Edinburgh Film Festival: Boogie Woogie and Surrogate reviews

Our latest update from EIFF brings Gillian Anderson in Boogie Woogie, and the storm-attracting Surrogate...

After Monday’s post-Antichrist flu, I spent pretty much the remainder of the day in bed and woke up for a 9:15 press screening of Boogie Woogie, feeling healthy and well-rested. I should have stayed in bed.

Boogie WoogieBoogie Woogie is a multi-narrative British film based around the London art scene, full of collectors, artists and various hangers-on. Art Spindle (a devilish Danny Huston, turning his character’s snickering into a running joke), a dishonourable art dealer, is trying to get his hands on a Piet Mondrian painting – the Boogie Woogie of the title – but is challenged by rival Bob Maccelstone (Stellan Skarsgård), and both face the difficulty of actually convincing long-term owner Alfred Rhinegold (Christopher Lee) to give up the painting.

Meanwhile, Dewey (Alan Cumming) is finding out the hard way that nice guys finish last, Rhinegold’s wife Alfreda (Joanna Lumley) and butler Robert (Simon McBurney) are secretly trying to up the value of the Mondrian, and everyone professionally involved with Maccelstone and Rhinegold are sleeping with each other like Twin Peaks’ pilot.

Despite the presence of Damien Hirst as a consultant and a cameo from Gaetano Jouen, Duncan Ward’s film doesn’t offer any real insight to what the post-YBA art scene is, which is a shot in the foot for a satire. Danny Moynihan, adapting from his own novel, decides to simply drop artists’ names into characters’ conversations while teaching us that people are ruthless in the search for success. Well, duh. To illustrate this, director Duncan Ward falls into a dull visual style, allowing his film to look like an ITV movie and showing a clumsy hand in keeping a consistent tone throughout.

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It’s a shame, because the art world could do with being knocked down a few notches in a smart, vibrant manner. However, it seems that everyone involved with Boogie Woogie is confused as to what film they’re actually making. Ward is unsure whether to make his satire a biting drama or a cruel comedy; instead of writing an appropriate score, Janusz Podrazik hits the ‘light jazz’ demo on his Casio; editor Kant Pan cuts haphazardly in the middle of scenes, killing any natural flow; Alan Cumming is performing in some obscure theatre production about a man losing his mind; Jaime Winstone is in a Nuts wet dream, snogging Gemma Atkinson and Heather Graham; Amanda Seyfried is attempting to find pathos in the most gratuitous up-skirt shots; Danny Houston is in a far better film.

Surrogate The accomplished almost-feature debut from Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalow Ezer, has been an oddly controversial title in a festival that usually skirts trouble. In a rare instance that reveals the inner workings of film festivals to the public, Ken Loach angrily criticised the EIFF’s decision to receive a grant allowing Ezer to bring her film to Scotland – the donation being from the Israeli Embassy. Loach, a long-time pro-Palestinian activist, said in a May interview with The Scotsman that “massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable”. Along with other filmmakers, Loach had seemingly placed enough pressure to influence the festival to return the grant and pay for Ezer out of their own pocket. Cue accusations of anti-Semitism and, as artistic director Hannah McGill told me, an angry phonecall from a Warner Bros executive. This year, the festival was truly stuck between a rock and a hard place, and Ezer has told me she’s crashing in a Eurohostel for the time being.

But unlike Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, a film in this year’s festival which happily courts controversy wherever it goes, Surrogate ran the risk of having its low-key, non-showy honesty overshadowed by the shitstorm surrounding it. Eli (Amir Wolf) is a troubled young man who finds himself the patient of a physical surrogate by the name of Hagar (Lana Ettinger). Eli cannot connect physically and around his family he seems aloof, unrelaxed. What is the matter with him? Is this Hagar’s sex surrogacy the best thing for him and for her as well?

Ezer’s film is honest without cooing its every emotional reaction in your ear, thoughtful without ever pushing its ideas in your face, adult cinema dissecting sexual politics rather than, well, dissecting sexual organs (thanks, von Trier). Surrogate is one of the best films of the festival, but suffers from one major flaw – at just under an hour, it’s not enough and has no real conclusion. Arguably, it’s a small sacrifice to spare – we are spared bad metaphors, overly pat explanations, the usual end-of-movie tropes – but it’s still a film without a fully formed third act. Luckily, Ezer is working on a new film called New Family that will follow up on some of the themes covered in Surrogate and her short films. All controversy aside, such promise keeps us waiting, wanting more.

Sorry for running behind for the past few days, but I have been dealing with two things over the past couple – my notoriously heavy hayfever/flu mix rearing its ugly head again, and trying to snare tickets to Mogwai’s secret gig at the screening of the All Tomorrow’s Parties documentary, excitingly titled All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Next, I will have a post for you about film criticism doc For The Love Of Movies and will be letting you know about as many short films as I can, screening in the videoteque based in the festival’s Delegate Centre. Oh, and unless something comes up (like horrible hayfever, shall we say), I’ll be at the UK premiere of Dario Argento’s Giallo tonight. As Squeaky Voiced Teen from The Simpsons once told us, “Keep watching the skis-I mean, skies.”

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