Liff30 opened this year with Paterson, a gentle, understated drama from Jim Jarmusch. I’ve not always had great success with the film festival openers before. They often score some pretty big names – they’ve shown Argo and Gravity in recent years – but they tend not to really be my sort of thing. Jim Jarmusch is right up my street though. Dead Man was my favourite film for a good while and he’s done a couple of others I’ve enjoyed.

Paterson follows Kylo Ren Adam Driver, a bus-driver living in a town he was both born in and named after in New Jersey. We follow his relationship with his eccentric (irritating?), cupcake-baking girlfriend, his time on the bus, his evenings in the bar over the course of a week, all loosely bound together by the poems he writes in snatches of spare time. It’s tender and quiet – almost (but not quite) to the point of being boring. It’s by no means a film that’ll change your life but it is a beautiful little hymn to the importance of personal creativity and finding beauty in small joys. Paterson’s poem on his “current favourite” brand of matches (Ohio Blues, since you ask) is indicative of the kind the tone of the piece.

I’m sure there’s loads that I’ve missed in this. I get the feeling that with more deliberation, deeper knowledge of American poetry and culture and maybe a re-watch there’s a lot more to get out of this film. William Carlos Williams (of whom I know little more than a single poem) looms over the film and I think I’m going to have to have a look at his Paterson, an epic poem over several books.

Beer choice
Not a whole lot of choice today. The Film Festival bar was off limits to all but guests so we had to make do with the normal town-hall bar, which is mostly Worthington smooth-flow and fizzy beer. Settled for the only respectable beer on offer, a bottle of Black Sheep. Tasty, if not exciting.

Xam Duo, Let’s Eat Grandma and Anna Meredith at the Belgrave

When the Belgrave first opened I remember asking someone what it was like. “So hipster”, they replied, explaining it was full of beardy, glasses wearing, craft-beer drinking fans of obscure bands. We did both, of course, fit that exact profile (although obviously WE weren’t hipsters). It feels fitting then, that the Belgrave was the scene of one of my most hipster gig going choices yet: going to a gig having only ever heard of the band at the very bottom of the bill.

Xam Duo, my reason for going, are half made up of Matthew Benn from Hookworms. Whilst they bring a very full on onslaught of noise, Xam Duo are a bit more refined – gentler and (whisper it) even a bit jazzy. Their continually evolving and developing single song sprawled over half an hour as percussive noises, keys and saxophone drones faded in and out. I would have happily seen them play for a lot longer. They’ve got an album on bandcamp which I’ll have to investigate soon.

They were followed by Let’s Eat Grandma, who’s name is basically their strongest point. I’m pretty disinclined to be rude about bands – I’d always much rather focus on positive experiences and ignore the less good bands – but I really can’t just pretend Let’s Eat Grandma don’t exist (however much I might like to). They were excruciating. Style was far outweighing substance as they flicked their hair around the stage moving from one instrument to the next. All the tunes are pretty thing and the lyrics even worse. The rapping was just embarrassing. In fairness to them, they are very young. Maybe at sixth form battle of the bands they’d top the bill. But judged as a real, touring band they fall very far short.

The only baffling this is why so many people around us seemed to love them.

If I was beginning to doubt the sense in coming to a gig on the strength of the support, Anna Meredith more than made up for Let’s Eat Grandma. I’d only had a chance to give the briefest of listens to her album so didn’t have a very clear idea of what to expect and was absolutely blown away. Anyone who brings a cello on stage gets a pretty good mark in my book but both a cello and a tuba? You’re just off the scale. She and her band were absolutely fab. They thundered through their set and looked like they were having a great time throughout.

So, I went to see one band, found another I loved and know to steer well clear of another. Not a bad score really.

Drinks: Ilkley Hanging Stone Stout – good, dark beer that manages to avoid running into the higher ABV numbers. A stout you can drink a few of.
Kirkstall Dissolution IPA – always a safe bet. Great stuff.

Leeds Film Festival – Film by film

The Leeds International Film Festival is here again! And celebrating it’s 30th anniversary, no less. As ever I am keen to get the most out of it. After several years volunteering and a couple selling tickets and bossing people about, I’ve embraced the world of being a passholder with some enthusiasm. I get to see what I want! Whenever I want!

I’ve got a busy festival schedule of film lined up and can’t wait to dive in. I’m going to do my level best to make sure every single film gets some kind of write-up here. It’s not going to be easy – some days there are so many films on they all begin to blur – but it sounds like a good challenge.

Here we go!

Brunch at The Greedy Pig

The Greedy Pig on North Lane, just outside of Leeds’ centre has been on our list of must-get-round-to-eating-there-soon restaurants of Leeds for a while. Now we’re kicking ourselves for not going sooner: their brunch is fantastic.

We got there fairly late in the morning and found that several of their most enticing menu items were already gone – apparently everyone else brunches earlier than us! The staff were endlessly apologetic for this, but it really didn’t matter at all. If the dishes that had gone were even better than what was left, they must have been very good indeed. My plateful of merguez slices with roast potato, harissa and duck eggs looked astonishing and tasted even better.

As if that wasn’t enough, the prices were astonishingly reasonable and the service fast and friendly. The cafe’s evening alter-ego The Swine That Dines has also long been on our must-visit list: it’s now been bumped to the very top!

Pupi Avati double bill: The House with Laughing Windows & Zeder

What a treat! Back-to-back Italian genre films from the 70s and 80s! I’d not seen either The House with Laughing Windows (1976) nor Zeder (1983) before so the screening of both at the Hyde Park Picture House was too good an opportunity to miss. As if that wasn’t enough, there were the added bonuses of Pupi Avati himself being there for the screening and the fact that both features were being lovingly projected in full 35mm glory, courtesy of Cigarette Burns and their enthusiasm for all things film.

House with Laughing Windows was up first and was a treat. Despite what Avati said during the Q&A (more on that later) about this being an off-kilter approach to the genre, that defied as many rules as it observed, I’d say it was pretty much textbook Giallo. This is by no means a bad thing! We have many of the familiar ingredients: the lead character is from out of town, a friendless stranger in a curious town; there’s a gibbering half-crazed local loon (could he be the killer?); there are anonymous phone-calls; noises in the night; mysterious recordings; unhappy history; bad blood… Every Giallo I see only reminds me how much I love the genre and this seems every bit the equal to the some of the more famous – the Argentos and the Fulcis of the day. Its well-paced, undeniably creepy in places, a decent mystery: exactly what I’m looking for in a Giallo film. Top marks.

I’m not usually a massive fan of a director Q&A session: they tend to be pretty dull, with much self-important waffling on the part of the director and fawning questions from the audience. Refreshingly, Avati managed to avoid this for the most part. Sure there was some pretty self-indulgent rambling but it was all cut with a hefty dose of self-deprecation and some humour. It was quite lovely to see how keen he was to always move on to the next project, to talk about what was fresh and interesting to him rather than wallowing in the films of the 70s and 80s. When asked if some of his once-banned films would ever see a release, he simply shrugged and explained that with so many films under his belt it was hard to keep track any more. I remember a previous Q&A with Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato which took the opposite track: he still made out that his banned film was some long-persecuted artwork.

Onto Zeder. Although I’d say I enjoyed the two films equally, there’s no doubt that Zeder was the more surprising and innovative of the two. While I loved House With Laughing Windows for its Giallo familiarity, Zeder is a quite different beast. Probably best described a Zombie Giallo, or even just a zombie-mureder-mystery, its a zombie film (with all the re-animated corpse that that implies) set at the meandering, slow-build pace of the giallo.

I do love a good zombie film but they essentially play all their cards early: after a short intro, you’ve usually got to the basic story all laid out. There are some people, And some zombies. The people would like to survive. Zeder by contrast is all investigative journalism, night-time encounters and creepy old buildings. Our hero Stefano discovers some alarming messages hidden in the used ribbon of his second-hand typewriter that send him into detective mode. Of course, asking too many questions always irks the bad guys so Stefano soon finds himself caught up in series of threats, robberies and murders. It all builds gently (but inevitably) towards a gripping finale set in an enormous abandoned building. The choice of location is so perfect that I almost don’t want to say anything more about it… I’d be interested to know if had been used in other films as its great, hulking empty frame, overgrown courtyards and passageways all just seem to scream ‘cinematic’ at you.

If anything, these two films are going to send me running back to 70s/80s Italian genre film. They’re just done so well. Neither film is perfect, but they don’t have to be! They’re stylish, intriguing and creepy. And a whole lot of fun.

La Silence de la Mer

My LIFF got off to a fairly gentle start with the sad, understated La Silence de la Mer. Jean-Pierre Melville takes us through Vercors‘ novel of the same name which sees a German officer stationed in with the French narrator and his niece in occupied France. The French pair don’t have a lot of choice about giving up their spare room to an enemy officer and, lacking any other form of resistance, choose to pointedly ignore him.

I won’t wander too deeply through the rest of the plot, suffice to say that it turns out some Germans were nice people, bought into the propaganda lies of a happier, German-er Europe flourishing once the Nazis had triumphed. Needless to say, he soon learns things are not as he has been led to believe. The film handles its subjects delicately, choosing to focus words rather than images – almost all the of the film takes place in the front room of the French hosts’ house. We meet few characters, still fewer are seen speaking. Undeniably moving and carefully crafted, it’s perhaps just a little bit too delicate for my tastes.

Leeds International Film Festival #29

What better way to kick off a new blog than with one of the best film festivals around? LIFF, now in its 29th (!) year goes from strength to strength and is always a fabulous showcase of the classy, the grotesque, the polished and the imperfect. This year has some killer offerings in the retrospectives, some exciting looking horror choices and some great documentaries lined up.

This is my first year as a full passholder. For the last number of years I’ve variously worked and volunteered for the festival – and seen a great range of films and met some wonderful people. This year though I’m going all out. I can go to whatever feature I like, won’t have to hang around in the town hall until midnight waiting for Once Upon a Time in the West to finish and can drink a lot more!

Let’s go…