Date: Sunday 16 September
Films: 1 – North by Northwest
Beverages: 1 coke
Verdict: A poor performance today, thanks to the combination of a late night last night, a long-ish film today and a need for an early night. North by Northwest as terrifically entertaining on the big screen as ever it was, with Cary Grant at his most suave and Hitch clearly having a ball with several classic set-pieces rubbing shoulders with each other. Preceding the film was a talk by director Richard Bracewell on Hitchcock’s technical expertise, examining his use of montage, composition and point of view shots. Fascinating stuff, if necessarily brief.
Must try harder tomorrow.
Date: Saturday 15 September
Films: 3 – Rebecca; War Witch; Dead Before Dawn 3D
Beverages: 1 americano, 2 cokes, 1 red wine
Verdict: Hopes for a four-film day were sadly dashed, but there can be no finer way to begin a festival day than seeing a classic Hitchcock, which Rebecca unquestionably is. The big screen really allows the gothic visuals and sumptuous sets to immerse the audience, while Hitch’s camerawork subtly suggesting the offscreen presence of the first Mrs De Winter works a treat. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in the lead roles are great, but the icing on the cake is a supporting cast that includes Nigel Bruce AND George Sanders – legends both.
After that came War Witch, a drama about a young girl brutally recruited in to a rebel army in the Congo and her attempts to deal with the atrocities she is forced to commit. It sounds harrowing and it occasionally is, but director Kim Nguyen sensitively portrays the violence and trauma that Komona undergoes, never allowing the film to become an ordeal. On the contrary, it’s a moving and rewarding experience.
Dead Before Dawn 3D rounded off the day with a welcome dose of silliness as zombie demons (a.k.a. Zemons) threaten to take over the world, in a homage to The Evil Dead among many, many others. The cast – including another legend, Christopher “Great Scott!” Lloyd – give it their all, summoning up plenty of giggles if not outright guffaws.
Date: Friday 14 September
Films: 3 – Hope Springs; Camp 14: Total Control Zone; The Pleasure Garden
Beverages: 1 cappuccino, 2 teas, 1 coke
Verdict: First full day of the festival began with a catch-up screening of Hope Springs, which I missed last night as it clashed with Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love. A few decent moments aside, Hope Springs felt artificial and often descended in to the painfully predictable. Meryl Streep reprises her role from Mamma Mia, while Tommy Lee Jones plays Tommy Lee Jones. Best bits played over the end credits.
Camp 14: Total Control Zone was eye-opening if nothing else – the true story of a man who escaped from a North Korea labour camp, where he had spent his entire life. Some pretty hideous stories emerge, and though director Marc Wiese admirably lets him speak for himself, the documentary would have benefited from a longer stay in the editing suite.
Finally, the Hitchcock Revisited strand kicked off with The Pleasure Garden, the director’s first full-length feature from 1925. Plenty of laughs, thrills and saucy goings-on in this ripe melodrama about two dancers on the London stage. A few unmistakable Hitch touches help it rise above the average.
Date: Thursday 13 September
Films: 2 – Tabu (pre-festival film so doesn’t really count); To Rome With Love
Beverages: 1 cappuccino, 1 tea, 1 glass of red wine
Verdict: Good start. Tabu was a damn good warm-up, with its impressive and imaginative storytelling, followed by Woody Allen’s lightly enjoyable divertimento – an entirely inconsequential work but with enough laughs and silliness along the way to make it worth seeing. Those looking for any resemblance to the real world should apply elsewhere.