Patrick (Tygh Runyan) and Karen ( Lauren Lee Smith) in 'A Night for Dying Tigers'
My first full day at this year’s Bradford International Film Festival was weirdly stuffed with families and photographs in the way that festival programmes seem to generate their own themes. I’m starting with the last film I saw on the day which is freshest in my memory.
I guess Anglophone Canadian Cinema suffers even more from low visibility than does independent British Cinema. Francophone Canadian Cinema gets the occasional Oscar nod and a chance to develop various auteurist talents but Canadian directors otherwise need to head for New York or LA to get recognition. It’s silly of course because there are many worthwhile Canadian films around. A Night for Dying Tigers has a stellar cast of Canadian thesps plus Jennifer Beals adding some genuine Hollywood stardust. The film was made in Vancouver, home to various US TV series and the Canadian actors may be familiar faces for TV watchers.
Terry Miles is clearly a talented young man. He wrote, directed and produced this film as well as sharing photography and editing. A Night for Dying Tigers is glossy, slick, finely acted and well-directed. The editing is also interesting – though the digital print did behave rather oddly in a couple of places and I’m not totally sure about what was intentional.
The narrative is familiar – a dysfunctional family (and related hangers-on) gathers for an emotional final dinner before Jack is to spend 5 years in prison. The film’s title refers to a childhood incident involving the youngest of the three brothers, Patrick, and his (adopted) sister Karen with whom he has an ongoing incestuous relationship (or as the others discuss, is this really incest or not?). The third brother, Russell, is a professor and novelist who is currently shacked up with a 19 year-old graduate student prodigy. Jack has both a wife, Melanie (Jennifer Beals) and a younger mistress Jules. The reason for his prison sentence is only revealed later – and it involves one of the others. Patrick is a director of horror films and Melanie is a photographer. The Russell parents are dead (their deaths are also explained later) and the ‘celebration’ takes place in their house designed by the men’s architect father. Their mother was an art historian and photographer. (Russell’s student is also an art history major.)
One of the few online reviews comments on the direct references made to the similarly dysfunctional family of J. D. Salinger. I confess that I missed (or rather didn’t hear) these comments but they fit in. There is very smart dialogue moving from warm sentiment to biting waspish humour and very black comedy in a flash. As you might expect from the genre, new revelations about the group of characters crop up at regular intervals. These people should be insufferable but actually they are very attractive and I was easily swept along by the unfolding drama. At first I did have to work hard to understand what was going on, but this work paid off when all the characters came together.
I really don’t understand why Canadian films are so hard to distribute. This seemed to me much more interesting and entertaining than most Hollywood fare yet this was the European première of the film and deserved a much bigger audience. Bradford is to be commended for playing Canadian films regularly but they need to be seen elsewhere in Europe. Come on distributors!
Here’s the trailer:
The boys, Manuel (HERNÁN OCAMPO), Poca Luz (GENARO ARISTIZÁBAL) and Julián (NOLBERTO SANCHEZ), set out to retrieve their ball.
After the disappointment of El árbol, it was a relief to turn to the more traditional pleasures of Los colores de la montaña. The colours in question are provided by the crayons with which the central character, 9 year-old Manuel, draws the landscapes around his mountain home in the Pradera region of Colombia. Unfortunately, Pradera is one of the parts of the country where the FARC guerrillas have been active – and where the Colombian security forces attempt to hunt them down (along with any collaborators amongst the local population).
Manuel has a second passion – football. His is the old battered football that the local boys use and he plays in goal. His two friends are the seemingly older and more worldly Julián and Poca Luz, an albino boy with weak eyesight and poor co-ordination. Manuel is oblivious of both the presence of the soldiers and guerrillas in the area – and of the effects stress in his parents’ troubled relationship. His father is under pressure to go to meetings organised by the guerrillas and his mother wants them to leave the area altogether. When his father buys him a new football Manuel is delighted but then frustrated when the ball lands in a patch of ground that turns out to have been mined. The boys are banned from trying to retrieve it. But these are small boys with determination.
From this material, writer-director Carlos César Arbeláez has fashioned an engrossing tale that plays out in two strands. He coaxes remarkable performances from the three boys and takes us back to universal stories of childhood and at the same time exposes the horrors of living in what is in effect a warzone where the local smallholders have an impossible task in staying on the right side of both guerrillas and security forces. Almost bridging the worlds of the children and the adults is a third strand concerning the arrival of a new and enthusiastic teacher for the village school. Her resolve is going to be tested by the falling school roll as families leave the village and the pressure mounts. What makes the film interesting, I think, for film students is the symbolic role of the ‘football in the minefield’ – the passion and the cancer of Colombian society – and the focus on the school.
Manuel and Poca Luz contemplate the graffiti on the school wall.
In many ways this could be a film for children since they lead the central narrative, but some of the scenes of brutality and the sheer terror of the boys approaching the ball in the minefield perhaps means that it is not suitable for younger children. !Viva¡ gave the film an advisory 12A Certificate.
The director has a background in documentary and this is his first feature. The documentary background is clear in the presentation of the landscape and the routines of the village community. Most of the actors are non-professionals from the region. Arbeláez cites Iranian Cinema and directors such as Truffaut and Louis Malle as inspirations. There is a press pack and other material available via this link to World Cinema Day organised by Global Studies at the University of Wisconsin which is using the film for an education event. !Viva¡ included an education event for students taking Spanish GCSE. Kudos to them for making use of the opportunity. I hope a UK distributor takes note because this is certainly the kind of film that should be available for education work over here.
The subtitled trailer gives a good indication of the pleasures of the film: