Film Scouts Diaries

2010 Torino Film Festival Diaries
U. K. Cinema Reborn?

by Henri Béhar

Torino, Italy, December 2 - It always feels strange to land in a Festival after it started and leave before it ends. Particularly a Festival you have never attended, in a city you have never been to. Such was the case for the Torino Film Festival, which opened on November, 26 and closes on December 4. By the time you get there, most of your colleagues got their groove, structuring their work schedule around the Competition section or other, more specific, assignments.

You can play catch-up (and the Festival staff will turn into Italian pretzels to accommodate you) or decide the set up is actually pretty liberating: you will just drift from film to film, picking and choosing according to the moment and your mood.

Which is what I did.

I ended up with the feeling that something is definitely a-brewing, film-wise, in the United Kingdom. Young filmmakers – and I shall include among them veteran actor-turned-director Peter Mullan – tackle societal issues and ills head on. But perhaps more often than not, they approach them through comedy, even farce.

The hero of Chris Morris's Four Lions, who lives in a small English town, is determined to become a jihad warrior. Returning from training in an Islamist boot camp in Pakistan, he struggles for leadership of his terrorist group with a white Brit who converted to Islam, while planning a suicide attack during the London marathon. But things will not happen according to plan. Director Morris spoke "with experts on terrorism, the police, the secret service and hundreds of Muslims," he writes in the Festival catalogue. "Even the ones who have been trained and fought the jihad throw light on its farcical, tragicomic aspect."

Addressing a similar issue – and one of the hottest topics of our time - Josh Appignanesi (The Infidel, in competition) goes for all-out farce. London-based Mahmud Nasir is a Muslim. A true devotee, deep down, if not exactly the most observant worshipper. As his son is about to marry the daughter of a cleric, he has to crank up his "Islamitude" a notch or two. As he empties his just-deceased mother's house, however, he discovers a document stating he was adopted… and born a Jew. Pick it up from there. The film could be tightened a tad, but the director seems promising and Omid Djalili's performance as Mahmud can best be described as Homer Simpson-meets-Fiddler on the Roof.

Actor Peter Mullan appeared in Ken Loach's Riff Raff and My Name is Joe (Best Actor Award at Cannes), as well as in Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. He then branched out into directing – his second film, The Magdalene Sisters, got the top prize in Venice. The world he describes in his new film, Neds, is volatile and often violent. The main character is a bright, sensitive Glasgow boy who has to face a hostile school environment and a no-less hostile household (he is routinely victimized by his alcoholic father). In order, perhaps, just to survive, he joins a gang of "neds" (Non-Educated Delinquents). The inexorability of it all is what scares you most, as does Peter Mullan's unflinching, uncompromising direction.

The oddest object, perhaps, is Julian Temple's made-for-TV documentary Requiem for Detroit? The question mark in the title is crucial. Yes, the film is about the decay and collapse of America's fourth largest city. Yes, founded on - and for - the automotive industry, it was an embodiment of the American Dream. The dream crumbled down, the area was deserted: people simply walked away from the homes they could no longer afford. Two years ago, you could buy a house in Detroit for a hundred dollars… if you were crazy enough to want to move there.

But some people did: artists, musicians, social pioneers trying to find new ways of living together, intermingling with surprisingly resilient and resolutely optimistic locals determined to rehabilitate their decrepit environment block by block, building by building. Hence the question mark. Ultimately, the film will leave you with a smile – which is no mean feat.

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