RT-UK at the 15th Raindance Film Festival
We give you our recommendations for the films to see at the UK's best celebration of indie cinema.
Every film festival throws up some films that demand to be watched again and again, and this year's Raindance Film Festival has delivered more than most. These are very special treats and if you only see four films at this year's festival, see these. If you can't make it to London, find an opportunity to see them anyway.
In describing Once as the Irish busker musical, we've met looks of derision that, frankly could be collected together into a book all about looks of derision. One'd hope it's not the Irish part that irks people. Still, we've instead taking to describing it thus: It's the Irish busker musical that Stephen Spielberg said gave him enough inspiration to last the year.
High praise indeed, and we're sure the film's marketing department is wringing its hands with glee. But importantly, he's on the money; this is not just an Irish busker musical but one of the most uplifting and invigorating films of the year. It's not a musical in the sense that Dreamgirls is a musical. It's not full of show-stopping tunes and crashing big-band numbers. Instead it's a beautiful story which is furthered through exceptional Irish folk music from its leads Glen Hansard, of The Frames, and Markéta Irglová. The songs will stay with you, and if you only buy one soundtrack this year it'll be this one.
It's almost a shame it's already been released in the US. Don't get us wrong, we're thrilled with the high-nineties Tomatometer, but we'd have loved to have been the first to say that Once is a film you'll almost certainly want to see more times than its title suggests.
Gus van Sant is fascinated with adolescence, and his fascination has thrown out some deeply meditative films in the last few years. From his Cannes triumph Elephant, through Last Days and now Paranoid Park, van Sant's stoic trilogy is a labour of love that seems to shun convention at every turn.
While Last Days, ostensibly a biopic of the final hours of Kurt Cobain, and Elephant, about high-school serial killers, have courted controversy, Paranoid Park plays things decidedly safer, adapting Blake Nelson's novel about a skater boy who accidentally kills a security guard while venturing out-of-bounds on Portland's rail network.
And because it's safer it's also probably his most accessible of the three - Elephant and Last Days did little until their powerful endings while Paranoid Park first introduces us to Alex (played by newcomer Gave Nevins) before exploring how the accident affects his life.
The film looks beautiful and is rather unconventionally shot in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, while 8mm cutaways punctuate the film gracefully. It's a testament to van Sant's ability that he can say so much by doing so little; you could collect the film's dialogue on a postage stamp.
On paper WAZ (the A is actually a Delta symbol so it's pronounced Was or W-Delta-Z depending on the mood you're in) looks like every other torture porn movie cluttering cinemas at the moment. But to lump it in with Saw and Hostel would be to do it a disservice, because this debut feature from director Tom Shankland is much more inventive.
Detective Eddie Argo and his new partner, Helen Westcott, begin investigating a series of grisly murders with one thing in common; a mathematical equation has been carved into each of the victims. When they learn that the equation - the WAZ of the title is a part of it - is designed to test altruism, and that the victims are being offed in pairs, forced to kill each other to "save" themselves, the case turns even nastier, and as Westcott gets to know her new precinct she's seeing things that don't add up in the police department's handling of previous cases.
Set in New York but filmed, predominantly, in Belfast, with a cast that includes a Swede, an Australian and a Brit, the accents are a touch on the unpredictable side, but stirring performances from Stellan Skarsgard, Melissa George, Ashley Walters and Selma Blair make you forget those troubles, and the film creates a visually arresting universe and ramping tension that keep you glued to the screen.
Out of every film festival there comes at least one movie any festival-goer is kicking themselves for missing. For us, in Edinburgh, it was In Search of a Midnight Kiss. When the reaction from critics is as positive as was the reaction for this rom-com set on the eve of the New Year, the feeling that you're missing out on something special is intense.
Thank the Lord for Raindance, and another opportunity to catch what is probably the best American indie in years. The tale of a couple who meet a few hours before midnight after a hookup on Craigslist, In Search of a Midnight Kiss follows them almost in realtime as they get to know one another and discover things they like and things that they don't. Photoshopped porn and a mad dash to save possessions when the ex threatens to break out the gasoline keep things light, but the comedy serves the drama rather than diminishing it, making this the perfect date movie; it's funny and heartwarming.
Shot in black and white, the heart and humour are already drawing comparisons to Kevin Smith's Clerks, and not unfairly so. But to sum it up like that, positively or not, would be to do its originality a disservice.