Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Culture
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

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The fifth European Film Panorama (3-9 October), writes Soha Hesham, inaugurated its activities last Wednesday at Galaxy Cinema in Manial

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The Angel's Share

The European Union ambassador to Egypt James Moranwas present at the opening of the European Film Panorama. He gave a brief speech applauding the efforts of Marianne Khoury in putting together such an excellent programme. The annual event has four sections this year: Fiction Film, the latest award-winning European fare; First Films, the debuts of young filmmakers, many of whom are available for a post-screening open discussion with the audience; Documentary Rendez-Vous, recent, interesting documentaries from Europe on various topics; and Education and Cinema, a programme tailored to students of different ages. Screenings take place at the Galaxy Cinema on Al-Manial Island and the Stars Cinema in Heliopolis.

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The opening film was The Angels' Share by award-winning British director Ken Loach, well-known for his realism and his left-wing politics. It was nominated for the Palme D'Or and won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Scottish to the core, the film tackles social issues with a sense of humour, involving a coherent enough dramatic line to keep the viewer engaged and in an optimistic state as well as wide views of blue skies and greenery. The 101-minute film begins a drunken young man walking along the edge of the platform of a train station; a sound comes from the microphone announcing the arrival of a train and, startled, he falls onto the track, fumbling desparately for his glasses. He finally makes it to the platform a second before the train passes. Meanwhile the protagonist Robbie (Paul Brannigan in his debut appearance) is being convicted of assault and sentenced to community service, where he meets the man from the first scene, Albert (Gary Maitland) and with him and a few others of similar character, forms a small group of friends charged with petty offences.

The group's community service commences under the command of Harry (John Henshaw), a working-class man who bonds with Robbie after seeing him being brutally beaten in hospital by his girlfriend's uncles while his girlfriend, Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), gives birth to their son Luke. Robbie and Harry head back to Harry's house, where Robbie gets cleaned up and they celebrate his fatherhood with a long-saved bottle of whiskey. Harry, it turns out, is a connoisseur of single-malt whiskey and he takes his group of lawbreakers ê" who carry out their public service by painting public buildings and cleaning up graveyards ê" on a special tour of a whiskey factory. Here the instructor explains that for every cask of whiskey they open, around two percent of the liquid evaporates in what is called the angels' share. It is revealed that Robbie has the nose for whiskey tasting, and whiskey collector Thaddeus (Roger Allam) hands him his card. The film's climax occurs when the group hatch a plan to steal several bottles of extremely valuable whiskey that is to be auctioned off soon, with unforeseen consequences. Loach's direction stresses the social pressures that are the causes of Robbie's troubles, embodied in brutal public drinking and fighting and unemployment. Robbie is haunted by violence, but still hopes to give his son a better life. The film combines warmth and humour with social realism in an what ends up being a life-affirming work of great emotional depth.

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Elena is the third feature film by Russian director by Andrey Zvyagintsev, a masterpiece that was awarded the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Born in 1964 in Novisibirsk, Zvyagintsev made his debut, The Return, which won five prizes at the Venice Film Festival alone, in 2003. Elena is classic noir set in contemporary Moscow, where the director fixes his long contemplative look on trees, birds until reaching a particular house, whose appearance he details in long yet interesting scenes. The film captures the life of a couple in their sixties: the rich old man Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), married to his former nurse Elena (Nadezhda Markina, who was nominated for the best actress award at the European Film Awards) and living in his opulent apartment; its static pace compels the viewer to see how their marriage is a sort of agreement of convenience more than anything else. The film illustrates class issues largely through the story of Vladimir's wild daughter and the way she despises her stepmother and Elena's unemployed son, who cannot support his big family and depends on Vladimir.

After Vladimir's sudden heart attack, he suddenly reconnects with his daughter, who seems to be very cold to her father even when she knows about his illness. Yet on finally seeing him a lot changes in their relationship, with consequences for Elena. With his wide tedious scenes showing spacious places, nature and the minutiae of daily life, Zvyagintsev in his third feature is most likely inspired by Dostoevsky; the fact that the score is made up largely of profound Russian music seems to support this idea. The 109 minutes present a unique cinematic language, from through the opening and closing scene (which are pretty much the same) focusing on a tree beside the couple's apartment with a bird on it for a minute or two waiting for the sun to rise with its shadows on the window) to the vivid depiction of the conflict inherent to human relations.

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Yet it is arguably Marley that should get the (imaginary) Panorama prize this year. It is a documentation of the life and musical legacy of the king of kings Bob Marley, including rare footage and photographs of the legend and various interviews with his family and close friends. The film, directed by Kevin Macdonald, is 144 minutes ê" and many audience members watched it more than once. It illustrates the Marley's personal life, his musical career, his political interests, his connection with Rasta, and his impact at social and political levels. A veritable blockbuster despite being a documentary, the blockbuster traces Marley's footsteps in the history of music as the virtual inventor of reggae, showing how he became a revolutionary and icon of peace.

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