Posted: 08/28/2001

 

55th Annual Edinburgh Film Festival

by Destiny Lilly



From the land of haggis and single malts comes one of the world’s most enduring film festivals, the 55th annual Edinburgh Film Festival.


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Our London reviewer, Ms. Destiny Lilly, attended this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, held in August. She sends us warm wishes and a few reviews, with the promise of more to come.

Thanks, Destiny.

Jump Tomorrow
Directed by Joel Hopkins
Jump Tomorrow is a funny and engaging comedy of cultures clashing and merging. George (Tunde Adebimpe) is a shy New Yorker of Nigerian descent , who has agreed to an arranged marriage as a last act of devotion to his departed parents. He arrives at the airport to meet his betrothed, but he’s late, a day late. Instead he meets Alicia (Natalia Verbeke), a free-spirited Spanish girl who insists on calling him ‘Jorge,’ and Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot), a distraught Frenchman whose girlfriend has just declined his proposal of marriage. Gerard persuades George to act on his attraction to Alicia, and as they chase her toward the Canadian border, a hilarious string of comic capers ensue.

Although the plot is fairly predictable, there’s a freshness and a naiveté to Jump Tomorrow that proves undeniably infectious. First time director Joel Hopkins has assembled a talented cast of lesser known actors to tell this heart-warming story. Adebimpe’s performance as the straight-laced George serves asa perfect foil for Girardot’s bon vivant Gerard. Verbeke has the charm and looks of Penelope Cruz, but unlike her compatriot, Verbeke never tries to steal every scene. The supporting performances are strong as well, especially Patricia Mauceri as Alicia’s mother, and Abiola Wendy Abrams as George’s fiancé.

The bright and breezy score adds a touch of magic to this modern day fairy tale, and the gorgeous cinematography adds brightness and mirth to the New York locations. Hopkins shows a tremendous amount of talent in this lovely film, and the cast matches his brilliance.

Mullet
Directed by David Caesar
This flawed, but enjoyable tale of rural Australian life stars Ben Mendelsohn as Eddie ‘Mullet’ Maloney. A mullet is a useless fish with a disgusting taste, and this nickname suits Eddie well. After disappearing three years ago, Eddie has returned home to find that few people are happy to see him. His old girlfriend Tully (Susie Porter) has married his brother, Pete (Andrew S. Gilbert) the town’s police chief. Only Kay (Belinda McClory), a local bargirl who has always had a little crush on Eddie, welcomes him home with open arms. As Eddie struggles to readjust to his old surroundings, the tension in his family builds.

By far the best thing about the film is Mendolsohn’s performance. His portayal is subtle and smart without being pretentious. His work with McClory is the strongest as they confront their demons and their attraction for each other. Gilbert’s over-stressed policeman has effective moments, but he often plays the character as too much of a weakling. Porter struggles with her non-descript character, she might as well be called ‘love interest’ because that’s the only object her character serves.

As the film’s tension starts to build, Caesar inserts a totally implausible ending on the film, that shows that he basically had no idea how the film should end, but Mullet is worth seeing, for Mendelsohn’s performance and it’s honest take on life down under.

The Sleepy Time Gal
Directed by Christopher Munch
The Sleepy Time Gal tells the tale of Frances (Jacqueline Bisset), a mother, former radio DJ, writer, and all around renaissance woman. She also happens to have cancer. Her two sons were fathered by two different men; one is gay and the other she hasn’t seen in years, and she also gave up a child for adoption thirty years ago. Oh, and she has an overbearing, bigoted mother. If this sounds overly complex, you’re right. Munch goes in too many directions in The Sleepy Time Gal and none of the divergent story lines of Frances’s life is the least bit engaging.

Bisset gives one of the best performances of her career, and Martha Plimpton, as Frances’s long lost daughter, plays her character with great attention to detail. Nicky Stahl shines as Frances’s loving son, Morgan, but this all comes to naught because the script has no idea what it wants to say. The result is a boring and dull succession of scenes from Frances’s past and present. All of the characters that float in and out of her life seem superfluous and tedious. This lack of focus makes it nearly impossible to identify with the characters, even though some of them are quite well played.

Munch showed so much promise with his 1996 film, Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day, and 1991’s The Hours and the Times, but The Sleepy Time Gal has none of the charm, beauty, and mystery that his previous films contained. Many issues are approached, but never confronted, and this makes The Sleepy Time Gal a very sleepy time indeed.

Mirrorball: Pure creative cool from the world of pop
Mirrorball combined several programs of music videos and documentaries and contained by far the most exciting work featured at the festival. In the past, many have dismissed music video as a lesser art form, but the dazzling collection of talent displayed in Mirrorball should make those critics eat their words.

The animated videos were visually stunning, especially Shynola’s work for Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song,’ and Pete Candeland and Jamie Hewlett’s work for the crazy cartoon Gorillaz. High- tech videos are definitely cool, but some of the low budget clips were equally impressive. The video for ‘Witness’ by Roots Manuva, where the 26 year-old rapper participates in a kindergarten sports day, is one of the most hilarious pieces I’ve ever scene. Over the 20 years since the dawn of MTV, music video has evolved to encompass a wide range of visual delights. There will always be videos with scantily clad women doing unmentionable things, but there are also artistic, inspirational works pioneered by true virtuosos of the field.

Of course, not all of the Mirrorball selections were videos in the traditional sense. A Visual Record chronicles the making of the album Regeneration by the British band The Divine Comedy. The band’s bassist, Bryan Mills, shot footage of the band formulating ideas in the studio and taking well-deserved breaks on the beach. The film is skilfully edited to show how each song evolves from an idea into a reality, and Mills’s honest and human approach to his subject makes him one to watch in the future.

Scratch profiled the history of the DJ, from the humble beginnings of hip hop to the full fledged dance craze of today. Director Doug Pray pays homage to old school pioneers like Mix Master Mike as well as giving props to new school heroes like Fat Boy Slim. The film has a funky and fabulous built-in soundtrack, and the turntable wizards are amazing to watch. Many of the seasoned feature film directors at Edinburgh should have been taking notes from these young directors whose work prove more engaging, intense, and relevant than most of the big star vehicles.

Amelie (Le Fableux Destin d’Amelie Poulain)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
The director of Delicatessen has created a lovely and sweet tale full of delights. Amelie is a gorgeous film, well acted, well written, and beautifully brought to life by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The story centers around Amelie (Audrey Tautou), an adventurous young woman who has lived a shelter life, until she realizes that her purpose is to bring happiness to others. She embarks on a series of hilarious schemes to give people what they most desire, but when love starts to turn its light toward her, Amelie becomes unsure of how to handle sudden happiness. Tautou lights up the screen and handles drama and comedy with ease. The supporting performances of Mathhieu Kassovitz and Isabelle Nanty are superb, but Tautou’s graceless charm steals the show. This film has caused a sensation in France, and will no doubt continue to capture hearts around the world. Jeunet’s attention to detail and his clever writing make Amelie worthy of one more than one viewing. He surpasses himself at every turn, and raises the stakes for directors everywhere.

Lucky Break
Directed by Peter Cattaneo
Lucky Break is the hilarious new comedy from the director of The Full Monty. At least, that’s what the advertisements say. Unfortunately Lucky Break lacks, the wit, imagination, and realism that made The Full Monty an international hit. The film stars James Nesbitt as Jimmy Hands, a third-rate thief in jail on an armed robbery charge after he and his friend Rudy (Lennie James) royally botch a bank robbery. Once in the prison, Jimmy meets up with Rudy again, who is none too happy to see him, because Jimmy left Rudy behind at the scene of the crime, but of course all is soon forgotten after they attend an anger management class led by the prison therapist, Annabelle (Olivia Williams). Jimmy discovers that the warden (Christopher Plummer) has written a musical on the life of Lord Horatio Nelson, and he begins a plan to escape from the prison after the performance. Jimmy is cast as Nelson of course, and Annabelle gets thrown into the roll of Lady Emma Hamilton. Soon, a completely unbelievable romance develops between Jimmy and Annabelle, and the escape plan begins to go awry. Timothy Spall wastes his talents on the role of Cliff, Jimmy’s cellmate. The story line surrounding Cliff and his family wallows in sentimentality and goes for the easy tears. Ron Cook plays Perry, a stereotypical, one-dimensional big meanie of a prison guard. There’s nothing fresh or exciting about this by-the-numbers caper; the film is purely ridiculous. It’s implausible, unfunny, and it makes light of the harshness of prison life. The only humor to be found is in the scenes from Nelson: The Musical, with its absolutely dreadful lyrics written by actor Stephen Fry, but that’s it. This film is disposable because it lacks sincerity and aims for the lowest common denominator.

CQ
Directed by Roman Coppola
Filmmaking is definitely in Roman Coppola’s blood. His father is the legendary Francis Ford, and his sister, Sophia, has made a name for herself as the director of The Virgin Suicides. Now it’s Roman’s turn to show what he can do. At the age of 35, Coppola is no stranger to a film set; he’s worked second unit for his father and sister, and his groundbreaking music video direction has garnered him several awards. His first feature film, CQ, premiered at Cannes, and had its second major showing here in Edinburgh. It’s a superficially complex, sometimes engaging tale, penned by Coppola himself.

“I wanted to make something that was really me, something only I could do, something personal that would appeal to me,” said Coppola. “The idea developed from my schizophrenic interests. I love things that are more artful and sincere, and then I have an attraction to the crazy, outlandish, comic book kind of stuff. I struggled with the idea of creating something that addresses both sides of myself.”

The result of this struggle is two films within a film. It’s Paris 1969, and Paul (Jeremy Davies) is the second unit director for Dragonfly, a campy futuristic sexcapade set in the hi-tech age of the year 2001. Paul is also making his own film, an honest film about life. He shoots himself sitting on his toilet, his French girlfriend (Elodie Bouchez) asleep in bed, and other mundane scenes from everyday life in an attempt to capture reality.

“The fact that I was going to be making my first film and that I set it in Europe, it just seemed natural to make a movie that I would experience directly,” said Coppola. “By being an American in Europe making his first film, I knew that that would come to bear on the film itself. I thought that would be a good basis to start from, that it would be personal so that I could really put my experiences into it.”

The separate worlds in CQ begin to overlap as Paul takes over the film after original director Andrezej (Gerard Depardieu) is fired for not being hip enough and flashy new director Felix (Jason Shwartzman) breaks his leg in a car accident. Paul begins to fall for the film’s star Valentine (Angela Lindvall), who plays the sexy double-agent Dragonfly, but, of course, in reality is a sweet, down-to-earth girl.

At this point CQ starts to heat up, but it’s already an hour in, and it doesn’t really go anywhere. The most entertaining scenes come from the Dragonfly film particularly those involving Mr. E (Billy Zane) a space-age revolutionary with an uncanny resemblance to Che Guavera.

Coppola surrounded himself with a seasoned cast, except for Lindvall, a model-turned-actress who should probably stick to modelling. Depardieu and Giancarlo Giannini, and Dean Stockwell give the film an aura of respectability that rarely comes from a first film.

“Gerard is very playful and unpredictable in a wonderful way; then Giancarlo is an incredible craftsman in a precise way that was sort of shocking to me. He’s a total virtuoso with his craftsmanship,” noted Coppola.

The film’s finest moment comes in Stockwell’s roughly 10 minutes of screen time. The seasoned actor is a joy to watch in any film, and his performance as Paul’s father shows just how talented and skilful he has become over his 50 plus years in film. Coppola acknowledged Stockwell’s greatness, “It makes it easier when you have someone like Dean; I respect him so much. You just trust that he knows better than you do.”

As the film crawls to its somewhat disappointing end, it feels unfinished, even though the story has run it’s course. It’s beautifully shot and well acted, but it lacks cohesion and energy. Even though CQ has its flaws, Coppola should be applauded for his sheer ambition and his ability to coax strong performances out of his actors. It’s not a great film, but very few first features are.

Destiny Lilly is a writer and film critic living in England.



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