Saturday, June 21, 2008
Day Four: "I wouldn't recommend a vacation to Iraq anytime soon"
Featured review of the day (and the best film of the festival): The Visitor
Earlier today I interviewed the director and stars of The Visitor: Tom McCarthy, Hiam Abbass and one of my favourite actors, Richard Jenkins. The interviews will be up on ViewEdinburgh and ViewLondon (see links, right) as soon as I type them up...
Standard Operating Procedure
Documentary by Errol Morris, investigating the truth behind the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal.
I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, but my first thought as I sat down to watch Standard Operating Procedure was "Wow, what a great Danny Elfman score - I wonder if the soundtrack is out yet?" That said, once the credits were over, I quickly settled into the required position of outrage, shock and horror. Acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War, Gates of Heaven) tackles the 2004 scandal surrounding the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The majority of the story is told in the words of the soldiers themselves, including the infamous Lynndie England, who featured in some of the most shocking photographs (holding a leash with a naked prisoner on the end of it; pointing at a hooded prisoner's naked genitals and doing a thumbs up sign, etc). Other voices include: General Janis Karpinski (scape-goated, despite voicing concerns); Army Investigator Brent Pack (who looks a lot like Bill Bailey and whose job it was to establish a time-line from all the different photographs and determine which incidents were crimes and which were Standard Operating Procedure (a climactic scene where dozens of photos of clear human rights violations are all stamped "Standard Operating Procedure" -or "S.O.P."- is devastating); Private Javal Davis (who first found out he was being scapegoated when he watched the news and was disturbed to discover the media had used a photo of him pulling an angry, mean-looking face from when he was winning a track event in high school); Sabrina Harman (the pretty, smiling woman from some of the most shocking photographs, who, despite her apparent complicity, voiced her own concerns in her letters home and took many photos herself as evidence of what was going on); and Civilian Interrogator Tim Dugan, who expresses his profound disillusionment with the War on Terror as a result of his findings. The film makes it abundantly clear that the soldiers were scape-goated as "rotten apples" and received unjust sentences as a result. England clearly says that "The example was already set when we got there" and Davis remembers his first question: "Why is everyone naked?" Shockingly, no-one higher than a staff sergeant was ever prosecuted. To be fair, none of this is really all that surprising if you follow the news, but I found the following things really shocking and I hadn't heard them before: 1) far from being known criminals, many of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were simply rounded up in the dead of night because they were "of fighting age". 2) As well as taking "fighting age" young men, the soldiers also imprisoned children and used them as bargaining tools ("If you want your children back, tell us where Saddam is") - as Davis points out, "I call that kidnapping"). 3) The sandbags you see on the heads of the prisoners were frequently soaked in hot sauce. 4) Far from being used purely to scare the prisoners, attack dogs actually attacked them on a regular basis. In short, then, this is a powerful, superbly made documentary that demands to be seen. Ideally, it should be seen in a double-bill with Alex Gibney's recent Oscar-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side. Four stars.
Incidentally, Errol Morris gave an excellent 40+ minute Q&A afterwards, which I recorded and will put up if I can figure out how to upload an mp3. He spoke verrrrry slooooowly though, so 40 minutes of questions was akin to 20 minutes of normal questions. The most interesting thing he said -in response to a question about the film not showing the prisoner's side- was that he'd tried to find the actual prisoners in the photos but had been unsuccessful.
Spanish time-travel thriller starring Kara Elejalde as a middle-aged man who investigates a crime, only to find that he committed it.
I'm a sucker for time-travel movies (my other favourite genre) so I was really looking forward to this. Karra Elejalde plays middle-aged businessman Hector, who lives in a country house with his loving wife Clara (Candela Fernandez). One day, he spies a naked woman (Barbara Goenaga) in the forest behind his house and is compelled to investigate, but as he approaches the woman he is attacked by a mysterious assailant clad in blood-soaked Invisible Man-style bandages. Seeking refuge in a scientific compound, Hector meets a nervous scientist (played by director Nacho Vigalondo), who stuffs him into a giant tank filled with white liquid...and when he gets out, seconds later, he discovers that it's about 12 hours earlier in the day and the scientist has no idea who he is... This was a lot of fun to watch and the performances were excellent (particularly the oddly impassive Elejalde), but I have to confess that I spotted every single twist well in advance. (If you've seen the vaguely similar Primer, you'll probably guess them too). I kept hoping all the way through for it to pull one final killer twist out of the bag and actually surprise me, but it didn't. Shame. It probably didn't help that one of the twists is the twist from my favourite film of all time. It was fun to watch though and fun trying to work out how all the players got into position, even when you knew what was coming next. It's already being remade though (by David Cronenberg?), so maybe the American version will have a more satisfying ending - I do actually have a better ending for it myself, but it's SPOILERIFIC, so I'll put it in the comments below after the public screenings. Love the Spanish poster (above, right) too - the tag-line says "The crime is only a matter of time". Three stars.
By the way, those of you paying close attention (both of you) will have noted that there's no review of Mum and Dad as promised yesterday. This is because Time Crimes overran and I decided to skip the screening of Mum and Dad rather than miss the first 15 minutes. I'll try and catch up with it in the videotheque though.