29 June 2017

selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
Parting (Raftan), directed by Navid Mahmoudi, is an Afghan-Iranian drama about a young Afghan couple trying to make it to Europe via Iran. The director himself arrived in Iran as a child, the film is dedicated "To my immigrant parents", most of the cast consists of lay Afghan workers living in Iran - the leading lady was one of the few who had professional actor training, but the leading man in rl is an Afghan worker in Teheran -, and Mahmoudi, who was present for a Q & A after the movie, said he knew he wanted to make the film when he saw the news in 2015.

Our hero and heroine are Nabi and Fereshtre, who fell in love back in Afghanistan, but because her family was against it could not be together. Her father then moved the family to Teheran. The couple remained in contact and made plans which were accelarated when Nabi's brother killed someone, which started a blood feud, which meant Nabi had to get the hell out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later and thus is in Teheran sooner than expected. That's when the movie starts, with Nabi arriving in an overfilled vehicle in Teheran, where Fereshtre wants to join him. She hasn't told her family, but they are planning to go to Europe on the dangerous Turkey-Greece route. Nabi's sister knows, is horrified (news of drowned people being everywhere), and tries to reach them via phone at different points in the film, which takes place during a single day.

As with other Iranian movies I've seen (all at the Munich Film Festival, as it happens), this one sticks to certain censorship rules - no kisses, despite Nabi and Fereshtre being an established couple (he introduces her as his wife to the various people they encounter, but technically she isn't, due to her father's objection), or other physical contact that could be deemed erotic, for example. But the movie doesn't need it, as the longing looks between them and gestures like Nabi covering Fereshtre with his jacket carry all the tender familiarity that is needed to indicate the state between them. That said, later during the Q & A you could see somewhat of a culture clash happening when a German viewer (male) said Fereshtre was such a passive character and didn't decide for herself, and an Afghan viewer (female) protested that Fereshtre by deciding to be with Nabi was already doing something very transgressive because leaving the family is such a strict no. The Afghans in the audience generally voiced much approval; one man said he'd taken the same route to Europe Nabi and Fereshtre want to take in the movie, and the behavior of the smugglers was very much as it had been for him.

This is very much an working immigrant movie - Fereshtre's family seems to be doing okay, but she's still working at a tailor's who doesn't pay his employees their promised salaries, very aware that most of them aren't there legally; Nabi's one friend who is already in Teheran as well as some other contacts work in construction, and are considerably poorer. And most of them either arrived as refugees themselves or have family who is trying to make it further, to Europe. At one point, one of them finds out his brother was on the latest ship that went down and whose passengers drowned, and despite the audience not having spent much time with this character, it's heartrendering. Of Teheran, we see only what the characters see - mostly construction sites, or fragments of a city through the air holes in car boots. The colour palate of the movie is thus mostly brown and sandlike yellow, with the occasional red via the women's headscarves, and some blue and grey inside half finished buildings where there are improvised meals and hot tea sharing. Spoilery observation for the ending. )

Gook, directed by Justin Chon, who also wrote the script and stars as one of the main three characters. The title, as Chon informed his German audience which didn't know that in a short speech before the movie started, is an US-Englsh racial slur against East Asians, while the same word in Korean simply means "country". This movie takes place during the Rodney King riots twenty five years ago, and Chon in the same brief introduction speech mentioned his family's store was looted on that occasion as well, when he'd been 11, so he does have personal memories, but that wasn't the sole reason for making the movie - as important was that their store getting looted was pretty much typical because Korean immigrant shops were a primary target during the riots. Chon first wrote the script and imagined someone else would direct it, but the people in question all wanted at least one white character in the story to give a famous actor the chance of an audience-drawing cameo, preferablyly someone who says "you gotta go, there are looters coming". Whereas, quoth Cho, the cops had left to their fates d during the riots, and besides, another reason why he wanted to make the movie was because Asian Americans stiill don't get many roles in the US media, "and if they show up, they're usually good at match and all go to Harvard, and well - not true for anyone I grew up with!"

The result is a movie featuring solely Korean-American and African-American characters, mainly from two families - the brothers Eli (played by Chon himself) and Daniel (David So), who sell shoes in South Central Los Angeles, eleven-years-old Kamilla (Simone Baker, who is amazing in the part) who loves to hang out there, and, in minor but important supporting roles, her older brother Keith and older sister Regina. Also important: the cranky old Korean shop owner on the other side of the road who exists in a state of mutual loathing re: Eli and Kamilla.

(Kamilla, btw, started out as a boy named Kamal when Justin Chon wrote the first draft, but then, he said in the Q & A after the movie, he realised that black girls were as underrepresented as Asian males, and changed the kid's gender.)

Daniel and Eli have inherited the shoe store from their father (there's a backstory there which is only revealed in the last third of the movie, but it's just one factor in a complex pattern) and are just barely getting by, with some fraternal tension because Daniel would rather do something else; Kamilla and her older siblings are orphans (see also: slowly revealed backstory) and she's not really supposed to be at the store, but has made the brothers into her other family. All of which is put to the test when after the judgment in the Rodney King trial Los Angeles explodes.

Chon spreads the trial news through the early part of the movie, keeps it in the background, and mostly lets the fragments speak for themselves except for one heavy irony scene when one of Keith's pals says that now there are cameras everywhere, cops won't get away with beatiing up people anymore; but when the judgment itself is announced, we see all of the movie's characters react, and it's the big turning point from which the pace accelerates as the situation becomes more and more dangerous. Even before that, though, the racial tensions are ever present, both in blunt form ("Gook" getting sprayed on Eli's car) and more subtly (Kamilla, who helps out Eli and Daniel at the store, makes a joke about being held against her will, and all at once the three (black, female) customers who a moment ago had been chatting with the guys fall silent and narrow their eyes in suspicion, until it becomes clear Kamilla was kidding.

Kamillla is a great character, endearing without being saintly, and sometimes in the wrong (she steals from the cranky Korean shop owner across the street), fierce and joyful, with a temper of her own. Asked how he cast the young actress, Chon said at first he looked at young professoinal Disney actors, but they were already too polished and he wanted someone more raw, and then he found Simone at a community art center. I hope she'll keep acting; she does some amazing stuff in this movie, and is really the heart of it. The film is an ode to friendship across those invisible dividing lines, but be warned: your heart will also be broken.

The movie is shot in black and white, both, as Chon frankly confessed, for budget reasons and to make any anachronisms about South Central Los Angeles that's supposed to look like 25 years ago less obvious. At first it feels a bit odd, especially since I remember Los Angeles at that time, but now I can't imagine the movie in colour. Not least because the black and white really allows for a stark picture of just how poor the neighborhood is. Music wise, it uses both original music and one or two hits of the day. It makes for an intense, captivating whole.

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