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A Cannes debut that's straight from a Hollywood script

Category: Dear Frankie News
Article Date: May 20, 2004 | Publication: The Herald (Glasgow) | Author: Hannah Mcgill In Cannes
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TO have your debut feature film in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes is achievement enough. To attract rave reviews from influential US critics, and a standing ovation from your first paying audience, is verging on the unheard of. Little wonder that the director of Dear Frankie, Shona Auerbach, is having trouble taking it all in. "You don't imagine it for one minute," says the 36 -year-old director. "It's all happened like a storm; it's fantastic."

Shot in Glasgow and Greenock and co-produced by Scottish Screen, Dear Frankie tells the tender story of single mother Lizzie, who fakes letters to her son Frankie from his absent father, to defend Frankie from the truth about their family. As far as Frankie is concerned, his father is away at sea; in reality, he is an abusive and violent man. The web gets more tangled when Frankie becomes determined to see his father, requiring Lizzie to enlist the services of an impostor, played by Gerard Butler. Emily Mortimer stars as Lizzie, with Jack McElhone as Frankie. Written by Andrea Gibb, the film was first conceived as a 15-minute short, which Gibb unsuccessfully pitched to Scottish Screen's Tartan Shorts scheme. The script then fell into the hands of Auerbach, who was looking for her first feature idea.

Auerbach is half Scottish and attended film school in Poland, where she was influenced by the intense but considered style of eastern European cinema. She has worked in commercials, as well as making a short film, Seven, which won the British Short Film Award in 1997. A cinematographer as well as a director, she shot Dear Frankie herself, drawing inspiration from the work of the Scottish artists known as the Glasgow Boys and Girls. "Their use of light is beautiful, and there is that light in Scotland, but it's very rarely seen on film," Auerbach says. The result is an elegantly composed, warm coloured film that contrasts with customary cinematic visions of a grisly, drizzly, grey-hued land. "That was definitely a conscious decision," says the director. Auerbach's husband, Graeme Dunn, served as camera operator.

Dear Frankie screened to the public in Cannes on "Scotland Day", just ahead of the exclusive annual beach party hosted by Scottish Screen and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Screenwriter Andrea Gibb arrived exuding the radiant befuddlement of one who has just seen her own professional stock sky -rocket before her eyes. Marvelling at the standing ovation the film had received, Gibb said: "It was unbelievable. They just wouldn't sit down. I'm a little dazed; I can't take it in. Everyone was crying. We were all crying even as we were walking up the blue carpet."

The fly in all this honey has been the reaction of the highest profile British critics, some of whom were impatient enough to walk out of Monday's press screening. Auerbach is as philosophical as someone with a global distribution deal from Miramax can afford to be. "You're never going to please everyone. I'm realistic about that."

The head of Scottish Screen, Steve McIntyre, proclaimed himself "thoroughly delighted" by the audience response. He said: "This isn't a critics' film because it's unashamedly emotional. British critics tend to be absolutely terrified of giving in to something that might touch them."

Edinburgh Film Festival artistic director Shane Danielsen is another hearty defender of Dear Frankie, fuelling speculation that the film will make its UK debut at Edinburgh in August. "To me it's extraordinary," he says. "Here you have a film which, if you break it down into its constituent parts, should be sentimental trash - but it says something about the strength of Shona Auerbach's direction and the performances she extracts from her actors that

it works so well. The result is one of those rare, rare things: a successful, commercially-oriented Scottish film."

Auerbach, meanwhile, is having the kind of Cannes experience that most first -time film-makers can only dream of. "I've never seen anything like it," she says. "To have 500 people standing, applauding, many of them with tears in their eyes - I'll never forget that."

Copyright 2004 Scottish Media Newspapers Limited

 


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