Cambridge Film Festival Diary: Day 3

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The first Saturday of the festival, and one where I normally don’t get to see much as I have another tradition I’ve followed since moving to the area. I do sometimes worry that people misunderstand the “Evangelist” in the name of the blog, as the only religion here is films, and no gods to speak of (but a bit of Christopher Nolan worshipping occasionally). Outside the blog, as long time readers will probably remember, I do a lot of other things, including being choir master of my village church; this gives me the opportunity each September to join a service where choirs from all over Cambridge meet to sing in King’s College chapel. As strong as my love of film is, chances like this don’t come along every day (about once a year, in fact), so the first Saturday is traditionally a thin day for me in terms of films.

Having studied the diary very carefully this year I’d determined I could manage to squeeze in three films, one before the afternoon rehearsal and two after the wrap up at King’s. But because I obviously wasn’t busy enough, when Toby Miller from Cambridge 105’s film review show Bums On Seats had seen on Twitter that I’d seen Come As You Are, I took up the offer to join the show to share my 2p worth. There was also a discussion on Hope Springs, which I’d seen (and seemingly enjoyed slightly more than my fellow reviews, although not much). All seemed simple enough and ideally set to fit into my schedul; at the studio for 10:30, bit of prep and discussion and then on air from 11:00 to 12:00.

I knew roughly where the studio was, but thankfully I’d got two separate sat navs just in case. They both lie. Actually, that’s a little unfair to them; they’re old and unsophisticated, so unlike many modern sat navs they don’t tell you what extra time you’ll need to get through traffic, and Saturday morning traffic in Cambridge, which they both sent me straight into the middle of, seemed particularly testing. Having been four minutes away for about half an hour, I finally arrived at the studio at around 10:50 in a mild state of panic. Thankfully I was in time for the show, but what I’d been denied was the opportunity to see what was coming.

This is my excuse, anyway, for the ramblings which I’ve just listened back to on the podcast; suddenly having to have articulate thoughts and express them coherently, rather than the opportunity to edit and re-edit what I’ve written until I don’t sound like a raving madman. Having re-read the first paragraphs of this, I’ve realised that no amount of time will stop me sounding like a madman, so if the opportunity arises again I will try to be a little less self-conscious. Anyway, don’t take my word for it, here’s the chance to hear what I had to say (if you’re quick), and to sigh, tut and to disagre with it strongly. Thanks again to Toby for the opportunity, and to my fellow reviewers for allowing me to help them sound good.

After all that, I still got those three films in, and here’s what I saw on Saturday 15th September.

 Hemel  Hemel translates as “heaven”, which might seem an odd name for a daughter, especially one who’s grown up as cantankerous and rebellious as Heaven has. She has a close relationship with her father, and Hemel explores that relationship as well as their respective attempts to find love. What Hemel actually finds more of is sex; the film is a series of vignettes focusing on either a new man in Heaven’s life or a new woman in her father’s. The copious nudity and frank, sometimes brutal, reality of the feelings expressed by the Hemel family might be offputting to some but Hemel is very good at getting underneath the nature of relationships and succeeds in maing the characters sympathetic rather than alientating, while still allowing father and daughter to get off a succesion of stinging barbs at each other. It does find real emotion, especially in Hannah Hoekstra’s central performance, and while there’s nothing hugely earth-shattering or revelatory Hemel does satisfy on its own brief terms. The Score: 7/10

V.O.S. (Original Subtitled Version) Described by those people who like to use other similar things to describe things as Charlie Kaufman-esque, V.O.S. played in the Calatan cinema stream at the festival, and Cesc Gay’s film takes the relationships of two couples and places them within a film-within-a-film setting. We’re never quite sure if we’re watching them making the film or them actually being the characters, with one of them writing a script which details the lives of the characters, and so on, and so forth. While there’s some clever touches and the conceit is maintained throughout, it doesn’t quite have the clarity of purpose of Kaufman’s better work and is also fairly bog-standard in terms of the relationships on display, lacking credibility at a couple of key junctures. But maybe we should blame that on the writer? Or maybe on the character of the writer? The Score: 6/10

 Dead Before Dawn 3D Writer Tim Doiron and director April Mullen are on the verge of becoming Canadian institutions at the Cambridge Film Festival. Having been in 2009 with Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way Of The Tosser and a year later with Gravytrain, they were back (sadly not this time in person) with their third film, and where Gravytrain had been a spoof of hard-boiled crime fiction, this time the target was zombie and horror flicks. A group of dysfunctional college students manage to afflict themself with a rather unfortunate (and also rather unfortunately specific) curse which will become permanent upon sunrise. DBD3D succeeds rather more than Gravytrain did, not least for the fact that more of the scattergun humour actually works and there’s enough genre staples, as well as the odd piece of genre skewering, to help the film get by on its own good will and energy. Employing an impressive number of family members to give the movie a look bigger than its budget, there’s also a trump card in the form of a typically energtic performance from Christopher Lloyd. It’s not going to give the best examples of the genre any trouble, but you could do much worse for a few laughs on a Saturday night. The Score: 6/10

Mullen and Doiron weren’t able to be in the room, but they did dial in via Skype for a Q & A, with the audience (or what was left of it, as we were already well past midnight at this point) staying to ask affectionate questions. In particular, Mullen’s enthusiastic response to my question about a particular Christopher Lloyd moment  – you’ll absolutely know the one when you see it – means I may now have just a tiny crush on the Canadian director. (And that was even before she promised to turn up in person in a cheerleader outfit at a future screening. Yikes.)

Quote of the day: “The beees! Aaargh! It’s always the bees!” – Dead Before Dawn 3D

Health update: A reasonably healthy lunch was offset by a slightly less reasonably healthy burger and chips in the Picturehouse bar. Plenty of walking to and from just about everywhere, and I might just about have gotten away with it.

Next time: Day 4, and it’s Kristen Stewart, an Icelandic musical granny and a girl with a disturbing giraffe fixation.

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