selenak: (Orson Welles by Moonxpoints5)
I am not a witch, directed by Rungano Nyoni, lik its director a Welsh-Zambian co-produced effort (with some German producing money added as well). This is a directing debut, half satire, half J'Accuse. Not without flaws, but it gets to you and makes you note the director's name down. Our heroine is a little girl later named "Shula" by one of the other characters (we never find out her original name) whom the village she's ended up in basically accuses of being a witch for silently standing and staring. Since there are actual "witch camps" in Zambia, it means she ends up in one, which is being exploited by the local venal and none too competent politician Mr. Banda. For verily, these witch camps are good business. Among other things, they're used as a dumping ground for unwanted elderlies (every woman other than Shula in the camp is at the very least middle aged, and most are old), they're used as state workers (on fields) and tourist attractions, and you soon want to slap every single tourist who shows up, thinks those white ribbons the women have attached to their backs (so the witches don't fly away) are oh so picturesque and wants their picture taken with little Shula. Margaret Mulubwa, who plays Shula, doesn't speak until at least half an hour into the film, which tries to keep a balance between biting, funny and truly emotional, which doesn't always work out, plus there are some odd directorial choices at the very end. But it's still a really captivating and at times disturbing movie.

The Constitution (Ustav Republike Hrvatske), directed by Rajko Grlic (a Croation-Czech-Slovenian production), was the last new film I watched on the Munich Film Festival, and it made for a rousing finale. A wonderful three characters piece which manages the balance between funny and sad perfectly (and will be released in English speaking countries). Location: current day Croatia. Vieko is a middle aged conservative grammar school teacher who also happens to be a drag queen. (I was wondering whether or not he counts as trans, but while Vieko has a female alter ego, Katarina, when he's in drag, he otherwise seems to define himself as a gay man and has no wish for an operation.) One day after he's been beaten up brutally (of which we see just enough to indicate the seriousness; the violence isn't revelled at), he ends up in the emergency room where his neigbour Maja works as a nurse. Maja and her husband Ante are only a bit younger than Vieko and because Ante is a a Serb, they're mostly shunned in the neighborhood; previously, Vieko, who's a fervent Croation Nationalist, has shunned their overtures. But after Maja helps him out repeatedly, especially with his very old father (who is one big reason why Vieko is a Serb-hating nationalist, the other one having been a child in a war camp) Vieko can't very well decline her plea to help her husband who needs to pass an exam on the constitution if he's to be promoted at all as a cop in Croatia. (In addition to being born a Serb, he also has got against him that he's got dsylexia, which makes learning the constitution by heart really difficult for him.)

All three characters are vividly drawn and three dimensional. Ante is a heavily built guy who adores being dominated by the equally built Maja, does have a zeal for justice and a childlike enthusiasm for many things, but he also, after Vieko has been awful to him, responds with some homophobic slurs. Vieko hides his own prejudices (not very well) behind a cultural veneer and doesn't see any contradiction between being part of a discriminated against minority (and an out part, he's not in the closet with anyone, including his father who makes Genghis Khan look like a leftist) and being a nationalist conservative. Maja is compassionate and funny, but also extremely pragmantic and strategically minded; it's not why she helps him at first, but it does occur to her after a while of learning more about Vieko that since his beloved partner is dead, he only has this very old parent and a very big flat which he might be inclined to share if she and Vieko manage to befriend him, whereas they live in a much smaller, cramped flat.

Despite showing everyone's flaws, the movie is, as far as its characters are concerned, optimistic about human nature, our ability to connect against the odds and learn from each other. This is true for the three lead characters, but also a supporting player like Vieko's stuident who early on started out as an obnoxious teen into name calling and late into the movie reveals he's also gay and desperately in need of advice of how to come out to parents. There is a lot of humor, some of it black (Ante: But why does he think that I am one of those Serbs who beat up Croats? Maja: Well, you do. Ante: ?!???? Maja: You're a cop who lives in Croatia. Of course you beat up Croats.) Sometimes the reaching out is also literal: Maja's matter of fact nursing skills start the contact with Vieko, and they say something about her the same way Vieko later helping her with her make up says something about him. Ante's unabashed love for his dog (a small fluffy number, not a big one) comes with constantly picking it and not living things up. And so forth.

re: violence, the early attack against Vieko, which as mentioned is only shown briefly and in parts to make it clear what happens. Sex: Maja and Ante enjoy sex as much as food; Vieko's long time partner has only been dead a year, and he's still mourning, though it's clear he doesn't want eternal celibacy from now on.

In conclusion: a great final note to leave this year's festival on. And now I'm thoroughly exhausted and my eyes are formed squarely.
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.
selenak: (Orson Welles by Moonxpoints5)
The Infiltrator was part of the Bryan Cranston retrospective and basically came across as a well-made routine thriller without anything being either bad or having anything innovative going for it. I.e. if you've watched thrillers about undercover cops working to bring a drug cartel down, you can predict all of the story beats. (Other than one spoilerly bit ).) It's entertaining and does what it sets out to do, and needless to say Cranston is reliably good in the part, but I wouldn't say it's a must.

City of Ghosts, otoh, was a fantastic documentary, directed by Matthew Heineman, about the citizen journalist group Raqqa is being slaughtered silently (RBBS). Before I watched it, I was unfamiliar with the phrase "citizen journalist" , but it's really a perfect description, because before the IS came to Raqqa, only one of them was a journalist, the rest had professions like high school math teacher or engineer. Nonetheless, they took incredible risks getting out photos and film evidence of the atrocities the so called Islamic State visited - and still visits upon their city. The surviving founders of the group had to flee but they still have some members in Raqqa, trying their best to continue getting material out. I'm always hesitant to use the phrase "real life heroes", but these people are truly heroic, and one thing that galls me especially is that when they've made it alive to Germany and safety, they promptly run into one anti-refugees march by the godawful AFD in Berlin.

The documentary starts during the "Arab Spring" in 2012, for which the Assad Regime going after Raqqa school children was one of the local triggers, and ends last year. We follow the core group of RBBS; Heineman is an invisible presence, he lets them narrate their stories, and when there's background information/exposition, such the way the IS uses the media for recruitment changed radically from the very early static speech videos to the Hollywood style big production videos that came into use after the fall of Raqqa, the activists are doing the explaining (subtitled, for the most part, everyone talks in Arabic) while the audience sees excerpts of the videos in question. BTW, I'd never seen an IS recruitment video before, and I have to say, the exact copying of action movie gimmicks and aesthetics (complete with following-the-bullet shots, soundtrack, etc.) is nearly as unsettling as the content. It's not much of a comfort that RBBS was able to puncture the IS self image enough by getting videos and photos showing the true state of Raqqa out to counteract the IS claims about it that the IS forbade any satelites in Raqqa and ordered the inhabitants to publically destroy theirs, so they regain control of the imagery. But it's something.

If the excerpts from the IS videos go for action movie gloss on violence, the mobile phone camera made videos of the RBBS are shaky, abruptly cut off, full of (inevitably) strange angles - and shocking in quite a different way. For example, the first time we see executions, the abrupt deaths and the already dead bodies lying around are bad enough, but without either the camera or any narrator pointing this out, what is as gruesome is what you see in the background. Yes, these are heads on pikes on what used to be the town square, not cheap movie props in the latest zombie splatter, but real human heads.

There's a lot of survivors guilt among the activists; one of them had to watch his father being executed in punishment, all of them are directly threatened by the IS who calls for their deaths, one lost his brother who was among the refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean, and when he talks about his dead brother, he says he still sends him messages per Facebook (as the account hasn't been taken down). "I am broken, my brother. Broken." And yet, and yet, they still continue to risk their lives. There's also a lot of comraderie we see, being physically comfortable with each other, and the rare moment of pure joy, such as everyone having a snowball fight in Berlin. You feel for them, and admire them - and hope the movie will be seen by as many people as possible. Maybe it will remind them that 95% of the victims of IS terrorism are Muslims - and said victims won't, shan't be silenced, are doing their best to fight back.

L'Intrusa, directed by Leonardo di Costanzo, is, like The Infiltrator, "based on a true story", with organized crime in the background, but the contrast couldn't be greater. While delivering a tight narration, there's nothing routine or slick about this movie, which is set in Naples and manages to avoid every single cliché. The fact you don't see the Vesuvio or the bay anywhere is just one of them; L'Intrusa is set in one of the poor quarters. The central characteris Giovanna, who has organized a miixture of daycare centre and social centre for kids and teenagers to offer them a life off the streets. When the film starts, the centre is well established and has been running for years, has been embraced by the neighborhood - but then something happens that puts Giovanna in an unsolvable dilemma. One of the small to mid level gangster's wives - Maria - and her two children have come to the centre, claiming refuge. Giovanna, Maria's daughter Rita and Maria are the three main characters; the supporting cast is also individualized, from Giovanna's right hand woman Sabina to the widow of a man Maria's husband has shot to the little daughter whose father was beaten to a pulp by Maria's husband right in front of her.

L'Intrusa never shows on screen violence. It doesn't show the Camorra doing what the Camorra does, but the after effects are present everywhere. This was a deliberate choice by the director, who in the Q & A said that if you depict Mafiosi "from the front", i.e. put them in the centre of the narration, even if you position them as villains, you end up making them in some ways sympathetic or even glorify them. "So, in my films, I only come at them sideways" - i.e. they're not there on screen, but there's no mistaking the terribile effect they have. Now, the centre is a film full of life and joy, with a community acting together, and it's rare and very attractive to see that. But it's not utopia, and in fact the need for it directly grows out of the unseen horrors around it. Not surprisingly, more and more parents object to Maria's presence. Giovanna gets accused of prioritizing the perpretators over their victims. The aunt of the little girl who has seen her father beaten into a pulp demands to know how she should justify to her sister letting her niece interact, let alone play with Rita, what that would do to her niece. Things come to a head when Rita and some of the kids argue, a normal kids' argument, with the parents drawn into, but Maria isn't just any parent, and so when she says "if you touch my daughter again etc.", the awareness that this is the wife of someone who casually kills people, even if he's currently arrested and hopefully won't get out of prison any time soon, makes this a direct threat to the other kids.

Otoh, Giovanna's argument is: if you ever want to break the cycle of violence, you need to make sure that the Marias of the world don't raise their children to follow their fathers' footsteps. That these children learn other values, learn something different. If she turns these children away from the centre, this will not happen.

As I said: it's an unsolvable dilemma, and the movie doesn't simplify it. It even adds to the stakes because Maria at first comes across as arrogant and rude (it's not until well into the film when you see her alone that you realise she's shattered and scared as well). Not to mention that she starts out by deceiving Giovanna, and there's early on not much to justify Giovanna's hope that Maria actually wants a change for herself and her children - nothing but the fact Maria is here instead of being with her rich sister-in-law, who in the movie shows up twice in a big car to retrieve Maria, in vain, and evidently lives the well funded Mafia spouse life. Basically: you understand where everyone is coming from.

Something else I learned in the Q & A was that most of the actors were lay actors, actual Neapolitans whose main job is in social service (though no one played themselves), with Giovanna being played by a woman who is a dancer and dance choreographer. "Because Giovanna doesn't say much, she's so stoic, she expresses herself through her body language," said the director, "I wanted someone who could do that, that's why I picked Raffaela Giordano." Who indeed is able to express much by the way she looks at people, by her movements, and who looks like she's closer to 50 than to 40. Everyone looks "normal", i.e. like people you could meet on the streets, not like well styled actors with a daily workout. But none act amateurishly in the sense that you're taken outside the story or feel they're talking stiltedly; given Rita and the other children are a big part of the story, that's especially amazing.

Favourite detail: one of the projects the kids in the centre work on, and the one Rita falls in love with and participates with, is building a robot they name "Mr. Jones" out of old bicycle parts. You can bet that in most other movies, Rita and her baby brother would have changed placed in age and it would have been a little boy fascinated with the robot.

In conclusion: probably my favourite movie so far, and highly reccomended
selenak: (Breaking Bad by Wicked Signs)
Aka what consumes my days these days, as every year around this time. Of course, every year doesn't have Bryan Cranston as one of the guests of honor, so there was this additional perk.:) (Here's an article about the award ceremony he was there for.)


 photo 2017_0623Filmfest0003_zpsgy9vaotd.jpg

(Question: is the young man in one of the photos a fan is holding out to be signed truly Cranston some decades ago? Yikes, I wouldn't have recognized him.)


The director of Wakefield, one of his movies which are shown this year in honor of him (and yes, of course several Breaking Bad episodes are s hown as well), Robin Swicord, joked that both she and Cranston have German grandparents, and: "I don't know why they left, but you know, I think the fun is over. Might be a good idea to come back now, and I think you all know why. So thank you for welcoming political refugees." Former opera director Sir Peter Jonas outed himself as a Breaking Bad fan, complete with Heisenberg t-shirt, and held a speech praising the glories of narrative arc driven television. My only irritation with that one wasn't the series he singled out (other than BB) for being exceptionally good at this - The Sopranos, Oz, The West Wing and The Good Wife - , but the one he didn't mention. Babylon 5 still doesn't get as much credit in breaking ground with its narrative arc tellng format as it deserves.

Anyway, Bryan Cranston's own speech was lovely, mostly about the way being a storyteller is the best vocation (I agree), with both wry humor and sincerity. After the ceremony, Wakefield was shown, but due to an unshakeable real life obligation, I could only watch the first hour. Mind you, I had mixed feelings anyway. Because I could see why Cranston was cast (excelling as he does in playing dislikeable characters whose pettiness isn't air brushed away who are still interesting to watch) , and I enjoyed seeing Jennifer Garner again (playing his wife), and found the concept something of a suburban Hitchcock satire without crime (Howard Wakefield, lawyer, due some circumstances ends up disappearing into his own attic, watching his wife and family carry on without him with the bickering zest of a true voyeur while literally reduced to eating garbage) in a clever way, it still made my skin crawl. Because in the hour I watched, most of Howard Wakefield's voyeurism and assholery was directed against his wife, and while I knew the narrative was absolutely on the same page with me here, it still felt very disturbing to watch, and so it didn't exactly break my heart that I had to leave early. (Otoh I missed the Q & A with Cranston afterwards that way, alas.)

On to movies I could watch completely:

La Familia, a movie from Venezuela, directed by Gustavo Rondón Cordóva, currently stuck in Caracas and thus unable to make it to the festival, though he might make it to the Latin American directors general Q & A on Monday. This was a taut, intense story starting in the poorest quarters of Caracas. Our two main characters are Pedro, a twelve years old boy, and his father Andres, who works several jobs at once to make ends meet and thus hardly sees him. The introduction sequence has Pedro (Reggie Reyes) playing with some other children, and the playing has that edge of violence, those moments when shoving at each other suddenly threatens to become more, which has you sit up already. And sure enough, various scenes later, which establish Pedro's day with best friend Jonny and minus his father (who sleeps like a stone on those rare occasions when he's home), violence does explode, as a child threatens Pedro and Jonny with a gun and Pedro ends up seriously hurting the other child. His father Andres understands the implication at once because the child in question has revenge hungry people, and goes on a run with his estranged son, which is the plot line for the rest of the movie. "Going on a run", however, doesn't mean what it might were this a US film, because Andres still needs that money for Pedro and himself to survive, so he takes Pedro with him to his various jobs on the other ends of the city - they just don't go back to their own quarter, though Pedro urgently wants to because he's worried for Jonny, which makes for a big confllct with his father.

This is a movie which trusts its actors (Giovanni García plays Andres), because the dialogue is terse and rare, and you experience the shifting father and son relationship mostly through physical interaction, looks, gestures. Andres doesn' have a "killing is bad" conversation with his son, or a "how do you feel about what happened?" conversation - that's just not how they interact. And yet you can watch them becoming closer throughout the film, and at the end they truly understand each other, and even in their desperate situation have some hope for the future.


Clair Obscur, a Turkish-German-French-Polish coproduction (yes, these do exist) directed by Yesim Ustaouglu. With a female Turkish director and two female main characters, this movie explores, among other things, various ways of what it means to be a woman in Turkey. Our two heroines live completely different existences - Shendaz is a psychiatrist with a seemingly good relationship with her boyfriend, living in very well off circumstances at the Meditterranean coast, while Elmas is still a teenager imprisoned in a marriage to a much older man who revolts her, serving him and his mother in their small flat in a skyscraper. The two storylines eventually connect when due to various spoilery circumstances Shendaz becomes Elmas' therapist; by that time, the cracks in Shenaz' own life have been revealed, but refreshingly for therapists who tend to be either demonic or incompetent when presented in a fictional story, she's still able to truly help Elmas (especially once she figures out how young Elmas really is), and eventually finds away to escape the mess in her own life as well.

The director and several of the actors were there, though not the two leads. The actress who plays Elmas' mother-in-law said whhen she read the script, she thought that this was the best discussion of female sexuality in a Turkish movie. The sex scenes aren't just surprisingly frank in the case of Shenaz (with Elmas, who does not want to have sex, the camera stays on her agonized face, and later goes with her to the restroom because the aftermath is also very painful to her), but always make a character point. In the Q & A the director was asked whether the movie could be shown like this in Turkey, and she answered she had to cut around two minutes for the general release version (though she was allowed to show the full length in Turkish festivals), which since she knew this would happen in advance she could do without taking away the meaning from the scenes in question. Mostly the general release cuts avoided the full nudity of the complete version. Since the only Muslim women showing up in Western media tend to wear headscarfs and/or hijabs, in short, live Elmas' life, I suspect the fact that Shenaz is sucessful in her profession, has unmarried sex and enjoys wine when dining with her boyfriend (who does the cooking) would be as startling as the sex and the nudity if this movie gets a release in the US or Europe. At the same time, there's the awareness that Erdogan's government and party is doing its best to make Elmas, not Shenaz' life more common again in Turkey, and that subtext is also there if you're sitting in the audience watching this film.

Shenaz is played by Funda Eryigit, Elmas by Ecem Uzm, and they're both delivering terrific performances. In the Q & A, Ms. Ustaoglu mentioned that the incredible scene in which Shenaz gets Elmas to roleplay a dream she has (which finally allows Elmas to vocalize the pain in her life) needed only two takes, one for Elmas, one for Shenaz, that the actresses were that good. And having seen this movie, I believe it.
selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
Zorba the Greek is of course a decades old classic, but the former Lord Mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, who is extremely popular in Munich, finished his last term and the Munich Film Festival whose patron he always was (not just because it was his job as the Mayor; the current festival runner owes him her job, and he got the budget for the festival more than doubled) decided to throw in a special event for him, which was to show his favourite movie which he got to introduce. Since Zorba the Greek was a film classic I'd never managed to watch, I thought I might as well, especially since chances are I wouldn't have the chance to see it on the big screen again. What I knew, via pop cultural osmosis, going in: based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, the film makers invented Sirtaki for it which subsequently became everyone's favourite Greek dance (in an example of movie inventing reality which then does become reality), and Anthony Quinn's star making title role supposedly embodies Greek joie de vivre. That was it.

The first surprise was that it was in black-and-white; somehow I had assumed it was in colour. Mind you, stylistcally, I think black and white was a good choice (if it was a choice and not simply a question of money), because that way the beauty of the Greek landscape doesn't come across as postcard-idyllic, but as something that has harsh and unforgiving elements in it as well. While Anthony Quinn's role is indeed a thirst-for-life/larger-than-life type of character ("ein Urviech", said Christian Ude in his introduction, which is a German-Bavarian expression you can't translate), there is some incredibly dark stuff in this movie as well which given the other Kazantzakis novel I've seen brought to the screen was The Last Temptation of Christ isn't, in retrospect, surprising. A type of "feelgood" tourist advertisment about Greece the way, say, Mamma Mia is, this certainly is not: the two female characters in it suffer horrible fates. One, played by Irene Papas, gets slut-shamed, hounded, stoned - I mean literally, the old testament way - by the entire village and then gets her throat cut for good measure, and the other, a French woman, while dying of old age, basically, has her dying hours mixed with the (desperately poor) villagers starting to get into her house to rob it, two women even making it into her bedroom staring at her and wanting her to die already though Zorba manages to keep the rest out until she's drawn her dying breath, and then the house gets picked clean in no times flat (but otoh, Hortense not having been Greek Orthodox, the priest won't bury her). Pop cultural osmosis certainly didn't tell me about this! And they're among the most memorable sequences of the movie, too. Mind you: I think they keep the story from sentimentalizing poverty or rural "simplicity", and the archaic mercilessness with which Irene Papas' character (who is solely referred to as "the Widow" by dialogue, though Wiki tells me she has a name in the novel) is destroyed by everyone, with the movie's pov character, the writer Basil, being too cowardly to intervene (which comes with the uncomfortable awareness on the part of the audience that most of us probably would be, faced with a mob, but it doesn't make one like the guy more) has something of Euripides.

Speaking of the writer, in the movie he's half-English, half-Greek, raised in Britain, but I bet that's solely so they could cast Alan Barnes in the role and blame his repression on being English and that in the novel he's all Greek. The odd couple pairing of him and Zorba - shy restrained intellectual meets hedonist party animal - thus also gets to be an entry in the movies wherein repressed Brits need the encounter with Southern Europe to be liberated. Though I have to say that for a current day audience, it looks far more likely that Basil is a gay man in the closet with a crush on Zorba who tries a fling with the Widow as a desperate last attempt at heterosexuality (and one she pays for with her life) than that he's too shy to hit on women. The way Basil falls for Zorba upon first encounter and keeps indulging him financially and forgiving him things like a professed shopping trip for supplies turning into Zorba partying with prostitutes certainly makes more sense that way. Though Anthony Quinn certainly is extremely charming in the role. Also: when Basil tries to make the Widow's death about his manpain, Zorba (who as opposed to Basil fought to save her and would have succeeded if not for the throat cutting) cuts that short with a pithy single sentence. In conclusion: I can totally see where this movie got his reputation.

On to new movies.

Quissa: directed by Anup Singh, an Indian-German-French co production starring Irrfan Khan and Tillotoma Shoma which is two thirds great and then, for me, has a last ten minutes I utterly disagree with even though they have been prepared by the beginning and I can see what they're trying to say. The movie starts with the India/Pakistan partition of 1947 when Umber Singh, a Sikh (played by Irrfan Khan) has to flee with his family. His third daughter has just been born, and the way he greets this news immediately establishes how desperate he's for a son. But the key event happens a few years later, when his wife Mehar is pregnant for the fourth time. Umber Singh insists it will be a boy now. The child is born, and as Mehar expected, it is a girl. But Umber Singh says it's a boy and calls "him" Kanwar.

Extremely spoilery discussion from this point on )

In conclusion: two thirds of a movie I loved, beautifully filmed and acted, and ten minutes of DO NOT WANT at the end, alas.

Die Auserwählten: directed by Christoph Röhl (son of historian John Röhl and raised bilingually between Britain and Germany), this is a made for tv movie which had its premiere last night and will be broadcast on tv in a few months. It deals with one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals come to light in recent German history, at the Odenwaldschule - German's most famous socially progressive, anti-authoritarian boarding school until the public at large found out systematic sexual abuse had been going on for decades, with the former headmaster (to give you an idea of his level of reputation and public image: when Astrid Lindgren got the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, he was the one holding the laudatory speech) as the chief but by no means only perpetrator. Christoph Röhl already made a documentary film about the Odenwaldschule, but this movie is a fictionalized version, featuring two of our most famous current actors, Ulrich Tukur (as the headmaster) and Julia Jentsch (as the sole teacher trying to protest; you may remember her as Sophie Scholl, and btw, another former Sophie Scholl, Lena Stolze, is also one of the adult actors). It's not without flaws - the opening sequence, where at the school's hundreth anniversary celebration some of the abused former students as adults interrupt and demand to be heard, feels staged (it may have happened, but it still feels artificial), for example -, but as soon as we flash back to the 1970s, the staginess disappears and the story is told in an affecting and powerful way. Julia Jentsch's character comes to the school as a new teacher and at first is thrilled by the seeming openess and encouragement of the children, and then starts to realize more and more something is incredibly wrong. Hers is only one of the two povs in the film, though; the other is that of Frank Hoffmann, one of the boys abused. (The school was and is coeducational, and the movie also includes one of the teachers having an affair with one of the older - but still teenage - girls, but the headmaster and the music teacher who were the main abusers were both solely interested in boys - of every age - so the victims were mainly male.) Röhl as a director doesn't put his young actors through sex scenes, thankfully, he makes clear what's going on via hands on shoulders, shoes of a man and a boy in front of the shower, in a particularly shudder worthy instance a finger on a leg, nothing more explicit than that. The horror is mainly achieved through showing the children and teenagers before and after, the wilful ignorance of the parents and the in various degrees sycophancy to complicity to active participation by the other teachers. Casting Tukur - whom international audiences may remember as Ulrich Mühe's boss in The Lives of Others - was also important, because he sells the aura of jovial bonhommie, charming people instead of twirling his metaphorical moustache for all to see, which makes the creepiness behind the facade all the more revolting. The various methods in which he maintains his power are all too familiar: there's the tried and true "distressed children are liars" and "do you really believe something like this about me?", but also the very 1970s "children have a right to explore their sexuality, do you want us to fall back into sexual repression?" and "you're blaming me because you're too afraid to face your own desires". With the adults, that is. With the children, the tactics go from "I'm your friend and know best, this is only natural" to "no one will believe you anyway".

The end of the film brings us back into present day and the public hearing where more and more former students speak out, and this time I didn't feel it staged anymore, maybe because I don't think a scroll text alone about how the abuse came to light etc. would have done it; at this point at the audience you want at least some justice, want at least the victims to be believed and listened to instead of continuing to be dismissed and silenced, and you want to see it.

Because this was the premiere, the director, producer, scriptwriters, camera people, casting people and some of the actors were all there, so instead of a Q& A we got them making their bows, which was a good thing, too, because I don't think the audience, emotionally wrung as it was, would have been ready for a traditional Q & A. Also present: several of the now adult abuse victims, one of whom came in front of the screen to say that it was difficult to watch - the film was made on location, so the memories triggered were immediate -, but that he's really glad it got made and thinks it represents what they went through in a way that does them justice.
selenak: (Orson Welles by Moonxpoints5)
Actually, I watched Andrzej Wajda's Walesa: Man of Hope in between these two, which was a good thing, because while it's not a must but an entertaining biopic, it provided a breath of air between emotional pummelling by more original films for me. If you want a review, basically: what he said .

On to more directing debuts which are currently going through the film festival circuits, only one of which has already a release date and a distributor but both deserve to be watched by many people of many nations:

L'Chaim!: The title is a pun between the Jewish toast "To Life!" and the name of the subject of this captivating documentary, Chaim Lubelwski, shot by his cousin, first time director Elkan Spiller, over a period of about seven years, according to the Q & A afterwards. At its heart is the relationship between Chaim and his mother (Ne)Chuma, who was a concentration camp survivor (as was his father; their parents and a good deal of the rest of the family perished), whom he took devoted care of until she died at age 97. The movie follows Chaim between Antwerp - where he lived with his mother, because the climate in Israel was too hot for her -, and Israel, where he also spent and spends part of the time. He used to travel the world as a young man, seeing no point in regular life and employment, and still manages to be both a hippie and religious, passionate about chess, dope (Antwerp in Belgium also had the advantage of being close to Holland, where you can get it legit) and above all his parents. At the start of the film, his sister Lotti had died of an overdose which the mother never found out because he pretended to her Lotti was in a rehab clinic in Israel; the truth, says Chaim, would have been unbearable to Chuma, who at night when insomniac talked to her parents all the time. Chuma in the first half of the film is coherent and alert, and she and Chaim make each other laugh repeatedly, but the sense of what was done to her and her family is there all the time, too. Late in the film, there is a point where she sings the first few lines of our former national anthem (explanatory note for non-Germans about the national anthem: post World War II, the national anthem as sung by Germans starts with the third verse - "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" etc. -; the first verse, "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" etc. having been irrevocably tainted by the Nazis, it goesn't get sung by anyone but Neonazis, or American and British tourists on occasion who make one cringe that way; but of course the original form was used pre-Nazis already by both the second Empire and the Weimar Republic), and adds "we believed that; we were doing good, weren't we? But they beat us, they beat us and killed and why...". And the entire horror of the Holocaust and its legacy hit me all over again. The film is very much about what it means to be the child (the by now senior-citizen-aged child) of a Holocaust survivor. Chuma was born in Poland, but she and Chaim - as well as Chaim and his cousin Elkan, the director, who lives in Cologne - talk German to each other -; there's the occasonal Hebrew and Jiddish in Israel and New York, and some English and French later when Chaim visits friends in France, but mostly the film is in German, and it made the emotional rawness of such scenes as Chuma's memories or later, after her death, Chaim's loss hit me double and triple. Also, in a different way, the humor with Chaim's chatty interactions with everyone, and that sense of warmth in the voice. For the Q & A after the film, we got both the director, Elkan Spiller, and Chaim Lubelswiski himself, and it was there as well. (He also got to comment on the film, which he'd seen for the first time during this festival; he said the only thing he wished his cousin hadn't filmed were the scenes from his mother's funeral; at the time, he was too out of it to notice but now they feel too intimate to have on film. The rest was okay for him since having a relation around with a camera wasn't that unusual; it happens, in families.) The film strikes a delicate balance: there is no pat assurance of an happily ever after because Chaim's central focus in life was his mother, and with 70 something there won't be a new one, and he says he's "vegitating", but when in the final scenes you watch him playing chess, meeting friends and contemplating nature, you're glad this remarkable person is still around. Since this is the film without a general release date (yet), I hope the festival will get it the necessary attention from the companies because it's certainly so very much worth watching.

White Shadow: shot in Tanzania, starring exclusively Tanzanian actors (professionals and lay people), with an Israeli Berlin based director, Noaz Deshe, and both Italian and German money involved in the production, so it's tricky to name a country of origin, but: it's disturbing and gruelling and captivating. Sometimes hard to watch, both because of the content and the style - it's not linear in the middle section, and frequently makes you feel trapped in a hallucination -, which, however, matches the point of view, that of teenage boy Alias who is one of the ca. 150 000 albinos in Tanzania and who has to watch his father, also an albino, getting slaughtered in the opening minutes. The lucrative trade with albino body parts is a real problem, to use a awfully euphemistic term, not just in Tanzania but all over East Africa. Post-flm, the director, present for a Q & A, said the most recent known (and there are far more unknown than known) case in Tanzania happened only two weeks ago, and one of the people in the film's production was approached with a "can you get me one of the albinos?" question. The young actor playing the main character, Hamasi Bazili, was 15 at the time of shooting, and had a backstory not dissimilar from his character in that he, too, had to flee his village and go to the city. He also was abandoned by his father, while in the movie Alias' mother, fearing for his safety, sends him with her brother in the big city (not named, but presumably Daar-as-Salaam). Alias' uncle has debts which gave me a bad feeling from the start, and while Alias temporarily ends up in a community with some other albino children and also has a tentative romance with his cousin Antoinette - their reconciliation scene in the middle of the big city garbage heaps which are scavanged for useful computer parts by traders, and Alias' playing with his friend, the Albino child Salum, are among the film's brief joyful interludes where Alias has the chance to be just a kid - , but the sense of menace waiting never really leaves. And sure enough, the hunters are there.... While this movie has some terrible things to say, it is, amazingly enough, anything but cynical. It's one of the very few stories I can think of where the big catharsis, in as much as there is one, is for the main character to not do what's been done to him. It is, like I said, not an easy to watch, and definitely not one where you can go on to have pizza afterwards. But it's definitely one watching nonetheless.

Sidenote: I couldn't help but wonder about the main actor and what future he'll have because I thought: he's so good in this, but how many roles are there for an adolescent albino Tanzanian actor? Then again, the director during the Q & A mentioned that the adult actor who plays his father at the start of the movie, Tito D. Ntanga, leads an acting/dancing/storytelling company for albinos in Tanzania. So there is a possible professional future, and that's good to know - if he won't become one of the victims of the body parts trade.
selenak: (Triad by Etherealnetwork)
Like every summer, it's time for the Munich Film Festival again. Last year I was in Mongolia and missed it, but this year I can attend, and have already seen several movies worth watching. My two favourites so far have in common that they: a) include a child as one of the main characters, hence icon, b) are a first outing of their respective directors (who were present for a Q & A afterwards, another great thing about the Munich Film Festival), c) are currently shown in festivals and one or two countries but haven't already started the road to world wide distrubution, so here's hoping the festival will get them the necessary attention, because they're both deeply moving and fabulous. Mind you, while both are present day stories, they might as well be set in different worlds, due to their locations.


Everything We Loved: directed by Michael Currie, who also wrote the script, shot and set in New Zealand. This one is hard to talk about without getting spoilery about the central premise, and the film is very clever in luring you in during the opening sequence before gradually making it clear what is actually happening, so I'd like to at least try. It's a story with three main characters, all three sympathetic and easy to empathize with, a family - and yet not because there is a terrible lie and crime at work. (Disclaimer sadly necessary in this day and age: the story has absolutely nothing to do with pedophilia. Child abuse is so not what it's about.) It's a story about loss and grief and the actions it can cause, about illusion and reality, both in a metaphorical and literal sense, because Charlie, whose initial deed drives the plot, is a stage magician and his wife Angela is sharing the act with him (also in more than one sense.) The actors who play them, Brett Stewart and Sia Trokenheim, are amazing, but the movie wouldn't work if Tommy, the five years old played by a real life five years old, Ben Clarkson, wouldn't be a natural whose reactions to the two adults feel entirely real. In the Q & A afterwards, director Michael Currie mentioned that his sponsors were very nervous because of the central role of a child that young (and with a first time director, too), and at first wanted him to make the child older, but then the story wouldn't have worked. Having watched the movie, I agree. It wouldn't have been believable with, say, a nine years old.

What's also fantastic is that the film - despite having these serious themes - never feels anvil dropping or heavy handed, but has all those moments of joy and light together with the underlying thread of what's actually happening and how it must end. Very very captivating to watch, and I'm really glad I picked it as one of the movies to see. Here's the movie's website, so you can check out whether it's already shown in your part of the world.

Giraffada: directed by Rani Massalha, script by Xavier Nemo: this year's sole Palestinian contribution, co-produced with German, Italian and French studios. This story is centred around an older child than the last one, Ziad (played by Ahmed Bayatra, who is another amazingly gifted child actor), who is the son of the vetinarian working in the sole zoo inside of the Palestinian Territories (Saleh Bakri, quite dashing). At its heart, this is a very tender father-son story, with the relationship between Acinede the doctor and his son Ziad reminding me very much of the Siskos from Deep Space Nine, Ben and Jake - the open affection between them, Ziad's father being a widower who raises him alone and tries to give him some normality and stability in a very instable and war-torn world, for the movie is set at the shortly before and during the early stages of the second Intifada. (Btw, while it took five years to produce it was shot only recently, and that means there is a slight anachronism there, because at several points you can see "Pope, Welcome To Palestine" graffitti on the walls and the papal visit of course happened this year, not during the second Intifada.) You have the world of the zoo where Ziad helps his father caring for the animals - his favourites are the two giraffes, and he gets mercilessly teased by the boys at school for loving giraffes instead of lions -, and you have the every day world of children throwing stones, Israeli soldiers, checkpoints and their humiliations, nightly gunfire and bombings (which is when one of the giraffe dies because it panicks and hits its head fatally). But of course they can't be kept separate, they're inextrabibly intermingled. When the surviving female giraffe refuses to eat, and all attempts to heal it fail, the only remedy is to organize another male giraffe. And the only one available lives in the Ramat Gan Safari Park in Israel (where the vet is a pal of Ziad's dad, and also the movie's good guy Israeli character). At which point the movie becomes a caper/heist story, and it's a sign of quite how effient it is that you absolutely believe in the insane quest of kidnapping a giraffe and bringing it across this war torn country, because Ziad wants it to so much and it's such a symbol of hope in a hopeless world for him.

The movie was shot on location in Israel and the Palestinian territories, except for the giraffe for the last third which was shot in Germany using green screen for obvious plot reasons. According to the Q & A, all the earlier sequences with Ziad feeding and petting the giraffes in the zoo really had the boy actor interacting with animals; he cared for them for about a month before shooting started so they'd get used to him and it shows, because both boy and animals are absolutely fearless with each other. Getting the footage of the checkpoints was done via pretending to shoot a documentary (Rani Massalha said they were allowed to film for about two hours before being sent away, which was enough to get the shots he wanted, because he didn't feel rebuilding a checkpoint in a studio would convey what it's like in the same way). Ziad and his father are fictional characters, though there really was a Palestinian zoo at the beginning of the second Intifada with two giraffes, one of which died in the same way as it does in the film. (The other, as opposed to the film because there was no real life giraffe-napping, pined away and died afterwards.) The movie's sole non-Palestinian, non-Israeli character is a French reporter played by Laure de Clermont, who becomes involved with father and son and ends up helping them with the caper; there is some attraction between her and the doctor but it's played very delicately (they don't as much as hold hands, but there are some very telling looks), which you rarely see in the movies these days. All in all: both a fairy tale and a real life tale, with the fairy tale winning at the critical moment but at a powerful cost. Another very moving film, and one I hope will make it into international distrubtion. A trailer is here.

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