This week the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival offered the press and the public some much-needed escapism. Despite last Friday’s tragic events, 8,800 people attended the festival, and closing night Sunday was a full house.
This fifth edition ended with a screening of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart, following the awards ceremony.
Voted for by the public and the press, the Golden Eye for Best Film was given to French director Thierry Poiraud’s English-language film Don’t Grow Up. What’s the pitch? Think The Walking Dead meets The Breakfast Club in the era of reality TV. In his third feature film, Poiraud takes us on a paranoid, but visually poetic, ride through a beautiful island (shot on Tenerife, Canary Islands) where a group of troubled teens are holed up in a foster home. One day, realizing they’re left to their own devices, they take the opportunity to venture outside, but the deserted town breathes a sinister air. It transpires that the local adults are all suffering form an epidemic that makes them devour anyone under the age of 18. As the bewildered adolescents fight them off and attempt to save their teenage asses, they are also confronted with gun-toting children who view them as adults. Poireaud taps into teen angst and the anxieties of growing up and losing oneself to adulthood, and despite the plot’s many shortcomings, the photography is stunning.
My personal choice would have been another film starring teens, Danish production Bridgend. Documentary filmmaker Jeppe Ronde spent six years researching for his fictional debut. Based on actual events, Bridgend tells the story of a string of teen suicides in the small Welsh town – an unbelievable 79 between 2007 and 2012. Sara (Hannah Murray) moves to the former mining town with her policeman father Dave (Steven Waddington) who is investigating the suicides… and she falls in love with Jamie (Josh O’Connor), an enigmatic, perhaps dangerous, local boy. Ronde’s documentary filmmaking background allows him a different, more authentic approach than the usual thriller, as does his cast of both professional actors and town locals. He recounts the town’s tragic history with measure, and coupled with the dark beauty of Bridgend, we become engulfed in its grey, foggy skies – both mental and atmospheric. The teens feel trapped in this beautiful natural prison and find a tragic way out…
Also noteworthy was The Survivalist by Brit director Stephen Fingleton, who forays into a post-apocalyptic world, ten years after the fall of civilization. An unnamed survivalist (Martin McCann) lives in a cabin in some lush land in Northern Ireland, farms mushrooms and searches corpses for valuables. Basically surviving with every means possible. His hermetic sylvan life is interrupted when a mother (Olwen Fouere) and her teenage daughter (Mia Goth) show up looking for food. It is a story of survival, that psychological trap where hope tugs at dystopia, the naturalistic photography providing a contrast to this gloomy world divested of its resources and its humanity.
The Ciné+ Frisson Jury, representing Canal Plus’s horror channel, awarded its grand prize to another French film, Evolution, directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic. It is a strange sci-fi fable where little boys spend live on an island in a matriarchal society. Their mothers all bear a strange resemblance – pale, almost translucent, and mysterious. The atmosphere is as sullen as the grey skies and the crashing waves forebode something sinister. The little boys are taken to a clinic where these nymph-like mothers/nurses operate on their tummies, inserting something into the stomachs. Sort of a reverse Never Let Me Go. One of the boys, Nicolas, begins to question his surroundings and these strange operations and it is his character that we bond with…Lucile Hadzihalilovic films poetic postcards in this sci-fi fable, yet the screenplay is as underdeveloped as its characters. She favors long stretches of visuals in lieu of providing a story.
It is worthwhile to note that many female filmmakers and first-time directors were in the selection this year, including Jaron Hernie McCrea, whose first feature Curtain was financed entirely online. Janet Leigh once said she only took baths after filming her famous shower scene in Psycho. I wonder if Curtain star Danni Smith now views shower curtains as suspicious as well… She plays a former nurse who moves out of her uncle’s place into a new apartment to begin a new life. After her shower curtain disappears, she buys a new one. But that disappears, too. So she buys more. While she is at first convinced that there is a curtain burglar roaming the neighborhood, a video left behind for her benefit confirms our suspicions that there is something weird going on, and her colleague Tim (Tim Lueke) is enthusiastic that they have discovered a parallel universe. Influenced by Eighties genre films, Curtain certainly opens the way to a whole other dimension, oppressive and twisted with some shady characters along the way. I’m just glad I don’t have shower curtains.
Another noteworthy first feature film was the French-Greek production Blind Sun, directed by Joyce A. Nashawati, whose short La Morsure (The Bite) won the top award in its category at Gérardmer in 2010. A taciturn immigrant (Ziad Bakri) is hired as caretaker of a French family’s luxurious holiday home in Greece while they’re away. The country is immured in a heatwave, water is scarce (hello, California) and a mysterious dark figure soon begins to haunt him. Or are the shadows playing mind tricks on him? The Shining is strongly referenced as we wonder whether he is losing it all alone in this large heat-drenched house or has legitimate cause for concern. While the photography plunges us directly into the sunlight – the heat is so palpable that you almost sweat watching – some scenes drag on, stretching into a desert with no dialogue that don’t add much to the film except postcard-worthy metaphoric shots. Yet Nashawati plays well with our nerves.
The full list of winners at PIFFF 2015:
- Golden Eye for Best Film – Don’t Grow Up by Thierry Poiraud
- Golden Eye for Best French Short – Of Men And Mice by Gonzague Legout
- Golden Eye for Best International Short – L’Ours noir (Black Bear) by Xavier Séron and Méryl Fortunat-Rossi
- PIFFF Short Film Jury Prize – Phantoms of the Living by Jean-Sébastien Bernard
- Special Mention – L’Appel by Alban Ravassard
Ciné+ Frisson Jury Prize
- Best Film – Evolution by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
- Best Short – Juliet by Marc-Henri Boulier