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LIFF Coverage: Day One - Love/Best Intentions

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I'm in Leeds for the 25th Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF for short). The programme continues to prove Leeds has one of the most diverse selections of on offer at any British film festival.

Unfortunately, the first three days overlapped with the Explay conference so I wasn't able to attend some of the major events like the Hyde Park's Night of the Dead - a 12-hour overnight buffet of new and exciting horror movies from around the world - as well as the opening gala screening of the new adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

But stay tuned for two weeks of coverage of the biggest film festival in the North of England.

Best Intentions (Din Dragoste Ce Cele Mai Bune Intentii)
Dir. Adrian Sitaru, Romania Hungary, 2011, 105mins

This Romanian film follows Alex, a thirty-something living in Bucharest. Early in the film he learns that his mother has suffered a stroke.

It quickly becomes evident that Alex is unable to cope in this situation in which he's largely powerless and so attempts to assert control in any way he can, even if it's to the detriment of his mother's health. He takes to heart the advice from a friend of a friend who tells him to move his mother to a different hospital. He spends the film determined that he can find better help for his mother, despite her receiving adequate care at her current hospital. Though he does it all believing it is for her good.

Mechanically, Best Intentions is a very competent film. The hand-held camera often takes the perspective of one of the characters talking to Alex, in group discussion scenes the camera will oscillate between speakers as they try to sway Alex, making a tennis umpire of the audience. Sparse use of cuts gives scenes a stability that fits into the domestic narrative.

However, despite that, I never felt the film earned my time. It feels longer than its 105 minutes. Mainly, this is because exceedingly little happens. Alex spends the film making the same annoying mistake of trusting the advice that gives him an opportunity to act and become involved in his mother's care instead of listing to those who say leave it up to the professionals.

There have been some great stories in which very little happens, though to get away with it the audience has to be sated with humour or some other engaging spark. There wasn't enough happening in this film to justify its unconventional and lacklustre plotting.

Love (Szelerem)
Dir. Károly Makk, Hungary, 1972, 88mins

Luca's husband has been imprisoned by the communist government on political charges leaving the care of his mother to her. The old woman lies in bed all day waiting for her son to return, believing him to be working as a director in America, a fantasy which Luca defends whenever the mother-in-law questions it.

As the film progresses the strain on Luca increases, she loses her teaching post, has to take on co-tenants, and is forced to sell family heirlooms to pay for her mother-in-law's care, all rooting from her husband's imprisonment. The strain on her love is moving and director Károly Makk's protrayal of this growing pressure is compelling.

Makk captures his characters' inner voice using sudden quick-fire cuts to still images and abstract vignettes. Visible long enough to be recognisable before returning to the main world, the viewer finds themselves watching a story where the past of the characters is being filled out without expositionary conversation.

The mother-in-law's mind jumps to images of the door to her room - which she hopes her long-absent son will come walking through - and old photos of her family, some of them long dead. Her memory seems to be invading her daily life. Luca's mind is less transitory, conveying her focus on the repressing world she inhabits, her mind is unable to escape as easily as her mother-in-laws. It's an excellently utilised device.

The film, first released in 1972, is being screened as part of the Magyar masterpieces retrospective.

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