Day 11 - The President, Winter Sleep and Kill Me Three Times #LFF

The penultimate day of the festival and I took on a willing assistant in my quest to entirely fill my head with movies. Having booked three films in nice time for scattered refreshment, it was with some disquiet that I received the news from Jo that film number two of my day was in fact 196 minutes long. And in Turkish. Leaving me and my new charge fully five minutes to get to the final screening. If she hadn't fled for the hills by then......

Movie one of Day 11 got off to a ropey start when I got confused over start times, necessitating a rush from lunch. Fortunately we made it just as The President was beginning so we were just THOSE people I normally silently berate for getting in the way of the screen just as I'm getting comfortable. Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's feature follows the rapidly descending fortunes of the titular President as he is ousted from power and chased across the countryside with his grandson in tow.

We begin the movie with the President demonstrating to his grandson the power of being able to turn the city's lights on and off with just a phone call. When the lights refuse to respond to the child's command to come back on, gun fire is heard and the presidential motorcade is soon leaving the palace and running for the airport. Determined that the trouble can be dealt with, the president packs his family off on a private jet but his grandson is equally determined to stay. En route back to the palace things take a turn for the revolutionary and soon the dictator and the child are reduced to threatening village barbers for hair cuts and stealing clothes from mining peasants.

The President manages to pull off the trick of being both amusing (in dealing with the trappings and absurdities of a dictatorship) and horrific in terms. Makhmalbaf doesn't shirk from the day to day horror of revolution, leading to more than one occasion when you'll either be turning away or grimacing through your fingers. A scene where the President returns to a prostitute he has used in the past is particularly grim in its detail. This is all balanced by the old man's attempts to shield his coddled grandson from the unfolding horror as they make their way across the country in search of the sea escape the President still believes is possible. Victims pile up on both sides of the revolution as nobody is spared when the lid finally comes off the repressive regime....

And so, to The Long Film. And many thanks to Sight & Sound's Nick James for introducing it as such. Both minimising our time between films and ramping up the Fear of the Long Film in the audience. I needn't have worried. The film started at 5pm, the first and only time I looked at my watch was 8.10pm. Winter Sleep is enthralling in a way that you don't necessarily notice. Put it this way, I'd put money on you blinking as if you'd been in a trance if somebody walked across the screen in front of you whilst you watched this.

Filmed in one of the most stunningly, beautifully bleak places I've seen in a movie, there are only really a handful of characters here and truth be told, they don't really get up to much. Haluk Bilginer is Aydin, a once famous actor, now retired to 'run' his parent's hotel in the mountains of Anatolia. He delegates the entire of this to his right hand man Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan) so he can devote his time to writing a column about whatever in a locally distributed newspaper. Staying with him in the hotel is his irascible divorcee of a sister who delights in baiting him whilst he writes and his much younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen) whose comfortable existence in parallel to her husband has led her to question her to the quiet desperation of boredom.

In a movie where the only action of note is a small child throwing a rock at a passing car, there is no denying that you'll need to be comfortable with subtitles and long periods of dialogue to get the best out of this Palm d'Or winner. But if you have the patience, there is plenty of reward here. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's movie is akin to sitting down with a few glasses of wine with friends you haven't seen for a long time. The dialogue pours over you and you have no choice but to become entrapped by it. As the snow closes in and the wind whistles through the wonderful scenery, you'll find yourself completely swept up in this isolated world. Winter Sleep isn't an easy watch but with universally impressive performances, immense depth and warmth despite the climes and the sometimes hostile conversations, it is one that is wholeheartedly worth the effort.

And so to our penultimate movie of the festival, Kill Me Three Times - a shaggy Australian tale of double dealing, loan sharking, corrupt rozzers and suave hitmen. I did try to note down the various ways in which the main characters are connected but it's such a joyously convoluted story that to be honest, it's not worth trying to decipher it. Suffice to say that Simon Pegg is a hitman employed to do away with a cheating wife, a job he is convinced has been done for him by a scheming dentist. Of course, it doesn't quite work out that easily.

As soon as the score kicks off for Kriv Stenders' movie, you pretty much know what you're going to get. Which will likely lead to a sinking feeling. Clearly influenced by such classics as Smokin' Aces, this attempts to be an entertaining, breezy caper. What we get is sadly short of laughs and with far too many pointless slow motion deaths. Pegg, and to be fair, the rest of the cast, seem up for it and it's always a joy to see Bryan Brown (here as a snarky corrupt copper) but the movie is neither funny enough to get away with being a comedy or thrilling enough to be a thriller.

Which isn't to say I didn't quite enjoy Kill Me Three Times, it is entertaining in a kind of inconsequential way but with a wittier script and in either more subtle or more maniac hands, this would have been a winner. As it is, Pegg power may get it a cinema release. Just.

Si

Day 10 - History of Fear and Robot Overlords #LFF

Short one for Day 10, what with it being Friday and all. A mix up with tickets meant that Son of  Gun became the first casualty of disorganisation. And absolutely nothing to do with us getting riotously drunk down the road from Covent Garden Odeon. Not our strongest festival day by any measure.

Writer / director Benjamín Naishtat's feature debut History of Fear is a strange one. On the one hand, he does an excellent job of building a palpable sense of unease without anything particularly sinister happening, on the other, the entire movie only barely elicited a shrug from me as I left the screening.

Set in a private community in Argentina, on the outskirts of the city, we follow various connected people around during their ordinary day to day as a helicopter buzzes ominously overhead and slightly too casual security guards patrol the rolling parkland that surrounds the upper middle class houses. Add to this some mysterious fires from a neighbouring patch of wasteland and rolling blackouts caused by the summer heat and tensions begin to rise.

History of Fear would probably work as a documentary but as a feature, it lacks any discernible characters, any plot and although the bubbling tension is impressive, the complete lack of dramatic payoff leaves you wondering what just happened. And more crucially, why you spent 79 minutes waiting for nothing to happen. Points for atmosphere then but little else.

Sometimes you just have to wonder why a film has managed to attract the star names it has. Sadly, this is definitely the case with Robot Overlords. We haven't exactly covered the Family strand of this year's festival with any degree of thoroughness so a quick Friday afternoon press screening of this one looked like fun. Robots have taken over the planet and have grounded everyone, kids and adults alike. A core of human overseers, or collaborators, depending on who you speak to help the spooky humanoid robot overlord keep things in check. When four kids discover the secret to disabling the neck mounted chips that allow the robots to track the humans, the race is on to save the world.

It's a shame this movie is saddled with one of the worst scripts we've heard and some utterly nonsensical plot points (and we're not being snobby here, we're well aware this is a kids film) as with the talent involved and some decent special effects, it should have managed much more. As it is we're stuck with people yelling wooden phrases whilst running around some gorgeous scenery. At the point where Gillian Anderson's character appears on a horse fleeing the main human bad guy, having apparently conjured the horse from thin air, we pretty much gave up with this. The raucous laughs of the press corps in the screening room only compounded the fact that this is a horrible misfire.

Robot Overlords is clearly aiming for territory most recently trod by the immeasurably superior Super 8, it has some serious subject matter and doesn't skimp on swearing but what it actually achieves is well, poor. There isn't another word for it really.

Si 

Day 9 - A Girl at My Door, Altman and Foxcatcher #LFF

Well into the home straight now (booo!) and day 9 brings a whole new side of alcoholic police chiefs, the story of a legend and a billionaire wrestling aficionado. Honestly, we really don't understand wrestling....

July Jung's A Girl at My Door is probably one of the more quietly effective movies we've seen at this year's festival. It tells the tale of a Seoul police chief, banished to a backwater coastal town (for reasons that take time to become clear). Doona Bae (known to western audiences for her work on Cloud Atlas) is chief Young-Nam. Attempting to stay under the radar on her superior's instructions in a small town, she spots a young girl by the side of the road. Later, she witnesses the same girl being variously abused by her evil grandmother, alcoholic father (and local gang boss) and school mates.

Young-Nam's reluctance to ignore this abuse for the sake of her career leads her to take the young girl in when the grandmother is discovered dead at the bottom of a cliff, having apparently veered off the road on her obviously dangerous motorbike. The two establish an uneasy and crucially, unsanctioned relationship, as the chief attempts to get to the bottom of the psychological damage brought upon the young girl by her mother's abandonment and her alcoholic father's beatings.

Jung's movie manages to be both subtle and intimate whilst never shying away from the horrible abuse suffered by the young Do-Hee (a wonderful performance from youngster Sae-ron Kim). Populated entirely by characters flawed for a variety of reasons and with no straight moral core (the chief being one of the most damaged by her experiences), this makes for very interesting viewing. Doona Bae's performance as the chief brilliantly portrays the damage largely suffered in silence of both alcoholism and a deep undercurrent of intolerance in the police force. Despite its dark, serious themes, A Girl at My Door is not without its humour moments and the image of Do-Hee dancing by herself on a pier is wonderfully uplifting.

Any new time we can spend in the presence of this great man is a bonus and Altman definitely delivers on that. In search of a framework for his documentary, Ron Mann came up with the idea of framing the movie with a variety of actors attempting to define the phrase 'Altmanesque'. So we get a chronological trip through the director's works, from his early days in TV all the way through to Gosford Park and his final movies, punctuated by usually one line talking heads from actors as diverse as Elliot Gould and Robin Williams. And over this, we have a wonderfully written narration provided by a number of members of his family, most notably his wife of many years Kathryn Reed Altman.

It's easy to forget just how influential Altman was as a director, particularly during the glory years defined by movies such as M*A*S*H (still his outright masterpiece in my humble opinion) and his oh so seventies take on The Long Goodbye (one of Gould's finest, mumbling performances) but this movie powerfully reminds us of this. To it's credit, it also doesn't skimp on the failures, of which there were many.

But Altman isn't so much a forensic examination of his work, more an affectionate stroll through it. With access to Altman's entire back catalogue plus a good number of unreleased short films and home movies, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in the man or arguably, anyone interested in cinema full stop.

We had somewhat conflicted views on picking out Foxcatcher from this year's programme. On the one hand, is that really Steve Carell? On the other, a movie about professional wrestling? Really? Fortunate then that we ignored our wrestling ignorance and pressed on with the Steve Carell angle. Based on the true story of American billionaire and heir John du Pont, who, amongst other things decided to establish his own wrestling facility for team USA in order for them to replicate their showing from 1984 at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Carell's du Pont is absolutely Oscar bait but that shouldn't detract from what is an astonishing transformation. Pale, slightly overweight and puffy of face, Carell is borderline unrecognisable. His du Pont is mortifyingly lonely, spoilt and forever in the shadow of his elderly mother. Picking up Channing Tatum's down at heel gold winning wrestler mark Schultz by dazzling him with facilities and helicopter rides, the two make a horribly dysfunctional pair. One, cowed under the weight of loneliness brought about by unimaginable wealth, the other forever feeling beholden to a caring brother and fellow wrestler who brought him up from a child.

Despite its Oscar worthy ambitions, Foxcatcher is certainly not a showy movie. At its heart it's a story of crushing loneliness, even amongst a tight knit family. It has little to offer beyond its three main characters (Mark Ruffalo, beefed up and bearded completes the trio as Mark's brother David), Sienna Miller is given almost nothing to do as David's wife and although hugely significant to the plot, we get to see very little of Vanessa Redgrave as Jean du Pont but that's not entirely a criticism. A movie not afraid to take its time and one that avoids showy set-pieces, this is well worth your time.

Si

Day 8 - The Little Death, The Immortalists and Wild Tales #LFF

Day 8 brings us an excruciatingly funny look at people's odd sex lives, two very contrasting scientists searching for the secret of eternal life and half a dozen short stories about people behaving very badly indeed.... 

The Little Death, which is of course, slang for an orgasm, loosely ties together five couples' stories as they battle with their relationships and sexual desires. That the main thing tying these stories together (apart from the sex theme) is a new neighbour required by federal law to introduce himself.... which he does by means of Golliwog biscuits, gives you some ides of the territory this movie is prepared to find itself, well, frankly balls deep in.

I'll admit this right from the off, whatever the issues with this movie, it's one of the funniest things I've seen for some while. It has a brilliantly casual way of dealing with some very intimate and very off sexual practices and that really makes the humour shine through. Of the various tales (I won't spoil them by giving too much detail), my favourite was the story of an interpreter valiently attempting to interpret for a young man phoning a sex chat line (via a video link intermediary). It's joyously charming and actually pretty touching, despite the nagging feeling that both participants are just too hot to find themselves in this predicament. My least favourite was probably the wife turned on by her husband's tears which outstays its welcome slightly (not that it isn't still hilarious).

Add to this the supremely creepy neighbour and his box of highly dubious biscuits and The Little Death is an absolute riot. 

The thing about getting old, my nan used to say (actually, still does say), is that the alternative is much worse. Well, two men beg to differ. The Immortalists is a documentary about Bill and Aubrey. You can probably guess from the names which is which in the picture above and which is English and which is American. That's as far as the predictability in this fascinating movie goes.

Bill is a long distance runner (and I'm not kidding here, we're not talking marathons, we're talking 138 mile runs. In the Himalayas) and lab biologist. He believes that by stopping the enzyme that causes ageing and kickstarting another enzyme that makes cancer cells immortal, he can stop and then reverse ageing. Aubrey is an English eccentric, who drinks a lot and has a wife and two girlfriends (wife in her 60's, girlfriends in 20's and 40's). He believes that by clearing out all the accumulated rubbish from cells, he can also stop ageing. A variety of very clever people think both of these notions are nuts.

What first time filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg's documentary does so well, is that it presents these guys, allows for some brief reposts and then leaves you to decide whether you think they are crazy or not. It also leaves you pondering the less scientific and more moral issues revolving around the question. The directors clearly struck on documentary gold when they discovered two such contrasting characters dealing with the same issue and they've done a great job of bringing them to the screen. I'd like them to now pick this up and run with it, it would be great to hear the fors and againsts from a moral perspective as well.

Our second movie of the day that involves short stories, Wild Tales is a series of six tales, related only in the fact that they all show presumably reasonable people doing some very extreme things. Beginning with a group of people on an aeroplane gradually realising they all knew the same composer (I won't spoil it with more detail) and working through extended road rage, revenge on a loan shark, civil disobedience of the most extreme kind, corruption of the law and finally a groom's infidelity revealed at his wedding.

It's a wonderfully scattershot approach and the film makes no apologies for this. From the very first story it's very clear to see that nothing is going to be held back here. Shot through with a brilliantly vicious sense of humour that at one point sees two scorched corpses apparently embracing, you'll be appalled even as you are creasing up in laughter.

I'm not sure if Wild Tales has a massive amount to say about the daily pressure people find themselves under in contemporary Argentinian life but I'm not sure I was too worried about that. The movie is consistently hilarious and may just leave you wondering why people don't crack more often.....

Si 

Day 7 - Zero Motivation, Black Souls and Eden #LFF

Day 7 and an English language free day, taking in bored Israeli army admin staff, hilltop Calabrian gangsters and very French 'garage' music....

I can't say I've seen a great many Israeli movies, let alone Israeli comedies set in the army so Zero Motivation was a great surprise. Essentially the story of two girls with absolutely zero interest in extending their stay in the Israeli Defence Force beyond the mandatory two years. Zohar, initially the more responsible of the two girls is Postal NCO, Daffi, desperate to relocate to Tel Aviv for no particular reason other than 'it's a city', looks after paper shredding. They bond over mammoth Minesweeper records and a general dislike of all their fellow recruits.

Things start to go from bad to worse when the usual late teens issues start to arise, in particular Zohar's desire for Daffi to stay at the base and Daffi's unintentional liaison with a boy Zohar likes. When it's revealed that Zohar failed to mail any of the dozens of pleading letters written by Daffi, the latter resolves to become on officer to secure her re-assignment to the big city.

Zero Motivation is well pitched as a tale of close friends in the artificial world of non-war. Although conflict is clearly occurring, none of it comes anywhere near to affecting the base (the admin recruits undergo basic weapons training but are comedically unequipped to deal with anything resembling conflict) and the movie sits parallel to any real political or religious issue. The movie concentrates on the ennui of everyday life for the girls and this makes for an existential, surreal and darkly hilarious experience.

The Calabrian mafia is not an area of Italian criminal society that has been explored in movies before but it's one that Francesco Munzi's Golden Lion nominated feature takes on with some considerable success. Essentially a tale about family, Black Souls shows us the destructive forces at work in the area when one small act of petulance leads to dire consequences for three brothers and their families.

Having seen his father murdered on the roadside when he was twelve years old, eldest brother Luciano is out of The Life, or at least, as far out as you can ever get. He spends his days herding goats in the mountains of Aspromonte. His two brothers however, now based in Milan are still very much in the family business. Luciano's young son, desperate to swap the youth-sapping boredom of the mountains for the cosmopolitan lifestyle his uncles posses, attempts to gain respect by vandalising a local bar after an argument....

Munzi's film is an awesome exercise in restraint and building tension. And I really do mean tension. There is actually very little violence in his movie (though a little too much goat death for my taste) but the pervading air of threat is ingrained in every frame. Dealing with the nuts and bolts of family life, it's clear that something is very amiss and only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down. Black Souls is certainly not a typical gangster movie, its intelligence and dark heart mark it out as something special.

And finally for Day 7 we have Eden, which, to be honest, I'm not sure how to describe. I guess the best way is as a story of a DJ who just can't grow up. Which hardly seems credible does it? Ho ho. Anyway, this is the tale of Paul, a French 'garage' DJ whose due Cheers helped to pioneer the start of a new wave of French electronic music in the mid nineties. I keep putting garage in inverted commas because it seems to have a completely different meaning in France. Either that or I am way out of my depth here. Which is equally possible.

You may have spotted that I don't have a massive amount to say about this movie and that's really because I don't think it had a massive amount to say to me. Paul is a pretty typical character, he loves his music, he's great at it but this is at the expense of all the other areas of his life. He fails to complete his writing thesis, takes far too many drugs, is terrible with money and absentmindedly destroys any relationship he has. Plus ca change.

If you are familiar with the huge tracklist that accompanies Eden, you're going to have a great time here. It is stuffed with amazing tracks, cameo appearances that I only spotted due to ropey acting and you'll get a real buzz the first time Da Funk is spun. If it's a completely alien world to you, I don't think you're going to get much here. Paul's hardships are familiar and self inflicted and as such, he comes across as a pretty bland central character. The music is really the thing and in that, the movie succeeds. For the rest <insert Gallic shrug>.

Si

Day 6 - Ne me quitte pas, The Creator of the Jungle, Serena and Stray Dog #LFF

Big day. Due to my lack of commitment on Day 5, I had some catching up to do. So today my journey took in suicidal Belgian alcoholics (not as depressing as it sounds), Tarzan III as played by a Catalan oddity, a surprise Jennifer Lawrence appearance and a whole new side to Vietnam vets....

I'm not really sure where to start with Ne me quitte pas (Don't Leave Me). On the face of it, it should be a mortifyingly dark experience but the charm of the main two characters shines through enough to dispel the bleakness. Sabine Lubbe Bakker's documentary follows two Belgian misfits, Bob and Marcel. The pair spend their days sat at Bob's kitchen table, drinking way too much and chewing the fat about their existence. And their vague plots of mutual suicide. When their big plan (it's never clear if this is a real plan or just them spouting off) is scuppered by the loss of Bob's favourite suicide tree, Marcel is forced to face his booze demons.

Set in the bleak Belgian countryside, the movie begins with Marcel's plaintive pleas to his soon to be ex-wife for one last shag after sixteen years and three children. She completely rejects this and moves out of the family house in the middle of the night. Marcel responds by getting so smashed he collapses in the empty bedroom (hilariously missing bed) and is awoken by Bob literally throwing a bucket of water over him.

It's difficult to get across the spirit of Ne me quitte pas in words because that misses the relationship that Marcel and Bob have. I was going to write 'the relationship they enjoy' but I don't think that really covers it. Clearly dependent on each other and enabling each other's alcoholism (Bob refuses to admit his, citing a six week period when he went hiking and didn't drink as proof that he is not addicted), they have a weirdly supportive relationship that the director captures well. NMQP is darkly hilarious but ultimately, if not uplifting, then at least captivating without you wanting to turn to booze yourself.

Continuing my Day 6 obsession with fascinating characters in documentaries (three out of four movies), we come to The Creator of the Jungle. Filmed by three separate people, over a number of years, we get to witness the incredible architectural feats of Garrell or Tarzan as he prefers to be called.

Initially filmed by a 14 year old boy in the Jungle's first incarnation (the structures here are very definitely the second character behind Garrell), then by a North American art historian years later (the boy having grown up and moved on) before finally being picked up and pieced together by Jordi Morato, Garrell's structures go through a seemingly endless cycle of building, modification, trauma and finally destruction, usually at his hands.

Over these images of a adult size playground of infinite detail and artistic genius, Morato talks of Garrell's constant battle with the forces of civilisation. Seemingly a man with an endless amount of time to play, it's easy to smirk at his loincloth clad adventures with a variety of people through his creation but Garrell is such an astonishing individual, to belittle his work because of his childish glee in it would be a waste. The Creator of the Jungle is a fascinating look at a man who sits aside civilisation (and a huge freeway) and not only longs to do his own thing but actually achieves it. Not once, but three times over the space of 45 years. Impressive.

And so to my token fictional movie of the day, Serena. Pairing, for the third time, Brad and Jennifer (though they were approached to do this prior to Silver Linings), this dark, brooding piece from Danish director Susanne Bier follows Cooper's logging baron as he falls in love with the titular Serena and introducers her to the joys of North Carolina logging. Fortunately for him (at least initially) she's from good logging stock and is soon running rings around his male employees. Obviously this isn't going to end well..

Bier's movie is impressively shot, making great use of the Czech countryside to double as North Carolina's Smoky Mountains. Production design is likewise immaculate with Pemberton's camp perfectly rendered in splendid isolation. But it's the conniving, damaged characters that make this an interesting piece. Determinedly pitched somewhere on the more shiny side of Altman and a more film noir feel, everyone involved here has an ulterior motive or a tragic past to taint their present.

It would be easy to spoil the twists and turns in this movie with too much detail but suffice to say that Pemberton's world soon starts to look as fragile as the forest he so wilfully decimates in order to secure his own future in virgin Brazil. Lawrence is on great form as the most damaged character of all, displaying a steely determination to do what is right by her and her man, irrespective of the consequences.  One or two clunky lines of dialogue aside, Serena is a greatly entertaining piece of work.

And finally we have probably my favourite movie from Day 6, Stray Dog. Debra Granik's first foray into documentary making after her superb work with Winter's Bone (Oscar damn you!), this follows the titular Ronnie 'Stray Dog' Hall. Probably the most interesting character you've seen on screen for some time.  A Vietnam 'vet, biker, patriot, father, grandfather, multiple dog owner, who still struggles with his war-tinged past.

This all could so easily have confirmed all your worst fears about  the biker brotherhood in the USA. After all, it is all here. Fluttering flags, endless talk of war, patriotism, honouring the dead, cookouts, trailer parks, you name an American cliche, it's here. But that's where the cliches end. Ronnie is not that man. Having spent eleven years in Korea, marrying a Korean women and having her children, Ronnie is a man of the world. Now returned to the US and eeking his way out renting lots in a trailer park, he is now working on getting his new Mexican wife's kids over the border to be with her.

Stray Dog does exactly what you want a good documentary to do. It presents you with a world you thought you knew, then brilliantly picks it apart in front of your eyes. It helps that, in Ronnie, Granik has found a genuine character. Her movie is touching, down right hilarious, genuinely affecting and it will make you think. 

Si  

Day 5 - Walking Under Water and Rosewater #LFF

Day 5 and only two to share today. Jo's review of X+Y (seen today) is below and I have to admit to bailing on Ne me quitte pas as it was late, I was tired and it was pouring down. I will get to that one..... Today though, we have nomadic nautical tribes and Iranian shenanigans....

We always go on about the LFF being a great place for us to catch movies that would otherwise go unnoticed and Walking Under Water is a perfect example of this. Filmed on and around Mabul island off the coast of the Malaysia, Eliza Kubarska's documentary is a wonderful document of a vanishing lifestyle.

Trapped between the advance of tourism and their traditional way of living, the Badjao tribe have fished the oceans for generations. Initially free divers but now forced to adapt to compressor diving to find the scarce fish left after commercial fishing, the tribe are known as 'sea gypsies' - they have no land and no nationality. Roughly located between the Philippines, Borneo and Malaysia, they belong to none of these countries. On Mabul island, a tiny speck of land in the Celebes Sea, the tribe lives in squalor adjacent to a plush diving resort catering for rich foreigners. Like us.

Kubarska's movie isn't here to score points on one side or the other though, her political agenda isn't at the forefront. Instead she lets the camera do the talking. Filmed and translated during post production, her camera follows Alexan, Mabul's last compressor diver as he attempts to keep alive the spirit of his ancestors and teach his young nephew Sari the ways of the fisherman. It's a naturally affecting tale and the neutral stance does it good service. The scenery is beautiful and Kubraska raises some genuinely interesting and difficult questions about modern society's treatment of nomadic people.

I'm a huge fan of Jon Stewart as I made clear in my preview of Rosewater so hopes were high for his first foray into movie directing. In truth, they were just about justified. Just. Based on Mazier Bahari's account of his time in an Iranian prison, Stewart's movie stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari, a Newsweek journalist how returns to his native Tehran on the eve of 2009's disputed election. Picking up with a Mousavi supporting taxi driver at the airport, Bahari ends up on the wrong side of the subsequent protests as Ahmadinerjad goes on to win a landslide despite all polling to the contrary.

On the plus sides for Stewart's movie (and there are many), it's a movie that assumes a decent amount of intelligence in its viewers and one that contains an impressive performance from Bernal. Repressive regimes and their tactics for repression are ripe material for a satirist of Stewart's calibre and it's good to see him stretching his talents in more significant directions. The script is as witty as you'd expect and Bernal does a great job in his character's decent into despondency and out the other side as the sheer ridiculousness of the accusations finally hits home.

On the negative side, I can't help but raise a weary eyebrow at some of the direction here. The music scored over the top of images of citizens exercising their democratic right to vote is a long way from subtle and the various social media messages manifesting on screen during the protests had me cringing in my seat. It's not exactly god bless democracy stuff but it sailed perilously close. On the whole, well worth seeing for the subject matter but hopefully Rosewater is just early teething for Stewart rather than a statement of his directing ability. Oh, and for crying out loud, don't ever cast  Lindsey Hilsum in an acting role again. Amazing journalist, not a gifted actor, her presence was jarring on so many levels.

Si