Review: MANHUNTER (1986) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

Pub quiz trivia question…the million-pound gamble: Who was the first actor to play the infamous cannibal Hannibal Lecter?

And the answer is: Brian Cox. Playing, as he is credited, ‘Doctor Lecktor’.

Kicking off the Brian Cox season at the Bradford International Film Festival is a curiously neglected film, featuring what is essentially a supporting role from our Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. It all sounds familiar: tortured FBI operative enlists the help of the psychiatrist serial killer he helped incarcerate in order to catch another predator at large. Hijinks ensue. Directed by Michael Mann and hot off the success of Miami Vice, came Manhunter, the first film to adapt the characters from the grisly but compelling novels by Thomas Harris.

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Though of course Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs won the awards (and rightly so) for the adaptation of Harris’ second novel in the series, it is the first book, ‘Red Dragon’ which has had a murkier existence on the silver screen. Largely forgotten until recently, Manhunter is an interesting film. It is by no means faultless, but pretty close to it. It is in Manhunter we come face-to-face with the original ‘hero’ of the series, Will Graham, and a newly captured Hannibal Lecter. Contained within a white cell and wearing a banal white jumpsuit, Lecter is yet again uniquely enjoyable and yet unnerving to watch, thanks to Cox’s impish and mischievous take on the character. Like Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter, it is within the confinement of his captors that he really excels in demonstrating his hypnotic repartee and the powerful mind games which penetrate much further than the blade of any weapon (or indeed, kitchen utensil) he may have used. Against William Petersen’s dashing but tormented Graham, Lecter’s role within the film is to sow seeds of paranoia and catastrophic mayhem while Graham becomes quickly embroiled in a case he finds impossible to step away from. Tom Noonan as the antagonist, Francis Dollarhyde, is terrifying, committing horrific acts and demonstrating the slightest of emotion which draws you in and catches you alarmingly off-guard…could a serial killer ever find love?! Dollarhyde’s psychological neuroses unfold to reveal an inner dragon, while Graham’s repressed empathetic third eye for the monstrous fans its ruinous flames. Petersen gives a fevered performance and is at times delightfully 80s in his chest-beating, but tempered by Noonan as his counterpart (whose own storyline dominates the second act of the film), the film wanders into neo-noir territory for the ultimate game of cat and mouse.

With the success of the recent NBC Hannibal series, the enduring fascination with these characters shows no sign of fading away. It was fantastic to return to a unique take on the bizarre world of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham before the revelation of “fava beans and a nice chianti” changed popular culture forever. One of the great ‘what if’s of cinema…imagine if it was Brian Cox who had won all the accolades which went on to kick-start Hopkins’ career…and it’s even more intriguing to learn that when Cox returned to the UK after starring in Michael Mann’s film, he still remained virtually unknown. I’m sure Doctor Lecter would never put up with such rude behaviour…

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Review: THE LUNCHBOX (2013) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

As the Media Museum doors opened last night for the 20th Bradford International Film Festival once more, film fans and media types (I think GIRL ON FILM can count as one of them now, right?) bustled in from the rain to be greeted by a glass of wine and a cheery band. It was these many little touches that made the evening a special one and launched the programme so delightfully. Speeches from the Museum director Jo Quinton-Tulloch and the festival co-directors Tom Vincent and Neil Young made the appropriate thanks to the right people and reminded us just how much hard work goes into creating the festival year after year.

The opening film itself The Lunchbox (2013), was a triumphant choice to kick start the festival. Staring Irrfan Khan (who, we learnt as we sat down, had just won another award for his performance in this film) and Nimrat Kaur as two equally lonely inhabitants of Mumbai who begin a touching correspondence after Saajan (Khan) accidentally receives the lunchbox intended for Ila’s (Kaur) husband at work. Saajan is so thrilled with his unexpected meal that he sends a note of thanks back and so begins a journey of self-discovery for two unassuming and world-weary characters.

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The film is full of charm (and as the audience demonstrated last night, full of laughs) and filmed with such vibrancy that the smells and colours of Mumbai exude from the screen and awaken your senses. Watching Saajan consume Ila’s food is both mouth-watering and compelling. Ila and Saajan’s days are transformed by the ritual of preparing food and sharing it with love. Lured by her cooking skills and her unique letters accounting her daily life, Saajan is brought back to life, leaving his stale existence as simply a ‘widower’ behind. Without giving too much away, Ila too, is transformed.

The film is filled with journeys both literal and personal. Saajan’s journey to and from work act as a marker for his blossoming familiarisation with life once again. Ila watches the Dabbawalla man who distributes her home-cooked food from her window. She oversees her daughter’s journey to school from her apartment and receives care-packages from her Aunt who lives upstairs via pulley (the interactions between these two characters are also a joy to behold). Though her journeys are more confined, the impact of her food magnifies the significance of the importance of food to engage. Whereas before her culinary efforts where ignored by her inattentive husband, Saajan’s appreciation brings Ila’s world to life and allows Ila to venture literally and emotionally beyond the street where her lunchbox is attached to the delivery man’s bicycle for transportation.

The Lunchbox is a wonderful film and it is easy to see why Neil Young personally selected it for the opening night after first seeing the film in Cannes. A joyful, heart-rendering drama and plenty of belly-laughs to boot, The Lunchbox is a perfect example of the sophisticated and crowd-pleasing cinema which is coming out of India outside of the Bollywood machine. Director Ritesh Batra brings out fantastic performances from his leads and a special mention has to go to actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui (who looks curiously like an Indian Tony Curtis) in a brilliant supporting role as Shaikh, Saajan’s bumbling yet well-meaning work colleague.

There’s another chance to see The Lunchbox during the festival on Monday 31st March and it is certainly a must-see addition to the programme.

The festival is now underway, here’s to more wonderful discoveries!

GIRL ON FILM at BIFF 2014!

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I am pleased to announce that this year, GIRL ON FILM will be reporting and reviewing from the 20th Bradford International Film Festival at the National Media Museum!

This is a fantastic honour which hopefully you’ll be able to join in with as the festival commences on the 27th March!

In the meantime, please do come along to the festival and see the wonderful films and guest speakers which promise to make this 20th celebration so special. To review the programme and to book tickets, visit the BIFF website!

Check back for updates and check out my exclusive festival preview here!

Happy viewing until then…

Evangeline.

The 20th Bradford International Film Festival is here again! 27 March – 6 April 2014

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Just when you thought the glitz and glamour of the film world had vanished once again in a puff of smoke after the Academy Awards, in one former mill town in the North, a celebration of achievement in film is about to return!

Commemorating its 20th year, The Bradford International Festival (proudly sponsored once again by Virgin Media), BIFF is understandably reflective and will be dedicating part of the bill for a retrospective of its first ever festival back in 1995. A re-screening of The Madness of King George (the first ever opening-night film, an occasion which was amusingly noted by Alan Bennett in his collected diaries) as well as a public poll to determine the Virgin Media Best of BIFF, a British film which upon winning will then be screened (Cast your vote here).

Of the 35 new films in the Official Selection, 8 have been chosen to be in the running for the 2014 Bradford UNESCO City of Film European Competition, and includes both fiction and documentary works. The competiting films are:

A Bouquet of Cactus (Spain, Dir: Pablo Llorca)

Class Enemy (Slovenia, Dir: Rok Bicek)

Costa Da Morte (Spain, Dir: Lois Patino)

A Fallible Girl (UK, Dir: Conrad Clark)

The Joycean Society (Belgium, Dir: Dora Garcia)

Mother, I Love You (Latvia, Dir: Janis Nords)

Mouton (France, Dir: Gilles Deroo & Marianne Pistone)

Phantom (France, Dir: Jonathan Soler).

The Shine Short Film Competition also returns this year with six short films to be judged by an expert jury. The winner will be selected on the opening weekend.

Of course, as well as the films, BIFF always delights in honouring those who have made a significant contribution to film. The Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 will be awarded to Brian Cox. A distinctive, powerhouse of an actor, the Scotsman has worked in film, television and theatre for over 50 years. Roles such as the original ‘Hannibal Lecktor’ in Manhunter, a double-crossing CIA operative in The Bourne Trilogy, an old-timer prison breaker in The Escapist, amongst many many others, Brian Cox is a true star of the screen. Six of those films will be shown, finishing with a final ScreenTalk with BIFF Co-Director Tom Vincent on Sunday 6th April.

The BIFF Fellowship is granted yearly to a superlative filmmaker who continues to succeed in creating excellence on screen. Sally Potter is a distinctive director who has demonstrated staggering artistic flair throughout her career. As a recipient of this year’s Fellowship, Potter is the first woman to be granted this award (GIRL ON FILM REJOICES!). Her films such as the best-known Orando, Yes and her most recent effort Ginger & Rosa will be screened throughout the festival and an opportunity to hear Potter in conversation shall take place in the Cubby Brocolli screen on Sunday 30th March.

The Uncharted States of America programme continues this year with special attention paid to the works of James Benning. Andy Warhol-like figure in avant-garde Americana cinema, a number of this films are listed as well as 2013’s Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (winner the ‘Venice Classics’ best documentary prize), a 70 minute conversation between two respectively different independent filmmakers.

For those interested in Japanese cinema, the crime films of Yoshitaro Nomura (5 to be shown in total) reflect a relatively under-appreciated strand of Japanese filmmaking in the west. A prolific artist, Normura created many stories highlighting the dark underbelly of Japanese society. Stakeout, Zero Focus, The Shadow Within, The Castle of Sand and The Demon will all be screened in the final week of the festival.

Supported by none other than the Boris Karloff Foundation, the horror picks of the festival will once again create Bradford After Dark, the 5 feature-length and 7 short films selected for 2014. Go alone if you dare!

And finally, returning once again and no doubt playing to a sold-out audience, skiffle band The Dodge Brothers (side-project of Mr Mark Kermode) will accompany piano extraordinare Neil Brand to score another silent film for your delighted eyes and ears. This year the film is Hell’s Hinges, a film starring William S. Hurt, the original cowboy.

Girl On Film’s list of festival highlights barely skims the surface. To find out more about what’s on, visit the Bradford International Film Festival website or pick up of the beautiful 160-page programmes which have been distributed around the Bradford and Yorkshire area. There’s plenty more to discover!