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As is probably obvious to regular readers of the blog, this week has been the Inverness Film Festival. This year I decided to try organising my feature-film reviews about the festival by means of its own themes and threads. It’s probably inevitable that the ‘New World Cinema’ thread would be my favourite thread of the festival, as for me, that’s what film festivals are about, seeing obscure films from far flung or unusual parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to see. This year felt like a particularly good one for this thread as none of the films that I saw that came under that heading earned any less than ‘very good’ vote on my audience choice award slips.

Blade of the Immortal
Apparently, Blade of the Immortal is Takeshi Miike’s one-hundredth film. Do you know what that means? That means there are ninety-five or so more films by him that I can watch! To a certain extent, if you’re at all familiar with Miike’s work you know what you’re getting with his films, and this film delivers that in spades. This year, I’ve seen two of his films – I managed to catch Yakuza Apocalypse on Film Four at the start of the year – and what I can mostly conclude about his film-making at this stage in his career, is that his films are much more fun these days. Blade is brutal and bloody certainly, but its also a film with a great sense of both humour and fun, and most importantly it has heart. It’s also really nice to have a film like this where the central relationship is platonic. Rin reminds the immortal Manji of someone he loved and lost years before, but that someone is his sister. Which neatly allows them to evolve a deeply devoted companionship – with appropriate sibling-style insults and arguments – while neatly avoiding any creepy undertones to the whole teenage girl and much older immortal bodyguard dynamic.

I laughed, I cried, I gasped with shock: a truly excellent film.

Pomegranate Orchard
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film from Azerbaijan before. Or about Azerbaijan for that matter. (For those of you struggling to figure out where Azerbaijan is on the map, its either as far East in Eastern Europe as its possible to be or as far West as its possible to be and still be in Western Asia, depending on your perspective.) This is director Ilgar Najaf’s third film and the second film of his to involve pomegranates. (Some quick research reveals that pomegranates are one of the national symbols of Azerbaijan, and the Goychay Pomegranate Festival that features in the film is a significant cultural event.) Apparently the plot is based on Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard and as such features a prodigal son returning home to the family he abandoned twelve years before.

It’s a film full of space and silences. The family that Gabil left behind have co-existed together for a long time without him and do not seem to feel the need to infringe on each other’s space and thoughts too much. Both the characters and the filmmakers seem content to give each other space in which to be themselves and to make their own decisions. They’re conversations are measured as though they’ve learned to think before they speak, perhaps a necessary adaptation to avoid re-opening the emotional wounds that Gabil’s departure has caused. There is a great deal of play made of the relationships between fathers and sons, and the absence of Gabil’s dead brother. But for me the defining relationship of the film is the one between Jalal and his grandfather Shamil, with its quiet devotion and loyalty. Both of them men of few words, but with emotions deeply felt.

I spent the entire film feeling that Gabil was clearly up to something, but nonetheless, the twist was a proper gut-punch of a reveal. A really good film, atmospheric, beautiful and bleak.

The Nile Hilton Incident
An excellent Egyptian thriller for a Saturday night. A singer is killed in a hotel room, a member of the domestic staff is a witness and barely escapes with her life, and important people want the case to just quietly go away. Set against the background of the 2011 Tahir Square protests, by the end of the story the endemic corruption and utter failure of the justice system has both the viewer and the central anti-hero feeling no little sympathy for the urge to burn the whole rotten system down.

Leading man Fares Fares for some reason really reminds me of Christopher Eccleston, both in looks and in acting style. Which is no bad thing, as he’s an excellent actor too. His long serious face makes him look perpetually caught between sadness and grumpiness, but there’s so much going on with his eyes. An excellent performance as a corrupt cop discovering just how far across the line he will and will not go.

Cloudboy
Not technically part of this strand – this was actually one of two films to be shown as a result of the young cinema programmers project that Eden Court runs – but as a Belgian film set in a Sami community in Sweden I think it counts.

This is such a lovely film, one of my favourites of the festival. The protagonist Niilas is obsessed with sound and radios, recording things and people, and the film is full of all the weird perspectives and recordings that he makes. It’s such a warm-hearted film, with Niilas as this fish-out-of-water, finding his place in the life and family that his mother has built. The bonds he eventually makes with his siblings and mother feel all the more real for how hard fought they are. (And that his actions have real world consequences in this life.) And his stepsister Sunnà is clearly the most sensible, head screwed-on right person in the entire film.

I’m not entirely sure if the elk that keeps appearing at significant moments is an actual animal or a supernatural one, but the film gets away with it either way.

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