Edinburgh International Film Festival: ‘The Traitor’

Towards the end of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill is confronted with the following statement from a contemptuous defence attorney in court: “People call them rats because a rat will do anything to survive. Isn’t that right, Mr Hill?” In Scorsese’s film, the viewer follows Hill across several decades of involvement with an Italian-American crime syndicate, up to the point that various complications of his Mafia career collide in a disastrous fashion. Convinced that he and his family are marked for certain death, Hill eventually decides to become an informant for the FBI, testifying against his former friends and then entering the federal Witness Protection Program.

“Rats” and informant characters are not uncommon in crime movies, though in cases where they may be the protagonist you will often find them serving the part of a double agent or mole. They may be an undercover FBI employee infiltrating the mob, such as in Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco (1997). In Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2002), and Scorsese’s subsequent American remake The Departed (2006), you even have informants on both sides of the law: an undercover cop, deep in the criminal underworld, trying to smoke out a mob mole lurking in the police department.

In mob movies where the lead eventually turns informant after some pressure, this will traditionally happen in the third act after a few hours of transgressive highs of the lifestyle leading to destructive lows. A rarer commodity is a film mostly set after the mobster’s choice has been made to spill the beans. After all, the derogatory term “rat” is used to denote that such a person is the lowest of the low in an environment that may posit the notion of honour among thieves. The perceived wisdom may be that audiences won’t want to follow such a character for a whole film; one that would, by its very nature, skimp on some of the glamour and success Mafia tales usually show before things go terribly wrong. But that is exactly what revered Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio has made with his subversive spin on the mob movie, The Traitor, in which the title character heads down the informant path within the opening half-hour…

Full feature for the Curzon Blog

Interview: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Star of ‘A White, White Day’

A veteran performer who has worked extensively in his native Iceland, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson is perhaps best known to British audiences as one of the leads of hit crime series Trapped, which has aired on BBC Four, and for the eccentric dark comedy Of Horses and Men (2013). His credits in international productions include roles in HBO’s SuccessionFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), Everest (2015) and Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker (2002).

The thrilling A White, White Day — which won Sigurðsson an acting prize in the Critics’ Week section at last year’s Cannes Film Festival — offers his greatest showcase to date. The sophomore feature from Icelandic writer-director Hlynur Pálmason, it explores how anguish and resentment can manifest in dangerous and disturbing ways.

Sigurðsson plays Ingimundur, a prickly widowed police officer who processes the loss of his wife in a car accident by focusing his attention on a labour-intensive building project to provide a new home for teenage granddaughter Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir) and her mother. When evidence suggests that Ingimundur’s late wife was having an affair, his quest for the truth begins to consume him and puts the safety of Salka in jeopardy.

Here, Josh Slater-Williams speaks to the actor about A White, White Day and the current state of Icelandic cinema…

Full interview for the Curzon Blog

The Girl with a Bracelet (Stéphane Demoustier, 2019)

Adapted from the screenplay of 2018 Argentine film The Accused, writer-director Stéphane Demoustier’s The Girl with a Bracelet transplants the story to France for a colder tonal register. While its title may initially suggest either a period costume drama or a potboiler in the vein of Paula Hawkins, this is a modern courtroom drama and profile of a potential murderer, here a teenage girl. The bracelet of the title ultimately has another meaning, but it mainly references the electronic monitoring device attached to the accused’s ankle while under house arrest…

Full review for VODzilla.co

‘I See You’: Someone’s watching me

I See You is a puzzle movie where revealing the exact horror sub-genres it sticks with to the end, or even to its halfway point, constitutes as a spoiler. Penned by American actor-turned-writer Devon Graye (Dexter, The Flash), directed by Brit Adam Randall (who helmed Netflix Original sci-fi iBoy) and starring Helen Hunt and Jon Tenney, the Ohio-filmed movie benefits from knowing as little as possible, beyond the basic premise that concerns a series of abductions in a small town coinciding with the apparent haunting of a family’s home.

That said, there’s still plenty to discuss without giving the game away. Speaking to SciFiNow at last summer’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Adam Randall (carefully) told us about his film…

Full interview for SciFiNow

Interview: Atom Egoyan, Director of ‘Guest of Honour’

Behind some of Canadian cinema’s most acclaimed films, Atom Egoyan is best known for a string of breakthrough independent features he made in the 1990s, including The Adjuster (1991), Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997), the latter earning him two Oscar nominations. Regularly playing with the conventions of melodrama, his time-jumping narratives are characterised by their gradual teasing of information with the full nature of characters’ relationships never immediately clear.

Egoyan’s latest, Guest of Honour, is another tale about past sins and moral dilemmas of the present. It gives the great David Thewlis a rare leading role as a widowed health inspector, Jim, whose mind dwells on the incarceration of his adult daughter, Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), for a crime she didn’t commit. In a parallel timeline, a now released Veronica discusses her father with a local priest (Luke Wilson) in order to compose a eulogy.

Here, Josh Slater-Williams speaks to the writer-director about his storytelling interests and the genesis of Guest of Honour

Full interview for the Curzon blog

Introducing ‘Run’ star Marli Siu – Scotland’s brightest new acting talent

Among the creative industries, the coronavirus pandemic has had a particularly big impact on movies and theatre, with cinemas and stages closed – and filming halted mid-production. For Scottish rising star Marli Siu, whose big screen debut was in cult horror musical Anna and the Apocalypse, there’s been an effect on multiple music-heavy projects.

Firstly, her indie film Run opened in March during growing uncertainty, lasting just five days before lockdown scuppered attendance (it’s out on digital this week). Inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen and starring Game of Thrones’ Mark Stanley, the thrifty 76-minute drama follows an existentially frustrated father in the Scottish town of Fraserburgh, who swipes his son’s car for a late night drag race.

Later this year, Siu will also feature in Our Ladies, the long-awaited adaptation of Alan Warner’s beloved 1998 novel The Sopranos (no mafia connection), which had its planned multiplex release in April pushed back to September. The Derry Girls-ish film follows five riotous teenagers from the Highlands running wild in mid-’90s Edinburgh for an afternoon of debauchery. But before that, you’ll see her on the small screen in Prime Video’s new series Alex Rider, based on Anthony Horowitz’s bestselling spy novels and also starring national treasure Vicky McClure.

Basically, Marli’s got a lot going for her right now. So, we dropped her a line to find out why she’s suddenly such a big deal…

Full interview for NME

The story of Bong Joon-Ho’s forgotten masterpiece

The concept of time has changed entirely during the coronavirus pandemic, but yes, it really has been just three (3) months since Parasite’s game-changing haul at the Oscars. The South Korean film, directed by Bong Joon-Ho picked up four awards, including its historic win for Best Picture. It remains the only good thing to have happened in 2020.

But while Parasite’s Oscars breakthrough came as a welcome surprise, Bong’s back catalogue has long performed well with audiences in the US and the rest of the Western world; he’s been directing films for two decades. Two of his earlier Korean language films, monster movie The Host and thriller Mother, both did numbers commercially and racked up great reviews. He also directed and co-wrote two English language movies that saw him work alongside a number of major Western actors: the Netflix-backed pig-hippo caper Okja, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and Snowpiercer.

Snowpiercer a dystopian thriller, lavished with critical acclaim and bolstered by an all-star cast that includes Chris Evans, Parasite’s Song Kang Ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer. But the film was, at one point, destined to become a footnote in Bong’s back catalogue. Shortly after it wrapped filming, The Weinstein Company acquired the rights to distribute the film in a number of countries including North America and the UK, which is where the production’s troubles began…

Full feature for i-D

The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019)

A slick country-hopping noir riff with bloody shootouts and occasionally lavish locations, The Whistlers would seem to be a rather surprising swerve into mainstream crowd-pleasing territory for writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu, one of the poster boys of the Romanian New Wave. But while some of his earlier features, such as 12:08 East of Bucharest and Police, Adjective, certainly fit the realist and/or minimalist mode of the types of Romanian films that have broken out internationally in the last decade-plus, the pattern of his career has been as eccentric as the onscreen tone and characters of his movies.

For one of the odder one-two filmmaking punches of recent memory, the movie he made directly before The Whistlers was Infinite Football, a documentary about a proposed reinvention of the rules of the beautiful game, which looks like it cost as much to make as one night’s rent at the motel in this film. Unlike Infinite Football’s civil servant, Porumboiu doesn’t seem to be looking to reinvent his chosen subject (noir) with The Whistlers, although it is still full of strangeness in line with his other works. For one thing, there’s its distinct hook for a crime movie, as hinted at in its title for English-speaking territories…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Romantic Comedy (Elizabeth Sankey, 2019)

Elizabeth Sankey is an English multi-hyphenate whose work encompasses music, writing and acting. She’s likely best known as one half of the indie pop duo Summer Camp, who’ve released several albums to date, one of which was the soundtrack to Charlie Shackleton’s essay documentary on teen films, Beyond Clueless. In the realm of critical commentary, she has written for The Guardian, NME, Vice and other publications on all kinds of pop culture, with many of her pieces concerning deconstructions of media from her formative years.

Her feature debut as a director, Romantic Comedy, is a melting pot of all these creative interests: an essay film heavy on autobiographical relationships to the art and texts being discussed, for which Sankey, through Summer Camp, also provides songs – although Jeremy Warmsley also contributes a score…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Corneliu Porumboiu talks ‘The Whistlers’

Following his breakthrough feature, 2006’s 12:08 East of Bucharest, Romanian writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu has become known for veering between similarly satirical comedies, meta-textual documentaries (The Second Game, Infinite Football) and ostensibly more traditional dramas (Police, Adjective). His most recent film, The Whistlers, which premiered in competition against Parasite at Cannes, is a departure from all of them.

With a touch of the Coen brothers in tone, The Whistlers is a comedic noir with a twist: it’s largely set around La Gomera, a Canary Island with an ancestral language, “El Silbo Gomero”, based around whistling. Cristi (Police, Adjective star Vlad Ivanov) is a cop who’s a whistle-blower for the mafia, under police surveillance himself in Romania thanks to his ties to a shady businessman. Tasked with helping to get that same mobster out of prison – and lead the way to a hidden €30m stash – Cristi ventures to La Gomera to learn the coded language, so as to secretly communicate across long distances and stifle police detection.

It’s certainly an interesting hook for a heist movie, and viewers acquainted with the Romanian New Wave can rest assured that, while certainly a more mainstream crowd pleaser, The Whistlers does not see Porumboiu drop his eccentric streak.

With the film now available on Curzon Home Cinema, alongside his previous feature Infinite Football, we speak to Porumboiu about more than if he knows how to whistle like Lauren Bacall…

Full interview for VODzilla.co

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams