That’s what Roger Durling called those of us who’d come to the Metro 4 at 8 a.m. with far less than a full night’s sleep after the opening night shindig at Paseo Nuevo.
The film we’d gathered for was The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner, a Bulgarian-bred rumination on backgammon, life before the Iron Curtain’s crumble, and the importance of memory to the enjoyment of life. It was worth getting out of bed early, for the ensuing 105 minutes entertained with a mix of quaint Balkan village memories, European tandem bicycle travel, historically informed critiques of both Communist and refugee life, and an endearing relationship between grandson and grandfather brought together by tragedy. It is also the most life-informing celluloid study of backgammon ever made. Who knew that a silly board game had so much to teach about everything else?
Next up for me was the first installment of the Red Riding trilogy, a murder mystery of sorts set in Yorkshire, England, and based on novels written by David Peace. Titled by year, this one was 1974, and featured a young journalist with the guts and energy to get to the bottom of why a bunch of young girls were being kidnapped and killed. Gritty, depressing, and bleak, this episode laid the groundwork for the ensuing installments, all of which are plenty full of gut-wrenching turmoil. The West Yorkshire constables, it turns out, are a corrupt-as-hell bunch, and our protagonist takes us deep into that no-way-out hellhole. By the tragic conclusion, most everyone in the theater seemed to be wholly impressed. Don’t let anyone tell you that downers disappoint.
I, however, was a bit confused at times, the thick English accents often rendering seemingly important conversations moot. I later learned that other film festivals presented Red Riding with subtitles for that very reason. They would have helped here, though even a deaf person would have got the gist: these child murders were senseless, but carried out by the most connected of individuals.
Durling has often explained that he likes his films “challenging,” so although I was more disturbed than enthused about Red Riding 1974, I returned for Red Riding 1980. This time directed by the visionary behind the amazing documentary Man on Wire, it began in a docu-drama style — using, it appeared, real footage from the Yorkshire Ripper cases of the time period — and then morphed into a cop-on-cop saga, with a special agent called in to determine why so many dead prostitute bodies are popping up. Replete with the same astonishingly sadistic attacks as its predecessor, this time we follow a good-hearted cop as he starts to peel back the onion of corruption that is the West Yorkshire squad. It’s dirty work, and somebody’s gotta die doing it.
After all this cinematic joy comes Red Riding 1983, the finale of the series. This time, we’re stuck on a fat lawyer re-investigating the old suspects and a corrupted cop who’s reconsidering his situation. Our killer/torturer/rapist takes us back to the disappearing elementary girl kick, making the stakes as high as ever — why does the terror continue when the bad guys are supposedly locked up? The gray skies of Yorkshire continue as a fitting backdrop for this grim study of the 1980s, and we finally get some closure, albeit not before much despair.
Gauging the overly enthused reaction of the crowd — and the usually sage advice of our collective navigator Roger Durling, who called it one of the best film series ever made — the Red Riding trilogy is a do-not-miss affair. And most definitely, if you see one, you must see them all, because otherwise you’ll spend the rest of the festival wondering what you missed.
From my perspective, however, the series was full of questions and lacking any real answers. Confusion and conspiracy ruled, but conclusions were too complicated. Nearly six hours of my day were focused on one saga — expertly told and brilliantly acted, no doubt — though I can’t help but wonder if my time would have been better spent watching another three films, perhaps each from a different country and all with subtitles. Nonetheless, it’s highly recommend that those who love police dramas, murder mysteries, and thick Yorkshire accents check out the trilogy on Sunday when it screens again.
After all that bloody heartache, I found my way to the Chopin Lounge on the patio of the Arlington Theatre. There, amidst Tarantinis, Rising Stars, and Leading Ladys, I ran into the Chopin vodka crew, including the man from Warsaw who invented the liquor. I’m already making plans to visit the distillery.