Cambridge Film Festival

REVIEW: The Seed (2021)

After being victims of gentrification Rainer (Hanno Koffler) moves his family to the outskirts of the city to a house that needs a lot of work. As he toils away at home and on a building site where his position as site manager is appearing more and more precarious, his thirteen-year-old daughter Doreen (Dora Zygouri) befriends neighbour Mara (Lilith Julie Johna) whose family is a lot richer than her own.

Comparisons to social dramas from Ken Loach can be easily made as Rainer and his family are put through more and more financial and emotional turmoil. However, while the cast is good in their roles – Koffler is especially engaging – the narrative they’re in is pretty simple. As more and more burdens are place on the family, you hardly ever see why this is happening. Is it their family specifically that’s hit a rough patch, or is it part of a wider social issue and they’re not alone in this struggle? Naturally as The Seed is a German film there could well be context clues that I as a Brit living in the UK did not pick up on but it does feel like a simple way to tell this story.

Rainer’s storyline can be frustrating at times as he, like many of his fellow workers, have worked for this company for years and feels some loyalty to it. This is exacerbated by company owner Klose (Robert Stadlober) who makes promises that from an outside perspective you can see he has no intention of keeping. Rainer’s situation shows how while companies may preach that they are a family company and any success benefits all the workers, in reality that’s not the case and no one is irreplaceable.

Doreen’s struggles are typical coming-of-age fare. She’s had to leave behind her friends and the new girl she befriends has a cruel streak. As she yearns for friendship, she finds herself in situations where Mara is convincing her to steal or play dangerous tricks on other girls and when she does stand up for herself, she becomes the target.

The parallels between father and daughter and their struggles couldn’t be more on the nose. While Rainer is having to deal with a cruel and two-faced boss, Doreen is spending time with someone who is more of a bully than a friend. The way their relationship troubles build mirrors one another until they both reach their breaking point. The cutting between Rainer and Doreen’s final confrontations with their tormentors is inevitable and while it’s unsurprising, the way these confrontations turn out lead to an interesting juxtaposition.

The sound design is one notable aspect of The Seed. Any time Rainer gets overwhelmed by his situation, it’s like his anxiety spikes and a high-pitched whining, rumbles of thunder and steady but foreboding drumbeat drown out everything else around him. The sound is suffocating and is a great audio-visualisation of his current emotional state. Continuing the themes of daughter’s life mirroring her father’s, while it doesn’t happen as often to Doreen, the same techniques are implemented when everything becomes too much for her too.

While everything does slowly build to a crescendo, The Seed finishes with an open-ending. After everything that’s come before it’s hard to think of a conclusion that could be happy or even concrete while still being realistic. However, it does mean that you’re left feeling dejected and unsatisfied because as a people we tend to strive for some semblance of hope or light even in the darkest of stories, and here there is very little of that for this family. 3/5.

REVIEW: Salaryman (2021)

Comprised of interviews, animation and photographs, director Allegra Pacheco explores the concept of “Salarymen”. These are typically white-collar workers who work excessive hours, then go out late drinking or for meals with colleagues and bosses. The last train leaves at midnight and if they don’t make that train, they’re left to either find a bed for the night in the city or, far more commonly, just fall asleep on the pavement, their head lying on their briefcase.

Through interviews with historians, psychologists and with former and current Salarymen, past and present, Pacheco paints a picture of people being pushed to the brink. It’s interesting to hear the cultural and historical roots of Salarymen and while there’s some aspects that are distinctly Japanese – thinking of the collective rather than the individual – the implications of these long working hours and having to socialise after hours in order to help your career is something that can be seen in any capitalist society.

Likewise, it’s the Boomer generation that gained the most from this way of working. While they still lost time at home with their families, there was job security and the chance of progression and mentorship. Today the younger generation of office workers don’t have that, they are putting in long hours for little to no reward just because it’s the norm.

It’s not just men who are affected by this phenomenon. Women office workers also have long hours and the pressure to socialise with colleagues out of office hours, though there was no footage of women asleep on the street. And even if women aren’t living the life of a Salaryman, those who are married to a Salaryman are more like a single parent than in a relationship. Wives are put in a terrible position where they have no support at home, and children can grow up without their father being a conscious part of their lives.

One thing director Allegra Pacheco does is draw chalk outlines around sleeping men on the pavement, making it look like a crime scene and highlighting what is an anomaly to her (she says that being from Latin America she couldn’t imagine anyone sleeping on the street without being robbed or worse) but all other passers-by barely give them a second glance. While the chalk outline is supposed to show how these people are being worked to exhaustion or even death, it feels exploitative as she makes these men a part of her artwork without their knowledge or consent. While it ends up being striking images, it’s uncomfortable to watch.

Salaryman does get a bit repetitive in the middle, there’s only so many times you can hear about people’s dreadful work/life balance, but when it tackles topics of suicide it does so with care and sensitivity. Overall Salaryman works as a wakeup call to the extremes the workforce is pushed to and while there is no concrete solution to how to change this culture, there is a spark of hope coming from the most unlikely of places. 3/5.

REVIEW: Everything in the End (2021)

Stranded in a small Icelandic town, a young Portuguese man named Paulo (Hugo de Sousa) seeks out human connections and intimacy during the Earth’s final days.

Sometimes you watch a film at exactly the right time and it hits you in a way it probably wouldn’t at any other time. That’s how I felt about Everything in the End. It’s a film that was made pre-pandemic but is one that is strangely relevant to our times now.

It’s a film about loneliness and isolation but also making connections with other people. Everyone is just waiting for the world to end. How and why this is happening you don’t know, there’s just an acceptance of what is coming and Paulo and everyone else he meets is just in a strange limbo as they live out their final days. As Paulo meets different people, sometimes multiple times, others just in passing, it’s little moments of connection that often feel bigger because soon they are never going to meet someone new again.

There’s a sense of both longing and acceptance throughout Everything in the End. The longing for more time, to have done and seen more things in what time they were given. But also, the acceptance that they don’t have that time, this is where they have chosen to spend their last days, with these people. That Paulo decided to travel to rural Iceland where he knew no one isn’t easy for some characters to understand but they take him at face value because what harm can anyone do now when the world is ending?

The fact that there’s no subtitles when characters speak Icelandic or Portuguese is really effective. English is the mutual language (some characters speak it better than others) so when someone tries to talk to Paulo in Icelandic before realising he doesn’t understand you feel as lost as he does. Likewise in one emotional scene where Paulo is rambling in Portuguese you just have to listen to the emotions and while I didn’t understand what he was saying, I knew what he was talking about due to context clues in previous scenes.

Rural Iceland looks beautiful yet haunting and it feels like the perfect place to wait for the end of the world. There’s a lot of wide shots of Paulo walking through fields or sitting on the shore perfectly encapsulating the loneliness he feels. Having those times where Paulo is alone makes the moments where he is with others more impactful.

Everything in the End is a really impactful film full of longing and grief and though things are undoubtable terrible for Paulo and the rest of the world, there’s still small moments of joy to be found. It’s those little sparks of light and connection that pull us through tough times and even though Paulo’s fate is inevitable, those connections still having meaning.

Everything in the End is one of those films where I was impressed as I watched it but then it’s one that I’ve been unable to stop thinking about since. It’s so melancholy but almost hopeful at the same time. Like I said, I think living during a pandemic where there’s been times I’ve felt isolated from loved ones and adrift has made Everything in the End take on new meaning and become almost strangely comforting. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jim (Andrew Garfield), rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

Personally, I had never heard of evangelicals Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker before hearing about this film. It is about people and events that were before my time and I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any kind of religious broadcasting channels here in the UK – personally my family didn’t get Sky and therefore more than the standard four channels until I was about fourteen and that was in the mid-2000s. But I like Jessica Chastain a lot and got the chance to see The Eyes of Tammy Faye at a local film festival months before it’s released in the UK so thought why not.

I’m very glad I gave this film ago. It is a bit unsure at times whether it wants to be a standard biopic or lean into the over-the-top almost satire of these people’s situation but Chastain’s performance guides you through any shaky moments. It also works best when it leans into the absurdity.

The costumes are stunning and are so very ‘80s and it’s hard not to get swept up in the glamour of it all. The religious songs Chastain sings are also super catchy as well and the whole package that Tammy Faye presents to their audience is bold and energetic. How this then contrasts to her at home, when she feels neglected by her husband makes events even more affecting.

Truly Chastain is fantastic in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Often, she’s unrecognisable thanks to the hair, makeup and prosthetic work she has going on but equally her performance is stunning too. Over the course of the film, she goes from being bubbly and full of life to disconnected and close to depressed as all her hopes and dreams come crashing down around her. She plays all the aspects of Tammy’s personality so well and it’s kind of sad sometimes because Tammy appears to be a woman who loves people, loves God, and to her detriment, loves her husband. She is full of love and is far more accepting than any other evangelical preacher seen in The Eyes of Tammy Faye – Vincent D’Onofrio plays Pastor Jerry Falwell who is the most pious of the religious figures that surround her.

While Chastain and Garfield are both great, Cherry Jones who plays Tammy’s mother Rachel steals just about every scene she’s in. Her scathing line delivery is hilarious and her presence is felt even when she’s not on screen. She’s the one person Tammy wants to impress and be proud of her, while Rachel is more suspicious of her daughter and son-in-law’s careers. Rachel is a religious woman but doesn’t see how people sending their money to the network is something God would condone.

Honestly Andrew Garfield is great as the weaselly Jim Bakker. He can be both cruel and charismatic and as the viewer you can see the things that Tammy is oblivious to and how while she did things with often the best intentions, he did them to further his life. Like honestly, the man was awful and both Garfield and Chastain did such good jobs in their roles that I was mad at him for hurting her – even though if she’d been a little more present in the running of the network, she wouldn’t have been so blindsided by her husband’s lies.

Speaking of Garfield, at the beginning in the 1960s when Jim and Tammy meet at college there is some weirdness going on with Andrew Garfield’s face. I’m not sure if it is the de-aging CGI that we’re often seeing in films nowadays, the makeup or a combination of the two but I’ve never seen a man with such a smooth face. He looked like a Ken doll in those scenes. Once the narrative had moved on so he was playing a Jim that was closer to his age (Garfield is 38) this stopped and he looked a lot more normal.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a funny and at times almost surreal biopic. The performances are all fantastic and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Tammy Faye as it really does seem like she was an enthusiastic and caring woman. But, due to her trusting nature and her faith she was easily led and betrayed. 4/5.

Thoughts on… Film Festivals

This year I attended the Cambridge Film Festival for the first time. This was mainly because I now live in Cambridge but to be honest previously I didn’t know it existed. I was lucky enough to receive press accreditation, so I got to see a lot of films both as screeners and in the cinema for free as I was reviewing them for JUMPCUT Online. I also went to the London film Festival a couple of times this year. I try to see a couple of films at least at the London Film Festival each year, it’s not that hard for me to get into London and spend a Saturday or Sunday seeing films.

I was pretty exhausted after a week of festival viewing and it took me a while to write up all my reviews. (This is in part because my laptop decided to die – the charger port stopped working so I sent it away to be fixed and it was almost three weeks before I got it back. But that’s another story)

I’ve been thinking about what I want to get out of film festivals. Obviously, it’s a chance to see a film before the general public. Film festivals are especially helpful for that in the UK as, in comparison to America, we sometimes get smaller indie films or films that are likely to get awards buzz anywhere from one month to about three months or even longer after our American friends. For me, the films I make an effort to see at festivals are ones that are unlikely to get a cinema release, or if they do it would be a very small one and hard to find it in the cinema or even online on streaming or rental sites.

For instance, at the London film Festival this year there were films like Widows and Colette and they were all going to get UK releases – Widows was released last month, and Colette is set to be released in January. Take Widows for instance, from its UK premiere at the London Film Festival to when it was released in the UK, it was three weeks which is nothing really and so I would rather see the films that might be a foreign or indie film (or both) which I am unlikely to see in my big local cinema chain.

There’s also the community or networking side of film festivals which I do enjoy. A twitter pal arranged a #FilmTwitter meet up at the London Film festival and is was great to meet new people and to talk to people I’d met online in person. I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with all of them before we all went to another film screening or off home. It was a nice bonus for me as generally speaking my film festival experiences on the whole are quite solitary. This is due to what I’m interested in seeing, the cost and just the timings and people’s availability.

Due to the fact I was press at Cambridge Film Festival, and I lived so close to the cinemas so could go after work or walk from my flat, I packed in a lot of films in just over a week. I would see three films in a day, and in amongst the film watching I tried to review as many of them as possible. I was exhausted when I was finally finished and to be honest, I don’t think I paid as much attention to some of the films because my brain was getting over-saturated.

From that experience I definitely learnt that less is more with me and film festivals – I say that as if I won’t apply for press accreditation again next year! It’s cool to see films early before “everyone else” but I would rather spend the money on seeing more obscure films that don’t yet have a UK release date than ones that I know will get a decent to large scale release in a matter of weeks or months.

Have you ever been to a film festival? What was your experience and what do you like to get out of them?