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Frankie goes to Edinburgh

Category: Dear Frankie News
Article Date: August 22, 2004 | Publication: The Scotsman | Author:
Allan Hunter
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JUDGED as a filmmaking nation Scotland has always punched above its weight. Even with the well-documented handicaps of limited finance and poor distribution, we still manage to create exceedingly good films. This is a country of world-class talents, from Bill Forsyth to Lynne Ramsay and beyond. You sometimes wonder just how strong the Edinburgh Film Festival’s reputation would have been in recent years without a Scottish presence that has included the likes of Afterlife, Gas Attack, Morvern Callar, One Life Stand and many others.

Today in Edinburgh, production begins on Festival, the feature debut of writer-director Annie Griffin, and who would bet against that as an opening night film next year?

Scotland has also attracted its fair share of talents to film here, from Mel Gibson to Régis Wargnier, Bertrand Tavernier to animator Sylvain Chomet. Ken Loach has filmed here so often that he now qualifies as an honorary Scot. His decade-long collaboration with screenwriter Paul Laverty continues to bear fruit with Ae Fond Kiss, a frisky, cross-cultural romance set in Glasgow. This is a more hopeful, less despairing tale from the duo, charting the emotional upheavals when Irish Catholic schoolteacher Roisin (Eva Birthistle) falls in love with Casim (Atta Yaqub), the brother of one of her pupils. As the relationship grows more serious, it creates all kinds of problems.

Casim’s family have already arranged for him to marry a nice Pakistani girl and he is torn between following the true course of his heart and contemplating anything that would shatter his family ties. Roisin’s religious background burdens her with an unforgiving priest who considers her to be living in sin.

The suggestion that this is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet has been one that Loach has quickly dismissed as lazy shorthand on the part of journalists looking for an easy tag, but it is the inevitable comparison that arises. Told with humour, compassion and a sharp eye for human behaviour, it is a fitting end to the Loach-Laverty Scottish trilogy that began with My Name is Joe and continued with Sweet Sixteen.

This marks out slightly different territory from the gut-wrenching social issues addressed in those earlier films and its Birthistle’s feisty Roisin who wins the acting honours after the unforgettable performances of Peter Mullan and Martin Compston that glowed in the first two releases.

Recently released in cinemas, Afterlife won the Audience Award at last year’s Film Festival, not least because of the performance of Paula Sage and the screenplay by Andrea Gibb. This year, Gibb returns with Dear Frankie, another heartbreaker that has won the backing of the mighty Miramax in America and which will be released here early in 2005.

Emily Mortimer is Lizzie, the devoted mother of nine-year-old Frankie (Jack McElhone). The victim of an abusive husband, Lizzie has kept on the move and told Frankie that his father is a sailor permanently away at sea. Frankie is deaf and seems to choose not to speak so the only way his thoughts and feelings are expressed is in the letters he writes to his fictional father. Lizzie ensures that he receives fond letters back regaling him with tales from the seven seas. Then comes the moment when Frankie reads that his father’s ship is due in port and a real father will have to be produced.

The elaborate central premise of Dear Frankie is a difficult one to swallow. Lizzie is such a loving mother and Frankie is such a smart kid that its difficult to accept that she would go to such great lengths to deceive him. He could just as easily write the letters to her if the issue was one of communication. However, the film looks a treat, Jack McElhone is an expressive, unaffected child actor and Gibb makes sure that the film still takes a persuasive hold on the heartstrings.

LONG-ESTABLISHED as a fertile testing ground for Scottish filmmakers, Tartan Shorts now suffer from the unfair expectations of their past pedigree. How daunting it must be to follow in the footsteps of Mullan, Ramsay and Peter Capaldi’s Oscar-winning Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

This year’s efforts negotiate the demands of the short film format with varying degrees of success. Writer/director Clara Glynn’s No Man’s Land is the pick of the crop. Thoughtful, focused and economically told, it explores the awkwardness of a broken relationship through a young boy’s Christmas and the temporary, unexpected truce between his permanently warring parents. A young boy also provides the focus for the slight Baldy McBain, written by Marc Pye and directed by Colm McCarthy. Orphaned by his mother’s death, the lad in question enters a state of shock that leaves him silent, hairless and ostracised by his friends until nature exacts its own revenge.

Writer/director Simon Hynd takes a decent stab at a pawky comedy with Tumshie Mcfadgen’s Bid for Ultimate Bliss, in which dedicated sensualist Tumshie (Derek Riddell) attempts to experience the "maximum whoopie" by satisfying all five senses at the same time. Colourful, ambitious and as garish and gallus as the young Almodóvar, this has some droll moments and receives a considerable boost from the performance of Clive Russell as the grizzled barfly narrator.

Jim Jarmusch’s latest work Coffee & Cigarettes is a collection of shorts filmed over the past 20 years in the quieter times between features like Down by Law and Dead Man. Little pieces of time shot in shimmering black and white, they invariably capture a fleeting moment, an uncomfortable encounter, the frustration of non-communication and the pleasures of nicotine and caffeine.

Mostly shot in vacant cafés with check tablecloths and the absence of daylight, this is a decidedly mixed bunch. The highlights include a meeting between a wary Steve Coogan and an excitable Alfred Molina, Cate Blanchett playing both roles as a celebrity takes time out of her busy schedule to meet her cousin, and a bizarre meeting with an incognito Bill Murray.

There are some mild laughs and wry smiles along the way and an amazing cast that stretches to include Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits and Iggy Pop, but these are really just insubstantial doodles from the back catalogue when what you really want is a new full-scale feature from Jarmusch, who has been far too quiet since Ghost Dog five years ago.

A haunting little story of sex, guilt, love and all the confusion in between, Somersault marks a quietly impressive feature debut from writer-director Cate Shortland after a string of award-winning shorts. The interaction between a number of complex, intriguingly developed characters is set against the unusual beauty of remote locations atmospherically captured in steely colours.

Developed over a period of seven years, the script for Somersault bears the signs of something that has been carefully thought through and refined. Each character has a voice of their own, a history and a sense of a life beyond the scenes in which they appear.

Just 16, Heidi (Abbie Cornish) seems to believe that the indiscriminate use of her sexuality is the best way to discover who she is and what she wants. When her mother walks in on an intimate moment between her boyfriend and Heidi, the teenager flees in guilt and shame, winding up at the snow resort town of Lake Jindabine.

Her subsequent relationship with moody farmer’s son Joe becomes a journey towards greater emotional maturity that is sensitively contrasted with the problems of some of the more worldly characters she encounters.

Festival director Shane Daniel-sen has described this as one of the most impressive first features of the year and it would be hard to disagree.

Ae Fond Kiss, UGC, tonight, 7pm, Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday, 8pm, UGC, 10.30pm; Dear Frankie, UGC, Friday, 6.30pm, Saturday, 8.15pm; Tartan Shorts, Cameo, today, 4.15pm; Coffee & Cigarettes, UGC, Thursday, 8pm, Friday, 8pm, Saturday, 6pm; Somersault, Filmhouse, Wednesday, 7pm, Friday, 9.30pm
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