Archive for the ‘ EIFF 2015 ’ Category


45 Years
Kate and Geoff Mercer seem to be happily ambling their way through their retirement and planning for their 45th wedding anniversary- the more traditionally celebrated 40th had to be postponed due to Geoff undergoing bypass surgery- until news comes that a perfectly preserved body has been found in the Swiss Alps. It transpires that the body is that of an earlier love of Geoff’s, Katya, prior to his meeting Kate and what starts off as an innocuous piece of news soon becomes a major issue between the couple with chilly ramifications that resonate through their relationship revealing cracks, insecurities and raising questions.
Starring Charlotte Rampling, in an outstanding performance, alongside Tom Courtenay and directed by Andrew Haigh who rose to prominence with his excellent debut ‘Weekend’ in 2011. Coaxing a perfectly emotionally pitched performance the film is often one of understatement but it is no less effective and often whistling winds in the background make up the only soundtrack denoting the chilly atmosphere and the haunting ghost of the past.
Taking place in the run up to their celebratory party the uncertainties Kate start to feel are compounded by Geoff’s forced admission that if Katya hadn’t died he would probably have married her. Discovering that he is listed as Katya’s next of kin is the point she realises that she perhaps knows her husband of 45 years a little less than she previously thought. After rooting around in the attic for information about her dead love rival Kate finds a selection of slides and photos which do nothing to reassure her as decisions which have informed aspects of their marriage are in those photos casting Katya as a spectre over the last forty five years. Even their names are similar.
Slow moving but effective ’45 Years’ shows a seemingly robust relationship built on shaky foundations. The film closes at the couple’s anniversary party and behind the carapace of happiness the smiles are as frozen as that body in the Swiss Alps.


The Violators
A riveting and powerful drama from Helen Walsh, making her debut as both writer and director to great effect in this film set in Cheshire. The film details the troubled and dysfunctional existence of teenager Shelly- an outstanding performance for newcomer Lauren McQueen- who takes care of her younger brother whilst simultaneously attempting to keep the older one out of trouble while both parents are absent; their father incarcerated in prison for abuse and her mother just disinterested. To complicate matters further she is also approaching an age where she is receiving male attention from both good and bad sources but circumstances force her into making misjudged choices.
Matters become even more confusing when Rachel (Brogan Ellis), a teenager of similar age but totally different background, mysteriously insinuates herself into Shelly’s life but even she has an agenda of her own. Frustrated by the circumstances of her existence when local loan shark Mikey- a perfectly pitched performance by Stephen Lord- offers her a way out she is initially reluctant as she realises that the only currency he is willing to accept from her is sex. Matters soon escalate into a situation which is spiralling out of control until Rachel steps in with a suggestion she initially balks at but allows herself to be persuaded that perhaps it is the only solution. Things are never that simple however and the plot takes on new twists and turns with revelations and shocks revealed at regular intervals to great effect as often they are underplayed.
‘The Violators’ often feels like a film which isn’t trying too hard and this is perhaps its greatest strength. The performances are taut and never falter or stumble towards high drama. Instead it is almost downbeat, although the subject matter is serious and situations, which are really very disturbing and thought provoking, are never actually discussed therefore relying on the viewer to form their own conclusions. It is an interesting and often harrowing work which makes great use of a strong cast and well thought out screenplay.



Homelessness is a very serious problem in our society and usually discussed and viewed in grim terms. This film starring Peter Mullan, who plays the film’s eponymous protagonist, and directed by Jake Gavin however takes a lighter hearted approach as it follows the travails of Hector McAdam as he navigates his way between Glasgow, Newcastle and London.
Taking in various encounters en route to a regular Christmas break at a London based shelter whilst simultaneously seeking some sort of resolve with his family who he hasn’t had any contact with for fifteen years the feeling throughout is one of hope rather than the usual despair and negativity associated with homelessness and those who find themselves in such a situation. Opening up the idea that it can happen to anyone –in Hector’s case he lost his wife and child in a tragic car accident after a marital argument and blamed himself for their deaths this preventing him from continuing with his life as it was then- the film is awash with pathos and shows others who empathise and support those who have found themselves in these circumstances.
Mullan gives his usual solid performance and he is surrounded by a top notch cast including Stephen Tomkinson, Gina McKee , Ewan Stewart and Keith Allen. The feeling throughout is light but still acknowledges the serious problem of homelessness without ever having to drive the point home in a negative way. The encounters he has along the way provide the story with its body and some more use could be made of this in showing how Hector and those in a similar plight survive on a day to day basis. Often however these tales feel sidelined by the more obvious and less fascinating tale of his attempts at reconciling with his estranged siblings.
‘Hector’ is an amiable enough film but despite its central matter plays safe and never pushes any boundaries which make it more palatable to a wider audience. At the same time it takes the very serious issue of homelessness and treats it almost as a comedy of errors. This does not mean however that it doesn’t have its moments and some very entertaining ones combined in the strong script and clever dialogue as well as several very strong performances alongside Mullan’s to ensure that it is never dull throughout its duration.


Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music has Disappeared
Art terrorist who burnt a million pounds on a bonfire, reluctant and confrontational rock star with the KLF one of the biggest bands of the early nineties who deleted their back catalogue and general all round provocateur are just some of the soubriquets that Bill Drummond has acquired in his time in the public eye. This film goes behind the difficult image and allows some insights into the man as he embarks on his project The 17, a conceptual choir made up if various contributors who are assisting in the making of a piece of music which will put all the disparate strands collected together in this film to be played only once and only to those who have participated and then deleted. Radical eh?
The concept behind this film, directed by Stefan Schweitert is in its title and it was borne out of Drummond’s observation that our lives are now so overly saturated with music that we can now carry our entire record collection around in our pockets on our phones resulting in the fact we all take it for granted and deny it the value that music once had both on and in our lives. It is indeed an interesting concept and one that I have often argued myself but Drummond decides that he wants to make a piece of music that is created after all music and all knowledge of music has been erased from our society- record/CD collections destroyed, iPods wiped etc- and how we would go about creating a piece of music without this prior knowledge or these influences to draw upon.
His solution to this is to travel around and ask different groups of people, all basically non-musicians with no musical knowledge, to contribute different three minute sections of vocal performances-some musical others not so much- in order to splice them together to create a whole that is refreshing and original.
With typical perversity –and ultimately frustratingly for the viewer- we are unable to decide for ourselves as Drummond does not allow us to hear the fruits of his labour at the films denouement as it is solely for those who have been involved in the process. Although it is frustrating it is also clever as the process and the samples we have heard along the way allow our minds to create its own version of the piece of music he has denied us from hearing. I am assuming this is the point and as such it is one well made.
‘Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared’ allows Drummond to extend his reputation as a provocateur.
The people he encounters and engages with along the way provide different levels of assistance and resistance to his project but he always draws something out of them. A particularly amusing moment comes when a child confronts him about the burning a million pounds on a bonfire moment and one senses a feeling of slight regret over this as his own children have apparently questioned his reasoning regarding it. I must admit the long drawn out seascapes eventually became a little tiresome especially as they seemed to be setting the scene for a piece of music we never actually got to hear-except in our own imaginations- though they were exceptionally beautiful.


The Messenger

This supernatural thriller directed by David Blair about a young man, Jack, who believes he is about to talk to dead people who use him as a messenger to convey messages to loved ones left behind is a superior film in its genre. The subject matter may not be the most wholly original but its execution and Robert Sheehan as Jack gives a convincing and mesmerising performance as a person tortured by his so-called gift that it actually functions as more of a curse.
Jack has led a troubled life and after his father’s suicide finds he is struggling to cope even within the family unit, and is eventually taken into care when he persists in telling his mother that his dead father is communicating with him. As an adult he lives an isolated existence and finds it difficult to sustain any substantial relationships. His older sister Emma (Lily Cole) who still feels guilty for not supporting him enough when he was troubled, suddenly re-enters his life and tries to make amends despite the protestations and clear disdain of her pompous lawyer husband, Martin(Alex Wyndham).
Their lives become entangled even more after a TV reporter is found dead in unexplained circumstances and asks Jack to contact his wife to pass on a message from him. The wife turns out to be a client of Martin’s and the circumstances of her husband’s death become even less clear to her by Jack’s intervention and the inevitable accusations and recriminations abound.
Sheehan gives a taut and haunted portrayal of the psychic who has no idea to deal with his communiqués with the dead. No-one around him ever believes him and as his isolation grows he becomes more and more withdrawn from human contact although there is a moment of rare empathy from an extremely unexpected source, his nephew.
Blair does a great job with his subject matter and although such tales are usually drenched with clichés ‘The Messenger’ manages to avoid these pitfalls due to its strong performances and clever screenplay which makes for an engaging and satisfying experience.


Set in the near future this science fiction thriller considers a time when recreational drugs have been legalised and are controlled by big businesses such as the fictional Ambro Products. Ambitiously directed and scripted by Justin Trefgarne and clearly influenced by both Bladerunner and District 9 and utilising these elements wisely to create something original and worthy in its own right.
The bulk of the film is set in the earlier date of 2024 and follows the plight of policeman Frank Grieves (Elliot Cowan) who is barely managing to keep his family life with his wife and son together when his life is thrown further into chaos when a corpse with DNA cannot be identified. Intrigued by this he finds himself getting deeper and deeper into a situation he can no longer extricate himself from. Eventually the disparate strands of the narrative thread unravel and it becomes clear that Frank’s involvement in the case is even more closely linked than he originally envisaged.
Trefargne does an admirable job of the future and the cinematography captures, combines and contrasts both the squalid deterioration of the future for those caught up in medicated addiction combined with the shiny new technologies and sleek visions of those who are behind the big corporations feeding those addictions. Cowan gives a grizzly performance which is always convincing and although it doesn’t have the big budgets of the films it in clearly inspired by thus doing away with any fancy and unnecessary effects this in some ways makes it feel more real and relatable, therefore less of a fantasy future. This is key to what makes the film more successful than others of its genre.


Based on Glaswegian Ewan Morrison’s novel-he also wrote the screenplay- and set in Glasgow itself ‘Swung’ explores the world of swinging as a couple who in trying to save their relationship embark on a journey into the unknown primarily as a career move for one of them but ultimately as some form of therapy for both of them. Directed by Colin Kennedy and starring Elena Anaya , Owen McDonnell and a scene stealing Elizabeth Mc Govern ‘Swung’ is in turns humorous, sensitive and intelligent whilst dealing with a taboo subject in a refreshing way which is neither judgmental or condescending.
Recently made redundant and separated from his wife who doesn’t trust him spending too much time alone with their daughter David feels frustrated with his lot. Matters aren’t helped any by the fact he is having problems performing in the bedroom with his new lover Alice and this is becoming a bone of contention between them.
Light-heartedly one day he creates a profile on a swingers site but when Alice discovers it she is none too pleased until the next day at work when she discovers that the only way she can keep her job as a women’s magazine writer is if she can come up with an article which will significantly boost circulation. At this juncture she realises swinging is perhaps the subject matter which could do this do this and thus save her job.
Realising that in order for the article to have any potency then she will have to garner some experiences of her own as well as talk to someone who is well practised and has knowledge of the scene. Reluctantly David agrees to accompany her on these excursions into the seemingly nether world of swinging and the scenarios they find themselves in seem to help them rediscover their own sexuality but it also causes other conflicts within their relationship.
There are many strong performances in this film but it is the chemistry between the two leading actors Mc Donnell and Anaya which really pulls it together. Elizabeth Mc Govern gives an over the top performance which only prevents itself from being too cloying by not making an entry until late on in the film where it works by livening matters up a little. All in all the whole film is well thought out and cleverly observed even if the ending feels a little forced and overly optimistic in comparison to what has gone before.


The Overnight
Every year there seems to be a particular theme which runs through a number of films which seems to capture the zeitgeist of that particular time and this year it would seem that theme is swinging.
Only two days in and already I am encountering my second film with this as its central topic-the other is Colin Kennedy’s ‘Swung’-although the two could not be further away from each other in approach and location as Patrick Brice’s ‘The Overnight’ has zany Californian optimism running through it whilst Kennedy’s offering is set in Glasgow and has the grainy, gritty and dirty humour of that particular city. Starring Taylor Schilling- ‘Orange is the New Black’- alongside Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche ‘The Overnight’ is a light-hearted, frothy look at a scene which seems to encapsulate the sexual mores of the moment.
Alex and Emily (Scott and Schilling respectively) have just moved to LA with their son and are keen to make new friends so when they bump into the charming and enigmatic Kurt (Schwartzman) at the park with his son, who is of similar age to theirs, they are happy to take him up on the invite of dinner at his house. There they meet his beautiful wife Charlotte (Godreche) who is as sophisticated and mysterious as her husband. A pleasant dinner ensues but later when the kids are put to bed things start to take a more interesting and diverse twist with sex high on the menu as dessert.
What follows is the classic tale of seduction of two innocents and the evening starts to take a more sinister route with Alex and Emily seemingly more and more bewildered by the behaviour of their hosts.
Central to the tale is that classic male obsession of penis size as the two men come from opposite ends of the spectrum with Kurt being extremely well endowed – excellent use of prosthetics I am led to believe- whilst Alex boasts what he himself terms ‘an abnormally tiny dick’. The scene when the two men dance side by side naked and the contrast between one flopping around somewhere around knee level whilst the other languishes lost within its own pubes is an extremely funny moment.
There are in fact several very funny laugh out loud moments and Schilling who I found irritating in ‘Orange’ works better in the contained frame of a film wherein her ironic saccharine coated sweetness is far less cloying and much more funny than it was in an ongoing series. It is as previously said a light-hearted romp but it is also a very clever one. Strong performances and a good script take a surface skim over the darker aspects of swinging but somehow it works.



There can be few who are unaware of the tragic short life of Amy Winehouse, as in the brief time she sparkled in the public’s consciousness she was a household name associated as much with her stunning vocal performances as well as the well documented battles with drugs, alcohol, eating disorders and relationships. This documentary directed by Asff Kapadia attempts to capture the transition of a sparky and lovably irreverent teenager into an international superstar who on occasion made global headlines for both her talent and private life. That it all ended im her premature death came as no surprise to those who were transfixed by her and as an inevitability by others.
Beginning with a teenage Amy larking around with a couple of friends-who feature regularly in both her life and the film- it was clear from a young age that she was always going to be a talent to be reckoned with. It is also clear however that from around the same age she was deeply troubled- a constantly absent father and a mother who was unable to exert any control or influence over her children- and had already started to display signs of disorientation and depression as is indicated that she confessed to both her parents around this time that she was bulimic but they chose simply to ignore her cries for help assuming that they were nothing more than that.
However there was always music to pull her through these black moments and a successful first album ‘Frank’ saw her receive accolades and attention she hadn’t previously imagined.
A flush of success brought with it financial rewards and the first major purchase was her own flat in Camden where events in her life started to take a more sinister turn not least her encounters and romantic entanglements with the man who would later become her husband, Blake Fielder.
It was the relationship with Fielder which inspired her most successful moment-second album ‘Back to Black’ an international best seller- as well as precipitating her downward spiral into drugs hell as fresh from exchanging their vows they swiftly moved onto crack cocaine and heroin for sustenance. Addiction for both followed swiftly although it would appear she was keener than he for rehab but this is in part explained that he also saw her as his meal ticket and personal bank and therefore didn’t want this situation to change.
It would appear that those closest to Winehouse were also the ones who could have helped her more but didn’t. Both parents stepped back at crucial moments claiming they couldn’t assist her any more than they tried. However a stint of cleaning up in St. Lucia was interrupted by her father Mitch arriving complete with camera and sound crew to record his own vanity project whilst his daughter was still in recovery. The fact that the media attention was something she was trying to escape was something which seemed to have eluded him. Or perhaps he just didn’t care!
Things after this just worsened and with footage of gigs where she was booed onstage as she stumbled around seemingly unaware of where she was, show an end which although tragic was also predictable.
This documentary captures the essence of Winehouse perfectly and although it doesn’t actually add much to the legend that is a tall order as she was one of the most hounded celebrities of recent times and there was little left to the public’s imagination as she was constantly on display. What it does show however is the change from a vibrant young girl bubbling over with enthusiasm and attitude morphing into a drug and alcohol addled, haunted character dead behind the eyes who, in her own words, simply wanted to disappear. In the end fame was something she never understood and definitely no longer wanted and in this Kapadia succeeds as he manages to capture a perfect study of fame and all its drawbacks.

Amy is showing at the Filmhouse, Lothian Road on Thursday 18th June at 20:15 and Saturday 20th June at 14:30


The Legend of Barney Thomson

Directed by and starring Robert Carlyle ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’ provides this year’s EIFF opening gala presentation and in this context it works. It is a light-hearted stab at dark comedy which although it has its moments- mainly in the form of Emma Thomson as a worthy co-star as the protagonist’s mother- falls somewhat short of its own ambitions as it is neither dark or funny enough to register as a classic of its particular genre.
Barney Thomson(Carlyle) is one of life’s underachievers who having worked for over twenty years in the same establishment a barber finds himself usurped by younger colleagues who have the ability to communicate more fluently with customers and don’t seem to have had the charisma bypass that he has suffered. Frustrated and volatile his situation is only made worse when after being sacked he accidentally kills his boss and finds himself en route to being Glasgow’s answer to Sweeney Todd.
Enlisting the help of his harridan of a mother-brilliantly played in an over the top manner complete with Glaswegian accent and convincing prosthetics by Emma Thomson- he subsequently finds himself in a situation which aside from being a voyage of discovery is also a spiralling descent into evermore implausible and improbable situations.
Parallel to this scenario is a mass murderer on the loose on the Glasgow streets who posts body parts of their quarry to their victims’ families. The police team investigating this spate of killings is led by an over the top Ray Winstone and his trusty but bumbling assistant who is also being thwarted and usurped in his own ambitions by a younger female officer (Ashley Jensen).
Both stories eventually merge and the outcome is nowhere as unexpected as I suspect it would like to think itself as the clues are obvious in the plot from the very outset but this doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable.
‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’ is probably a good choice for an opening film for this year’s festival even if it does stray on the side of safe. Carlyle, Winstone and Jensen are ably supported in their roles by a stellar cast which also includes martin Compston and Samuel Robertson although it is Emma Thomson who steals the show in her over the top but still highly believable guise as a Glasgow harpy. The film is not the most memorable film you are likely to see at this year’s event but that doesn’t mean it is not enjoyable for its duration.