Octupi, matricide and tsunamis: a pick of the Edinburgh Film Festival

Still from 'Killer Joe'

By Amy Taylor

The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus

Alexandre O Phillippe/USA/2012/English, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian Dialogue with English subtitles/72 min

Showing: Filmhouse Fri 22 June 20:45, Cineworld Sat 23 June 15:05

Rating: * * * *

Returning to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, following the success of his standout documentary, The People Vs George Lucas, director Alexandre O Phillippe, turns his unique style of filmmaking towards the world’s most unlucky football pundit, an octopus named Paul, in this witty, funny and thought-provoking film, The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus.

Beginning with the oddly moving scenes of Paul’s cremation, Phillippe’s film uses interviews with those closest to the mysterious cephalopod to create a portrait that says more about humanity and world culture, than it does about Paul’s infallible legacy. Filmed in locations across the globe, including the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Russia and Paul’s former home at the Sea Life centre in Oberhausen, Germany, and featuring songs, films, animations inspired by Paul, the film delves into a number of issues ranging from the mathematical, the psychological, the philosophical, the mythological and the absurd. Like The People Vs George Lucas, Phillippe’s latest documentary, while impeccably researched and filmed, is very aware of its limitations; after all, just how much can you say about a supposedly psychic octopus? But what Philippe is concerned with is creating a film that presents all the sides of the story of Paul’s unique rise to fame, resulting in a piece that is well-rounded, philosophical, and at points, side achingly funny. From Paul having his own agent, to the ongoing debate about Paul’s official nationality, to a discussion about whether some animals are psychic, this film is as fulfilling as it is entertaining. While Paul’s position as a modern-day animal oracle is argued well, logic and numbers are also at play, as Paul’s chances of correctly guessing eight out of eight games at the 2010 World Cup are revealed to be 256 to one. A highlight of the festival this year, The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus is a surprisingly educational but ultimately cheeky new documentary.

 

Killer Joe

William Friedkin/2012/USA/ 103 min

Showing: Festival Theatre, Wed 20 June, 21:30

Rating: * * * *

William Friedkin’s long-awaited Killer Joe (pictured), adapted by the Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, Tracy Letts from his play of the same name, is this year’s Festival’s Opening Gala film. And while this darkly comic thriller has been the most anticipated film at the festival, they hype is to be believed, as Friedkin, Letts and Matthew McConaughey have committed one of the most inspired and memorable pieces of film committed to celluloid.

When Chris (Emile Hersch) needs $6,000 to pay off a debt, he and his family (Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church) decide to hire “Killer Joe” (McConaughey) to kill his estranged mother in order to get at her $50,000 life insurance policy, which will be paid out to his younger and very innocent teenage sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). But the lack of a cash deposit for Joe’s services means that he has to take a retainer, in this case, Dottie, before he carries out the murder, which takes Chris and his family into a deadly game of betrayal, violence and degradation. A strong mix of black comedy, thrills and explosions of violence, Killer Joe is a defiant and unapologetic film that explores and questions just what we would do for money by presenting this question in an extreme situation. While the film does leave certain questions unanswered and maintains a certain air of ambiguity throughout, the strength of Friedkin’s piece lies in its ability to not only get under the skin, but also to sink its teeth into your skull. Completely mesmerising and ultimately unforgettable, Killer Joe is an utterly unique and powerful film, that shows how vulnerable we all truly are, and how easily situations can spiral out of control. McConaughey’s turn as the cold, calculating, yet complicated hired killer, is both terrifying and inspiring; his performance is flawless, natural, and completely believable. Perhaps one of the darkest, yet most impressive films on the festival programme this year, Friedkin and Letts have created a simple yet catastrophically effective new piece of cinema that could become a masterpiece.

 

Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape (Soma kanka: dai ichi bu – ubawareta tochi no kioku)

Yojyu Matsubayashi/Japan/2011/Japanese dialogue with English subtitles /109 min

Showing: Filmhouse Thu 21 June 20:05, Cineworld Sat 23 June @ 18:50

Rating: * * *

The aftermath of the Japanese tsunami in April last year is the basis of Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape, a new documentary from Yojyu Matsubayashi , the director of the 2004 documentary For Those Who Work. Filmed just one month after the tsunami and the associated nuclear disaster at the Fukishima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant devastated north east Japan, freelance filmmaker Matsubayashi travelled within 20 km of the plant in order to document the effects of these destructive events on the remaining residents, including the inspirational Tanaka family.

Moving, informative and entertaining, Fukushima is more concerned with capturing the very real human cost of these disasters than it is of sensationalising the events of last year. Through interviews with survivors, Matsubayashi paints a portrait of contemporary Japan through the eyes of the older generation; revealing a country on the verge of great social change. This snapshot of Japan in its most vulnerable and most transitional state is what gives this film its power, as alongside scenes of destruction, are moments of comedy, tragedy and selflessness from all the film’s subjects, including the Tanakas. Issues of tradition are also brought to the forefront of the film, as the desecration of old temples and other ancient structures is juxtaposed perfectly with the film’s documentation of the younger generation’s apathy towards the older generation. A thought that’s only cemented by the elderly subjects of the documentary having to cope on their own, without the help of their children, or even their grandchildren. While the film does reveal some painful truths, it’s in essence, a celebration of all the contrasting pieces that make up humanity, including our fallible nature, our need for comfort, and above all our instinctive desire to survive, Fukushima provides a fascinating glimpse into the changing nature and attitudes towards the elderly in a country scarred by terrible natural disasters, but manages to remind us that hope and patience can get us through anything.

 

Him, Here After (Ini Avan)

Asoka Handagama/Sri Lanka/2012/Tamil dialogue with English subtitles/104 min

Showing: Filmhouse Tue 26 June 21:00, Filmhouse Fri 29 June 17:45

Rating:  * * *

The legacy and social problems caused by the Sri Lankan civil war is the subject of Asoka Handagama’s Him, Here After, which has its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The first film since the war ended in 2009 to discuss the lasting effects of the war on everyday Sri Lankans, this piece presents the challenges of trying to rebuild shattered lives after a prolonged and deadly war.

When a former Tamil rebel fighter (Dharshan Dharmaraj) returns to his village following the end of the war, and after a year of “rehabilitation”, he finds that his former neighbours both fear and despise him. But as he attempts to create a new life, the ghosts and actions of his past continue to haunt him, and he soon takes a job that could not only threaten his own life but the lives of those closest to him. The UK premiere of Handagama’s film, which is one of only a handful of films made in the Tamil language directed by a Sinhalese director, is a hard-hitting portrayal of country struggling to rebuild and create an identity following a 26-year long war. While issues of betrayal and death are apparent throughout Him, Here After, this is a film that’s primarily focused on forgiveness, inner strength, and repairing both the country’s and that of its inhabitants’ fractured psyches. Compelling, absorbing, but most importantly, eye opening, this film sheds new light on contemporary attitudes towards war and conflict, and most importantly resolution. While the civil war is over, the fight that the characters in Him, Here After fight every day is one against ignorance, one for forgiveness, and above all, a desperate battle to survive. Moving, uplifting and absorbing, if a little long, Handagama’s latest film is a compassionate and thoughtful representation of the very human costs of war, where casualties continue to mount up long after the physical battle has stopped.

 

Sun Don’t Shine

Amy Seimetz/USA/2012/79 min

Showing: Thu 21 June Cineworld 18:30, Sat 23 June Cineworld 13:05

Rating: * *

The great American road movie has come in many forms over the years, and while Roger Corman’s The Trip is probably one of the best-known examples of the genre, Sun Don’t Shine, written and directed by Amy Seimetz, attempts to bring a new dimension to the road trip movie, but fails because of its clichéd and dull characterisation.

Following young and dysfunctional lovers, Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) as they drive across the US to Florida, in the stifling heat, whilst trying to hide a terrible secret, the film’s premise is promising, but the characters’ odd relationship soon makes the Sun Don’t Shine difficult to watch. While Seimetz does attempt to challenge the audience with flashbacks, allusions to mental illness, abuse and an overall sense of foreboding, her characters simply don’t sit well within the piece. Crystal, is emotional, stressed and childlike, while Leo is insular, violent and unpredictable, and together they are a volatile and toxic combination. And herein lies the problem with Sun Don’t Shine; the audience simply can’t sympathise with the two main characters. This could be Seimetz’s intention, given the name of the film, but all road movies, especially those about couples on the run from the law, the audience need to be able to sympathise with them, to make them the heroes, to want them to escape from the authorities. But it’s impossible for the audience to like Crystal and Leo, because of their irrational behaviour, due to their past circumstances, and their conjoined history is irritatingly ambiguous, and the few clues to their past actions introduced a little too late. While the acting is strong, and the film harks back to a very different age of cinema, this tale of love, crime, fear and betrayal it’s nowhere near as groundbreaking as the films in the same genre that came before it.