Edinburgh Film Festival Day 2 - Traffic Department, Struck By Lightning, Old Stock

trafficdepartment You have to keep your ear pretty close to the ground at a Film Festival, and given the fact that I will only be consuming about a third of my usual Film Fest diet this year, I feel it's necessary if I am to gain any sense of how successful this year has been. And the general feeling seems to be... mixed. Predictably mixed, really: I'm told of good documentaries (We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks), intriguing genre oddities (Upstream Colour, from the director of Primer) and low-key dramas (This Is Martin Bonner). Nothing about the selection of films I've seen so far this year has indicated that the Festival has particularly picked up from the mediocrity into which it has settled. I've said it before, but since the Festival moved from its slot in August (where it battled it out with all the other major Edinburgh Festivals) the quality of the films has dipped; I've certainly never heard it said that the move improved... well, anything. Even the weather appears to have gone downhill. But, to the movies. Traffic Department (Drogówka) is a Polish police drama (/thriller) about a particularly corrupt branch of the Polish police, who see pay-offs and sexual favours as little more than perks of the job. The film employs various shooting techniques - including CCTV and low-res digital camera recordings - along with a quick-paced editing style. Its first half follows the antics of the branch as they are put under pressure from an internal investigation. Violence frequently erupts, a lot of it cop-on-cop. One of the police - the least corrupt - gradually emerges as the protagonist. This is Król (Bartlomiej Topa) who has a son and an estranged wife; both he and his wife are having affairs. After a night of heavy drinking, partying and fighting his wife's lover's body turns up in the river, and he is the main suspect; so begins the film's second half, in which he tries to clear his name and protect his family from repercussions. Both halves of the film are relatively effective in their own right but the shift makes the film feel curiously lopsided, as if the first half necessarily drains the second half of the suspense it needs. It felt to me that the second half in particular needed a tighter editing job, and greater clarity - although, it should be said, seeing multiple films at a festival can muddy your ability to follow a narrative just as much as a convoluted plot can. It is a well-performed film with memorable sequences, but overall given its derivative storyline it needed a clearer through-line to engage its audience. struckbylightning I followed Traffic Department with two indie comedies about teenage boys that make an interesting pairing. The first of these was Struck By Lightning, written by and starring Chris Colfer. I confess I had no idea who this is (he reminded me of a young, more high-pitched Jason Bateman or, as he was known at the time, Teen Wolf Too), but apparently he's one of the stars of the mightily successful TV series Glee. He is a good actor, and has some talent as a writer, but he has written his own character so smug and smart-alecky that I confess I really didn't mind seeing him struck down by the titular lightning bolt. This unlikely death scene opens the film, so I'm hardly spoiling anything; we then flash back to his last year at school. Both this film and the next I saw - "Old Stock" - reminded me of Wes Anderson's Rushmore in their central characters, although the protagonist of Struck By Lightning is too pleased with himself, his barbs too obviously written, for us to have much sympathy with him. Even his name makes him sound like bit of a tool: Carson Phillips. Carson - I mean, really - dreams of being the editor of The New Yorker, and despairs at the state of the school magazine, which he runs, so he uses the dirt he has on some of the school's students - the usual bunch of archetypes, one of who is foolish enough to say 'we are not clichés' at one point - to blackmail them into writing for him. Meanwhile his pill-popping mother (Alison Janney, reliable as ever) wrings her hands and his absent father (Dermot Mulroney) chases a younger woman. Carson's response to his home-life is to raise an eyebrow and pour on irony and scorn. It is curious that Colfer, who has written the role for himself, has apparently made the character asexual; he doesn€™t indicate any interest in the opposite sex, or the same sex, or indeed any sex. As his greatest desires seem to be embodied by The New Yorker, there€™s little left for us to identify with. He€™s a preening, self-satisfied eunuch; that the film knows he is smug, and has something to say about it, doesn€™t necessarily make his company any more enjoyable. oldstock The protagonist of €œOld Stock€ is, similarly, a young outsider with a detached air; his name is Stock Burton (I€™ll allow it) and he is played by Canadian actor Noah Reid. As the film opens he is laying low at his grandfather€™s retirement home, helping out with odd jobs and trying to keep out of trouble. It is intimated that he has forced himself into this €˜retirement€™ from his schoolmates and society at large as a result of his guilt about something in his past, for which he blames himself. The echoes of Max Fischer and €œRushmore€ are even stronger this time, particularly in scenes of Stock riding around in an old persons€™ scooter. I am not a big enough Wes Anderson fan to find this tone endearing in other films (there are also hints of €œGarden State,€ which this film€™s poster blatantly rips off). However I preferred Old Stock to Struck By Lightning, for the simple reason that I enjoyed the company of the protagonist more, and found myself smiling more often. There are some warm and amusing supporting performances, from Melanie Leishman in particular as a slightly nerdy girl who doesn€™t drift too far into indie-cookie-quirky territory, and from Danny Wells and Corinne Conley as Stock€™s estranged grandparents. There is something a little by-the-numbers about an indie comedy involving a dejected young man and the goings-on at a local retirement home; it€™s nothing you haven€™t seen before. Both it and Struck By Lightning are about Growing Up and Moving On, and both are a little too satisfied with themselves. They are, in other words, exactly the kind of low-key indie American comedies you find at a Film Festival. But I liked Stock, more than Carson at least; the latter may be wittier and sharper, but he's also more obviously a construction.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.