Celebrating its 30th birthday in style, the Cambridge Film Festival offers yet another eclectic barrage of films sure to entice an array of cinema-goers. Their tantalising programme provides a glimpse of what is on offer but, as ever with the festival, there are very special surprises along the way. When Roobla attended the festival half-way through its romp through its selection of films we didn’t expect to meet a comedian starring in a world premier, sip free alcohol nor did we expect to see someone get mauled by a cannibal. Luckily the latter was on-screen…
CELL 211 (2009) *********
Daniel Monzón’s Cell 211 (or Celda 211 as it is known in its native Spain) follows the truly compelling story of a prison riot with a twist. Juan Oliver experiences what could possibly be the worst first day at work ever when he is left to fend for himself in the midst of a full-blown, politically fuelled, prison riot. Led by the villainous Malamadre (Luis Tosar), the rioters overrun their facility leaving the authorities no choice but to have a SWAT team on standby to subdue them – the only thing the rioters don’t know is that Juan is a lot newer to the prison life than they believe. Far from being a murderer fresh from sentencing, he is in fact due to start as the new prison guard the day after the riot begins. Having to abandon any suggestion of his life to the bottom of a toilet Julian finds that his life is forever changed by one chance happening in his tour of the prison.
Although Monzón’s film is very nicely filmed it is not simply its photography which makes it stand out. Instead, what makes the film so demanding is the relationship formed between Juan and Malamadre. The depth given to each of the characters is commendable and due to this you find yourself empathising with both which ultimately sees the boundaries between who is right and who is wrong blurred. Juan’s charade makes for truly heart-thumping stuff and you’re never quite sure in which direction the film will chose to go. The flashbacks provide depth to the story whilst adding an element that propels the story forward as well as offering another outlet for political questioning.
Not only does Cell 211 deal with the repercussions of housing ETA members in a Spanish prison, it also throws light on some troubling issues present in the Spanish prison system. Highlighting the poor conditions experienced by many inmates, it also draws attention to the subtle irony of working in a prison – whereas inmates can leave when they have fulfilled their sentence the prison guards are there, as one says, ‘for life’. As this sentiment is testament to, the humour present in the film is dry but well paced and well-toned. Juan’s impressive handwriting prowess is glorified by the illiterate and offers balance to the darker moments of the film. Some of the film’s characters are truly terrifying (the inmate who slurs his words being a prime example) and the prolonged not-quite-knowing who to trust provides an extra layer of suspense throughout the film.
Fully rebuking claims by the Film Festival’s Daily Newspaper who suggested that the film, although being a very good one, deploys clichéd story devices, Cell 211, adapted from a book, puts a new spin on the prison genre. Having made it into the Top 5 rated films at the festival a mere day after being shown is testament to its power and is a film not to be missed.
ROUND IRELAND WITH A FRIDGE (2010) *****
‘We did consider Cannes but said ‘no, no, Cambridge is where we want our world premier” jokes comedian Tony Hawks, writer and star of Round Ireland With a Fridge. Adapted from his popular book of the same title, Round Ireland With a Fridge does exactly what is says on its magnetic surface; following Hawks (starring as himself as he was exactly the right height for the role and is pretty good at impersonating himself) as he, quite literally, travels around Ireland with a fridge in tow after making a drunken bet with a friend.
The film’s message, one that urges viewers to seize the day, have ‘faith in the fridge’ (you’ll get it when you see the film) and just to generally perk up and embrace life is one that has been hammered home perhaps one too many times but it is a content little film whose sole purpose is to entertain. Many of its jokes rely on visual gags but offer a light-hearted look at the ups and downs of life, perhaps best portrayed by the fridge surfing the tides of Sligo, Ireland (yes you read that right). The appearance of Sean Hughes is a welcome one whilst Ed Byrne’s representation of Gerry Ryan (called Dylan Daly in the film itself) is comical.
Branded as ‘the biggest eejit in Ireland’ Tony Hawks, along with his fridge, make for entertaining viewing but the laughs are, at points, a bit sparse. His yo-yoing relationship with Roisin (Valerie O’Connor) is slightly cardboard and tiresome. Sitting a mere three seats away from the star and the film’s director Ed Bye (who’s had a hand in the likes of Red Dwarf and Vicar of Dibley) does however alter the viewing experience somewhat. A daunting seat to sit in when the time came for the q + a session, it was lucky that the screening came with a free dose of Jameson whiskey (albeit straight).
When asked what the fibs forecast at the beginning of the film were, Bye surmised that there was seven lies told in total in the film. Hawks, expanding on his friend’s joke, explained that the biggest fib the film tells is that he’s a bastard; he clarifies that he is, in fact, lovely all the time. Another fib, Mr. Hawks? Taking a more serious note he explained how an arc was implemented to help the film flow better but the ridiculous happenings of Round Ireland With a Fridge did, in fact, actually happen.
Unfortunately, much to the audience’s dismay, Hawks was not accompanied by the fridge – of which, after shooting the film, there has six. Ultimately the film falls between a comedy that has too few laughs and a pseudo-documentary with too much humour but is enjoyable nonetheless. And just for the record, this wasn’t the film with cannibalism…
HAPPY FACE (2009) ******
Franklin P. Laviola’s short film Happy Face acted as a B movie of sorts to Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are. Focusing on a young starlett obsessed with face transplants, the film follows her journey away from a mental institute. Making a statement on the price of fame, Happy Face combines the shock factor with social commentary. At what cost does celebrityism come? Laviola, part of the film’s audience, sat with his arms behind his head whilst watching his short, himself being a picture of calm, his posture affirming his certainty in his project which was nice to see. Insightful and resonating, Happy Face was an unexpected, albeit slightly disturbing, gem.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2010) *****
And so we get to the film that concerns itself with one of the strongest taboos; cannibalism. The opening of the Mexican-based We Are What We Are follows what seems to be a possessed man as he stumbles from one shop face to another before he falls down dead.
When the news reaches his family they are panic-stricken; not simply because the patriarch of their family has died but because their provider will no longer be able to provide. It is with a dawning sense of trepidation that the audience realise just what the father provided his family with. Instead of the usual weekly shop at Tesco he would bring home something much worse than tinned Macaroni Cheese. The family’s eerie references to having to collect ‘something’ if the father cant intensify the feelings of trepidation and soon enough we discover that that ‘something’ in fact takes the form of a human being if their ritual is to take place.
The mother’s obvious fear and loathing of whores is indicative of an imaginable link between infidelity and cannibalism – in feeding his carnal appetite with whores before eating them the mother feels her husband doubly betrayed her and their children. The film itself is punctured with several close-ups of closing doors which is suggestive of both her feelings toward her deceased spouse and society’s feeling toward her habits.
The police who try to unearth the mysterious appearance of a woman’s finger in the body of the deceased father/husband figure provides some lighter relief to a very bleak film filled with silences and furtive glances – as well, of course, as blood, guts and teeth-in-flesh action. But, a note fore the squeamish among us, a lot of the more gory scenes take place off-screen… but a lot don’t.
The title ‘We Are What We Are’ suggests an innate cannibalism present in humanity – and here it links perhaps somewhat to its the film that ushered the arrival of We Are What We Are onto screen. Although it may have been coupled with Happy Face by coincidence, the inference can be made that we are all, to an extent, cannibalistic in our fascination with devouring the celebrity image.
The film benefits from its little dialogue and extensive use of static cameras as both the audience is never fully invited to be part of the family, and neither would they want to.
Despite being the bleakest of the four films we saw it offers the most inspiring message – a ridiculously happy woman gives Alfredo (portrayed impressively by Francisco Barreiro) a message while he travels away from one of his failed attempts to provide for his family and it says simply ‘estas vivo’ – ‘you are alive’. Poignant especially in a film that considers, quite literally, the ethic of eat or be eaten it reaffirms the message conveyed entirely differently by Hawks just hours earlier – have faith in the fridge and rejoice in what you have. Even if that may be a half eaten face.
The hubbub of the festival-goers between screenings is delectable whilst the audiences themselves are varied but welcomed. Cambridge’s film Festival embraces films of all genres and benefits from doing so. If you attended the festival you will have been made aware of its plight as it has lost a major source of funding which is a blow. Measures are being taken to ensure there is a 31st Film Festival which, if this year is anything to go by, promises to be both engaging and varied.