The awards are announced, the red carpets have been rolled up and returned to storage and, appropriately, the rain has returned to Edinburgh. The Festival is well and truly finished. The closing night film (the disappointing Third Star) ran on Saturday followed by the Best of the Fest on Sunday, where I saw Toy Story 3 again just to check if it is as good as I thought (it is).
It has not, most people agree, been a vintage festival. This is signified by the fact that Skeletons, a perfectly decent little movie, won the Michael Powell Award For Best British Film: in the past three years this award has gone to Moon, Somers Town and Control, all better movies than Skeletons.
I liked the movie, particularly for its turn from ever-reliable Jason Isaacs, but it is a slight achievement, particularly when placed aside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie it owes a debt to. I am not entirely surprised it won, as it was not up against any impressive competition (though I hear “Jackboots on Whitehall” is fun, and the Jury gave it a Special Mention at the awards).
Best International Feature (the jury of which itself featured Jason Isaacs) went to The Dry Land, which was the last movie I saw at the festival, and a definite high point. It is a sad, powerful movie with a very strong central performance. It tells the story of James (Ryan O’Nan), a soldier who returns home to the US from Iraq and finds it increasingly difficult to assimilate himself back into his old life. His wife Sarah (played by America Ferrara from Ugly Betty, giving a very good performance) is gradually pushed away by his unwillingness to let her help him and the threat of violence that seems to be simmering inside him.
The movie is part family-drama and part road-movie, as James and another of his army buddies go off to visit a third soldier, wounded in the war. But it has not a shred of Hollywood about it; it is direct and unsentimental, and effective at capturing not just James’s increasing torment but the environment around him; his wife, his friends and his family seem effortlessly believable. In a time when movies about Iraq remain largely unpopular, here is an intimate portrait of an individual gradually breaking down under the burden of the horrors he has witnessed.
It is the first feature work of director Ryan Piers Williams, who has previously worked on the editing of various Steven Soderbergh movies. Of all the award winners at this year’s festival, it is the most worthy and I highly recommend it. While it would be in poor taste to equate real horrors with fictionalised ones, it put me in mind of the documentary I saw last week, Restrepo, about young men in Afghanistan, some wondering how they will live with everything when they get home. That movie got a ‘special mention’ too for the Best Feature Documentary award, which went to The Oath, one I missed. Given the festival’s strength in this area I am curious to see it, as I thought “Restrepo” was likely to win.
The audience award went to Get Low, another movie I liked but did not love. It surprises me somewhat that it beat The Illusionist, for my money a far better movie, but it was a sweet, likeable picture and therefore perhaps divided the audience less than, say, Cherry Tree Lane (which didn’t even make it into the top ten).
Finally the Best New Director award went to Gareth Edwards, whose Monsters is one of the few movies from the fest to generate good buzz. I missed it yesterday thanks to a combination of tiredness and late trains, but am looking forward to seeing it. In its place I went to a documentary called Girl With Black Balloons, an enjoyable little personal project from a Dutch filmmaker called Corinne van der Borch. It is an hour-long look at the life of Bettina, an artist living in New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel. She has lived there for decades as an artist whose work isn’t shown anywhere; at the end of the movie when her work is displayed over the end credits, it seemed to my untrained eyes at least as interesting as half the stuff you’ll find in most modern art galleries. She claims to have been rejected from the Museum of Modern Art because they said that her artwork couldn’t all be the work of one person.
She is an interesting and entertaining subject, and while the persistence of the filmmaker can occasionally bring out her stubborn side, the movie is very affectionate towards her. Bettina has clearly struggled with various issues – her family does not keep in touch, and her life seems fairly secluded – and to modern eyes she may seem more quaint than bohemian. I found her more than interesting enough to justify the documentary, and enjoyed the filmmaker’s voice over: she has a beautiful voice, and doesn’t try to hide herself from view. It was a small but pleasant surprise. The website is girlwithblackballoons.com – my search on IMDb, remarkably, produced no results.
So, that’s it for another year. Not the best festival I have attended, but certainly worth it: in the past fortnight I have seen Partick Stewart, Sean Connery, Britt Ekland and Jason Isaacs, have seen The Man Who Would Be King, a masterpiece, on a huge screen with a huge audience, and have twice seen the new burst of Pixar brilliance with weeks left before its UK release. I have, in other words, enjoyed it.
Thanks go to Matt Holmes, editor of this site, and all the people who recommended things to me at the film festival.
Here, as a footnote, are my favourites from this year’s programme, the ones that really made it worthwhile:
1. Toy Story 3
2. The Dry Land
3. The Illusionist
5. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
‘Special mention,’ whatever that means: The Extra Man, Everything Is Going Fine.
Low point: Putty Hill. I only bring this up again because Roger Ebert has, inexplicably, given it a rave review. He is one of my favourite critics, and he’s dead wrong.
This article was first posted on June 30, 2010