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Festival
cast: Amelia Bullmore, Billy Carter, Raquelle Cassidy, Megan Dodds, and Duncan Duff

director: Annie Griffin

107 minutes (18) 2005
Pathé DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Festival is a difficult film to make your mind up about. On first appearances it seems like a lazy gimmick; an ensemble piece about the Edinburgh Festival filmed in and around the Edinburgh Festival and about people launching their careers in comedy, and drama starring people launching their careers in comedy and drama. It seems a little bit too reflexive and self-referential to be of any substance at all, but surprisingly there is some meat here.

The film juggles a large cast of characters who represent all spectrums of the Festival. From the successful established comedians returning to their old haunts to the new and up-coming comedians of the future and from amateur one-man-shows to seriously high-brow theatre troupes. All of these surrounded by a host of journalists and TV executives. Each of these little groups has their own story to tell and their own path to travel.

As a comedy/drama the balance is perhaps slightly tipped towards the comedy end of the spectrum and is in a style similar to that of something like The Book Group (which was written and directed by the same person). The dramatic plot lines tend to be a little bit undercooked as they are quite melodramatic but the large cast means that each character only has a small amount of screen time. So in effect you barely have time to get to know some of the characters before they start to go into meltdown. This is most blatant in the case of Brother Mike and the owner of a flat rented to a troupe of Canadian actors. The comedy, on the other hand, is more successful. Never riotously funny, Festival is at its best when it is talking about the comedy industry.

Festival pulls no punches in its portrayal of the comedy industry. While comedians are either psychological wrecks trying to become famous or psychological wrecks that are famous, the TV industry is full of critics and commissioners who are venal and arbitrary in whom they choose to make famous. Even comedy fans are portrayed as know-nothing sheep that would laugh at any old rubbish. While this makes for some really funny moments and some grotesque characters, it does leave something of a bitter aftertaste. While Festival clearly hates the comedy industry, it is a part of it and so are the actors. This results in a film with shaky intellectual foundations as it tries to be modern comedy whilst spitting venom at modern comedy. This shakiness is nicely symbolised by the casting of Richard Ayoade. Ayoade is most famous for appearing in Chris Morris' disappointing Nathan Barley, and in Festival he reprises the role of a stupid media professional. The problem is that many comedy critics argue that Ayoade is, in fact, someone whose prominence is due more to political skill than talent. So like Ayoade, Festival criticises what it itself is.

On the whole though, this is a decent and funny little film. The writing is really quite good, generating some memorable lines and exploring some nice ideas. The ensemble cast also do a very good job. It's nice to see that despite being quite a sedate film, the writer was not afraid to throw in jarring moments and characters meaning that you're never quite sure what to expect as the next scene starts.

Also worth praising are the DVD extras. There are a number of deleted scenes that should arguably have been left in as they are genuinely funny and we have two featurettes about the pre-production process including the soundtrack and the read-throughs. In conclusion, this is a rather enjoyable film and, between the good quality extras and the chance to re-watch certain key moments, could arguably stake its place on the shelf of any serious comedy fan.
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