Paul F Cockburn gives pointers to five “must see” films at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
1: The Legend of Barney Thomson
It goes without saying that the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s opening gala is always a film which its organisers, at least, consider worth seeing. However, after a few genuinely odd choices in recent years – not least the vacuously stylish, but moronically brutal Hyena in 2014 – it appears the new team under Mark Adams have opted for a home-grown, more populist choice – which also, luckily, comes with the distinction of being a World Premiere.
Based on Douglas Lindsay’s acclaimed novel, The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, the film is Robert Carlyle’s feature-length directorial debut. Carlyle also stars as Barney, a socially-awkward barber who inadvertently stumbles into serial murder – with, apparently, increasingly absurd and macabre consequences. Carlyle has managed to gather together a great cast – including Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Ashley Jensen, Martin Compston and James Cosmo – so it’s a fair bet that Barney should be a genuinely black comedy of errors and a film to remember.
2: Brand New-U
Say what you like, but Edinburgh has always been friendly towards genre films – the 1982 festival memorably included British premieres for ET – The Extra-Terrestrial, Blade Runner, and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Once again there are quite a few SF, fantasy and horror films this year – and not just hidden away in the Night Moves strand; indie-SF film Brand New-U is even in contention for the prestigious Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film.
Written and directed by Simon Pummell (Bodysong, Shock Head Soul), Brand New-U follows Lachlan Nieboer as Slater, a man who is “brutally forced to move through a series of parallel lives as he attempts to find a lost love”. Co-starring Nora-Jane Noone (The Descent), Brand New-U is said to remix familiar elements of science fiction and thrillers into “a contemporary allegory of our search for identity and human connection in our rootless, media-saturated worlds”.
Another new Scottish film, also based on a novel, Swung promises to be a “sensuous, punky and poignant romance” that “delves deep into the secret underside of a very modern relationship, taken to its emotional and sexual limits”. Written by Ewan Morrison, the film is based on his much-praised 2007 debut novel of the same name – don’t worry, though, Morrison does have “previous” when it comes to filmmaking!
Directed by BAFTA-Scotland award-winner Colin Kennedy, the Glasgow-set story stars Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In), Owen McDonnell (Made in Belfast) and Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey). Given the apparent graphic nature of some of the content, Swung promises to be one of the most-talked about films of the festival, if only for actually attempting to take sex and relationships more seriously than is usually expected in cinema.
At the very least, it deserves to be the inspiration for many a colour supplement article on modern relationships.
Duel is arguably the most famous title in EIFF’s Little Big Screen strand of 70s and 80s US “made for TV” movies; it is, after all, Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut. Brilliant though his direction undoubtedly is, it’s fair to say that the future cinematic giant was lucky to have some very good material to work with – a note perfect script by Twilight Zone alumni Richard Matheson (who also scripted The Night Stalker), along with a captivating central performance from the late Dennis Weaver, who at the time was best known for lighter roles in western Gunsmoke and police drama McCloud.
More than 40 years later, this deeply unsettling tale – of a lone motorist caught in a nightmarish game of cat and mouse with a monstrous lorry and its unseen, almost supernatural driver – retains its bold power. Though, fittingly, it also remains enough of a cult to inspire fans to meet up regularly to follow the route shown in the film.
5: Chuck Norris vs Communism
Let’s be honest; this is worth checking out for the title alone, but it’s a documentary that succeeds by taking an unexpected angle to a more familiar subject; in this case, the cultural aspects of the Cold War.
Directed by Ilinca Calugareanu, the pitch is simple enough; back in 1980s Romania, a black-market VHS racketeer and a courageous female translator risked everything by helping ensure that thousands of Hollywood films were smuggled through the Iron Curtain, opening Romanians eyes to many aspects of Western culture.
While we might consider action flicks starring Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme to be, at best, guilty pleasures or something to watch “ironically”, in Romania such action films significantly provided sight of supermarkets stacked full of food, as well as the latest fashions and super cars – all of which helped Romanians believe that there was an alternative to Communism. Which, of course, the then Romanian government didn’t want people to know.