Two different revenge movies - Film festivals are turning political
Two revenge movies are out this month with contrasting ambitions. Dead Man's Shoes (dir: Shane Meadows, 1 October) is a bleak tale - a brother returns from the army to wreak a terrible revenge on a bunch of lowlife druggies who mistreated his younger, simple-minded brother. The army brother (Paddy Considine) has a degree of menace and fearlessness that the gang find unnerving. Soon he sets about despatching them to 'heaven', where he says 'god will forgive them'. Undone by the corrupting effects of playing the avenging angel, he reaches a depressing climax. Though a big improvement on Meadows's previous unfunny effort Once Upon a Time in The Midlands, this film-maker of smalltime, smalltown life rarely makes this resonate with psychological, moral or social insight. Therefore it can feel like a mere exercise in welding the western myth into a modern day Midlands setting.
Man on Fire (dir: Tony Scott, 8 October) is a dark revenge tale of a different order. It hopes to be to the 2000s what Rambo was to the 1980s. Burnt out ex CIA agent Creasy (Denzel Washington) washes up in Mexico to be the reluctant bodyguard of a nine year old girl. The kid is kidnapped and then murdered when the ransom exchange goes wrong. The grieving mother gives Creasy the go-ahead to 'kill them all' - anyone who was connected to the murder. What follows is a revenge rampage, where Bible-quoting Creasy slices off the fingers of a gang member for information then drives his car off a cliff. Another gang member has a stick of dynamite explode in his arse, and so it goes on. Washington functions as that dubious figure of old Hollywood army movies, the kind hearted black man prepared to commit the ultimate sacrifice for his white buddies.
The London Film Festival (20 October to 4 November) is coming up, so it's timely to recall how political film festivals have turned out to be this year. Film industry trade magazine Screen International's headlines often say it all. Of the Berlin Film Festival it was 'Berlinale Adds Political Spice To Glitz Cocktail'. At Cannes in May it was 'Politics Colours Cannes', when striking entertainment workers threatened to make a protest. A few days later it was 'Politics Sways Cannes As 9/11 Takes Palme D'Or'. Fahrenheit 9/11 was a documentary which produced the amusing sight of B-52 liberals lining up to bash the movie as they left the cinema, only to find audiences queuing the other way to see it. At the Edinburgh Film Festival in August Screen International noted, 'Politics - and specifically the impact of 11 September - has emerged as one of the strong themes among the British films showing at this year's film festival.'
At the Venice Film Festival in September anti-capitalist protesters set up a Global Beach camp nearby to denounce the prevalence of Hollywood stars and the cost of screenings - actor Tim Robbins and author Naomi Klein joined the protest. The theme continued with the Toronto Film Festival, where the Guardian headline said of the film selection 'Toronto Focuses On Politics'. At these festivals Jonathan Demme and Sean Penn denounced Bush and the war.
The London Film Festival will be opening with Mike Leigh's impressive and searing pro-abortion pic, Vera Drake. Other interesting pictures - perhaps, as they are yet to be seen by our reviewers - include: Mondovino, which looks at the negative effect of globalisation on the wine industry; Yasmin about British Islamophobia written by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty); Yes by Sally Potter, a multi-ethnic romance with a political edge. There will also be films by the new wave of US mavericks - David O Russell's I Heart Huckabees and Todd Solondz's Palindromes. Definitely worth checking out is the French socialist film-maker, Robert Guediguian's My Father is an Engineer. Guediguian follows in the footsteps of Jean Renoir's socialist phase in the 1930s. Coincidentally there is a DVD release of Renoir's great 1930s films, Jean Renoir Box Set, including La Grande Illusion/La Bête Humaine and the socialist classic Le Crime de Monsieur Lange.