More from the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008

Danny rounds up another load of films from the Edinburgh festival - and manages not to embarrass himself in front of Robert Carlyle

Just Another Love Story

This weekend past I achieved something I’ve hoped to achieve since I was eight years old: buy a Sega Saturn. HELL YEAH. I have acquired X-Men: Children of the Atom, Panzer Dragoon and Sonic Jam, all waiting to be played on my 32-bit black box of joy. If anybody wants to hook me up with a multitap or two, a bunch of controllers and copies of NiGHTS and Saturn Bomberman, that’d be dandy. Truly, this is proof that you can get miracles WHEN YOU BELIEVE. And now, back to the 62nd Edinburgh International Film Festival!

Question: when did it suddenly get so warm in cinemas? That’s been two night screenings in a row where I actually felt like I was getting a fever or something, leading me to take off my socks, shift uncomfortably in my seat, and roll up my jean legs like a stereotypical tourist. If anything could have made these heated experiences any better, I would have been watching the films in nothing more than boxers, a vest and a cold glass with Three Fingers of Glenlivet (with a little bit of pepper and some cheese, word to Ron Burgundy). But that wouldn’t be a very good idea, so I tried my hardest to, y’know, not get thrown out of the cinemas we’re entering.

It’s been an odd couple of days, full of a bunch of stops and starts as everyone begins throwing themselves about in the knowledge we only have a few days left of the festival. The Best of the Fest lineup has been announced. The Delegate Centre bar isn’t quite as heaving as always. I haven’t slept enough. It’s been temperamental, but I was able to catch a few films for you dudes.

The most interesting of the few films I’ve caught in the past few days is undoubtedly Phie Ambo’s documentary Mechanical Love, which focuses on the modern incorporation of robot technology into both Western and Eastern culture. At the centre of the multi-stranded, internationally filmed story is Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University in Japan, who has made a (creepy) life-like android model of himself. Cue the usage of terms such as “Paro”, “geminoid” and “sonzai-kan” and multiple conversations concerning what makes humans humans and whether or not that can be replicated in a robot. Yikes, we’re in hard science territory here, no doubt. Ishiguro isn’t exactly the most likeable person to be about – indeed, he’s a visionary, but he also seems completely engulfed by his journey into advanced electronics. He tries to make a joke about his wife to seem like a normal married guy, but we watch him barely look her in the eye at home. He chooses his daughter as a test subject for his lookalike-bot, which culminates in one terribly unsettling scene (watch as Ishiguro, talking through his robot, tries to comfort his slightly scared daughter by saying: “Have you ever looked inside my body? How do you know daddy isn’t a robot?” I kid you not). Professor Ishiguro never actually smiles or seems pleased with his work, just doggedly determined to bring the future into the now. Ambo’s film could easily become a portrait of a man so determined to give robots emotions that he, well, kind of forgets how to use his own.

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Thank the Gods, then, for the Western focus on the issue. Apparantly the film was originally going to begin with children talking about playing with the Amazing Amanda doll, but in the film we encounter elderly people who are given copies of the aforementioned “Paro” to play and communicate with. Frau Körner, a nursing home resident in Germany, remains fully aware at all times that her Paro – a cute and cuddly baby seal-bot – is mechanical but she still falls in love with it, talking to it for hours and hours until her voice grows hoarse. The other residents of the nursing home are unnerved and find her odd, but is it really that bad that she has something to communicate with on a regular basis? Plenty of elderly people do – even though I have to say the usage of elderly dementia sufferers as test subjects for the Paro technology that is shown in the film is unsettling. But does that really matter when the end result is the emotional connection somebody like Frau feels for it? In one scene near the end, she whispers to her little seal-bot that it’s the best thing in her life. Mechanical Love closes on a famous quote, attributed to Eden Abhez: “The hardest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Guess we know how Ambo plays his cards. If you get a chance, check Mechanical Love out.

Coming out of the Filmhouse where Mechanical Love screened, a friend of mine stopped mid-sentence and looked to her right where Robert Carlyle, who’s in town for Stone of Destiny, was standing. I considered going up to shake his hand and try and get a picture for you guys but was at a complete loss at what to say, purely because I’d forgotten every single film he’d been in apart from Trainspotting and 28 Weeks Later (spoiler alert!). The only thing I could think of saying was “Mr Carlyle, I just wanted you to know that since 28 Weeks, me and all my friends find it impossible to not call you Zombie Carlyle. Have a good festival” so I thought against it and sped off to the Cameo for my next screening.

“Beautiful women and a mystery… isn’t that how all film noirs start?” asks Frank (Dejan Cukic) in the most meta sentence I’ve heard in a film for some time. Yes, Frank, they are. The film Frank features in is a bastardised Danish take on the film noir by the name of Just Another Love Story, or as my notes for the film would have it, “Something Love Something Something”. Let me break it down for you real quick: a respectable man (Anders W. Berthelsen) with a happy life risks it all for some ridiculous reason – contrivances and mixups follow, along with some grisly deaths. (You gotta have grisly deaths. It’s the law.) It starts out with a lot of promise, as the film shows three very different “love stories” – one ending in bloodshed, one showing a tender sex scene between a married couple, one ending in, erm, bloodshed again (romantic bloodshed, actually) – but like the film it reminds me of most, Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One, it breaks its back on a rapid series of contrivances in its third act, smothering itself in scenes of graphic violence as if that can cover up all the cracks in the story. There’s also the most annoying deus ex machina of all time – amnesia is so very Heroes, guys – and some really unnecessary over-stylised dialogue. But, despite all of this, Ole Bornedal makes this entertaining enough. I don’t know if he intended it to feel so trashy, though.

Bananaz! Okay, so it’s not the “Gorillaz movie” that’s been talked about for so long – I guess we’ll see whether or not the Terry Gilliam-aided film ever makes it out of development limbo – but it’s as good as we’ll get right now, an enjoyable amble into what the creative process actually entails for co-creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. Directed by close associate Ceri Levy, Bananaz follows Albarn and Hewlett over a six-year period in which they introduce their manufactured experiment to the world (and the word “experimentation” is used a lot) only to see it go places they never would have imagined. To their credit, Albarn and Hewlett seem amusingly confused at the whole situation, with their only response being to throw themselves further into their work – and what this film shows you, in its sometimes-grainy, sometimes-beautiful filming collage, is that their work is truly art for the senses. Bananaz admittedly doesn’t go much further than this, and it doesn’t explain why the characters connected with audiences (after the first twenty minutes, 2D et al are barely mentioned) but Levy’s film is just fine without that. It’s the concept, pitch, collaboration, tour, pitch, collaboration, tour cycle shown in full swing as a series of viginettes (Hewlett calling the NME “cunts” is a highlight) and it works just fine. Levy was there for a Q A following the film, and I had to ask him whether or not he was surprised at just how well the public connected with the characters. He didn’t seem so, having always had faith in Hewlett’s storytelling since Tank Girl – but he did say that guitarist Noodle’s “death” was bigger than “finding out who shot J.R.”

Festival director Hannah McGill was there for the Q A, where we found out that she met Levi at a Blur concert when she was fifteen, so they were an amiable pair to watch. As Levi praised the festival and its director at the Q A’s close, they smiled and gave each other a big cuddle. Awwwww.

Ran into Alex Orr of Death Car infamy once again at the Bananaz screening. He didn’t talk much, which he blamed on still being jetlagged. I know the feeling (despite not having been in a plane for a good few months or suffering from jetlag since my last time in Peru, but dammit, I was tired too).

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By the time the ten o’clock screening of Derek Son’s Cadaver came about, I was ready to fall asleep, but I stayed up only for me to suddenly feel feverish about halfway through. I took my shoes off and squirmed a lot, and it really sucked that I couldn’t enjoy the film as much as I wanted. Still, Son’s film is really one of those “if you liked this…” efforts. Example: if you enjoyed stuff like The Eye then you’ll enjoy the well-crafted piece of entertainment that is Cadaver. If you didn’t, then you may just have the same problems I had with it. For a horror film, there’s nothing that really approaches a proper scare nor is there a haunting mood established, but there is an attractive young cast and the whole thing is beautifully shot. Carl should have more to say in his upcoming review, but as well-made as it was, Son’s film didn’t do it for me as much as his introduction via translator. To sum it up, Son spoke in a hushed voice, saying that his film was a mix of Eastern and Western horror, then saying that it wasn’t, then claiming that the film is good for two reasons: its mood and its soul. Then, thinking about it, he wasn’t happy with any of what he just said, told the crowd to forget it and to just enjoy the film. Neither I nor Carl stayed for the Q A afterwards because I felt totally burned out and was enjoying a headache. Time to call it a night.

Today, I’m hoping to catch the first and second parts of my little festival viewing experiment, Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest before viewing North Korean propaganda documentary The Juche Idea. Tonight, either I go see the Surprise Movie or a special presentation of Jason and the Argonauts with the legendary Mr Ray Harryhausen himself in attendance… hmm, what to pick?

Before I scoot off, I thought I’d tell you guys that I was vaguely namedropped in the Empire EIFF blog by Damon Wise – go check it out. As for me, I’m off to find something caffeinated or some paracetemol to get me through the day. Covering film festivals – kids, don’t try this at home.