually be used for.

On the one hand we have a gentle and enchanting story, accompanied by a delicate soundtrack and adorable characters. On the other hand we explore issues of poverty, the economy, natural disasters, death and war. Although more of a war-time drama than Miyazaki’s fantastical classics like ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ and ‘Spirited Away’, the adult protagonist and serious themes aren’t just for adults and in fact could be a great beacon in enticing children to analyse aspects of history and humanity. Seeing Miyazaki’s delightful animations swiftly changing from happy faces to distress and panic really exerts feelings of empathy, and proves animation can be a very powerful device.

Life lessons of never giving up on your dreams, the importance of family and love, and the kindness of strangers are further simple philosophical themes that are lightly, but faultlessly expressed. Jiro is quite a simple protagonist, and may even seem slightly dulland lacking in personality. However, it is his morals of life that make him our hero.

Auteurist’s believe that the style of a director should be individual and identifiable, and Miyazaki definitely exudes this quality. The impressive visuals and attention to detail within The Wind Rises is standard within Studio Ghibli productions, as is the lyricism present within its narrative. Only they could make the labour of industrial technology beautiful and romantic. The consistent visual style invites us into Japanese culture through its unique aesthetics of Japanese homes and architecture. We observe the characters sitting on traditional Japanese floor mats eating food and conversing. These low shots render an intimate atmosphere. The customs and mise-en-scene designs are standard within Japan, but provide an intriguing quality to audiences not accustom with the Japanese way of life, and the fine details of these drawings are truly mesmerising.

Miyazaki cleverly inserts the concept of retiring into his retirement film, and leaves us fuelled with one last dose of inspiration, an element unceasingly sustained within his animations. In the beginning a simple gust of wind introduces Jiro to his true love, and later, brings them back together again. The wind also provides the inspiring quote that sums up the film’s philosophical nature very nicely. Given to us through fellow retiring artist Caproni, perhaps this allows us to pretend it’s Miyazaki speaking to us himself: ’The wind rises! We must attempt to live!’ The original words of French Poet and philosopher Paul Valery, and now the epic farewell to a genius director. Now we must attempt to live without the prospect of more beautiful and magical Miyazaki films.

The Wind Rises

The Double

The Double

Have you ever had that gut-wrenching feeling of believing you just aren’t good enough? The perfectionist inside you, brainwashing you into thinking ‘what is the point…I’m not as good as her/him anyway…’? Well, if there’s any hope in convincing us insecure and torturously over analytical lot that it’s all just in our heads, then self-deprecating yet extremely talented Richard Ayoade is definitely our man. And what better casting to star in his new film The Double than Jessie Eisenberg; an actor who also proves you don’t need to be an extrovert to be outstandingly successful.
Many of us continually put ourselves down. I know I wouldn’t allow anyone to insult me the way I casually devour myself with negativity. People are their own worst enemies, and Ayoade literally transports the old clichéd saying: ‘the only thing holding you back is you’ onto screen, in a unique and distinctively dark approach.

Although Ayoade sincerely believes his directing skills aren’t that great, his adaption of Dostoyevsky’s The Double renders a visually impressive dystopian future. In this world, compliant Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) lives a monotonous life. Unnoticed by his work colleagues, and his photocopy girl crush (Mia Wasikowska), he simply exists as just another insignificant face. His obsessive feelings towards his co-worker are the only optimism within his depressing existence. However, his awkward romantic attempts get him nowhere and he feels powerless to change his timid ways. Simon’s mundane routine takes a bizarre turn with the arrival of James Simon (also Eisenberg), who is his exact physical double, but everything Simon is not. The confidently suave alter ego hurls him into a psychological nightmare, while no one else notices the resemblance, and James begins to attain and accomplish everything Simon wishes he could. Ayoade’s previous ties with the innovative effects artists at London’s Framestore invite their smart mirroring techniques to double the protagonist up on screen. Eisenberg does an impressive job in the portrayal of two distinctly contrasting personalities.

 

The Double

 

Shot at nights, in an abandoned business estate and underground for three months, Ayoade crafts a claustrophobic and unidentifiable place and time. The visual effects cleverly depict oppressively endless buildings, although the structures are in reality no taller than four levels high.We feel trapped in a humdrum existence of lonely apartment blocks and narrow office corridors, which magnify the feelings of anguish and frustration. Suicide is a recurring theme yet the film’s black humour shines through just enough to stop things becoming unbearably bleak. Whilst the dialogue is everything you might hope from an Ayoade film, ranging from subtly hilarious to wonderfully strange, the heart of the film lies in the ominous aesthetics. Many amateur film makers wonder why their attempts don’t convey a cinematic feel, and a common answer to that is lighting. The characters are bathed in a dim but sickly yellow light, akin to that of a seedy motel lobby, and as the film’s reality spins further into ambiguity the characters are cast in a post-apocalyptic mist. The soundtrack similarly is haunting and shrill, almost as if the world is creaking and on the brink of falling apart.

Watching The Double is like being plunged into the deepest depths of the human psyche for an hour and a half, face to face with the crippling fears of underachievement and self-doubt. It also illustrates a world so disconnected from real life, that it sucks you in and obliges you to feel equally isolated. However, Ayoade neutralizes the unsettling gloominess with the ideal amount of humour, while Jesse Eisenberg seems more than capable of taking on the British sarcasm the film is drenched in. We may all at times feel inadequate, and wish we could be the complete opposite of who we are. However, Richard Ayoade need not worry about his flaws, as his bold directorial style apparent within The Double is a quiet triumph.

Under The Skin

So when I heard A-list celeb Scarlett Johansson was starring in Glasgow based low-budget indie movie Under the Skin, it didn’t wholly surprise me.  I met Johansson last year in Los Angeles, while she was being presented her Hollywood star on the walk of fame. Jeremy Renner was her guest speaker, who introduced her as ‘the girl he met a few years back in NYC wearing dirty Converse, covered in tattoos and piercings’.

Not your conventional Hollywood A-lister, Johansson stems from two films that try to avoid clichés; Terry Zwigoff’s quirky and bizarre Ghost World and Sofia Coppola’s melancholy yet beautiful Lost in Translation (my hands began to hurt from excessive clapping when these titles were mentioned during the voice-over list of her career), and has starred in almost 40 other films to date. Maybe just luck or perhaps our shared choice of septum piercing caught her eye and brought her in my direction; however, she walked straight to me after her first interview. And no, I did not just imagine this in the way deluded fans exclaim ‘Oh my god, the lead singer totally just looked at me and sang that song JUST to me’. We made eye contact, she obviously dug my style, and then she walked towards me. She did. I promise.

As she was signing my small yellow post- it, and not the vast amount of large laminated Avenger’s posters pushed towards her by obsessively costumed fans, and people hoping to sell them online, I proceeded to ask her where her septum piercing was? She laughed and replied with a cheeky grin, ‘Oh it’s in there!’ possibly tucking it up after the bad press she received with her bold piercing choice.

Now with rumours she may be moving to my neighbouring city Glasgow, for its poetry festivals and underground live music scene (although Edinburgh is better…ahem…), her likeability, in my books, continues to grow.

Under The Skin

Her recent role in Jonathan Glazers’s Under the Skin depicts a man- eating alien disguised as a seductive woman, who drives around looking for unsuspecting male victims. Filmed in Glasgow, the cinematography offers realistic images juxtaposed with powerful sci-fi visual effects. The portrayal of Glasgow may offer escapism to viewers unacquainted with the location, an attribute many audiences desire from cinema. However, for myself, I feel I could see these images with my own eyes, for free, if I simply walked into the city centre.  Although the concept that scenes were secretly filmed with the crew hiding in the back of the car is interesting and demonstrates a unique and intriguing technique, I feel the bleak realism of Glasgow may be excessively depicted. The frustratingly slow shots and repetitive nature of events creates a dull and monotonous narrative. However, with almost no dialogue or back story, the mysterious element certainly lingers after its viewing. The minimalist role is a very internal performance from Johansson. She perfectly captures the emotionless yet deadly femme fatal character, and alongside the visually stunning digital effects and creepy soundtrack, evokes an eerie darkness throughout the film.

The notion of gender is also cleverly represented. Being voted sexiest woman alive by Esquire Magazine in 2006 and 2013 proves Johansson to be the perfect casting for the object of male desire. The effortless ability to lure a male through sexual lust is one gender weakness Glazer explores. The film also illustrates a statement of society’s beauty culture. The alien takes the form of an attractive female, as women seem to be valued by beauty. The use of mirror images as Johansson applies her deadly red lipstick interestingly captures this theme. Furthermore, the patriarchal culture of men believing woman to be an easy sexual endeavour is also apparent. Watching a male characters dissolve into the unknown, when he thought he’d be getting some straightforward sexy-time, gave me some slight sadistic pleasure as a female…

A second gender weakness is femininities role in the downfall of Johansson’s once blank character. When watching the film I noticed engaging links to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, similarly set in Scotland. The character Lady Macbeth asks to be ‘unsexed’; allowing the removal of nurturing and motherly characteristics stereotypically associated with femininity, to instead become ambitious and murderous. She even discusses the killing of a baby, an act one would think unimaginable for a female with maternal instincts to carry out. The reverse happens to the Under the Skin alien. In an early scene we see the detached character ignore a crying baby left alone on a beach at night, after the parents have been washed out to sea. I found this scene very distressing to watch, but its presence is a very effective tool in portraying the alien’s initial empty and cold demeanour. However, taking female shape results in ‘feminine weaknesses’ developing in the form of emotions and vulnerability. The alien begins to ignore its male-devouring purpose as its human morals begin to grow.

Overall, Under the Skin is an interesting and original take on a ‘female’ alien prowling the streets, and I feel that with the streets being Glasgow, it adds to its unique element. I enjoy seeing big stars, like Scarlett Johansson, branch back out to the organic roots of independent film. Globalization within film opens up opportunity for wider audiences to observe other cultures. Although its bleak and unglamorous depiction of Glasgow is not a very positive portrayal, it still offers a refreshing distinction from Hollywood cinema. It took Glazer 9 years to adapt the original novel. Even if you don’t like the film, you will definitely not forget it. Maybe for its mesmerising visual effects. Perhaps for its unusual idea and its realistic shooting methods. Or possibly you will simply enjoy observing Johansson walk around a normal shopping centre, unnoticed by every day people, and realise famous celebrities may not be as alien as we hold them up to be. Under the skin we are all just human.

 

Written By Nasreen Saraei