BLACK COMEDY/DRAMA BLACK POND (15) 83min ●●●●●
This low budget British comedy drama is something special. Smartly observed and cleverly constructed, it’s at once funny and tragic and lyrical, and the deadpan humour is perfectly pitched with nicely underplayed performances from the cast. It turns on the appearance of an oddball stranger who is taken into the home of an ordinary middle class suburban family, where his presence – and eventually his death at their dinner table – precipitates the break-up of a household already riddled with dysfunction. Black Pond is a notable debut from newcomers
Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley, who wrote and directed the film together. But it will, inevitably, be regarded as more noteworthy for featuring the first professional appearance by two time BAFTA-winning star of The Thick of It Chris Langham since his arrest and brief incarceration on child pornography charges (Langham claimed to have accessed the proscribed images while researching a role). Langham’s role as
the head of the Thompson family plays on his fall from grace five years ago by dint of the Thompsons, wife and two daughters plus friend (played by Sharpe), falling under suspicion of murder (thanks, in a roundabout way, to comedian Simon Amstell’s fraudulent therapist). However, the film is chiefly concerned with the variously dysfunctional relationships between the family members, which are neatly contrasted with the oddly functional but possibly mentally ill stranger as the events unspool in a series of flashbacks and mock-doc-style interviews with the Thompsons. As a comic portrait of English domestic life it’s up there with Mike Leigh, although the humour, wicked and poker-faced, is a good deal tougher than Leigh’s and, in fact, has more in common with Langham’s television series People Like Us. Nevertheless, the great social realist comic filmmaker may well have, in Sharpe and Kingsley, a successor partnership. In any case, it’s a promising beginning for these boys, and possibly a new one for Langham. (Miles Fielder) ■ Cameo, Edinburgh, Fri 25 Nov–Thu 1 Dec.
DOCUMENTARY BLOOD IN THE MOBILE (12A) 85min ●●●●●
The mobile phone, that universal symbol of convenience and progress, comes at quite a price. We are not talking fiscal here, we are talking of a price above rubies, a cost measured in blood, sweat and tears. All mobile phones contain minerals that come from one
place on the planet: the mines located in the jungles of Eastern DR Congo, an area beset by socio-political, economic, environmental and civil unrest.
Quite how complicit mobile phone companies are in all this
is what the valiant Danish documentarian Frank Piasechi Poulsen wants to find out. His investigation takes him from the boardrooms of Nokia and Motorola to an all-too-real hole of darkness where 12-year-old children mine minerals so we can live the way we live. Poulsen has a lot of previous form with this kind of cinema. His excellent previous outings have brought him face-to-face with media moguls and FARC guerillas and here again he does not disappoint, nor does he avert his gaze. (Paul Dale) ■ Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 25 Nov–Thu 1 Dec.
Brian Pendreigh must surely be the hardest working movie-mad journalist and writer in Scotland. The Man in the Seventh Row (Blasted Heath ●●●●●) is his seventh book following biographies of Ewan McGregor and Mel Gibson, as well as Scottish cinema and British and Irish film location guides. Available as an e-book, The Man in the Seventh Row (subtitled ‘A Movie Loser’s Novel’) is Pendreigh’s first foray into fiction and a wholly likeable read it is too. All too clearly autobiographical, the book traces the life, love and heartbreak of one man as reflected in Scottish rep cinema screenings of everything from the Magnificent Seven to Basic Instinct and beyond. Jauntily written with a homely and impassioned but never overbearing style, Pendreigh’s novel is a pleasing dissection of man’s all too modern need for escape in darkened auditoriums that posits him somewhere between David Thomson’s Suspects and Guy Bellamy’s The Secret Lemonade Drinker. What do you get if you if you put a bunch of
self-regarding high brow film critics in a room with a load of laptops? You get Cinema: The Whole Story (Thames & Hudson ●●●●●), a broad and tasteful attempt to highlight, analyse and tame the riotous trajectory that is the history of cinema. There’s some really great stuff by some really great writers here and editor Philip Kemp brings clarity to what could be so much semantics but it also feels a little bloodless. But then arguably the aim of a publication like this is to fill that gap between the academia of Bordwell and Thompson’s mise-en-scene meanderings and more impassioned treatises, like Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film.
Emilie Bickerton’s A Short History of Cahiers Du Cinema (Verso ●●●●●) goes some way in contextualising and explaining just why this little read (in the UK) French film magazine/journal has become the monosyllabic password into a certain dysfunctional club of cine snobbery across Britain’s more cosmopolitan cities. It’s a good read but too short and one is left in no doubt that Cahiers’ best days are behind it.
The Devil’s Advocates’ series turns its penetrating gaze to Witchfinder General (Auteur ●●●●●) undoubtedly one of the most interesting horror films of the 1960s. Writer Ian Cooper’s evaluations and investigations are thorough and engaging. Finally Neil Badmington’s Hitchcock’s Magic (University of Wales Press ●●●●●) analyses the big man’s technique and aims to uncover what (with a few exceptions) makes Hitchcock’s films so compulsively watchable. A corpulent hello/farewell is in order. Good evening. (Paul Dale)
17 Nov–15 Dec 2011 THE LIST 73