This is the third year I have dropped in on Amsterdam’s Imagine Film Festival, and the second year it has been held in EYE, the state-of-the-art film museum just north of Central Station, north of the canal. There’s a free all-night ferry connecting it to the Amsterdam “mainland”. The building is shaped like an aeroplane, or possibly a spaceship, and the seats are very comfortable.
EYE also has a very cool gift shop (this year I bought a book called Meer Verhoeven, in which Paul Verhoeven discusses some of his favourite films), but the café is off-puttingly formal – it’s OK for beer, tea and coffee, but if you want to grab a quick bite between screenings it’s best to stock up on snacks from Central Station beforehand.
I look on Imagine as a chance to catch up with genre films that don’t usually get a cinema release in my neck of the woods (ie Brussels), or are screened only at BIFFF (Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival) which I don’t attend any more since the rowdy audiences have become intolerable. Audiences at Imagine, by contrast, are impeccably behaved and friendly. Everyone speaks perfect English but sweetly indulge my halting attempts at Dutch.
The film to which I was most looking forward – The Raid 2 – was already sold out by the time I arrived, but there were plenty of other goodies on offer, including an illustrated lecture about Alpha Centauri and in interesting masterclass by Dr Kevin R. Grazier (whose credits include Battlestar Galactica, Eureka and Gravity) about the role of the Science Advisor in modern Hollywood, and how TV and cinema can inspire future scientists.
Here are some of the films I saw:
THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY (2014)
If Terrence Malick were to direct a horror movie it might turn out something like Josephine Decker’s second feature, set in those parts of the midwest genre fans nowadays think twice about visiting, since they invariably seem to be populated by inbred, chainsaw-wielding, banjo-paying, hillbilly cannibals and/or mutants. Joe Swanberg plays a hired hand who helps out at a Kentucky farm and has a roll in the hay with the daughter (who might or might not have learning difficulties) of a beardy guy (who might or might not be more than just her dad, ooh-er) who keeps belittling Joe’s manhood.
Even without the ominous flashes forward, you can guess this will end up in blood-spattered American Gothic territory – especially when Swanberg’s wife comes to tea – though it takes its time getting there. For the most part, it’s an oblique, exquisitely lit and photographed mood piece with the odd bit of doolally voice-over. Personally, I would have liked a few more eccentric touches like the flashback from the point of view of a cow. Never mind the sexual foreplay that goes hello birds, hello sky, and oops, bit the head off a frog.
DER SAMURAI (2014)
A young policeman in a small town near the Polish border inadvertently unleashes a transvestite psychokiller with a samurai sword on the local populace. Most of the tension in Till Kleinert’s German slasher movie arises from wondering if he is going to go the Fight Club route or keep his Jekyll and Hyde characters resolutely separate, but either way the denouement is confused by severed heads that talk, and the marauding wolf who seems to be yet another of the cop’s ids. In any case, it’s a very splattery way of coming out of the closet. There’s a nicely done bit of tension involving the cop’s senile grandmother, and Pit Bukowski, who plays the murderous alter ego, has a formidable physical presence and an unsettling Joker-like leer, resulting in the most sinister drag act since Iggy Pop in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man.
Jon S. Baird’s adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel is the film equivalent of a deep-friend Mars Bar, with James McEvoy effectively embracing his inner Fat Bastard in a raucous Bad Lieutenant turn set in Edinburgh – booze, drinks, sex, and ruthless elimination of rivals for a coveted promotion. Alas, the reprehensible behaviour is all down to childhood trauma AND marital problems – he’s a big softy really! – as a fat streak of sentimentality undermines the bracing cynicism, and the story devolves into Chuck Palahniuk-style hi-jinx. But there are performances to relish from Eddie Marsan as a sad sack accountant, Shirley Henderson as his randy wife, Imogen Poots fearlessly resisting the story’s attempts to divide its women into madonnas and whores (not all of which can be justified by the central character’s point of view) and Jamie Bell as a weak willed sidekick.
Norwegian archeologist widowed dad reads ancient runes and takes his two children on a Viking treasure hunt to remote Finnmark in the far north, only for them all to get more they bargained for in this adventure yarn for kids, who might be more tolerant than seen-it-all adults when the characters start breaking every rule in the genre book. Explore that remote cave without telling anyone where you’re going! Yes, why not go wading through that underground lake surrounded by skeletons! Put that hatchling in your bag so the parent monster comes after you! Shades of a low budget Jurassic Park, jiffed up by stunning scenery and an agreeably old-fashioned (ie non-CGI) monster. Suffice to say those ancient carvings of the Midgard Serpent weren’t sculpted from imagination.
MAGIC MAGIC (2013)
Juno Temple plays a young American woman who arrives in Chile to stay with her cousin (Emily Browning), only for Browning to almost immediately go off to attend to business in Santiago, leaving the newcomer alone with three callous strangers speaking a language she doesn’t understand. Temple, already emotionally fragile, begins to unravel as they drive to an idyllic but isolated spot (beautifully photographed by Christopher Doyle and Glen Kaplan) where the ceaseless squawking of parrots, inappropriate behaviour by sheepdogs and bedrooms with inadequate audio insulation threaten to tip the young woman over the edge, Repulsion-style.
This is the second of two films Michael Cera made with Chilean director Sebastián Silva (who had an international hit with The Maid) and the fey quirkiness of his usual screen persona is subverted to unsettling effect as an American expat who can’t help being a dick; the director’s brother Agustin plays Browning’s boyfriends, and Catalina Sandino Moreno is all resentful bitchiness as his sister. The feelings of isolation that can arise when you travel to an unfamiliar part of the world are hauntingly combined with a deft mix of dark social comedy and psychothriller tension – right up to the unsatisfying home stretch, where a shift of tone and sudden multiple viewpoints raise more questions than they answer.