Well, after eleven of the eighteen days of this year's Brighton Cine-City Film Festival I've seen an interesting, diverse selection of movies. Opening night movie Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh's follow up to the hugely enjoyable In Bruges, seemed to hit the spot for the sell out audience but only worked in fits and starts for me. A great cast - including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson - can't disguise the fact that this is derivative fare recalling Tarantino and Two Days in the Valley among others. Far more successful was local boy Ben Wheatley's Sightseers, a riotous black comedy doused with plenty of bloody violence. You can read my review here. Jake Schreier's debut, Robot & Frank, was a delightful, subtle and thoroughly satisfying tract on friendship and familial ties tinged with sci-fi and crime genre elements and Kim Nguyen's War Witch is one of the year's standout releases. An uncompromising child soldier drama infused with a dash of magic realism, War Witch is a strong contender for my personal film of the year. Read my review here.
Thomas Vinterberg's highly rated The Hunt, featuring a strong lead performance from the always excellent Mads Mikkelsen, is an inadvertently timely tale of the damage done to one man after he is wrongly accused of child abuse. Though The Hunt is solidly constructed I felt it was a little obvious, it's themes of persecution felt overly familiar and their exploration a touch trite at times. After making such a memorable splash with Festen in 1998, Vinterberg hasn't again made anything as strong, and while The Hunt is far better than the execrable Dear Wendy for example, it's not in the same league of his Dogme classic. Another of the festival's selection of debut movies came from Scott Graham with Shell, a bleak and unsettling story revolving around the titular character, her father and their existence living in a windswept highlands garage. Symbolism and metaphor run through a narrative touching on incestuous feelings, familial responsibility and isolation. Slow, brooding and stark, Shell won't be for everyone but it's an impressive calling card for both Graham and Chloe Pirrie in the leading role.
Francois Ozon delivered a smart, sprightly satire on middle class lives wrapped up in a tricksy narrative deconstructing the nature of storytelling itself with In the House. Kristin Scott-Thomas once again reminds us that her French is as good as her mother tongue in a supporting role as the art gallery managing wife of a literature teacher tempted into dangerous territories by a gifted, but pernicious, student. The slow food movement and a failing marriage come under the spotlight in Now, Forager, co-directed by Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund, who also wrote the screenplay and stars as one half of the married couple at the centre of the movie. This odd mix of relationship drama and ode to the joys of mushroom gathering certainly has an offbeat premise but truth be told it's an uninspiring experience, the increasingly estranged couple being neither particularly engaging or likable enough for it to make much of a lasting impression. My review of Now, Forager can be found here.
The final week of the festival also promises an eclectic range of themes and genres; British noir I,Anna, teen gang drama Gimme the Loot, bio-comedy Hyde Park on Hudson, horror compendium V/H/S, Side by Side (a documentary on the effects of digital technology on cinema), Cronenberg jr's Anti-Viral and Pablo Larrain's No will be the focus of part two of my Cine-City round up.