Cambridge Film Festival Diary: Day 2

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Day two, the first full day of the festival. By now you’d expect me to be organised, but the sheer volume of my bookings was already working against me. As with the previous two years, I’d arrived for the first film and then all of my tickets had printed out, a long stream like some form of Wall Street ticker tape warning of impending crisis. My crisis came from the fact that, as always, the tickets don’t seem to print off in any particular order; so on day one I had a long stream of 36 tickets from the main booking, and by day two that was four still fairly long streams where I’d taken the previous days’ tickets out of the middle. The sight of me performing what must have looked like the world’s least interesting magic trick I hope at least kept the staff of the Picturehouse entertained.

Anyway, onto the day itself: this was Friday 14th September 2012.

Hope Springs

The day started with a repeat screening of one of the previous night’s opening films. Hope Springs is the tale of a couple in their 31st year of marriage, where Tommy Lee Jones is content to follow the same predictable, pedestrian routine but Meryl Streep yearns to put some spark back into their marriage. A good proportion of the film is either a two-hander with Jones and Streep formulating their issues, or a three-way with Steve Carell (less exciting than it sounds, I can assure you) as the therapist looking to work through their issues for them.

I certainly wouldn’t devalue the idea of couples therapy as such, but the film never convinces in terms of the therapy itself, feeling far too superficial to really get at the deep roots of the couple’s problems. In terms of entertainment value it’s a moderate success; Streep can normally be relied upon to be a class act, but she comes across as slightly mannered here, and Carell is required to simply turn up and be as calm as possible while keeping a straight face while saying words like “masturbate” or “penis”. Most of the joy comes from watching Tommy Lee Jones be a spectacular grump for as long as possible, which also makes his character slightly unsympathetic. Recommended if you’ve been married a while and can’t afford $4,000 dollars for counselling, although I would suggest avoiding a repeat of what Streep and Jones get up to in their movie theatre visit. The Score: 6/10

Avalon

Scandinavian art cinema takes a step backwards in the form of this mercifully short study of the trials and tribulations of nightclub promoter Janne (Johannes Brost). Enjoying life without complete regard for others, an unfortunate accident leaves him with a number of problems on his hands, but neither he nor the film are interested in getting anywhere near solving those problems. A dark film offering little hope for any of its characters, lifelessly shot it’s only the weathered performance of Brost that’s likely to keep you invested. Don’t expect to see a huge return on that investment. The Score: 4/10

Camp 14: Total Control Zone

I was going to start this paragraph with “harrowing”, but I’m not sure that any words come close to capturing the dehumanising brutality that Shin Dong-Hyuk had to endure growing up in a North Korean labour camp. While there’s a small element of talking heads from other participants who’ve also escaped the North’s regime, the majority of the film is based around Shin’s reflections on his experiences and his attempts to cope with life in a more civilised world. His memories of the camp are captured in some part in animation, with a Schindler’s List colour palette giving way to an understated animation style that worked so well for Waltz With Bashir a couple of years ago, but the most powerful sequences are actually set in Shin’s flat, his silences and difficulties in recalling his experience making the viewer uncomfortably complicit in asking him to review this. A heartbreaking sense of a life almost irredeemably lost isn’t totally well served by the structure, and a better edit could take this up by a point or even two, but it’s still a deeply affecting portrayal of the human spirit and its attempts to overcome adversity. The Score: 8/10

Barbara

Germany’s entry for the 2012 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film is another tale exploring life in the divided Germany of post war years, in this case a tale of two doctors in a small country hospital in East Germany. Barbara (Nina Hoss) is under close scrutiny in her relocation, and for good reason given that she has a number of secrets she’s trying to hide; André (Ronald Zehrfeld) has different reasons for being there, but both are working through their own lives while trying to do their best for the succession of young patients coming through their doors. Zehrfeld has charisma to burn and nicely offsets Hoss’s colder, but still sympathetic, performance. Director Christian Petzold tells his tale in a measured fashion, but doesn’t quite succeed in generating tension where all of the possibilities present themselves; it’s still a well fashioned story, kept alive by the performances of its two leads. The Score: 7/10

Tridentfest 2012

And so to Tridentfest, the collection of short films and music videos that has claimed the first Friday night of the festival for the past few years. If you’ve never been, then it’s a collection of very local film makers (often filming in their own houses or the Picturehouse bar) exploring different facets of film making, sometimes thoughtful, occasionally gory, but almost always very funny.

This year there was nothing to match last year’s The Purple Fiend for length (the longest film clocking in at barely 10 minutes), but variety is the spice of life and we certainly got that again this year. Highlights for me were some of the music videos, especially one to a song from British Public (I think) which seemed to have a chorus consisting of chanting “bears” over and over again – which, unsurprisingly, stuck in my head for days – and Chess Man, a real life insight into a man who plays lots of chess and makes the occasional piece of artwork, much of it shot on VHS-C tapes acquired off the internet.

But it’s the eccentricity, the laughs and the just plain down right oddness that make Tridentfest so memorable; from Teaching Simon To Skate, mixing a sense of British sporting endeavour into some Jackass-like skateboarding pain, to Andy Needs His Milk, an utterly disturbing but memorable tale of a disembodied but demanding head. The evening was rounded off with one of the many shorts from The Fantastic Poo Brothers, called Powers; it might be one of the most pointlessly stupid things I’ve ever seen, but four days later I’m still smiling when I think about it. That is the quite literal joy of Tridentfest, and hopefully a second screening later in the week will give you chance to see what you may have missed.

The evening was rounded off with a chat with a couple of the members of the Project Trident team, which brought to light the fact that the poster in the foyer for Tridentfest bears a poster quote from my review of The Purple Fiend last year, as indeed does the DVD case, which they were kind enough to give me a copy of. Possibly my greatest achievement as a blogger to date. Possibly as a human being. (Sorry, I don’t get out much.)

Next time: Day 3, featuring Hemel, V.O.S., Dead Before Dawn 3D and how traffic nearly killed the radio star before he even got started.

One thought on “Cambridge Film Festival Diary: Day 2

    […] if you’re going to see as much as I’ve planned to, so after two very full days on days 2 and 3 day 4 was the chance just to keep my hand in, before the big push over the next few days. […]

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