Cambridge Film Festival Diary

The Black Balloon triumphs!

by Adam Micklethwaite

Over three hours on a coach after an early start, following an ill-advised trip to see a friend’s band the night before and we finally made it to the historical, educational and cultural phenomenon that is Cambridge. It may not have the bright lights and big city feel of the world’s larger festivals but right now I’ll settle for the mini-heatwave of an Indian summer and the charms of one of the world’s ldest university cities over the red carpets and the mass gatherings of media-hungry celebs. In any case, this was the first time I’d visited Cambridge or been to a proper film festival so the experience was not without a certain amount of anticipation. Needless to say I was very impressed on both counts. Cambridge is a very attractive location (appearing to its best advantage in the glorious weather we were fortunate to experience over the whole weekend) with a great cinema and although I was slightly disappointed by the lack of stars who’d turned up for the festival (especially for ‘Brideshead Revisited’), this was more than made up for by the excellent choice of films on offer.

Good Dick

Our first cinematic experience of the festival came in the form of the provocatively titled Good Dick – a truly alternative take on the rom-com, which does everything it possibly can to sidestep romantic cliché, exploring the relationship between a reclusive woman with a penchant for low-grade porn films and the video-store assistant who is besotted with her. At times I found this film very funny and was impressed by the quirky nature of the love story and the film’s treatment of the x-rated subject matter was surprisingly subtle, but I still couldn’t escape the impression that the behaviour of the central characters was a little bit alienating and I felt that the ending was too forced. Still, it had a great soundtrack and if you’re tired of the same old rom-coms then I definitely recommend trying it out.

The Black Balloon

This Aussie gem was, without a doubt, my favourite film of the festival – a genuinely warm, gripping, powerful coming-of-age drama which explores the challenges facing a family with an autistic son, particularly focussing upon the way in which Charlie’s otherness impacts upon his teenage brother Thomas. At times this film is absolutely hilarious, especially the scenes involving Erik Thomson as the larger-than-life father figure, but it is equally capable of dealing skilfully with more serious issues such as bullying and the day-to-day challenges of living with autism – not just for Charlie but for his family. It manages to be hard hitting, intelligent and funny without ever feeling patronising, predictable or over-simplified. A truly inspired film which I hope will achieve the global success and recognition it deserves!

Rivals (Les Liens du Sang)

An excellent French cop drama based in the late Seventies, which tells the story of two brothers – one a long-serving detective and the other a convicted murderer who’s just been released after 10 years behind bars. A very different animal from the previous collaboration by Guillaume Canet and François Cluzet – 2007’s gripping thriller Tell No One – this was nevertheless an inciteful, well-acted drama which showcased the breadth of these two great actors. It’s refreshingly un-Hollywood approach to action sequences placed the conflict between the brothers at the centre of the story and the well-worked narrative led to a dramatic and powerful ending.

Final thoughts on a great weekend are that I’m very pleased with the films I saw (with the exception of the rather disappointing In the City of Sylvia) though if I had more time I would certainly like to have seen Gomorrah (winner of this year’s Grand Prix at Cannes) and The Year of the Nail whose premise (of building a narrative out of a collection of random photographs taken over the course of a year) sounds very promising indeed! It’s great to see a festival like Cambridge still going strong in its 28th year – in times when the majority of the population are increasingly limited to whatever mainstream rubbish the local Odeon or Vue chooses to screen it’s great to see cinema’s like the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge thriving and great to see an opportunity for little-known actors and directors to broaden their appeal and spread the word amongst parts of the population who might not get the chance to attend the world’s more glamorous festivals.

That’s me signing off – see you next year!

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