Fri, Sep 02, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Edinburgh has its 'eureka moment'

`Song of Songs' is the first ever film set among British Orthodox Jews, and it is a challenging movie

THE GUARDIAN , EDINBURGH

You know the scene, usually in films about scientists, when our hero invents a time machine or when it dawns on him that he's actually a clone or an alien or something? The industry term for it is the eureka moment and critics at festivals get that moment, too.

We don't discover we're aliens, despite much physical evidence to the contrary. No, for us it's when we finally find the film we've been looking for. Mine came at this 59th Edinburgh Film Festival when I saw Song of Songs.

It's a cinematic milestone, the first ever film set among British Orthodox Jews, and it has a challenging, unashamedly intellectual rigor to it. There's also a beguiling central performance from Nathalie Press, the young actress who first came to national notice here last year in Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer of Love. Song of Songs confirms her as a star.

Not that there's anything starry or flashy about the film. Josh Appignanesi (son of author Lisa) writes and directs with impressive intelligence, explaining little but building tension and layers of extreme emotion using microscopically intense, handheld camera and using a grey-green palette to convey austerity. On to this he daubs flashes of bitter hatred, dark sex and repressed violence in a story about Ruth (Press) who returns from Israel to care for her dying mother and tries to bring her estranged, rebellious brother David (Joel Chalfen) back into the family. In both style and content, the film reveals a distinctive and bold new voice in British cinema.

That ballsiness is why I like The Business too, the new film from Nick Love. The two could hardly appear more different but they both set up their own worlds and stick within them. The Business has a cocksure sense of period and place, the dialogue is genuine and the sunlit hyper-reality he creates for his tale of exiled London gangsters peddling dope on Spain's Costa del Sol during the tracksuited, wedge-cut 1980s is deliciously entertaining. I sense a hit as big as some of the legendary tunes -- by Duran Duran, Blondie -- that dominate the soundtrack.

I've already confessed to knowing 1980s Marbella and I also know something of north London's Hassidic community, having watched large families of them bustle about every Saturday (Jewish Sabbath) while I was staying with my non-religious grandparents. But it's not as if I like all films with a personal connection. Rag Tale, for instance, is set in the offices of a tabloid newspaper, the world in which I first cut my journa-listic teeth.

Rupert Graves is a young editor (think Piers Morgan after a diet) caught shagging the wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) of proprietor Malcolm McDowell. The gossip and sniping that ensues along the "street of shame" leads to a tragic but preposterously melodramatic denouement.

The scenes of the morning editorial conference are amusing, a hubbub of banter and bile, trashing anyone from Sienna Miller to George Bush to Ruud van Nistelrooy. Here, the dialogue, devised by the company (including John Sessions, Bill Paterson, Simon Callow and Lucy Davis) and director Mary McGuckian, rings true. But a few errors creep in: would a paper really be called the Rag? Shouldn't the royal-bashing headline "Bulldoze Buck Palace" be "Bulldoze Buck House (Buckingham Palace)?"

A frantic editing style tests the patience and there's scant sense of place -- though that could be because, as I discovered in the credits, it was mostly shot in Luxembourg. Ah the good old days of the British national press, we miss you.

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