The Festival Collection

So Mongrel Media and Blockbuster have a thing going. The Canadian firm is now distributing its Festival Collection of overlooked international films exclusively through the mega-retailer, with the most recent batch of eight being the first to hit their shelves. I’d like to say that it’s giving the chain a dose of much needed class, but the four we were sent for review are sadly, and inescapably, mediocre. From Italy comes Agata and the Storm, an eye rolling, pedestrian romantic comedy in which a) the titular bookseller has a romance with a much younger man, and b) her adoptive brother has an encounter with an uncouth blood relation. Though its colourful palette is pleasing enough, the film is funny only when it’s not trying and isn’t serious enough when it needs to be. The whole attitude seems to be to minimise pain in that romantic comedy way and winds up being nothing more than a major frustration. Similarly irritating is Hawaii, Oslo, a Magnolia-style ensemble piece from Norway about a group of people who converge one night at an ambulance accident. There’s a mental patient, a convict, a couple of new parents and various other individuals enduring the slings and arrows of etc., but like every other entry into the genre there’s no discernable thesis and nothing gained from bringing the cast together. Slightly better is the French-Moroccan Le Grand Voyage, in which a Muslim father and his westernised son drive from France to Saudi Arabia so that the elder man can make his pilgrimage to Mecca. This had possibilities, especially as the former is completely intransigent in his insistence on inconveniencing his son, but the film is sadly underwritten and doesn’t register as anything beyond a sketch. Best of the bunch is the Russian Roads to Koktebel, in which a disenfranchised father and son hitchhike cross-country to relatives in the eponymous coastal town. The film has the most visual punch of the four and the most incidental detail as well, but it also has its sketchy qualities and features an ending that softens the blow of the preceding two hours of homeless deprivation. Surely there are better films into which Mongrel can put its attention? (Mongrel Media)