The 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival wound down yesterday with closing night film Brave. The screening – it was the film’s European Premiere – took place in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre and was attended by Kelly Macdonald, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane, who all lend their voices to the film, along with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who presumably saw it as an allegory about Scottish Independence.
The Festival has formed a good relationship over the years with Pixar: in the past it has held the UK or European premieres of “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E” and “Toy Story 3.” It therefore was a bit of a no-brainer to close the Festival with a film connected both to Pixar and Scotland. It seems to have gone down well and will be popular amongst its target audience, and the film looks absolutely stunning, but I had a few reservations about the somewhat by-the-numbers plot. Some are concerned about the trend, observed in this and Pixar’s last film, “Cars 2,” of going for broader, less intelligent stories but given that the two films that preceded those were “Up” and “Toy Story 3” I don’t think we have too much to worry about. My full review is available here.
I had hoped to catch documentary The Imposter after “Brave” but after the press & industry screening was shifted to a smaller screening room – leading, no doubt, to fights among the Festival staff about who would get the remaining few seats – the film started late and I couldn’t make it to the Cameo in time for “The Imposter,” about which I’ve heard good things. It is one of a small handful of films that I regret missing this year; others include the Portuguese film Tabu, which I have not heard a bad word about, and horror anthology V/H/S. I have a soft spot for these portmanteau-horrors (I watched Mario Bava’s “Black Sabbath” just last night) but they are, almost by definition, imperfect.
I made the mistake, just after “Brave,” of telling a fellow writer that I hadn’t seen anything I’d hated at the Festival this year. Me and my big mouth. I had already seen what I thought was the worst film I’d see at this year’s Festival: the Portuguese A Woman’s Revenge, following a narrator who discovers a prostitute who turns out to be a former Countess. She relates her story to the narrator and we see it played out in sequences that are beautifully composed – ‘painterly,’ the notes say – and completely, hopelessly lifeless. Dead, in fact. The film is practically embalmed. The Catalogue tells me it occasionally threatens ‘to collapse under the weight of its own artifice’ – but something can’t collapse if it’s already catatonic. Its attempts to appear provocative or shocking are lame and incongruous and there’s a pathetically post-modern conclusion. Full disclosure: I was a bit exhausted when I saw the film, and had a quick snooze at one point. I do not think I missed much.
“A Woman’s Revenge,” however, is merely a bad movie; like other films I’ve seen at the Festival it is both aesthetically pleasing and fatally self-important. I followed “Brave” with a film that I truly hated. The title – Life Just Is – was enough to put me off, but having missed “The Imposter” I decided to keep an open mind. I imagined, to be honest, a lot of self-obsessed navel-gazing twenty-somethings (such movies inspire hyphenates) sitting around wondering about their lives and relationships and the Meaning Of It All. I thought it would be painful.
Reader, the movie I imagined was a masterpiece compared to the one I got. “Life Just Is” fails on almost every level, and therefore I don’t take much pleasure in kicking it when it’s down, but it’s hard not to get annoyed at a movie that is so determined that it is about something – and something important, at that. It takes place over a week in a flat where a group of post-grads try to find some sense of purpose. The days are announced by titles and by the time it gets round to ‘Thursday’ you’ll think the film is taking place in real time. It has the gall to begin with the characters watching a cheesy rom-com and saying a) well, that’s 90 minutes of my life I won’t get back (a spectacularly unwise opening line), and b) that life just isn’t like that.
It is true that life is not like rom-coms, but aside from the fact that the people who enjoy them are usually smart enough to know that they do not represent real life, the fact is that the characters in your average POS rom-com probably have more in common with real people than the characters in this film. The characters in this, in fact, are not characters. They would seem a bit one-dimensional if they were in a “Friday the 13th” movie, let alone a navel-gazing drama like this. They aren’t just bland; they’re really irritating one-dimensional stereotypes, and the longer I watched it, the more I wished that they were, in fact, in a “Friday the 13th” movie.
I wouldn’t presume to give advice to first-time directors, but I would point out that, generally, if you are making your first movie you are infinitely better to try your hand at a genre movie and smuggle whatever meaning you want into the subtext, rather than attempt to have those philosophical questions carry the whole film. I’m not being flippant about the “Friday the 13th” thing – I really did start to think that the only thing that could make me interested in the goings-on in this flat is the presence of Jason Voorhees – or Michael Myers, or a Xenomorph, or those things from “Shivers.” I’d like to hear what the characters’ take on the existence of God is when sex-crazed parasites start climbing out their bathtubs.