When the Edinburgh International Film Festival closed for another year a couple of months ago, I thought my experiences there would make a fairly decent new post for this blog (god knows I needed something). I volunteered for the festival in the role of Young Programmer, one of a bunch of young people who chose a bunch of films to be shown as part of the youth-oriented 'Teen Spirit' strand of the festival. It was a fantastic few weeks, choosing great films that deserve a wider audience, and then watching them being shown on the big screen at Cineworld or the Filmhouse. I got access to the opening and closing premieres and parties, as well as a small place round the back of the Filmhouse called the 'videotheque', where the press and people associated with the festival could watch any film that was screening as part of the festival on a personal computer. It was great.
My problem was, I didn't actually go and see many films. All this opportunity, and I was at home doing other things most of the time. In retrospect, it was a bit of a waste. I went to see one dreadful Finnish arthouse film, which I couldn't walk out of because I had just done the introduction for it; a bunch of short films, including a terrific German one called Moritz and the Woodwose; and a German comedy-tragedy called Finsterworld. When I was thinking about writing this post about the EIFF, I soon realised that all I really wanted to write about was Finsterworld. So, I have abandoned the rest of the post in order for it to take centre stage.
Part of the job of the Young Programmers was getting together on a Monday afternoon to watch some films, then deciding whether they deserved a place in the festival. It was towards the end of this cycle, when we were beginning to run out of places, that we sat down in a tiny cinema to watch Finsterworld. Once the credits were over and I was standing up again, I couldn't stop talking about it to everyone else. I volunteered to write a short paragraph about it for the festival brochure because that meant I could take home a DVD. I did, and I watched it again. Once again, I was blown away. I started talking about it with friends at school who didn't know what it was. Eventually, when the festival came round, I gathered up a group of friends to come with me to the cinema and see it. I've never been in such an excited flurry over a film.
Its style is the first thing that noticeably sets it apart. Finsterworld seems to take place, as the title perhaps suggests, in a universe slightly removed from our own. It is inhabited by quirky characters, all as fascinating and allegorical as each other, and the colour palette is bright, with blue skies and pastel tints even as the film corkscrews into darker and darker territory. The film itself follows five loosely connected storylines, each with its own message about the modern world and the general state of humanity. It tackles such awkward subjects as German guilt over the Holocaust with intelligence and humour, which makes it surprisingly easy to follow and enjoy.
I really don't want to say too much about it, because I believe one of the reasons I was so excited by it was because I didn't expect it to be that great. We'd watched pretty good films together before, but none I would count among my favourite films. If you ever get the chance to watch it, I don't want to be the one who spoiled any of the surprises for you. Hopefully you will soon be more likely to get a chance to see Finsterworld, as it was recently announced on the official Facebook page that the film is on the shortlist for Germany's Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination. I had the pleasure of conducting a Skype interview with the director, Frauke Finsterwalder, after the screening. She came across as very smart, patient and eloquent, answering the audience's questions, as well as my own, with much enthusiasm. The movie deserves all the attention and awards it's getting. Find Finsterworld and watch it, any which way you can.