A Farewell to Tartan Video

“Tartan Video USA, the US division of the UK-based, art-house distributor Tartan Films, has been shut down. As of June 1st, Tartan shut their doors and auctioned off the US distribution rights to their library of approximately 100 films to Palisades Media Corp, an advertising financial firm based out of New York.” — Blu-Ray.com

Thought it had been quiet on the Tartan front this year: I hadn’t heard anything from them since November. It’s a sad demise, as they were responsible for releasing some really great films [The Booth and Red Road will be favourites of ours for a long time] – and even the others were usually interesting in one way or another. This was followed by the news that the parent company in the UK, Tartan Films, has gone into administration, a huge blow to the distribution of indie and world cinema there. I’ve been sitting on a couple of reviews of DVDs they sent me that, it appears, will no longer be getting a release. So, in the wake of this unfortunate news, let’s get these reviews out there, as a memorial to an undeniable loss in the DVD market.

In My Father’s Den (2004)

Rating: C+

Dir: Brad McGann
Star: Matthew Macfadyen, Emily Barclay, Colin Moy, Miranda Otto

Paul Prior (Macfadyen) is a war photographer who comes back to the small town in New Zealand where he grew up, following the death of his father. His arrival is like a stone dropped into the placid waters of the sleepy area; his abrasive temperament alienates his brother (Moy), but acts as a lightning-rod for Celia (Barclay), a young girl born shortly after his departure, who dreams of the world outside. The two form a relationship which is viewed suspiciously by the local residents, not least because Prior has taken a job teaching at the school, with Celia one of his students. And when Celia vanishes, much more than suspicion falls on Prior.

McGann adopts a fractured approach, with information delivered in a carefully measured style, as if from an eye-dropper. He doesn’t care for traditional set-up; the characters arrive on screen without introduction, and you have to wait for events to unfold. There is an element of deception here, with the structure used to conceal the truth as much as anything, up until the end when the truth is revealed. And it’s probably a good deal worse than we could have imagined. A cheat? Possibly, and the tragedy plays out at its own pace, which some may find slow.

But it’s undeniably effective, and Macfadyen is excellent in portraying a multifaceted character with enough baggage to fill a cruise-ship hold: I was reminded of Clive Owen, which is never a bad thing. Must say, subtitles may be needed with some of the stronger accents – I’ve clearly been away from the Commonwealth too long – but it’s worth perservering. If there’s a moral here, it’s probably “Whatever can go wrong, will.” In the light of this, it’s ironic, and sad, that director McGann died of cancer in May at age 43, with this his only feature.

1942 (2005)

Rating: C

Dir: Kelvin Tong
Star: Toshihide Onizuka, Seiichirô Ôkawa, Tetsuya Chihiro, Fumikazu Hara

Malaya, in the thick of World War II. A small group of Japanese soldiers find themselves separated from the main body of their comrades, but do pick up a cameraman, similarly separated from his battalion. However, as they try to find the rest of their troops, things start to get strange; they find themselves going in circles, the cameraman keeps seeing soldiers through his lens, who can never be located, and a female voice singing an eerie song percolates through the night. What’s going on? Well, if you’ve read the publicity, that will probably have spoiled this for you, making the twist at the end less a surprise than a foregone conclusion. And that’s a shame, since there’s a solid amount of unsettling imagery, with the film’s closest relative perhaps being The Blair Witch Project.

As there, the cast being relative unknowns adds to the atmosphere, and Tong is good at cranking up the atmosphere; the tensions build effectively, as the group starts to unravel. The main problem is, the ending will not be a shock to anyone who has paid any attention to popular cinema for the last decade – and I mean, “any”, in that having a pulse is sufficient to qualify you there. This doesn’t entirely derail the film, but largely thanks to the surprise endings of M.Night Shyamalan, this kind of thing is now almost impossible to pull off. You need an impeccable script, and that just isn’t present here. There’s still enough that the viewer won’t feel totally cheated, but when the makers choose to put all their eggs into the ‘twist’ basket, they are gambling they can pull it off: in this case, they’ve come up just short.