Page 12, 13th June 2008

13th June 2008
Page 12
Page 12, 13th June 2008 — From the powerful to the purely escapist

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Organisations: South African government


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From the powerful to the purely escapist

Laurence Green

ver 140 feature films from 29 countries will be screened at this year's Edinburgh film festival, which for the first time has moved from its regular August slot to avoid clashing with the official and Fringe festivals. According to Hannah McGill, the festival's artistic director, the programme ranges from "powerful, artistic and political statements to works of pure, escapist entertainment".

British cinema provides both the opening and closing films, namely John Maybury's period romance The Edge of Love and Vito Rocco's dry but endearing comedy Faint/wart, about a loveable nerd with a passion for battle re-enactments.

One of the most eagerly awaited films is Shane Meadows 's Somers Town. and it doesn't disappoint. Northern runaway Tomo (splendidly played by Thomas Turgoose) arrives in London with nothing but a bag and a swagger. Within bouts he has been mugged and had his bag stolen. A chance meeting with bored Polish teenager Marek is Tomo's only hope. Together the two pursue moneymaking scams and the affections of a French waitress. It is a film about cross-cultural friendships and it achieves a naturalistic, freewheeling quality — the dialogue appears as if it had been improvised. The glistening monochrome photography vividly captures the bleakness of the London setting and, although the film lacks the power and depth of Meadows's prize-winning This Is England, it is nevertheless funny, charming and compassionate — sending you out of the cinema with a smile on your face.

A beautiful study of a rural Welsh community is provided by Gideon Koppers Sleep Furiously. Koppel 's camera quietly observes the change in the landscape and its inhabitants as the population grows older, the primary school faces closure and the mobile library resists change. Set against a soundtrack by Aphex Twin, the documentary examines the current issues facing the farming community by transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Take a strong element of suspense, add a star-crossed romance and mix with a wry comedy of manners and the result is Ira Sachs's unconventional Married Life. Businessman Harry decides he must kill his wife Pat because he loves her too much to let her suffer when he leaves her for his much younger girlfriend Kay. The trouble is his best friend Richard wants to win Kay for himself.

This is a film which constantly confounds expectation. While it plays with mystery and intrigue, its ultimate concern is the nature of married life. Indeed in its sly way the movie poses perceptive questions about the seasonal discontents and unforeseen joys of all long-term relationships. It is aided by a stamp script and accomplished performances from Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams and Pierce Brosnan.

Possibly the most inspirational film in the festival is Louise Hogarth's Angels in the Dust. This documentary centres on Marion Cloete, who gave up her privileged life in a suburb of Johannesburg to build an orphanage where she feeds, educates and cares for more than 500 children whose lives have been shattered one way or another by Aids. This challenging film shows Marion's efforts to ease suffering, save lives and spread awareness as the South African government steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the crisis.

Documentaries rarely come as powerful as Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure. Here Morris (The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War) obtains first-person testimony from soldiers charged with prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004, including the notoriously camera-friendly Lynndie England. It is hard not to recoil as their justifications clash with the repellent photographic evidence. But the most disturbing aspect of the film is how far these individuals acted as scapegoats for decisions taken much higher up the chain of command.

The biggest surprise of the festival is Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor, a small-budget film which makes a big impact. The protagonist is Walter Vale, a widower of five years who leads an aimless life as a professor in Connecticut. When Walter reluctantly agrees to fill in for a colleague at a conference in New York he discovers a young couple — a Syrian man called Tarek and his partner Zainab — have been scarnmed into illegally renting his vacant flat.

Walter agrees to let them stay until they find a place of their own, and soon Walter and Tarek form a friendship of which the more guarded Zainab disapproves. An arbitrary interaction with the police lands Tarek, an undocumented New Yorker, in a detention centre and Walter is the only person able to visit him. As the four people struggle with the realities of the American immigration system their shared humanity is revealed in awkward. humorous and dramatic ways.

Here McCarthy confirms the promise of his earlier film. quirky comedy The Station Agent. With an almost documentary-style approach, first-rate performances and an excellent script, the film not only puts a human face on the issue of immigration but also manages to break down cultural barriers and restore one's faith in humanity. A real gem.

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