Archive for the ‘FID MARSEILLEs’ Category

A Tale of Filipino Violence (2022)

Dir.: Lav Diaz; Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Hazel Morenci, Shaina Magddayao, Agot Isidro , Charo Santos-Concio, Josef Nanding, Bart Goingona, Alsajir Puno, Earl Ignazio, Gio Gahom; Philippines, 2021, 409 min.

Filipino director, co-writer, co-DoP, designer and editor Lav Diaz once again delves into his country’s rich history from Spanish colonisation to present-day feudalism in an epic drama with touchstones to the present, based on Ricardo Lee’s short story and screen play “Servando Magdamag”.

As the title suggests – this is a blood-soaked ballad of brutal confrontations tracing the life and times of an infamous Filipino dynasty, the violence mostly happening off-screen in the director’s signature slow-burn style that envelopes us into the action. After seven hours we are very much part of his world, and the family feud at its core.

A Tale – shot once again in velvety black & white – takes place in the early days of the dictatorship of Fernando Marcos (1917-1989). Elected President in 1965 he declared Martial Law in 1972 so as to avoid calling an election shortly before the end of his second term, the regime gradually becoming more entrenched. Ironically, his son Marcos jun (Bong Bong) has just been elected president of his country in a landslide victory paving the way for his mother Imelda to return to the presidential palace. She would flee the country with her family in February 1986.

Servando Monzon VI (an impressive John Lloyd Cruz) proves to be a somewhat unreliable narrator, reading from the journal of his ancestor Servando Monzon I who was born in Spain but deported to the Philippines in 1979 after killing his lover, stabbing her 52 times. The founder of the family fortune used slavery to establish the huge and profitable ‘Hacienda’. In one of the early scenes the violent heir Tres Monzon III (Goingoa) is delivered back to his Villa in the Hacienda by ambulance. Suffering from pancreatic cancer, he only has a month to live, but he has been fortunate: family money has saved him from a long prison sentence for his crimes of rape and murder. But his comes uppence has finally arrived, fate delivering the final blow.

Servando is married to Belinda (Orenzio, who is also the film’s co-producer and assistant director). The university educated Belinda sympathises with her brother Delio (Gahom) who is an active part of the NPA forces operating in the vicinity of the Hacienda. Belinda is also taking care of Tya Dencia (Isodro) who has witnessed the 1945 murder of many of the Monzon clan and their women by Japanese forces. One of them, Dolores, gave birth to three children after being repeatedly raped. Dencia suffers from schizophrenia and has fled into her childhood, playing with dolls and singing sad songs. Delio is captured and interrogated by Captain Andres (Ignazio), who later promises a fellow guerrilla that he will be freed if he kills Delio. In the end we hear three shots, suggesting Andres did not keep his word. What follows is a catalogue of killing and corruption – leaving many maimed, murdered and damaged for life – meted out by the Monzons not only to their adversaries but also their own close family in a story that sees Diaz eventually turning the tables to show who Servando really is.

Diaz has made a serial version of the film in colour, and a cinema version in black & white. Crucially, he has chosen to classify A Tale as a cine-novela because, like many of other historical epics, the feature is structured rather like a long novel. The reader – rather like the film’s audience – gets slowly embedded into the narrative. There are no rush cuts, long static shots allow the audience to become at one with place and protagonist. The Hacienda villa, like a theatre set, is filled with sinister foreboding and gloomy shadows, not least because Tres is on his death bed. Diaz avoids any shock effects in a story that always retains an element of surprise. Rather like the doom-laden family mansion of the House of Usher, Servando’s house is tainted by the past. Marcos speaks on the radio while real history is unfolding, and it feels like a real and integrated part of the feature.

Strangely the atmosphere of the pandemic still pervades the film. The immediacy of the moment helps to explain the effect it will have on the audience: a sort of ‘dance on a volcano’ sensation with the same long shot techniques employed by the Lumiere Brothers to surprise their audiences. The poetry and songs (composed by Diaz) bring to mind Melancholia in their ritual function.

And one last point: Diaz’s features should be approached in the same slow, episodic, patient way as a Henry James’ novel, not read in one go. Diaz plans to create a three-part cinema version – the complexities are often hidden in James’ half-page sentences, while Diaz’ films hide their power behind the non-dramatic developments; as with the prolonged death of Tres, who becomes a main protagonist by simply dying, igniting the demise of the Monzon clan and, at the same time, immersing us in this house of death where we simply languish like all the other protagonists.

Patience is the key to entering Diaz’ world, where every little detail is painstakingly viewed from different angles, showing the characters caught in a magnificent spider’s web.AS


Bird Island (2019) ***

Dirs: Maya Kosa, Sergio Costa | Doc, 60′

The healing power of nature offers therapy for a young man recovering from cancer in this quietly fascinating second feature by Maya Kosa and Sergio Costa.

Antonin (played by an actor) has retreated to Bird Island’s Ornithological Rehabilitation Centre in Genthod in Geneva where he gradually recuperates by helping injured birds to get back on their own feet before being released into the wild. The docudrama shows how rats bred to feed the birds of prey ironically become predators themselves when several escape into the aviary injuring their feathered friends who are then put down.

A series of slow static camera shots taken from a distance and in intimate close-up combine with a subtle palette of earthy greens and blues and an ambient soundscape make this restful and calming film despite its leisurely pacing. This is also the affect it has on Antonin himself who drifts into a comatose state while watching Paul go about his business which involves killing a rat. At one point Antonin actually falls asleep on one of the work counters, in another he literally falls like a felled tree when walking across a field.

Some scenes may upset those uncomfortable with dissection and animal euthanasia (we watch a bird slowly succumbing to chemical death) and this lends a unsettling touch to this increasingly surreal documentary that drifts into the realms of soulful philosophy in considering our own fragility as humans beings in the context of these delicate yet highly evolved and intelligent creatures. MT




Vision Nocturna | Night Shot (2019) ***** FID Marseille

Dir.: Carolina Muscoso Briceño; Documentary; Chile 2019, 80 min.

Pain, Rage and Acceptance: the various stages of rape. Chilean first-time director/co-writer and DoP Carolina Muscoso Briceño has dared to go where very few have gone before her: having been a rape victim almost a decade ago while studying at the Film School in Santiago, she has since made a film diary of her life still rocked to this day by the rape trauma. Intercut with her reflexions on the assault – and not only her own experience – Night Shot is a testament to gradual liberation.

“Rape victims are ashamed of what happened to them. The first thing that mobilised me was to break with that shameful legacy and to think of a way of exposing it to cross that barrier” says the director.

Everyday life go on, in various formats. Her experiences about the attack itself and the bureaucratic engendered are set mostly against a black background. On the beach near Santiago, Carolina became separated from her friends, and came across Gary. The two decided to go for something to eat nearby, but on the way he raped her. “Afterwards I did as he told me. I stayed motionless in the bushes. He said he would kill me if I followed him. I cleaned the blood off my face, picked up my ripped shirt and headed for the highway”.  The distress was further compounded by her father’s comments when he picked her up in his car: “a friend of mine got raped by her father. That’s much worse.”

Carolina went to a hospital, and was examined two hours after the rape. But the Catholic female doctor was against offering her a morning-after-pill, on the grounds of being against aborton “on principle”. What follows adds insult to injury and later Gary Raul Lopez Montero categorically refused any connection with Carolina. “I never knew anybody called Carolina. I met no one that night. I have a one-year-old daughter, I deny any involvement in this event” His brashness compared with Carolina’s answers still under the influence of the rape, made the DA drop the case.

Eight years later, Carolina makes another attempt to get justice, seeking advice from her lawyer friend Slvio who describes recourse as an uphill struggle for the victim, particularly where they refused to complete  hospital tests and seemed to lack conviction about their own role in the matter. Chile’s systemic structure of ‘justice’, in which the rape victim had to prove the guilt of the attacker, is common in most countries. Carolina’s first psychologist had told her “You are in the middle of an emergency landing”, and whilst she talked, Carolina imagined the different ways of falling.

Later Silvio has even worse news: The time limit for prosecution of rape is usually ten years, but since Gary was a minor at the time of the attack, the limit is just five years. Carolina eventually returns to the scene of the crime: “To be back feels like a big fire, this fire accompanies me, as well as the feeling that Gary is right here. That nine years later, he never has left this place”. She films and photographs the terrain, and is asked by a rider on horseback, why she is taking the photos. Her response is candid: “I am recording this place here, because something has happened here. Yes, here in Papudo. A long time ago, seven or eight years.” The rider asks: “Something good or bad”. Caroline’s answer is “good and bad”, before stating that she did not know her feelings are ambivalent. and: “I don’t know why I think I’ll find the wallet I lost that day”. Breathtakingly honest, Night Shot is an absolute masterpiece of form and context. AS


Homeland (Domovine) (2020) **** FID Marseille

Dir.: Jelena Maksimovic; Cast: Jelena Angelovski, Trifonas Siapalinis; Serbia 2020, 63 min.

Jelena Maksimovic is inspired by her own life experience in this feature debut, a lament about loss but above all, a feminist reckoning dedicated to the filmmaker’s grandmother Elina Gacu (1928-2017), evacuated from civil wartorn Greece to what was then Yugoslavia, now North Macedonia.

The stark winter setting makes this all the more foreboding: A car approaching a wild mountainside, a young woman behind the wheel, a banal, romantic song on the car stereo. Not the best of welcomes for the ‘homecoming’ of someone who has never set foot in her country before.

The changing seasons mark a year’s stay in this village, and her growing unfulfilled longing to find a place which connects to her grandmother who has lived here since being exiled from her homeland during the Civil War (1946-1949), the first proxy war of the global Cold War.

This young woman is a visitor but not a tourist, wanting to claim something of the place for herself. Fragments of war of are everywhere: in fortifications, ruined houses and the reminiscences of old men who recall partisans coming from the mountains to fight government troops before vanishing back into their hideouts.

The woman befriends a restaurant owner, they cook together, he and his friends perform an old folk dance. But for the most part she tries to connect with the inhospitable terrain where animals are her only friends.  Hidden traces of the combat are everywhere. Finally, after so much silence she breaks into a final poetic outburst, accusing the men of bringing warfare to the place and repressing women. She claims the trees in the woods are the only true communists, and mourns the fate of her grandmother.

DoP Dusan Grubin makes an unobtrusive foray into this melancholy setting  – his harrowing panorama shots are just a foretaste of what is to come in a paean to lost identity. The main unnamed character is a victim of fragmentation and alienation: her trial to find anything like home is hampered by the silence around her. The past is the past – whatever the partisans stood for – or whatever the war was about. Her grandmother is a bridge to this past and will lead her back to herself. Homeland is for every soul searching for a place to call their own, moored somewhere in their dreams. AS


Shady River | Rio Turbio (2020) *** FID Marseille

Dir.: Tatiana Mazu Gonzalez; Documentary Argentine 2020, 81 min.

Amongst the wealth of stories coming out of South America at the moment is this unique and visually arresting first feature unearthing an alarming history of exploitation and repression in a Patagonian mining town.

Argentina’s Tatiana Mazu sets a combative tone to her documentary essay which takes the form of seven books, and shows a woman with rifle (the director herself?), ready to push back against old stories of witchcraft. Clearly these are a feisty bunch who don’t take kindly to a macho culture where women were forbidden to enter the underground labyrinth, which is ironically ‘female’ and talks in a women’s voice

The mine was run until 2002 by Sergio Taseli, a local asset stripper, who embarked on several high cost local projects such as the Roca-Belgrano Sur Railway, which were never completed, Taseli collecting his share of the profits beforehand.

But accidents do happen, and we see the photos of the victims. In 2004 fourteen miners died underground after a collapse. Children play amongst the wreckage in old 8mm family films, and Mazu makes use of plans, etchings, drawings, and blueprints to add grist to the grim story. It also emerges she once built a bomb with her chemistry set, intending to create havoc with the establishment.

Then there is the story of Clara who had a sex change operation, and went on to study electro mechanics. After graduating she could only find work as a secretary in the mining company offices. Nowadays, she is one of the few women working underground. But the exploitation continues: after a strike, the leaders were dismissed, and the rest of the workers had to take on their work load.

The oppressive nature of the mine is reflected in deadly silence and stark images, both In colour and black-and-white: Nature Was raped and it’s jewels torn away, crevices appearing everywhere, dark lakes and endless rows of pre-fabricated huts. There are shades of Tarkovsky in the water and the dour surroundings where industrial waste proliferates. Editor Sebastian Zanzotera takes credit for the montage of striking images that lead us into a maze of death and patriarchy.

Mazu takes us to a hidden world, far away from everything, where the newsreel images of Buenos Aires or a Miss Argentine competition seem to be from another universe all together.


Villa Empain (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Katharina Kastner | Doc, Belg/France/Ger/ 25′

Katerina Kastner’s impressionistic documentary debut captures the essence of the Villa Empain, one of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces of Art Deco in Brussels. In 1930, at the age of 21, Baron Louis Empain commissioned the building of a private mansion in 55 acres on the prestigious Avenue de la Nation which was later on renamed as Franklin Roosevelt Avenue.

Using the finest materials available in those interwar years (marble, bronze and precious wood), the luxurious house consisted of four polished granite facades, surrounded by a large garden with a pergola and swimming pool. A collector and curator, Louis Empain eventually decided that the property was better served as a museum of decorative and contemporary art, and it was donated to the Belgian Nation in 1937. But the Second World War changed everything and the villa languished until 1943, when it was requisitioned by the German army, eventually becoming an embassy for the USSR in peacetime when Empain recovered his property in the beginning of the sixties, before reselling it in 1973. For nearly ten years it was rented to the TV channel RTL then falling to semi-rack and ruin during the 1990s. It was eventually saved by a wealthy family who set up the Boghossian Foundation in 2007, transforming the building into an East West cultural centre and guaranteeing the revival of its fortunes.

Shot in 16mm this is a sensual creation that resonates with the passage of time, showcasing the the house’s former glory through its trials and tribulations to its present reincarnation. The clever editing brings an eerie and fleeting sense of human presence drifting through the empty rooms and light-filled gardens where leaves swirl and valuable materials shimmer in shafts of sunlight. This short but ravishing documentary takes us on a dreamy distant journey to the coast where the family once enjoyed beach holidays in a space reflected by evocative fantasies and haunted by the war years. A century of memories recorded in a treasured place in time. MT


The Whalebone Box (2019) **** Home Ent release

Dir/Wri: Andrew Kötting | UK, Doc with Anonymous Bosch, Andrew Kötting, Nick Gordon Smith. Philippe Ciompi, Eden Kötting, Iain Sinclair, Philip Hoare, Macgillivray, Kyunwai So, Ceylan Ünal, Helen Paris, Steve Dilworth.

Artist, writer and director Andrew Kötting has built up a string of quintessentially British films. The Whalebone Box is another of his experimental jaunts made with his regular collaborator Iain Sinclair, and the photographer Anonymous Bosch.

Discovered in LondonM the box in question is bound in fishing nets and reputed to convey healing properties in the Scottish town of its origin, which is desperately down on its luck. So the two men start their eventful journey north to return it to the Scottish home of the sculptor Steve Dilworth, a Hull native who has settled on the island of Harris, in the Outer Hebrides.

What is the secret behind this enigmatic container? Is it a relic, a survivor from a mysterious shipwreck, or a magical totem?. The mystery gives rise to an expedition suffused with evocative reveries, drenched in strange fairytales, folklore, dark humour and sonic interludes. The travellers are gradually mesmerised by the power of this enchanted object which gradually becomes “heavier and heavier, turning into a different substance”,

A parallel strand intertwines with the 800 mile pilgrimage, this features Andrew Kötting’s daughter Eden, who has already appeared in several of his earlier films. Eden suffers from Joubert’s disease and her presence lends an eerie vulnerability adding texture to the fascinating narrative. From the depths of her sleep, or adorned with a magnificent crown of flowers and binoculars, she is the film’s muse and guide, attempting to interpret the strange and mystical goings on. But so is a whale with its mournful atavistic cries – embodying nature’s suffering at the hands of humanity.

As usual there are cul-de-sacs and detours, and these feature the dead poets Basil Bunting and Sorley MacLean and the sculptor Steve Dilworth – the film also borrows from Pandora and Moby Dick and takes its 10 chapter headings from Philip Hoare’s novel Leviathan, or the Whale. One thing is sure – the box must never be opened, and therein lies a sense of anticipation and wonder – little did the men know the delirium they would unleash. Eventually they reach the white sands of Harris where they intend to return the box to its original resting place. Shot in Super 8, 16mm this is a strange, haunting and magical film. Just watch out for the post credit sting. MT



I Never Climbed the Provincia (2019) **** FID Marseilles 2019

Dir.: Ignacio Agüero; Documentary; Chile 2019, 89 min.

Chilean director Ignacio Agüero, whose I Never Climbed the Provincia has won the 30th edition of the Film Festival Marseilles 2019 (FID), has been a life-long chronicler of his homeland since 1977. He was active even under the Pinochet dictatorship with No Olvidar, and contributed to the campaign in 1988, which saw Pinochet removed. Agüero remained in the country to document the horrors of the Pinochet years. He is also an actor, starring in two films by the late Raúl Ruiz, Dias de Campo and La recta Provincia. 

The film starts with an admission: he has never actually climbed Mount Provincia, which towers over Santiago from a distance. All the same, he is very much at home in the Santiago neighbourhood, which has seen drastic changes in the last two decades. Explores the visible and invisible, daily life and the undercurrent of the past,  Agüero interviews people on the street, digging, like an archaeologist for signs of the past. His feature documentaries have ben compared to the work of Alain Cavalier.

Agüero explores the roads with repeated camera movements: lateral views and short distances, often with handheld cameras, returning always to the central point of the intersection: the Cuban restaurant, the mini-market. Sometimes the camera passes over the roofs of the city from where he watched the military planes attacking the Presidential Palace La Moneda in 1973. And there is footage of Vicariate of Solidarity, the organisation in opposition to Pinochet, lead by Archbishop Raúl Silva Henriquez. 

A seasoned documentarian, he has dealt with the demolition of historical neighbourhoods before: GAM (2011) tells the story of the Cultural Centre Gabriela Mistral, a place of social and cultural history of the city. But this time around shows the urban transformation, the new buildings erected, the small shops and activity centres of the past, who have all been replaced by fashionable places. The time-honoured bakeries and pastry shops, the shoemaker, the newspaper vendor, who sold his newspapers from a street kiosk. Then there were the arcade games and pinball machines – meeting places of a close knit neighbourhood. There are many bizarre characters in this neighbourhood: Andrej, who is Cuban, but earned his name, because his country was so close to the USSR. Germans run the laundry, and there is ‘Peter O’Toole’, named after the hero of the David Lean’s feature Lawrence of Arabia,, because of his dignity and elegance. 

Only a few times the filmmaker ventures out from the district of the Nunca subi Provincia; he shows his house as a boat at sea, and a scene with Gregory Peck as Ahab in John Huston’s Moby Dick. And there are schoolchildren, watching Chaplin in the Emigrant, representing hope.

The film is a chronicle of the past, shades of Italian neo-realism. Whilst Agüero writes handwritten letters (for the first time in years), describing his strategy, we are witness to a change, which is is documented not so much with nostalgia and melancholy, but as a report of witnesses, who are keeping the past alive. AS


Tenzo (2019) **** FID Marseille 2019

Dir.: Katsuya Tomita; Documentary with Chiken Kawaguchi, Ryugyo Kurashima; Japan 2019, 59 min.

Director/co-writer Katsuya Tomita (Bangkok Nights) finances his films from his sideline as a truck-driver although this seems counter intuitive to his latest – a portrait of two Zen Buddhist monks who have immersed themselves into community life after the Tsunami and Fukushima disasters.

In Zen temples, there are six prestigious posts – cooking, care, hospitality, attentiveness towards others and, more generally, the issue of community. Tenzo is the name of the position given to the person responsible for meals and Tomita film echoes this with is chapters named after flavours: “spicy”, “sweet” etc. The post incumbant must also teach important aspects of the doctrine.

The monks are called Chiken and Ryugyo. Both of them were deeply affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and both of them decided to spend their lives serving their fellow countrymen and women. Chiken, teaches culinary practice as an art of living and devotes some of his time to working on a suicide prevention hotline. The other, Ryugyo, supports the earthquake victims in his own modest but very practical way.

But life in Japan has changed fundamentally since the Tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophes. Chiken and Ryyugyo are trying to follow the teachings of Dogen, who was the Dojo of the Soto Buddhist school. Dogen saw himself as a vessel of Buddha’s teaching, which should be practised every day for twenty-four hours. He asked his students to answer the question what is the best way to live this short life. Every second is precious. Eating meals is another way to practise Buddha’s teaching. But so is washing your face and going to the toilet. According to Dogen everything we do in life can teach us something. So he devised the titular Tenzo regimes, including an outline for the monk’s meal duties. Chiken lives now in a temple in Yamanashi and offers cooking classes, after having learned the importance of food, since his son Hiro has suffered from many food allergies. He is in charge of daily ceremonies, but also runs a suicide hotline. Ryugyo is working mainly as a construction worker, helping the community in Fukushima to rebuilt their lives after the twin disasters.     

The images of DoPs Takuma Fuuruya and Masahiro Mukoyama are ludic and transparent, like Dogen’s teachings. The lighting in the temple sequences is remarkable and otherworldly. On the other hand, the realism of the everyday life Chiken and Ryugyo are facing now is shown in all its hardship. Tenzo is surreal yet socially relevant, a small gem. AS


Ghost Strata (2019) *** FID Marseille 2019

Dir: Ben Rivers | Doc, UK, 45′

Even rocks are just passing through, like us they have their finite time on Earth. According to one eminent scientist ‘Ghost Strata’ are the missing elements from within rock faces that, despite their absence, offer hints of what was once there.

Standing in a former railway tunnel in central Nottingham, Geologist Professor Jan Zalasiewicz (University of Leicester) discusses notion with British filmmaker Ben Rivers, for his latest experimental documentary Ghost Strata. The tunnel, carved out of the city’s sandstone cliffs, allows us glimpses of the geological and anthropological traces left over millennia of sedimentation and revealed by human intervention. Prof. Zalasiewicz muses on the remnants of human existence that may or may not remain in geological records a 100 million years hence.

Ben Rivers then takes this idea and runs with it to explore the differing scales of impact that humanity’s presence has had on the earth since the beginning of time, and into the future. Rivers blends his own footage with sound and text elements to create an evocative meditation on time, memory and extinction.

Echoing his seasonal work Things (2014) and harking back to elements of his 2009 piece I Know Where I’m Going when he first collaborated with Prof. Zalasiewicz, this often dreamlike fantasy piece is divided into twelve chapters reflecting the months of the year in which the footage was filmed. Peripatetic in nature, Ghost Strata reflects Rivers’ travels to various locations including São Paulo, Krabi in Thailand and Nottingham in the UK. Ghost Strata is an insightful yet ephemeral reflection on time, memory, and extinction. MT

WORLD PREMIERING at FID MARSEILLE on 12 July 2019 Ghost Strata is the seventh in an ongoing series of 10-day shows at Matt’s Gallery, London


Cemetery (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Carlos Casas | France, United-Kingdom, Poland, Uzbekistan / 2019 / Colour and B&W / 85′

After Hunters Since The Beginning of Time (FID 2008), a film about the primitive whale hunters of the Bering Sea, Carlos Casas finds himself drawn to wide open spaces of the world where he has filmed his contemplative second documentary. This time the setting is the rainforests of Sri Lanka and the focus is another large mammal: the Indian elephant. Casas’ gaze is drawn to the peace and intimacy of this tranquil and remote location where his cameraman Benjamin Echazarreta closes in on the eye of an elephant, and its roughly textured hide that camouflages the massive beast from potential prey. 

After a devastating earthquake the mighty beast Nga (who is getting on in life and is possibly the last of its species), is about to embark on a journey to find the mythical elephant’s graveyard with his mahout Sanra. The group of poachers following them will die one after the other under mysterious circumstances and spells.

The two explore the intensely remote location where only the ambient sound of exotic birds and insects disturbs the peace. The voyeuristic camerawork takes on the languorous pace of the elephant itself in order to explore the depths of lush rain-soaked verdancy in a green glade where a monkey listens to a broadcast about an earthquake laying waste to Asia, killing millions of people. The radio belongs to a local who is gently washing an elephant as he bathes waste deep in the muddy lagoon. There is tremendous affection in the way he carefully prepares and finishes his task, clearly a ritual he has performed many time before. But tragedy will follow as poachers are hot in pursuit. This meditative paean to massive beasts of the forest carries with it a sense of tragic foreboding as the tranquility of their clandestine hideout in mercilessly plundered.

Developing his film in the FIDLab 2013, Casas tries to shed a positive light on all this ecological tragedy. But is there a spiritual lesson to be learnt from the death of these highly intelligent creatures and the potential extinction of species. The elephant cemetery presents hope and possible rebirth, their souls immortal, just like humans. MT

Filmography : Cemetery, 2019. Avalanche, 2009-19 (on going project). End Trilogy, 2002-2009. Hunters since the Beginning of Time, 2008. Aral. Fishing in an Invisible Sea, 2004. Solitude at the End of the World, 2002-05. Rocinha, 2003. Afterwords, 2000


Noël et sa Mère (2019) **** FID Marseille 2019

Dir.: Noël Herpé; Documentary with Noel Herpe, Michelle Herpé; France 2019, 103 min.
Writer/director Noel Herpé (Fantasmes et Fantômes) stages a soul-searching duel with is mother Michelle, translator, theatre director and actress. Noël is also known for his work as a film historian, particular on Eric Rohmer. In front of the camera the two wrestle with their love for each other, the quarrels often turning vitriolic. He calls Michelle a witch with the face of human mother.
Michelle Voslinsky was in Paris in 1940, being Jewish, she had to hide from the Germans. After losing her mother the age of nine “she felt not entitled to a life like others, meaning no marriage, I was sure, nobody would love me”. Her much older husband Henri (father of Noël b. *1965), was bi-polar, and capable of strange behaviour, often offering his wife to visitors. And sometime Michelle did not need his encouragement, “motherhood was not my strength”.
She raised Noül as a girl, the odd couple produced an old doll, and immediately an argument breaks out as to whether the object could be defined as a doll. Next up is an accident in a pool, when Noël nearly drowned. Although his mother insists he mistook the adult pool for the children’s one, Noël insists on an early suicide attempt at the age of four. This leads to him lamenting the lack of motherly love in general, whilst his father Henri always repeatedly told him:” I love you”.  They then discuss psychological neglect: “We are in a different film”.
Noël casts his mind back to the first film he even saw, running out frightened from the café in Avignon. I was afraid of everything that moved. No wonder I became a film-historian, it is the stillness of the past that attracts me.” The family had bough a property in Poudrigne, and Noël spend many holidays with older half-brother Olivier in the countryside and when he was five, he heard his his mother crying behind closed doors, “so I opened the door”. Since then, he has tried to forget the images – but was at the same fascinated by them. For once, Michelle is contrite: “It was harmful for you, I have to love with the guilt”. Both agree, that Henri was a repressed homosexual. His son Noel would follow in his footsteps, after taking in interest in his mother’s tights, he also borrowed her clothes and jewellery. For Noel it was life-changing: “I felt like becoming my mother”. Michelle comments: “the tights look better on your friend Cyril, who is much slimmer than you”.
A short film “Man” documents young Noel’s entrance into the life of a fetishist. But he rejects the idea of being an exhibitionist: “I am just saying I am my mother. A ghost of my mother”. After Michelle left her husband at he age of 37, Noël moved in with Henri, to look after him. Henri’s mental health was deteriorating. Mother and son agree – for once – that Michelle loved her husband, whose death was never totally explained. Michelle admits still feeling love for him today. Both mother and son worked at the theatre: “it was a period to re-connect with her. We shopped together for dresses”. But soon they argue about details of their stage collaboration, she accusing her son “of being like Trump”. Noel directed his first gay play in 1988, even though both agree that he is “a non-practising gay man.”He later confesses to  “lack any carnal dimension”. They finally come to the conclusion that he will miss her when she is gone, but he ends positing: “I set out dreaming of absolute love”.
Filmed either on a couch or on the stage of an empty theatre by Nils Warolin and Tao Favre, with family photos and old newsreels interrupting the talking heads, Noël et sa Mere, is a psychological striptease, fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Acting much more like frustrated lovers than mother and son, it is a portrait of mixed signals and double-binds. Unique and haunting. AS

Karelia: Internacional with Monument (2019) *** FID Marseille 2019

Dir.: Andres Duque; Documentary with the Pankatrev family, Katherina Klodt; Spain 2019, 90 min.

Born in Venezuela and now operating from Spain, director/writer Andres Duque (Dress Rehearsal for Utopia) has created a melancholic portrait of the Finnish/(Russian region of Karelia, which has been at the centre of Finnish nationalism – no lesser patriot than Jean Sibelius composed the Karelia Suite, a document of deep sorrow and longing for the lost souls in the battle for control of the region. Duque opens with a long study of a Karelian family, before suddenly switching to contemporary Russian interference in the affairs of the present, caused by the bitter historical past.

Arma and Arkady Pankatrev live with their five children in an idyllic country location, where the children often roam free – like a mix of Rudolf Steiner philosophy and Summerhill (non) schooling. The parents are Shamanists and the children join in the sessions, where old books are read, and everyone is encouraged to free-associate about the magic of paganism. “Tell us, what you see”, Arkday encourages the children, “we are with you”. There is much poetry, like “A flower springs up for some reason”.

Then we learn about the building of the Belomorsk Canal in the late 1930s, and costing many lives, particularly those of the Gulag prisoners. Nikita Khrushchev held a eulogy on Stalin in 1937 – twenty years later he would denounce him as a tyrant. Arkady talks about how the Stalinist destroyed the Orthodox churches. Urjo, one of the young boys, is catching frogs and spiders, at night he holds on to his worms and ants. ”You think like a human”, his mother tells him, implying that animals might be a more developed species.

There is a huge stone memorial for the victims of Sandarmoh: between 1934 and 1941 over 7000 innocent people were killed in the Stalinist purges. “Birds have never sung again in Sandarmoh”. Today this history is being repressed by Putin: Katherina Klodt, the daughter of Yuri Dmitriev, bemoans the trials he has to face, for keeping the memory alive. He is accused of having abused his step daughter, even so the evidence is more than flimsy. Katherina tells an audience that the former acquittals of his father have been squashed. “It started with his speeches in 2014”, she said, when he talked about the many nationalities who suffered, like the Ukrainians. Putin has created a Military Historical Society in December 2012, which is used to cover up genocides by the Soviets.

Whilst Karelia is very informative, the change from the poetic country setting to the nitti-gritty of Putin’s contemporary revisionism is hard to take. They are obviously connected, but the aesthetic clash is rather jarring. AS


Before We Go (2014) – FID Marseille

Directors/Writer: Jorge Léon

Belgium Documentary 82min

Death is seldom interesting as a theme in and of itself, and so a whole film dedicated to confronting it is bound to come with limitations. Such is the case with Jorge Léon’s ostensibly daring and intermittently emotive documentary BEFORE WE GO, whose world-premiere at FIDMarseille this year brought a sombre air to the festival’s international competition.

Liminal spaces abound here. As stagehands prepare Brussels’ La Monnaie Opera House for a public showing with eerie, automated precision, three terminally ill people—two men and a woman—haunt the offstage areas, with varying mobility, like ghosts already on the threshold of corporeality. Aiding these ailing people’s backstage navigations are three leading modern dance choreographers: Meg Stuart, Lidia Schoue and Benoît Lachambre—who is himself HIV-positive.

Death is performative: it waits not in the wings but between the rows—a space in which Schoue lies, in the opening moments, dressed in a skeleton suit as the opera house’s opulent crystal chandelier is lowered for an official show we never get to see. Later, she encounters one of the older protagonists, embarking upon a playful game of cat and mouse, of director and directed. Later, Lachambre assists another terminally ill senior in assembling a colourful patchwork of filters against a window, which the old man later observes through a viewfinder. Stuart, meanwhile, interacts with an older woman, hugging her “super tight” in a hold bordering on a sexuality that transcends bodily and intergenerational limits. “Enjoy my joy,” the woman remarks.

Léon goes out of his way early on to foreground his older protagonists’ physicality, framing them in candidly unflattering nakedness as duodenal tubes emanate from their torsos. Mortality is his default sobering reminder, as when he shock-cuts from that aforementioned moment of kaleidoscopic, sensorily wonderful view of colours to the reality of a bed-bound, one-legged, one-eyed figure whose chest protrudes outward and whose stomach sinks like a deflated, lifeless balloon.

Elsewhere, Léon’s younger performers execute solo routines. Lachambre feigns an epileptic seizure as if to a violently contorting spirit attempting to leave his body. Stuart gives a convulsive, vein-popping manifestation of a kind of physical glossolalia, one whose twisting intensity encapsulates her comparatively youthful muscularity opposite the terminally ill woman she encounters. “Between dreams and reality, it was like a fusion,” says Lachambre, referring to the vivid dreams caused by his daily medication. Later, Schoue swaps clothes with her partner—who, after he’s donned her skeleton outfit, leads her outside for a dance on the balcony.

And so it goes. As one brief sequence showing music software on a laptop suggests, the greater joys of Léon’s film were to be found in the process of making it—that is, for those involved in its production. These three intertwined encounters, between movement and immobility as well as other more obvious binary opposites, were no doubt sources of euphoria for all participants. Like death as a nebulous abstract, though, touchy-feely therapies such as those portrayed here come with limits—which, for a film all about bodily boundaries, may be the point. MICHAEL PATTISON

FID MARSEILLE RUNS FROM THE 1-7 JULY 2014 IN MARSEILLE, FRANCE. follow the link for the full coverage

I Touched All Your Stuff (2014) – FID Marseille

Directors/Writers: Maíra Bühler, Matias Mariani

Brazil Documentary 89min

Suspension of disbelief is both the theme and challenge of I TOUCHED ALL OF YOUR STUFF (TOQUEI TODAS AS SUAS COISAS), the latest documentary from Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani, in which a self-confessed computer geek from Seattle tells the outlandish autobiographical tale of amour fou that landed him in a São Paulo prison on drug trafficking charges. The film world-premiered in the International Competition at the 25th edition of FIDMarseille.

Chris Kirk takes a seat before the tripod-fixed camera with pious contentment etched upon his face. His is to be a self-told anecdote, one containing unthinkable levels of gullibility and/or self-deceit—though as is hinted at repeatedly here, to be on the receiving end of romantic attention can be, for a guy like Kirk, completely intoxicating. It was through his amorous involvement with ‘V.’, a Japanese-Colombian woman he met in Bogota in 2004, that he came to be imprisoned. He previously told the story last year, on a podcast for a website where ‘ordinary guys become extraordinary men’, and the filmmakers here are less interested in the drug-trafficking charges than the emotional extremes Kirk willingly put himself through in pursuit of a happy-ever-after with the ever-elusive V.

A cautionary tale about the complex allures and perils of self-destruction (bafflement was “a large part of what was so intriguing…”), I TOUCHED ALL OF YOUR STUFF unfolds in a digressionary manner that creates an air of aura around V. and defers acknowledgement of her connection to drugs for a good forty or so minutes. Chapter one—it all started with the hippos—sees Kirk jetting to Colombia to see Pablo Escobar’s illegally-imported hippopotamuses. As a friend notes, Kirk was “sort of like Pinocchio—he’s the last innocent guy in the world… he hasn’t been corrupted yet.”

Pity, then, that he met V., who by all accounts left Kirk’s friends in Seattle “profoundly underwhelmed” while drawing in our blameless puppet for a prolonged period of torment and an eventual kick in the gut. Her semblance to a femme fatale is unquestionable: a noirish mystery surrounds her long before Kirk reveals he discovered the password to her email account was “mentira” (“to lie”). The question is, when an appreciably deceitful person/character such as V. remains unavailable for questioning (she’s limited here to an eerie photograph at the beach), how does one’s own logic hold up?

On this front, to their credit, Bühler and Mariani probe their subject, implying distrust for this implausibly fine storyteller whose anecdotal charm relies on such conscious self-distancing. In the latter stages of the film, at the point at which the love story turned in real life to a more nightmarish scenario, Kirk recounts how he pieced together conflicting threads, thanks to instant-messaging chats with his lover’s other male contacts across the continent. Though there’s something compellingly addictive in the narration, it’s a pity that the filmmakers allow this sequence to dominate; other questions go unasked.

Instant-messaging chats are rarely done well in films, and the staged conversations here confuse rather than entice. At a certain point, clarity is required from a film so open to accusations of disingenuousness. Kirk was present at the world-premiere, which suggests his final act decision to violate his parole and skip town to Uruguay had few legal ramifications. But suspicions persist… perhaps tellingly, the film takes its name from a post-script left on the post-it note that Kirk discovered in his own home, when a pal covered the vast majority of his belongings and interior in foil while he was away on vacation. That is, the film’s title is named after a prank. MICHAEL PATTISON

FID RUNS FROM 1-7 JULY IN MARSEILLE, SOUTH OF FRANCE. Other reviews from the festival are here

Trading Cities (2014) – FID Marseille 1-7 July 2014

Directors/Writers: Pedro Pinho, Luísa Homem

Portugal Documentary 139min

Initially beguiling but ultimately unwieldy, Pedro Pinho and Luísa Homem’s TRADING CITIES (AS CIDADES E AS TROCAS) offers a comprehensive, observational panorama of the changed and changing physical and economic landscape of Cape Verde, the former Portuguese colony off the West African coast. The film world-premiered to much applause in the International Competition at 25th edition of FIDMarseille.

Cape Verde might be most familiar to cinephiles through the work of Pinho and Homem’s countryman Pedro Costa, whose CASA DE LAVA (1994) was filmed there and whose other films often focus upon immigrants of Cape Verdean origin, living on the margins in Lisbon, with a distinctly idiosyncratic touch. No oblique techniques here, though: profitably limiting themselves to a strictly observational documentary style, the makers of TRADING CITIES paint an imagistically rich snapshot of the locale in an unfussy, down-to-earth manner that’s easygoing and uniformly intriguing even without a go-to protagonist to drive its narrative.

Indeed, this is a social fabric whose intricate makeup is enhanced by the film’s own sprawling canvas. Shooting on 16mm, the directors also assumed editorial duties for the film, and while the episodic nature allows space in which certain passages take on the qualities of a self-enclosed short in themselves, the sequences add up to a slightly repetitive whole. It’s possible that Homem and Pinho got too precious about the material, having evidently filmed a great deal and having formed an affinity to the landscape as a result.

Though the film would benefit from a trim, the temptations of an all-inclusive policy are relatable. As the opening images, of two cargo ships being systematically dismantled, show, this is to be a visually sterling work (disappointing, then, that its world-premiere screened digitally). As it unfolds, different traditions and economies are presented: farming, labouring, plastering; the sand trade, the tourist trade; a vibrant, striking street carnival. Some easy juxtapositions emerge: a thriving holiday-resort scene, as exemplified by a sequence at the local Riu complex, is followed immediately by the slums in which its employees reside.

Though never without interest—the images are certainly compelling enough, and local musicians add lively and sometimes poignant backing—such juxtapositions feel inevitable and familiar. At some point, the filmmakers need to intervene and ask: what of it? What of the tourist scene and its uneasy, problematic reinforcement of colonial relations? Such questions are most obviously absent during those scenes in which Cape Verdean dancers provide the nightly entertainment at the Riu, acting out a clichéd African-history scenario, complete with tribal body-paint and lion and leopard costumes, for the white westerners being waited upon with an endless stream of alcohol.

This isn’t to put blame on anyone, or point fingers. And, to its credit, the film itself refrains from such tones too—a rather inherently accusatory cutaway to one obese holidaymaker notwithstanding. But is TRADING CITIES meant to be a probing and investigative epic, or merely an epic tapestry? If the former, consider the nuance and complicated, no-easy-answers oomph of, say, Ulrich Seidl’s PARADISE: LOVE (2012). The holidaymaking protagonist of that film could be any one of those vacationers in Pinho and Homem’s documentary, laughing obliviously through their daily boredom-deferring water aerobics lesson. As crisp as the imagery may be, perhaps sometimes, observing isn’t enough. MICHAEL PATTISON


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