And so another successful Cambridge Film Festival drew to a close yesterday. I’m already missing it…
Here are some very quick thoughts on this year’s experience.
Lead by the inspirational director Tony Jones and his team of programmers, this important, ambitious festival prides itself on bringing a wide-range of quality films to Cambridge. What is more, with its many dedicated and talented helpers and supporters, the festival can boast a warm and welcoming atmosphere. This year the festival spirit was greatly enhanced by the sterling work of the independent festival publication Take One which, thanks to its hard-working team, published reviews of all the festival films (online and in freely distributed print copies), as well as interviews and informative features. In addition, Toby Miller (the one-man cinema encyclopedia) and his team at the Bums On Seats radio programme provided some excellent analysis and interviews.
This year I was away from the festival for almost three days so wasn’t able to see as many films as usual, but I still managed to get a fair few under my belt. My favourites (in order of watching) were:-
About Elly: outstanding. Directed by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) this made a big impression – a beautifully observed study of truth;
Barbara: a sense of authenticity; a mesmerising, charismatic performance from the lead; and a well crafted story;
The Temptation of St Tony: here is my short review in Take One (‘a film which is fresh, bold, and stimulating…’)
War Witch: shocking, moving; very effective use of voice-over; devastating subjectivity;
A Cube of Sugar: here is my short review in Take One (‘a delightful, engaging, and insightful film.’)
Bestiaire: I’ll need to take another look at this, but I was intrigued: no narrative as such, lots of long static oddly framed shots of animals; final shot is just brilliant;
V.O.S. (part of the Catalan strand): described as a film within a film, but it’s more subtle and interesting than that. This film manages to take an affectionately ironic look at the romantic comedy without losing a nice lightness of touch;
The Lodger (part of the Hitchcock strand): I had not seen this before – lovely to see it for the first time on the big screen. I liked the Nitin Sawhney score, apart from the two songs (which failed to work – quite spectacularly);
Salvatore Giuliano (part of the Francesco Rosi strand): last year the festival introduced me to the wonderful films of a director I was unaware of – Jos Stelling – this year I discovered some of the great films of Francesco Rosi. Salvatore was the best of the three I saw – from the striking opening shot I was gripped. Rossi doesn’t look for easy answers, but explores the complex, multi-faceted nature of corruption;
Psycho (part of the Hitchcock strand): this is one of my favourite Hitchcock’s, which is glorious on the big screen. I can even forgive the psychiatrist’s exposition at the end, since it leads up to that brilliant final shot of Anthony Perkins;
Bert Stern: Original Madman: interesting documentary that didn’t try and simplify the protagonist; felt like an honest portrait;
Vertigo (part of the Hitchcock strand): again, great to see on the big screen. For me this is flawed Hitchcock, but there is still so much to admire;
Indignados: even though this free-wheeling documentary/drama was not entirely successful, its style and endless imagination had me fascinated;
The Mattei Affair (part of the Rosi strand): a compelling lead performance; gripping story;
Blackmail (part of the Hitchcock strand): pristine respored print from the BFI and wonderful live accompaniment from John Sweeney;
The Birds (part of the Hitchcock strand): this is one of the Hitchcock’s which I keep coming back to and which gets better and better; visual effects may be somewhat unconvincing now, but there are some fantastic sequences; great use of silence, and an effective, bold, bleak ending;
5 Broken Cameras: gripping, powerful, and moving documentary. A few simple comments made by a boy near the end are haunting;
The Ring (part of the Hitchcock strand): one of the real highlights of the festival – Hitchcock on fantastic form, and we were lucky enough to have the great Neil Brand providing some of the best silent film accompaniment I’ve ever heard. This performance got a well-deserved standing ovation. Simply fantastic;
A Trip To The Moon + Extraordinary Voyage: another festival highlight – a packed Sunday morning screening of the beautifully restored Georges Melies film followed by a fascinating documentary on the filmmaker and the restoration of his most famous film.
The only real disappointment of the festival was Holy Motors: I was so looking forward to this, but apart from a few very good episodes was mostly pointless, at times dull, and lacking in any meaningful originality.