Steven Spielberg, Blu-ray
One of the few really great films about the Holocaust, Steven Spielberg's drama won seven Oscars,...
This year's film festival was certainly the best yet overseen by current artistic director Shane Danielsen. The quality control seemed to have increased following last year's somewhat disappointing line-up, with some of the most exciting new world cinema making an appearance this year.
The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael was this year's "controversial" title, following the previous years' Irreversible, Dans Ma Peau and Anatomy Of Hell. Made by debut 25-year-old British director Robert Clay, its tale of disenchanted youths has aroused revulsion owing to what if probably the most horrific rape scene ever shown on film. There is so much brilliance in this film, including some breathtakingly audacious scenes and some inventive camerawork, whilst the cinematography (by Angelopoulos' photographer Yorgos Arvanitis) is terrific. However, there are some poor performances (from the adults rather than the children, surprisingly), and the culminating rape scene mars an otherwise highly impressive debut feature.
Pirjo Honkasalo's incredible documentary The Three Rooms Of Melancholia deals with the Chechen conflict, showing us a military academy for young boys, young children being taken away from their sick mother in a bombed city and a refugee camp. There has been a degree of controversy over the extent to which this film can act as fiction, given the fact that actors were used in some scenes. But the filmic imagination at work is inspiring - before I saw the film I had heard Danielsen describe the film as the equal of anything by Tarkovsky and Bresson, which sounded like hyperbole. He was right, though - the mimesis and camera movement work beautifully in this stunning, moving masterpiece.
Dumplings is a wonderfully sick Hong Kong flick about the horrors people will go to in order to stay young and beautiful. The secret ingredient of the eponymous food is the key to rejuvenation, and when this is revealed it is a great moment of grotesque cinema. There are some very nasty scenes, but the pitch black comedy and marvellous performances (including a cameo by Tony Leung) make this well worth viewing. Not for the squeamish, though!
Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky, another debut director, was in Edinburgh to promote his film 4, which has been banned in Russia owing to its negative portrayal of the country's society (and some potentially libelous comments on Putin's wife's drinking habits). The first quarter of the film feels like a nightmare as surreal, unnerving images appear, such as four dogs fleeing from four terrifying drills, and a line of bloated dead piglets. The action then slows as one of three characters introduced in a bar travels to the funeral of her sister, held in a bizarre country town peopled by many old, bawdy hags. The film defies description, but it is a fascinating enigma and was one of the highlights of the festival.
Fateless, an epic Hungarian Holocaust drama based on the experiences of Nobel writer Imre Kertesz, rivals Schindler's List in quality - the unsensational depiction of the Nazi's atrocities and, most controversially, the epilogue in which the young boy returns home and expresses his longing to be back in the camp add a new spin to the standard depiction in many worthy films that have attempted to convey the horrors the Holocaust (one critic rather brilliantly described certain previous films as making the Holocaust seem like a grotesque theme park, stating that there is "no business like Shoah business" - luckily Fateless does not fall in this category). Hopefully this marvellous film will find a UK distributor very soon.
For me, the most exciting film was Ingmar Bergman's return to film after over twenty years of "retirement", Saraband, a follow-up to Scenes From A Marriage and starring Liv Ullmann (now 66) and Erland Josephson (now 82). Both are superb as they meet again after decades apart; although their venom is no longer directed at one another, Josephson's awkward son is the subject of much hatred from his father. Nobody depicts the dialogue of relationships quite like Bergman, and the characters' veering from tenderness to cruelty is expertly handled. If this is Bergman's final film, it will be a quite brilliant swan song.