Edinburgh, wet, dark night

I was off at my second home, the Filmhouse this afternoon, to catch some of the annual French Film Festival. I was taking in some short films today; as usual with a collection of shorts, be it movies, prose stories or whatever, it’s a mixed bag, some good, some so-so, some quite interesting, some that seemed meandering and had no point, others that were nice little examples of a brief but well contained tale or experience (because not all of them were narratives). I think my favourites were an old one from the 70s (judging by the film stock and the vehicles. I later found it was actually made in 76), C’était un rendez-vous , which was simply a high speed drive through the streets of Paris as dawn was breaking, coming up the the Place d’Etoile, round the Arc du Triomphe, down the Champs Elysee, Place de la Concord, roar along the Rive Droit alongside the Ports de Lyons gate of the Louvre then turn and through the Louvre (no IM Pei glass pyramid visible back when this was filmed) and eventually, judging by the increasing slops heading into the Montmartre region and stopping near Sacre Couer at the end (I was quite pleased I remembered my Parisian geography and could follow where he was going for the most part). Camera position stays fixed all the way through and the car never stops (alarmingly at some points!), very simple but really cool. Just found what looks like the whole thing on YouTube, so have a look:

I was also drawn to the short films session because they were showing the first short animated work by Sylvain Chomet, creator of two of my favourite animated features, Belleville Rendezvous and The Illusionist. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is a bit rougher than his later films, but still interesting and you can see some of his styles and approaches (the Ralph Steadman influence is visible even here). Fun to see. Again it seems to be available online, so here you go:


La vieille dame et les pigeons
Uploaded by XLanig. – Independent web videos.

Came out the Filmhouse to find night had fallen and the earlier drizzle had turned to much heavier rain, so decided to catch a bus rather than walk home, while I was waiting by the stop outside the Usher Hall I had the urge to take a pic as the area has only recently been opened up again after some construction work revamping it, so the space in front of it is now opened up, with illuminated signs for upcoming events. With the lights reflecting off the wet streets I felt like getting a shot, but lacking the tripod I had to improvise, bracing the camera against a nearby post, so it isn’t quite as sharp as I’d like, but you take what you can get. Colour didn’t work well for it, but black and white seemed to suit it much better:

waiting for a bus

and while I was at it I took a quick one of the Usher Hall with it’s brand new modern extension, again with the lights reflecting on the wet paving stones:

Usher Hall, wet November night

An animated Edinburgh: Sylvain Chomet at the Edinburgh Film Festival

I’ve spent the last week and a bit attending to one of my annual traditions: enjoying the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Among the many movies I managed to fit in there were, unsurprisingly a number from the comics and SF influenced end of films – mostly from the independent end of the pool – and, of course, some great animation. And since Wim’s been talking about The Illusionist, which has just opened in Europe and since it was the opening night gala movie let’s start with that.

Regular readers will know that I’m a huge admirer of Sylvain Chomet, who brought us the brilliant Bellevile Rendezvous, with its Scarfe-influenced characters and that I’ve been following the progress of his new animated feature as it came together in an Edinburgh studio. Rather appropriately, since much of the film is set in the Scottish capital. Adapted from an unused script by the great Jacques Tati (truly one of world’s cinema’s greats, easily up there in my book with Keaton), we follow Tatichef (another Tati reference), a tall, ungainly stage magician, struggling in 1950s Paris, so he takes himself off to London, only to find even less success there – old theatrical acts are out of fashion, the hip, young crowds of the post-war world want screaming rock’n’roll (cue some brilliant pastiche of 50s rock acts). Looking around for another gig to pay the rent an encounter with a (naturally drunk) Scotsman at a party leads to a booking in a wee village out on the islands off the west coast of Scotland, where he meets a young lass who, convinced he is a real magician, follows him to Edinburgh, where again Tatichef goes through a variety of gigs to try and get past in a world where his kind of act is now old-fashioned and no longer in demand.

As with Belleville Rendezvous, however, the story is only part of the enjoyment – the visual aspect is another, from the OTT comedy of the pelvis-swinging rock bands who steal Tatichef’s audience to a wonderfully drawn array of secondary characters (most notably the short ventriloquist). And then there are the landscapes; when the film moves to Scotland the artwork for the scenery is simply gorgeous (as indeed it is in real life), from the steam train thundering northwards to the boat to the islands, where of course it, being Scotland, is raining. And as the boat approaches the island and castle, in a scene paying homage to Tintin’s Scottish visit (although with a bit more visible under the kilt!), the rain stops and sunlight filters through gaps in the clouds creating the shimmering, golden dappled light effect anyone who’s been to Scotland has no doubt seen and it’s beautifully done.

The arrival in 50s Edinburgh is similarly beautiful and romantic, the steam train pulling into Waverley Station in its deep cutting between Old and New Town, landmarks surrounding it. As with Paris and New York in Belleville it isn’t an exact replica of the city but an idealised version, easily recognisable as Edinburgh (the Castle, the Scott Monument, Jenner’s, Balmoral, the rearing bulk of Arthur’s Seat) but a sort of magical, fantasy version of the city and again Chomet recreates the constantly changing quality of light we enjoy in Edinburgh, to quite beautiful effect. Okay, obviously I am totally biased here – being both an admirer of Chomet’s work and since I’m lucky enough to have Edinburgh as a home. If you know the city you will love the depiction of it that Chomet and his artists have created. And if you don’t then you will probably fall in love with it – as he did with the city – and want to see it for yourself; he’s talked about the changing quality of light in Scotland and how it inspired him, how it changes everything (it does, the same scenes are endlessly refreshed and changed a little) and there are some scenic passages which are clearly a love letter to the city.

(Sylvain Chomet on stage at the Festival Theatre with the EIFF’s Hannah McGill at the opening night gala screening of The Illusionist at the Edinburgh Film Fest, pic from my Flickr)

For all that beauty though and for the comedic elements – and they have given the cartoon Tatichef a wonderfully physical, very Jacques Tati feel – there is a strong melancholy running through The Illusionist. The young, naïve girl is lovely and obviously a little bit of company and sunshine in the older Tatichef’s life, but at the same time it serves to show that he is much older and that he has little to show for his lifetime of efforts but an act that no-one wants anymore, no home, no wife, no children. Her childlike belief that he actually is a real magician is touching, but it’s also an impossible image for Tatichef to live up to (and he tries so hard to make her happy) and something will have to give at some point. Throw in the complication of a young girl turning into a young woman and starting to notice boys (including a character who has more than a passing resemblance to a very young Sean Connery) and you begin to suspect that perhaps this won’t be as upbeat as Belleville. But over all that there’s the sheer beauty of the visuals – from the Flying Scotsman steaming in Waverley Station to a dizzying aerial spectacle of Edinburgh’s astonishing landmarks rotating below us. There’s laughter and sadness, often at the same time, some wonderful characters and above all some gorgeous artwork you can lose yourself in. You want to see it.

The Illusionist is out now in France and is expected in the autumn in the UK and winter in the US. Next from the Film Fest: geeking out with The People Versus George Lucas, the lonesome cowboy Lucky Luke delivers with both barrels, comics-style crime fighters in York, zombies in Athens and there are monsters on the Mexican border.