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Bradford Film Festival 2014 2: Blue Ruin; Mouton; The Joycean Society PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
11 04 2014

ImageBlue Ruin, directed by Jeremy Saulnier, soon to be distributed in the UK, is a darkly funny, constantly surprising, blood-spattered vengeance thriller with a heart, that the Coens themselves would have been proud of. Dwight (a tour de force by little known Macon Blair) at first appears as a bearded and shambly hobo living in his car. But any fears he might be some kind of dangerous weirdo are instantly dismissed by his meek demeanour when a sympathetic police officer comes knocking on his car door to break it to him that the man who many years ago was convicted of killing his parents has just been released from jail. Determinedly but fearfully he prepares to enter the world again and wreak a dutiful vengeance he seems most unsuited for.

His grimy teeshirt and jeans are soon covered in blood, lots of it his own, and Dwight (even his name is inoffensive) is soon clipping his hair and scrubbing himself up, looking the very image of mild-mannered corporate man (think Greg Kinnear), almost a comic figure in the American gothic milieu of scrubby roadsides, mouthy villains and ill-lit interiors, gathering up the guns he scarcely knows how to use as the vengeance cycle around him spirals beyond his amateurish control and the blood count grows wincingly more substantial. We're gripped from the beginning, the doubts creeping in about this whole enterprise only adding to our involvement. What will you do for your family, even if it's a bad'un? There's a particularly nice turn from Devin Ratray (recently seen in NEBRASKA) as his commonsense, gunwise old school pal who exerts a zen-like calm as events march towards a threatening climax, that's just as good as you hope it's going to be.

ImageMaybe the most talked about film of the festival, Mouton (Gilles Deroo and Marianne Pistone) is as discomfiting a movie as I've seen in a long while. In black and white almost documentary style, we observe episodes form the lowkey life of a young man everyone calls Mouton (Sheep) in a small seaside town of Northern France. Is he defective in some way? - we never really know. Our first view of him as he acquires a legal separation from his alcoholic - or at least incapable - mother, is disquieting, as he observes with apparent lack of interest through the window from a little enclosed yard as the process takes place. But fears that he may be a social outcast are soon, mostly, lifted as we see him making a good life for himself as a fairly skilled kitchen assistant at a fish restaurant where he seems pleasant, capable, and happy. But we're never sure - there's a very uncomfortably extended episode, for example, among the family who seem to be his friends as they take turns to spit on his laughing face. But this is nothing to what is to come, a violent act that is so unexpectedly, inexplicably and casually done - and the more upsetting because a narrative voice suddenly appears and tells us what is going to happen in such a matter of fact way that we don't really take it in. And suddenly the steady plod of narrative is fractured and we just don't know what to expect any more.

We continue to observe other members of the community, but our longing to understand is never fulfilled. Life goes on, observed in a detached way. There's a very odd scene in which one of the community abandons a dog on the beach, and in general animals feature in a somehow anxiety-breeding way, the fish being gutted - ‘he cannot feel pain now', dogs scrounging round the kitchen doorway, the cats Mouton looks after for people on holiday, one of whom dies. As with the community, things happen, people get on with their lives, following their instincts as if incapable of affecting their own destinies. And Mouton himself, tossed aside by the film, but continuing to be our preoccupation - a troubling experience and promising great things for these two young directors.

the Joycean Society by Dora Garcia is a charming documentary of around 50 minutes about an bright and endearing group of James Joyce enthusiasts who meet regularly in Zurich to discuss his work. For some time now they've been punctiliously working their way through Finnegan's Wake, reading maybe no more than a page at a session and plunging into the meanings and ramifications of that mysterious text. Considering how verbal the subject matter is and how static the players, this should not make a good film, but it triumphantly does, the warmly lit library in which they meet and the quizzical, mostly elderly, faces, the scribbled notes and thumbed texts a little oasis of curiosity and determined intention and, somehow, safety, a world away from the wide-ranging and often scurrilous text they are grappling with. And sometimes erudition does not mean familiarity with uninhibited street language, and it's touching when terms have to be explained to the more cloistered members.

Hard to think that English is not the first language of several of the participants as they toss around ideas about the many layered meanings. An atmosphere of humour, polite good nature and determined common purpose hangs over all, as we observe this gentle singleminded lot doing the literary equivalent of white water rafting across some of the wildest torrents of words ever produced. A little gem.

Part 3 here

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