Three Identical Strangers

The thing I often struggle with in watching documentaries, no matter how good they are, is that they are by nature subjective. With carefully timed revelations controlled by the director, I frequently feel manipulated by the end, which hugely reduces my enjoyment of the film as a whole.

With Three Identical Strangers though, director Tim Wardle gets the obvious reveals out of the way early, allowing for a more in-depth exploration of the lives of the eponymous identical strangers. We get to know how the revelations affected them in later life, and some of the background to their situations.

For the most part, it worked well. The subsequent twists and turns drew gasps and smiles from the audience, as the full realisation of what had happened was uncovered.

And then … the final act just couldn’t resist. Additional information is presented in an overly dramatic fashion, leaving me with the feeling that not only I, but also the subjects of the film, were being manipulated once more.

So having throughly enjoyed the majority of the documentary then, I walked out of the cinema with an unpleasant feeling and a whole bunch of questions raised just by the final 15 minutes. If the intention is to revisit with a sequel, then surely this did not need to be set up in this film?

Very good, and very disappointing at the same time.

Manchester Film Festival: Day 1

This year’s MANIFF looks a little different – it’s a young festival (2017 is its third year) and so this is to be expected.

This time around, there seem to be fewer films and only one venue. I don’t know if there have been simply fewer submissions, or if it was a conscious decision to makes screenings more accessible. I had booked the Friday off work in anticipation of attending and supporting day time screenings, but there are none on the Friday during the day. One up-side is that, with all films being screened at Printworks, it makes getting around the festival a whole lot more practical.

The “opening night gala presentation”, also part of the ‘Women In Film’ strand, was the Lisa Edwards-directed Alfie Boe – On the Wheels of a Dream – more of which later

The main “feature” was preceded by three short films: The Last Laugh (dir Paul Hendy), One Last Dance (dir Luke Losey) and Taubman (dir Ben Price). I really enjoyed all of these. The Last Laugh focusses on legendary British comedians Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe and Bob Monkhouse quipping on their insecurities and fear of dying on stage (in a comedic sense – older viewers will recognise that Cooper actually did suffer a heart attack on stage mid-act which ended his life). One Last Dance offers a lovely snap-shot of a moment of grief and bereavement, and Taubman throws a timely eye over government surveillance, hacking, and religious persecution All three worth a watch for different reasons.

The main event followed swiftly. At 56 minutes long/short, Alfie Boe – On the Wheels of a Dream barely qualifies as a feature. I presume it was chosen to open the festival because of Alfie Boe’s North West connections, and because the director is female, therefore supporting the Women In Film strand.

It was a brave choice.

The filmmakers had access to Alfie Boe , his musicians and management team during his US tours in 2012/13. During this time, Boe talks frankly about wanting to change musical direction away from his opera roots, and sets out to do so. We see him play to tiny audiences in large theatres, and it’s tough for him.

The film collapses to its conclusion with some titles informing that he broke with his management team (no explanation ) and was last seen back on Broadway in Les Miserables (in 2015). The dream didn’t pan out, but we don’t know why, and there is no information after 2015. The film seems to have missed its proverbial boat. There’s a point during the film in which Boe says he sang his last note as Valjean and realised that his life would never be the same again. Why? Why couldn’t we explore this? This is interesting!

Instead we get Boe singing an interminable soft rock song which seemed to be a metaphor for the whole film. It’s no surprise that Boe is not promoting this film himself, as it probably for him represents a failed dream. Which is sad, but the film’s drama surely should be not delicately commenting that it failed, but exploring why it failed.

I don’t like to have a downer on something someone has put a lot of time and effort into creating, but this is an ITV2 Sunday night programme for the Alfie Boe fans, and not a film festival opening gala feature.

I’ve not been to that many film festivals, but I was taken aback to hear the producers and directors (who were sitting near me) clap and cheer their own names when they appeared on the screen, talk to each other at points during the screening, and then woop and begin the applause for their own film as the end-credits rolled. If it is usual, then film festivals are very strange places.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog investigates the Internet and I haven’t a clue what the first half hour was about but that was fine because Herzog was narrating.

This series of interviews looks at a different aspect of the internet’s impact on society – from hacking to the colonisation of Mars to addiction. Several of them actually deserved films of their own – or at least much deeper investigation. And while his interview subjects are talking technically and scientifically, Herzog throws several of them with questions about love, dreams and emotions. Some of them roll with him, others don’t quite know how to respond. These are the light touches of a genius.

Peak Herzog this is not, but it’s never a chore to listen to him – as the trailer demonstrates.

Now Werner Herzog on the run with Edward Snowden – that would be a documentary.

Jag är Ingrid – Ingrid Bergmann in Her Own Words

I’m not sure why I went to see this – I tend to avoid my favourite actors on chat shows, in interviews or just being themselves because I’m so often disappointed, and the myth has been shattered. I’d rather just see their work on the screen, which is why I like them in the first place.

I guess I was hoping to learn more about the Hollywood background or the making of her films, but as her daughter Isabella Rossellini comments, her personal letters, diaries and home video are all about her family. And one of the main things we learn is that she was hardly ever with her children, preferring instead to do precisely what she wanted – take whichever job she wanted, marry the men she wanted, move to the country she wanted – without appearing to realise that, as the mother of four, sometimes you can’t do exactly what you want when there are young lives reliant on you.

And this may be heresy, but Alicia Vikander didn’t do the film any favours. She was ‘playing’ Bergman, in that she was reading the letters the actress had written to narrate the events depicted. But her delivery was so monotone and without emotion that I was starting to yawn.

Had this been on BBC4 on a Saturday evening, I would have been OK with it, but I’m not convinced it deserved a theatrical release.

A version of this post appeared on http://www.filmdispenser.com/

Tickled

I had gathered that this film started off as one thing and ended up as another. But I wasn’t prepared for the direction it ended up taking.

Investigative journalist David Farrier was familiar to me from the series Short Poppies, which had been on Netflix. Tickled begins with Farrier following up a story on ‘Competitive Endurance Tickling’ and very quickly becomes a tale of legal threats, litigation and homophobia.

But that’s not all. And I’m not going to give it away, but if you thought the above was weird, well this takes it to a whole new level!

Personally, I hate being tickled, so that makes it even more odd for me.

 

El botón de nácar – The Pearl Button

Director Patricio Guzmán made one of my favourite films of 2012 – Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light), in which he examined murky aspects of Chile’s history.

El botón de nácar does the same thing, but over a much broader timespan of subjugation and dictatorship. This time, instead of the desert holding the secrets, it’s water. Guzmán gently prods around at why Chile, with its thousands of miles of coastline, has an almost non-existent day-to-day relationship with the ocean. It explores the colonisation and virtual extermination of the indigenous, water-faring civilisations of Chile’s south, and makes connections with Pinochet’s desaparecidos and the sea.

It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking story which makes a good companion piece to Guzmán’s earlier documentary, and features some absolutely beautiful cinematography.

No Limits – Impossible is Just a Word

If you take this at face value, then Alex Zanardi is nothing short of a iron-willed saint.

A former F1 driver who lost both legs after an accident, who went on to become Paralympic and World para-cycling Champion, he is now embarking on his next challenge – being part of a 3 man driving team entering the Spa 24 hour race.

We see him exhausted, but never angry, stressed or bitter. There must be times when he doubts, when he’s in pain, when he’s just had enough? No-one, particularly not a competitive racing driver, is that good-natured.

And with the exception of his dog, we never see him with anyone outside of work. Does he have a family? Children? An assistant?

I’m not a fanatic, but I do watch F1 racing and knew a little about the man’s history. But the film assumes a whole lot of prior knowledge. I wanted to know how the team came to decide to work with him? How did they get security clearance for him to be part of the team? How big a risk was it for the racing team? So many unanswered questions.

Vince Giordano – There’s A Future in the Past

For anyone even remotely interested in jazz music of the first half of the 20th century, this will be an interesting watch.

According to Manchester Film Festival’s website, ‘Vince Giordano is responsible for the period music in Todd Haynes’ “Carol”, Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator”, Robert DeNiro’s “The Good Shepherd”, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club”, Gus Van Sant’s “Finding Forrester”, Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road”, Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World”, half-a-dozen Woody Allen films, and HBO’s Grammy-winning “Boardwalk Empire.” ‘

The music is without doubt what makes this film work – it’s glorious, and authentic, and brilliant.

The directors have used the space between the musical interludes to try to get inside the man himself, and they succeed to a certain extent, with some of the band members explaining what it’s like to work with him. I’d like to have heard from his partner Carol a little more though – she’s part of his business and is on screen quite a bit, but she’s allowed to say very little. I was also curious to know why the band consists entirely of white men.

Still, great music!

All Rise

 

Mildly interesting documentary that would have whiled away 90 minutes in the background on Netflix.

Each year, law students form all over the world face each other in a moot court to argue the case for an imaginary nation embroiled in an international dispute with its imaginary neighbour. This film follows a selection of students from a variety of countries as they win or lose their case to progress to the final and ‘win’ Jessup (the name of the competition).

While there is no doubt that these young people are intelligent and committed, and that some of them may indeed go on to play significant roles in shaping the future, on occasion it felt like a school play; for all their self-belief and determination, it felt a little amateurish, with more than a few divas on display.

In short, there were many more interesting stories hidden among the characters that weren’t allowed to or didn’t emerge, but which were hinted at.

Martin Sheen presents – The World is My Country

A still-in-the-editing stage screening of a film featuring a wonderfully inspirational character whose story should not be forgotten.

Garry Davis used The Universal Declaration of Human Rights to proclaim himself a citizen of the world, not of any one nation. His position is that if there are no individual countries and we are all citizens of the same place, then law can take the place of war.

Very apposite, given the thousands of refugees who currently find themselves fleeing from war without documents. Garry’s organisation provides them with what they need to try to start rebuilding a life – see here for information – it’s worth a look, as I can’t explain it properly here.

As far as the film goes, it’s a bit difficult to tell how it will play once it’s completed. It revolves around Garry telling his story on stage, interspersed with clips and images from the past to illustrate his talk. And although Davis is clearly an inspirational and entertaining speaker, this felt like an extended TED talk – very informative, and had me looking up things on the internet afterwards.

And the Martin Sheen connection? I guess it’s to get bums on seats.