Danish drama about a female soldier who returns from the war and takes a job as a driver for her father's call girl business.
Nothing like a dose of Scandinavian miserablism to kick the Festival off in style. I really enjoyed this. Trine Dyrholm stars as Lotte, a Danish soldier who returns home after the war and takes a job as a driver for her father's (Finn Nielsen) call girl business. Her most regular client is Lily (Lorna Brown), a Nigerian woman who's also her father's current girlfriend. Lily's goal seems clear: she sends money home to her 9 year-old daughter every week and she'll only work till she's paid off her debt to the “madam” that brought her to Europe. In the meantime, she considers herself lucky to be the boss's girlfriend. Despite a somewhat prickly start, the two women forge a gradual friendship, but when Lotte tries to help Lily out of her situation, she doesn't get the reaction she expects. The three central performances are superb, particularly Dyrholm, whose tough, hard-drinking exterior is masking a deep pain that is only hinted at. The ensuing relationships in the film are genuinely fascinating, not just between Lotte and Lily but also between Lotte and her father and also her next-door neighbour. Director Annette K Olesen lets the relationships play out at a slow place that reflects Lotte and Lily's reluctance to open up to anyone, so that even a small thing like the two women kicking a Coke can around seems like a huge step forward. A superbly acted, sharply written and emotionally engaging drama. Four stars.
Blackly comic Swedish drama in which a man returns home for his father's funeral and finds sibling rivalries re-emerging with the brother he left behind.
Make that two doses of Scandinavian miserablism. Directed by the delightfully named Per Hanefjord, Elkland is a Swedish comedy (it says here) starring Jimmy Lindstrom as Henrik, who returns to his remote small town home after an absence of several years, in order to attend his father's funeral. In fact, the coffin (which, in the film's funniest scene, turns out to be too small) arrives at the same time as he does – they're both dropped off, separately, at a crossroads, where they're eventually picked up by Henrik's younger brother Ronnie (Orjan Landstrom). Things quickly get much darker: it turns out that Ronnie has hidden their father's body (because that's what he wanted) rather than taking it to the morgue prior to the funeral; their mother is also on her death bed and immediately asks Henrik to kill her (because it wouldn't be fair to ask Ronnie); Henrik's ex-girlfriend (and possibly ex-fiancee), Liv (Anna Azcarate) turns out to be his mother's nurse; and on top of that, Ronnie overhears his mother's deathbed euthanasia request and it awakens old sibling rivalries. There are several good moments – the sequence where they're moving the body around could have been a short called “Dead Santa” - and the scene that gives the film its title is also very sweet. I liked the Christmas tree story too. However, the film ends rather abruptly, as if they'd written a slightly more emotional finale and then just decided against it. Enjoyable enough, but didn't really add up to much. Three stars.
The Hurt Locker
Drama directed by Kathryn Bigelow, about a US bomb disposal unit in post-war Iraq.
This will actually be Day Nine's featured review, so I'll keep this short, but I really enjoyed this. Jeremy Renner's been one of my favourite actors ever since I saw him in Twelve and Holding and Neo Ned at previous Edinburghs. It's a shame those films either didn't get released (Neo Ned) or had only blink-and-you'll-miss-it theatrical releases (Twelve and Holding played at a Wimbledon cinema for one week in London) because otherwise, I'm convinced he'd be a much bigger star. I think of him as the new Sam Rockwell, not that there's anything wrong with the current Sam Rockwell. Anyway, Bigelow orchestrates some terrifically tense bomb disposal scenes (Renner plays a fearless bomb disposal expert who seems to have learned the art of bomb disposal from watching the Lethal Weapon movies) as well as a thoroughly gripping (and scary) sniper shoot-out sequence. It's my firm belief that every thriller needs a good "Oh fuuuuuuuuuuck..." moment and The Hurt Locker has one about every 20 minutes or so. Strong performances from Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty too (who, after 28 days of Renner-induced stress are seriously contemplating "accidentally" killing him) and there are also a series of brilliant cameos from Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and, in a bit of a "What the fuck?!?" moment (for me, anyway), Lost's Evangeline Lily. Four stars. (Oh and I really had to resist the urge to shout "WAAALLLLL-EEEEE!" during the opening disposa-bot scenes...)
Big River Man
Documentary about eccentric Slovenian Martin Strel and his attempt to swim the length of the Amazon
Directed by John Maringouin and narrated by the subject's son Borut (no relation to Borat), Big River Man follows the extraordinary story of eccentric Slovenian Martin Strel, who has made it his life's ambition to swim the world's rivers in order to draw attention to world pollution. Having already swum the Danube, the Mississippi and the Yangtze, the film joins Martin as he prepares to swim the Amazon, all 4000+ kilometres of it. Incredibly, it takes almost 70 days, during which Martin essentially goes insane. He's not the only one - their American navigator Matt (who got the job because he volunteered, not because he knew anything about navigation) cracks up right alongside him and has a severe attack of the Timothy Treadwells, repeating sentences like "He's like the last superhero in the world, man" and "It's five minutes to midnight, man..." over and over again. (There's a weird bit where Martin and Matt both disappear overnight - we never find out what happened but Martin is found naked on a beach stroking a tree and neither of them are every quite the same again). This is a film of which Werner Herzog would most definitely approve (I would kill to know if he's seen it) - in fact, one might almost call it Herzogian in its study of obsession and insanity. It's frankly astonishing that Martin is allowed to continue - his face being fried by sunburn early on is bad enough, but by Day 50 it's a miracle he's still alive. There are, not surprisingly, some extraordinary scenes and you also get some moving details that shed light on the root of Martin's obsession (the story of his first endurance swim speaks volumes). Other highlights include: the revelation that Borut "plays the part" of Martin for all radio interviews; Borut inventing the "white mask method" of endurance swimming (solving the sunburn problem and making headlines worldwide); Martin being named "The Fish Man" by the people of Brazil (he attracts HUGE crowds); and the completely surreal final scenes, where Martin apparently enters a "fourth dimensional state", collapses in a hotel room and will only be visited by a priest who's also a puppeteer. A strange, moving and unforgettable film. Four stars.