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Bradford Film Festival 2014 3 Brother; Exhibition; The Triplet PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
18 04 2014

ImageThe films of Alexei Balabanov first exploded to great acclaim and many a delicious shudder onto Bradford screens last year, only about a month before his sudden death. All the more reason to cherish his back catalogue, and sure enough Bradford was the place to give new-found fans like me a chance to see the film that cemented his popularity in Russia and his greatest box office hit there. Brother, made in 1997, shows many of the hallmark Balabanov traits that so delight and appal - extreme violence, whirlwind action, quirky humour, and an uncompromising head-on look at the hardships of life.

While it lacks the breathtakingly jaundiced disillusion with the corrupt state he lived in that so characterised the later films seen here last year, it's a pretty perfect gangster film with a stellar performance from Sergey Bodrov Jnr (who was to die 5 years later in an avalanche accident while film making), delivering a pitch perfect performance as young Danila, just back from national service, whose mother sends him off to St Petersburg to work with the older son she adores. Up there, having roamed from the city's touristy charms to its darker side, he soon sees big brother's success for what it is, as a hitman known as Tatar, and he's immediately initiated into the criminal world and finding himself rather more adept at it than his brother.

There's a kind of gracious innocence about him as his almost comforting figure, bulked up by his big jumper, walks the markets and desolate streets and apartment stairwells of the other side of the city - shooting those he has to, doing his best to protect the innocent, looking after women in distress, all the time on his earphones listening to his beloved punk band Nautilus Pompilius whose jagged sounds provide much of the soundtrack. And unlike most Balabanov characters he holds to a moral code, proving in the end not just better at killing than big brother but more honourable. Next year, please, Bradford, treat us to the sequel Brother 2, where Danila goes to the States to right more wrongs...

Exhibition is Joanna Hogg's third feature, another dissection of the upper middle class she knows so well, featuring a stunning performance from Viv Albertine, formerly of 80s female punk band The Slits, whose naturalistic playing of performance/installation artist D actually gets us onside, even though for anyone outside that narrow world she's really bit of a pain. D lives with her husband H (Liam Gillick) in smart west London in the house they have occupied for many years, which they are, reluctantly on her part, soon to move out of. The house is a character in itself, half beautiful, rooms flooded with light, a mysterious and gorgeous garden, half ugly, with narrow twisty staircases and small poky upstairs rooms and tiny lift, and we're soon aware that it makes particular demands on their way of behaving and thereby their relationship. Much daytime communication is by telephone because of the awkward distance between their work rooms - here how much of this the house has imposed and how much they have chosen is a moot point - and the attention that needs to be paid to the security at its rather menacing downstairs entrance makes it not easy to leave or enter.

D is preoccupied for much of the film with preparing her next show, for which she does not yet have an outlet, and she spends much of her time practising body shapes and attitude, on window sills and across chairs. An image of St Teresa appears to be among her research material and like that tortured saint there's a distinct sexual tone to the shapes and movements she creates, which feeds into her own sexual activities. Meanwhile relations with her husband swither between frigid and earthily enthusiastic. The couple's childlessness is clearly some kind of factor in all this, contrasted with the painfully child-obsessed friends they occasionally visit over the road. From them comes the only real humour in the film - and this is a shame as the painful vision of the well-heeled and well educated struggling with emotion and the uncontrolled stuff outside their world provided much of the bleakly funny triumph of her two previous films. This is mostly serious, but shot with beautiful quirky visions of the world, and again, as in Archipelago, nature appears as something wild and free, maybe joyous, maybe menacing, beyond the tight lives of the protagonists. Strangely, or perhaps not, once the couple come closer to selling the house a weight seems lifted from their lives, D gets a show organised, and relations lighten up. And the final vision of the new occupants, a family with young children, seen through the huge windows, looks optimistic and joyous. It's as if a curse has been lifted from both the place and the inhabitants.

ImageThere could hardly be a greater contrast between the recent British prison movie Starred Up and prison life as presented in the Italian documentary Il Gemello (The Triplet), by Vincento Marra. Marra is a former photographer, and his film is surprisingly beautiful, considering it's made inside the maximum security Secondigliano prison in Naples, itself set in deepest camorra territory and at the heart of housing such as was featured in the film Gomorrah. It centres on Raffaelle, ‘Il Gemello', who first went to prison at the age of 15 for bank robbery and has spent a total of 12 years inside. We first meet Raffaelle and his comrades as we amble around the wing along with Officer Niko, looking into cells and chatting as equals with the inmates as they cook themselves tasty looking meals or gaze through their windows at the exercise yard below. The first thing that strikes anyone at all acquainted with British prisons is the light - it pours down the corridors, reduplicated by shining marble floors, and the cells, though neither modern or by any means luxurious, are human places, personally decorated not just with the usual soft porn and/or religious pictures but cheery and colourful wallpapers and personally decorated storage boxes. It's actually quite beautiful.

Niko runs a successful and largely self-governing outfit, and the genial young man always seems available to talk to inmates about problem inside or out, getting them to think about what their lives may be when eventually they rejoin their families outside, even discussing his own minor family dilemmas. Raffaelle, although still showing the wilful ways that must have led him into trouble, seems compliant with the regime. His cell is immaculately clean -he keeps a whole range of cleaning products there - and even genuinely appears to accept that he deserves his long sentence, during which he works in the big onsite recycling plant to earn money to send out to his family. The story of his background and his getting into crime is banal but horrible - yet he seems to be in a place where he can live as a decent human being. Marra uses his photographer's eye to present this picture of a community of individuals that seems surprisingly better ordered and civilised than that in the streets outside.


Another Bradford film Festival gone, and from my mere three and a half days there, I think this year could well have been the best yet. long may it continue. What better use after all, for our National Media Museum, in our only European City of Film? And meanwhile, outside, the shrouds are off the old Odeon building, which I have reported on these the last two years, the scaffolding is up, and the city awaits the outcome of 2 rival bids to develop the site into a live venue. Things move on.


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