Archive for the ‘VISIONS DU REEL’ Category

Mother Vera (2024) Visions du Reel 2024

Dirs: Cécile Embleton & Alys Tomlinson | UK, 2024, 91′

An ascetic life of prayer and devotion is not for everyone. But Mother Vera (birth name Olga) has chosen the path and shares her turbulent past and uncertain future in this sepia-tinted monochrome meditation that follows the ex-druggie nun through her first year in a monastery that starts in a snowbound Belarusian forest and culminates in sun-baked flatlands of the French Camargue.

After contracting HIV from her partner Oleg, Olga’s life of parties and secular pleasures came to an end and was replaced by daily prayer, devotion and animal husbandry in the remote monastery. We first meet Mother Vera prone on the stone floor of the religious establishment where she will live a life of asceticism, shoeing horses, bell ringing.

Wearing a black headdress and floor length robes, 

The monastery is also home to ex convicts – in the eyes of the Lord Christians both saints and sinners are all equal – and the nuns seem to exert a certain power over the men, who regard them with respect, the fact that ‘good and evil’ coexist in the world and in each of us – is transformative, one tempering the other, and providing the film with its spiritual message that good can conquer bad and this is acutely felt during the Easter celebrations when incense is burnt to purify the air and welcome the rebirth of spring.

Vera then goes back to her family in the wooded countryside  – two brothers and a mother along with a bevy of farm animals. Two donkeys and a sheep and later some horses and she has a particular affinity with horses – one amazing scene sees her riding through a snowy landscape on a white horse. They provide the healing that Vera needs along with close love of her mother as they go through the anxiety of her drug addition. And she repents our her sins in leading others into threat world. Love perseveres

Revealed through spellbinding visual language echoing the rigid discipline of monastic life, we enter the enclosed, shadowy spaces of a convent outside Minsk. Sound and silence submerge us in the rhythm of the community. After twenty years of monastic service and faced with a life-changing decision, Vera must confront her troubled past to find the freedom she desires.


Landshaft (2023)

Dir.: Daniel Koetter; Documentary with Sama Karapoghosyan, Nune Hovhannisyan, Evya Hovhannisyan, Armen Papyan; Germany/Armenia 2022, 97 min.

The rumbling unrest between Armenia and Azerbaijan simmers below the surface on these neighbouring countries, often erupting into full blown conflict. Such was the case in 2020 when war once again broke out between the two nations. Countless lives have been lost and over the past few decades on both sides of the border.

German essayist and documentarian Daniel Koetter (Hashti Tehran) was invited to visit the eastern region of Armenia, bordering on Azerbaijan. Koetter had in mind to shot a documentary about both sides of the conflict, but somehow never got permission to film on the Azerbaijani side. Yet Landshaft is anything but biased. It starts with praise for the Azerbaijani enemy, whose hospitality is praised by one of Koetter‘s Armenian sources, who aided and abetted the filming process.

Doubling up as cameraman, Koetter finds himself in the region around Lake Sevan and the Sotk goldmine. The eastern Armenian border is overlooked by high peaks and is constantly caught in the crossfire, the invisible enemy ready to pounce at any moment. The goldmine runs along the border, each country controlling their respective side of the booty. But the Azerbaijanis have the protection of a Russian company – and Russian drones monitor the Armenian population.

Koetter started shooting just after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the centre of this proxy war between Russia and its allies and old enemies like Armenia on the other side; a country devastated by the Turkish genocide in WW1. Here in Sotk, the Russian army guarantees a certain buffer between the two countries. There was no military activity during Koetter’s shoot, but in September 2022 places were he had lived and worked were bombed. The drones, produced by Russia, keep the Azerbaijanis on the winning side. “Whoever can, leaves the place” says a dejected Armenian – the same person who had only good things to say about the enemy of today. Like in former Yugoslavia, nobody can explain when and why the neighbours felt out with each other.

Koetter started to accept the invisibility of Azerbaijani soldiers: leaving his house he was surrounded on three sides by mountain peaks where the enemy was stationed. Staying true to this perspective, he shows empathy with the ones without power, but refrains from taking sides. As a symbol, the connecting road to Nagorno-Karabakh, once the main thoroughfare, has become a dead end. The simmering conflict continues, always ready to explode. The mine is the central point of life for both countries.

The dialogue with Armenians is only part of the developing picture: an eerie calm belies a landscape charged with latent violence. Landshaft may be opaque, but it shows the many forms of displacement. The psychological impact and the loss of identity is much more grave in its long term effect than the military skirmishes. Both sides are losers in a war of attrition. AS



Visions de Reel (2023)

Visions du Réel has unveiled the official selection for its 54th edition (21 to 30 April 2023). It is a powerful and dazzling programme that showcases the strength of contemporary non-fiction filmmaking.

In all, 82 world premieres amongst other films will offer a panorama that often challenges the boundaries between fiction and reality. 46 countries are represented in the selection, while 37 Swiss (co)productions are featured in all sections of the Festival, highlighting the fertile momentum of Swiss documentary production. The programme is complemented by three main guests: Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel (Guest of Honour) alongside Italian Director Alice Rohrwacher (Special Guest) and Swiss Director Jean-Stéphane Bron (Atelier). The programme features an equal number of films from female and male directors. The 54th edition will open its doors on Friday 21 April with the world premiere of Nightwatchers by Juliette de Marcillac.

VISIONS DU REEL, Nyon, Switzerland | 21 – 30 APRIL 2023

Fists in the Pocket | Pugni in Tasca (1965) Visions du Réel

Dir: Marco Bellocchio | Italy, drama 105’

The title had led me to anticipate gritty realist drama; but the Italian cinema had by 1965 largely lost interest in those at the bottom of life’s heap, and this film – which seems intended to be an extremely black comedy – is instead set amidst a household still struggling precariously to maintain it’s grip on its former secure status.

Fifty years ago all this must have seemed bracingly anarchic; but sophisticated audiences at that time still laughed indulgently at the scene in which hulking Gaston Modot hilariously strikes a bourgeois woman in ‘L’Age d’Or’ for accidentally spilling a drink down him (Bunuel himself wasn’t particularly impressed with ‘Fists in the Pocket’); and what could then be acclaimed as non-conformity increasingly looks to modern politically correct sensibilities like bullying born of boredom (especially since the anti-hero Alessandro seems still to subsist at a social strata at which he’s spared the far more onerous burden of having to work for a living).

As played by the slightly built, baby-faced Lou Castel, Allessandro lacks the physically intimidating presence of, say, David Warner as ‘Morgan!’ that would make him seem more like a bully. But he still reserves some of his most brutal treatment for those least able to defend themselves, like a blind woman and a mentally handicapped epileptic. @RichardChatten

Marco Bellocchio was presented with the Visions du Réel Honorary Award at this year’s festival in Nyon Switzerland | APRIL 2022


Visions du Réel celebrates legendary Italian director, screenwriter, and producer Marco Bellocchio with a selective retrospective of his important work.


Benedikt (2022) Visions du Réel 2022

Dir: Katrin Memmer | Doc, Germany 72’

In her first feature documentary filmmaker Katrin Memmer was influenced by Germany sociologist Hartmut Rosa’s concept of ‘resonance’ where the notion of listening and responding to nature makes for a rewarding experience as the pace of life is gradually speeding up without making us any happier or more content. 

The focus is Benedikt who has spent his whole life in the German Palatinate forest where he lives off the land. The difference is that Benedikt rarely sees a soul apart from his sheep and bees. From bottling honey to raising his hand-reared stock – the skinning of one is not a moment for animal lovers to relish – the bearded, long-haired farmer is totally alone and self-reliant. Painstaking and backbreaking jobs must be undertaken every moment of the day in the basic and largely non-motorised farm but there is a satisfying rhythm to these repetitive chores all dealt with methodically and single-handedly, and they are captured on Super 8 often in closeup in a delicately washed out colourscape of muted shades of green and beige. 

Some jobs are predictable such as jointing a lamb carcass for sale at the market, others more unexpected such as the flame drying the honey combs done with a blow torch, presumably to sanitise them. And although Benedikt has got most tasks down to a fine art you can see how mayhem could suddenly descend without his capable husbandry – and presumably this is where ‘resonance ‘ comes in, particularly where honey harvesting and clipping sheep hooves is concerned. The only time his temper frays and involves a ‘phonecall is when dealing with an awkward tyre which refuses to fit on its wheel. 

There’s also something surreal about this cleverly assembled largely wordless haptic exchange where people and animals communicate and interact through the sense of listening and touch. Benedikt is memorable and pleasantly auteurish study of one man’s life amid nature and animals in a modern day homestead throughout the year. MT


Man Caves | Garconnieres (2022) Visions du Reel 2022

Dir: Céline Pernet | Doc, Switzerland

Men share their innermost thoughts in this provocative sortie into the male psyche from first time Swiss filmmaker Céline Pernet.

After three years and over four hundred meetings with Swiss men dating apps and newspapers social anthropologist Céline Pernet, in her thirties, uncovers what it means to be a young man in Switzerland today. The subject of toxic masculinity is a hot potato in newsrooms and dinner parties all over the world, but less is talked about the more positive aspects of male behaviour. How do men see themselves in the 21st century?

Travelling the length and breadth of Switzerland in all weathers, and we watch her braving snowy motorways and summer pastures in her determination to probe the male of her generation and to unearth innermost desires and beliefs. Predictably she finds that men see themselves as strong and protective leaders of the pack who want to triumph in the workplace, avoid emotion and protect their womenfolk, while oggling porn on the quiet.

Under Pernet’s persuasive line of questioning the men – between 30 and 45 – are much more forthcoming than you would imagine. And credit to her. Coy and rather furtive initial encounters soon give way to candid and even tearful revelations as the male of the species reveals how women are viewed as seductive objects of desire to civilising influences in their lives, with sexual encounters leading to marital and paternal bonds and beyond. Interweaving the cumulative interview footage with her driving around in snow, fog and sunshine to undertake her research this is real real catnip for female viewers. And although Pernet brings nothing particularly groundbreaking to the party her clever way of coaxing out and editing her findings it what makes this quietly compelling. MT

VISIONS DE REAL 2022 | Swiss Competition


A Holy Family (2022) Visions du Reel 2022

Dir.: Elvis A-Liang Lu; documentary with Elvis A-Liang Lu, Elaine Lu, Lucas Lu, Ming Yang Dei, Y Zhu Zing, Yin Hsien; Taiwan/France 2022, 90 min.

Taiwanese filmmaker Elvis A-Liang Lu shares a personal family story: having left his hometown of Minxiong at the age of eighteen to study film in the capital Taipei, a phone call from his ageing mother Elaine, sends him back to his family – and he soon remembers why he left twenty-four years ago.

Elvis’ father Lucas is addicted to gambling. He has squandered the family home, and merely shrugs his shoulders in response to Elaine’s complaints. Elvis’ brother Lucas believes he is a successful medium: we watch him advising a farmer what to plant at which time of year. But his sideline in predicting the future doesn’t pay the bills, and his pineapple business is going badly. Time to try tomatoes or should he just concentrate of the spiritualism.

Elaine has a strange relationship with Elvis: She puts up with her husband sleeping all day, but takes a dim view of her son, unaware that Elvis and his brother Lucas have had to pay off his father’s gambling debts. And even though she tells Elvis “I never visited you in Taipei because I pretended you did not belong in our family”, she expects him to be in charge of her funeral arrangements, giving orders for her ashes to be scattered in the open air, and taking ‘funeral photos’ for the grave.

With New Year approaching, Elaine then asks Elvis to give his father an extra gift of 2000 TWD. Meanwhile, Lucas has no income at all, having left his job at the distillery, and forfeited a good pension, and is soon diagnosed with a cancer that has spread from his lungs. So he must undergo chemotherapy, but is reluctant to start the procedure even though the doctor tells him it will soon be too late. On his return to Taipei, Elvis learns of his father’s death – he had spent his final days gambling.

The three DoPs create fitting images of a dysfunctional family; often handheld, they show the repressed feelings in close-up: Elaine occasionally musters the courage to complain openly, and Lucas feels betrayed by life, he never won the pot of gold despite his mediumship. Both parents are ready to die in their different ways. The director manages a happy end despite making us fully away of his own feelings. Overall, Holy Family is a long, melancholic good-bye to a difficult past. AS


Bela (2021) Visions du Reel 2021

Dir: Prantik Basu | India, Doc 58′

In Bela, a small village in North Eastern India, time stands still. Lulled by its languorous rhythms the past meets the present in a remote landscape. Filmmaker Prantik Basu creates an evocative picture of tradition where dance, music and ritual is very much part of everyday life.

Avoiding any kind of narrative structure Basu’s camera drifts into reverie and slo-mo sequences, creating a carnival for the senses where vibrant colours of lime green, scarlet and indigo purple meet the softer hues of an eau de nil dusk.  When the working day is over women paint delicate creamy ribbons in the sandy ground, each crowned with a crimson centre. Night will see the men enacting a mysterious traditional trance-like masked dance, the Chhau. Mesmerising, fierce and feral, the children scream in delight as the village is transformed into a theatre.

Two years in the making and edited in consecutive days, Bela is a sensory mood piece, a valuable record of people ostensibly living in harmony, everyone calmly aware of their role in the scheme of things. If ever there was a picture of serenity it is here in this land-locked corner where Bela gleams like a jewel in the dust. MT


Ostrov – Lost Island (2021) | Visions du Reel 2021

Dir.: Swetlana Rodina, Laurent Stoop; Documentary with Ivan, Anna, Alina, Anton, Galina, Valera, Tatiana, Roman Tamangiz; Switzerland 2021, 93 min.

Time warps still exist even in the 21st century. And one is the island of Ostrov deep in the Caspian Sea. During Soviet times it was home to over 3000 people. Nowadays only a few survive, and most belong to a large extended family. Their existence very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

Writers/directors Swetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop (Citizen Khodorkovsky) take a look at how life has changed there in past thirty years. There is still a hospital, a school and a kindergarten. Ivan (50) and Anna (45), occupy one of the homely wooden houses with their kids Alina and Anton. But their patriarch Tolya is not the only one living in the past.

Every day Ivan takes his ramshackle fishing boat out to sea, always aware of the coast guards who are keen to catch them fishing sturgeon, which for reasons not explained, is forbidden. In the “old days” of the Soviet Union, according to Anna, the family was prosperous, making a good living with sturgeon’s black caviar: another restriction not explained. Military police inspects the island every so often: what they are looking for is one of the many open questions.

Roman and Tamangiz have fled the mainland town to the island – but both are unhappy, being used to city life. Roman admits their poverty has destroyed their relationship, only the cats and dogs are contented stretching lazily in the sun. ‘Make do and mend’ values still survive here out of necessity,  Ivan is always repairing something or another – mainly his motorcycle, which has surely seen better days, probably built in the Soviet era. There is a war memorial for the dead of WWII, and the anniversary of 9th of May 1945 is celebrated.

On the newly acquired TV – it works, in spite of Ivan telling us there is no electricity – President Putin is the star attraction. In Donetsk, Russian soldiers give out Russian passports to Ukrainians, the annexation of the Crimea is celebrated. In Germany, meanwhile, Neo-Nazis are marching, revenge hungry, and one more reason for the war in Ukraine.

Anton has had enough of the propaganda but Ivan stays and complains the younger generation does not appreciate the old war songs any more. Not surprisingly, apart from getting drunk and listening to the army radio, there is not much for the youngsters on the island to do.

Tolya dies and is buried in coffin with an orthodox cross. Ivan asks his daughter Alina to take a letter to Putin – and when he doesn’t get a reply, he plans to write another. Meanwhile Putin plays the role of the humble statesman on TV.  Ivan refuses to blame Putin for the poverty on Orlov – he believes it is all down to the corrupt and incompetent administration. New Year’s Eve 2020 offers a chance to celebrate all round with drinking and dancing. Meanwhile, Putin hectors on about a bright future, Ivan praising him for building a strong army.

Dop Laurent Stoop is perfectly placed to play the “Fly on the Wall” – unobtrusive his pictures tell a thousand words. The soft limpid colours of the maritime setting give a lyrical feel to this contemporary story, that could be set a hundred years ago.

Orlov is one of many documentaries about Putin’s Russia, showing the parallels to the Soviet Union – minus the social structure of the era. Like Stalin before him, Putin’s obdurate strength is what makes him popular. The fault always lies with his underlings. Orlov tells a poignant story of  yesteryear, and displaced youngsters trapped in time between utter boredom and a glorious past. AS



Zinder (2020) IDFA

Dir.: Aicha Macky; Documentary with Sinya Boy, Bawo, Ramsess, Americain, PGG; Mali/France/Germany 2021, 85 min.

Nigerian writer/director Aicha Macky grew up the former leper’s quarter of Zinder, Niger’s second biggest city on the border with Nigeria. It’s a Godforsaken land-locked place where corruption is rife and education and opportunities are few, especially in the backwater of Kara-Kara where Islam holds sway but is hardly a civilising influence, the young men get by resorting to a gang culture and violence.

So it’s left to the women, and one brave soul in particular, to find out what’s gone wrong. Macky talked to those left behind by society, who only know violence as a means to change their lives. Her film is another shocking testament to depravity and disillusionment.

Two men on a motorcycle: on a mast a flag with a drawing of Adolf Hitler emblazoned with Swastikas. These two are joining their friends for a body-building session, explaining that “Hitler is the name of a guy from the USA”. The group might not know their history, but they are proud “because nobody is crossing the gangs of Kara-Kara”. The main enemy are the police: “I pray for Boko Harem, to come and f…k the cops”. Progress in there world sees knuckledusters replacing belts as their main weapons. Gangster movies influence their behaviour and they are proud of their scars.

Some have chosen a profession, like Idrissa Sani Malam, who ‘drives’ a sort of rickshaw taxi and is particularly proud of a scar left by a woman, “we were lovers, or I was at least a regular client.” Sex traffickers are part of the territory, their victims are girls as young as 15. Even women in the “Red Light district” are not protected, least of all by the police: They have not found the perpetrator who had slashed a woman’s throat three month ago. One way or the other, most of them end up in prison, a notoriously sordid place, where the men queue to use squalid latrines.

Meanwhile, Salissou Cikara visits a friend waiting for his trial and blaming ‘snitches’ for his fate. Cikara then goes home to his pregnant girlfriend, whose ultrasound costs the earth: 3000 Francs for the ultrasound, 9500 Francs for a blood test, and that’s not the end of the story. The civilised world has brought medicine, but at a price.

Bawo “has done a lot of bad things”. Like kidnapping girls in short skirts and abducting them into make-shift rooms “where we emptied ourselves into them. If they screamed, we put our hands over their mouths. We were breaking them in, with knives. Over time, they got used to it and became one of us. Reggae music plays all night as we smoke weed and take Tramadol.”

There’s always someone to blame for societal breakdown. This time it’s the ‘foreigners’  for stealing the country’s minerals. Ramatou Ma Main – Ramsess for short – is a hermaphrodite who gets by smuggling gasoline in daring night raids, hunted down by federal custom agents. Rumour has it that the gasoline smuggled into Niger actually belongs to the state of Niger. And votes on election days are rather cheap, 2000 Francs does not go far. Then Cikara has a brain wave: they will give up crime and form a security organisation – but this costs money. So the gang goes and works hard in the nearby quarry, but worse is to come, and Cikara dreams on. DoP Julien Bossé takes us to the centre of the action, his incredible footage particularly of Ramsess’ last raid and confrontation with the custom officers feel like a violent action thriller but this is a real life. Aicha Macky goes where her male director colleges would not dare to go: unflinchingly into the heart of darkness. AS     




Les Enfants Terribles (2021) Visions du Reel 2021

Dir.: Ahmet Necdet Cupur; Documentary with Zeynep Cupur, Mahmud Cupur, Nezahat Cupur, Ahmet Cupur; Turkey/Germany 2021, 92 mins.

Taking the title from Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1950 film adaptation of Cocteau’s play this reflection on the past is also a study of a family fighting tradition – and each other – in a world that has seen so many changes.

First time director Ahmet Necdet Cupur is back home in the village of Keskincek, twenty years after freeing himself from the stifling family set-up in south eastern Turkey. Three year’s in the making, the film revisits a bitter domestic battlefield: his brother and sister-in-law on one side; his old-fashioned parents on the other. Nothing changes, or so it seems.

Starting in January 2018 Ahmet makes contact with his sister Zeynep and her audio description of what’s going on with her parents hits a raw nerve: “Keep on writing, you have shown me exactly how your life is”. Now he’s back in situ with a camera to film the goings-on. Teenage Zeynep works in a cloth factory in the nearby city of Antalya but feels too young to be married off by her father who keeps her earnings for himself, whilst mostly loafing around all day. Her dream is to study and go to university, a plan, which both her parents object to, because she is a female.

The family is in a mess and forced to marry the kids off for financial reasons: brother Mahmut was made to marry Nezahat, so as to secure her dowry (known as a ‘mahr’), but the two have never slept together, Mahmut preferring a certain Birsen, whom we never meet. Meanwhile his rather has been trying to unlock his son’s mobile, to check what’s going on.

Mahmut is no spring chicken having already held down a job in Kuwait. But the family Imam Hüseyim Cupur, won’t grant him a divorce on any grounds. And now the village gossipers are out in force wondering if he is ‘a real man’. Zeynep is fully aware that the woman is always at fault in Turkish divorce proceedings, even her own mother won’t support her.

Election Day arrives and the whole family is forced to vote for the father’s choice.  Zeynep is particularly annoyed, since this candidate has been in office for donkey’s years and hasn’t made any changes for the better. She takes it all out on her religious mother :”You say, you are old and wise. But you are not, you have never read a book in your life”. But the complaint falls on deaf ears: “Good created us to live here, in our home. And the only book I am going to read is the Koran”.

Ahmet’s involvement certainly a certain tension in the family dynamics  – never has “the fly on the wall” been closer to the action. The tone is hyper-aggressive, with both parents and children vowing to kill each other. But in the end,

But despite the conflict, things do eventually move on for both kids, Ahmet delivering a positive, if not ‘happy’ ending. The young generation is slowly taking over: religion and patriarchy are on the back foot. Ahmet’s debut is a vociferous and direct testament. AS




Bellum – The Daemon of War (2021) Visions du Reel 2021

Dir.: David Herdies, Georg Götmark; Documentary with Bill Lyon, Fredrik Bruhn, Paula Bonstein, Aisha Lyon, Sweed, Karolina Bruhn; narrated by Johannes Anyuru; Sweden/ Denmark 2021, 87 min.

War is in the DNA of humans, always has been. The Romans were masters of conquering countries on more than one continent. Their motto was “War pays for itself, so soldiers do not need to be paid, there is always plenty to plunder”. Statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) was an early warmonger, ending his speeches in front of the Senate for years with the call for war: “Anyhow, I am of the opinion, that we should destroy Cartago”. After a few years, his peers got the message and the African city, capital of a kingdom, was indeed conquered.

This essay film from Swedish director duo David Herdies and Georg Götmark traces the history of war, present and future: veteran war photographer Paula Bronstein delivering some cruel images from Kabul.

But amidst the doom and gloom AI scientist Fredrick Bruhn has a surprisingly upbeat theory about the end of armed conflict, and US veterans Sweed and Bill Lyon are the living examples of survivors of the recent outings of the US war machine.

Not that far from Los Alamos in New Mexico, where Robert Oppenheimer and his team developed the first nuclear bomb in the State of Nevada (his prophetical warnings open the feature) is the location of the US Army’s Drone Operations and Training Base – AFB. Demonstrators with placards protest outside the gates, while veterans Sweed and co, cheer on every car leaving or entering the compound, making fun of the demonstrators. “I bet she borrowed the baby”, comments Sweed on a mother carrying her child.

Later we listen to Sweed and his friend Bill Lyon talking about their active service experience that destroyed people rather than buildings. In training, the drones attacked the simulated town of Kandahar, creating the atmosphere of an arcade game. The images are not just circles any more, but human forms, the intention is to blur the lines between the lines between practice and real actions. But for the veterans, the question is just survival: “When your compound has been hit, you are either dead, or you go back to sleep. For most people this is crazy, but I loved it. It was boring when you get home.”

Meanwhile Bronstein shows the photos of the Kabul victims she asks a boy to give her a smile. He refuses. Paula explains” I want to put some beauty into my photos, some life. To make the victims human. Meanwhile AI developer Fredrik Bruhn is hopeful about the future: “We are twenty years away from the point, when a computer can build the next generations of AI himself, he will replicate human brains, but goes much further than the 500 billion synapses of our brains. I do not see that we can have a world without war, as long as humans are in control. But robots do not have our DNA inheritance, they do not need to act like us. In the end the question will be about human existence, or the survival of digital humanity.

Bellum is perhaps too complex for its limited running time. But it certainly shows the existential question flagging up the need to write humankind out of the script. The documentary is dedicated to Bill Lyon, who, like Sweed, passed away. AS


Let the Sunshine In (2020) **** Mubi

French Filmmaker Claire Denis is one of the most innovative pioneers of independent cinema and fiercely committed to her singular vision. Growing up the daughter of a civil servant in various African countries, she eventually went home to France and fell in love with cinema in the Cinematheque, Paris. Making films seemed inevitable and after studying at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC) she embarked on a career that would see her working with Jacques Rivette (who became the subject of her 1990 documentary Jacques Rivette, Le Veilleur), Dušan Makavejev, Roberto Enrico and Costa-Gavras and Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire. Through the musician John Lurie she met Jim Jarmusch and worked with him  on Down by Law. But it was with her debut feature Chocolat that she made it to the international stage in 1988. The film was selected for Cannes and the César awards, it also got her together with Agnès Godard who became her regular director of photography for all her films.

So far Claire Denis has made six documentaries and no fewer than 17 feature films, such as Nénette et Boni for which she is awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Beau Travail, is one of the most stark and contemplative French films about war, standing alongside Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite. It was chosen for Venice line-up in 1999. Set amid racial conflict in a Francophone African state, Isabelle Huppert plays a coffee plantation owner desperately trying to save her crop, her family and her life in Denis’ 2009 outing White Material.

Clearly race and post-colonial themes feature heavily in her work, but Denis has also dabbled in genres – Bastards was a thriller, 35 Shots of Rum a fantasy drama about a father and daughter in Paris. Trouble Every Day reflects the emotional anguish of a loved up but warring married coup, starring Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo it screened at Cannes Film Festival in 2001. Denis has also worked several times with Juliette Binoche, most recently in her critically acclaimed sci-fi outing High Life (2018) and previously in her insightfully playful comedy Let the Sunshine In. where she plays a spirited and intelligent woman trying to find love with a series of unedifyingly pompous losers. Robert Pattinson will join Denis for the The Stars at Noon (2021) which follows American traveller (Margaret Qualley) through Nicaragua during the 1980s revolution, based on the novel by American writer Denis Johnson. Her next project Stars at Noon in set in 1980s Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution when a mysterious English businessman and a headstrong American journalist strike up a romance as they find themselves involved in a dangerous labyrinth of deceit. MT



High Life, 2018 Un beau soleil intérieur, 2017 Le Camp de Breidjing, 2015 Contact, 2014 Voilà l’enchaînement, 2014 Les Salauds, 2013 Venezia 70: Future Reloaded, 2013 Aller au diable, 2011 White Material, 2010 35 rhums, 2008 Vers Mathilde, 2005 L’Intrus, 2004 Vendredi soir, 2002 Vers Nancy (Segment du film Ten Minutes Older: The Cello), 2002 Trouble Every Day, 2001 Beau travail, 1999 Nénette et Boni, 1996 Nice, very Nice (segment from A propos de Nice, la suite), 1994 J’ai pas sommeil (I Can’t Sleep), 1994 U.S. Go Home (Collection : Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge), 1994 La Robe à cerceau (from Monologues, with Chantal Akerman), 1993 Keep It for Yourself  + Figaro Story, 1991 Jacques Rivette, le veilleur. Part 1 : la nuit (Cinéaste de notre temps), 1990 S’en fout la mort (No Fear, No Die) 1990 Man No Run, 1989 Chocolat, 1988 Le 15 Mai, 1969

A Machine to Live In (2020) **** Visions du Reel

Dirs: Yoni Goldstein, Meredith Zielke | Doc, United States, 87′

It was the French architect Le Corbusier who coined the phrase ‘A Machine to Live In’ to describe his own designs. Now a new film about Brasilia explores the human angle of living in a city: this vast, manmade capital of Brazil, its capital city since 1960, built in a thousand days. They describe their work as a “sci-fi providing a complex portrait of life, poetry, and myth set against the backdrop of the space-age city of Brasília and a flourishing landscape of UFO cults and transcendental spaces.

Chiefly designed by Oscar Niemayer, and laid out in the shape of an airplane, its wings the wide avenues flanking a massive park, the cockpit is Praca dos Tres Poderes, named for the three branches of government surrounding it. Brasilia is a city that offers extraordinary cinematic potential, not only in its utopian architecture but also its functionality. But there are downsides to the modern buildings.

Chicago-based filmmakers Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke (Jettisoned, Natural Life) have created a mystical portrait this modern metropolis, carved out from the jungle, its architecture full of glimmering white, featureless obloids that invite the most adventurous theories. Looking like a set made for SF adventure, the filmmakers do capture its surreal splendour by being shooting in widescreen 4K RED RAW.

Re-inactions and quotes from Niemeyer; the Jewish writer Clarice Lispector – who interviewed the architect – Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin; and Cult founder Tia Neiva are woven into a hallucinatory landscape that could have spun off from an asteroid between Jupiter and Mars. The footage mixes old fashioned technologies and state of the art aesthetics such as gimbals, drones, helicopters, 3D LIDAR scanning and geospatial mapping. “The camera perspective will mechanically rotate, spin and float among the architecture as if it were itself an alien craft – or, perhaps, the mind’s eye of an architect”.

Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) writes: “Brasilia is an altered state of consciousness; a pseudo hallucinatory perception; a complex, vivid dream like images – sometimes with halos around light, leading to a loss of vision. And: “Brasilia is artificial: it is the image of my insomnia, it is haunted; it is an abstract city.” Part of this read to students in Esperanto. When Gagarin visited Brasilia he said: “I feel as if I stepped on the surface of another planet, not earth.” No wonder the followers of Tia Neiva (1926-1985), ride their Hell’s Angels bikes around, since Neiva’s cult Vale do Amanhecer (Dawn Valley) is very much alive, as are the memories of Neiva herself, who came to fame as the first female truck driver in Brazil. 

Zielke speaks of “building a cosmology of signs, fragments of literary and historical texts work their way into interviews, fictive tableaux, featuring temporal architectural sculptures situate themselves in ‘real scenes’ and historical encounters are enacted by participants in the film. voice-overs are doubled to reveal multiple identities and captions are manipulated to reveal multiple perspectives.” 

Then there are moments of pure surrealism: A white horse wanders into a parking lot. The face of current Brazilian president Bolsonaro appears on the body of Niemeyer. The crew has visited Brasilia every summer for eight years to gather footage, establishing connections with local groups. This makes the hybrid feature very personal. During an interview, Zielke said, that they collected enough material for three films. Even though, the information presented is overwhelming to say the least. 

DoP Andrew Benz’ images are unique: Looking like a Martian outpost, Brasilia is defined by massive concrete domes, swooping aluminium spires, pyramids and super-blocks, which seem to repeat themselves ad absurdum. A dazzling as a trip on LSD, A Machine to live in is a mixture of nightmares, making Science Fiction look rather banal in comparison ordinary.AS

Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke are award-winning international filmmakers, cinematographers, and editors. Goldstein and Zielke work collaboratively on social documentary projects: from examining hybridized healing practices in the Northern Andes (La Curación), to children in American prisons (Natural Life), to critical explorations of history and somatic memory (The Jettisoned). Their films have been presented internationally across several major festivals, conferences, and classrooms. Goldstein and Zielke’s work as directors and cinematographers has been selected and awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, the Festival Black Movie de Genève, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Hot Springs Documentary Festival, the Festival International du Film Ethnographique du Québec, the Festival International du Documentaire et Rencontres sur la Biodiversité et les Peuples, Hot Docs Digital Doc Shop, Globians Doc Fest Berlin, and many others. AS


Trailer | A Machine to Live In | Yoni Goldstein, Meredith Zielke

Tony Driver (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Ascanio Petrini; Documentary with Tony Driver; Mexico/Italy 2019, 73 min.

Another Travis Bickle comes to life here in this documentary debut from Ascanio Petrini. Playing out with all the pomp of a Hollywood movie, it tells the story an Italian immigrant who reached his promised land of America as a child, only to be sent home after a life of petty crime and misdemeanour.

Pasquale was born in Bari in 1963, and emigrated with his family in 1972 to Chicago. There he became Tony, marrying Susan and having two children. After the break-up of their marriage in 1999, Tony joined his sister in Yuma, Arizona, where he re-invented himself as a taxi driver under the name of Travis Bickle. Money was short and he moonlighted as a ‘guide’, helping Mexican’s to cross the border. In 2012, an arrested led to the discovery that he had no American Citizenship, he had just kept renewing his Green Card for the past forty odd years. The authorities gave him a choice: imprisonment in Arizona, or expulsion from the country of his dreams. He chose the latter, ending up in the Adriatic town of Polignano a Mare.

There is not really much documentary in this feature, more a re-telling of Tony’s story – and his overriding desire to get back to the US and shed his Pasquale identity for good. There are a few secondary characters of note, such as the priest Gaetano. The film crosses the limits of documentary more than once: there is a scene where Tony phones his sister in Yuma, and we see both heads talking. But it fits in well with the bizarre story of a man who is by all intents and purposes, an American, but has to live like an Italian – at least until 2022 when he is legally allowed to re-enter the country. Tony does not belong to a country with laws – his America is that made of the movies. In a way, he has been written out the script. His memories are framed in shots belong to the cinema of Hollywood. The colours could be from any Wenders movie shot in the US – after all, the German director was also a foreigner who tried to become an American. Suddenly, we are in a Mexican border town, where Tony buys the outfit for his illegal re-entry. A taxi brings him near to the border wall, a much tougher cross than eight years earlier. There are mention of immigrants making the US great, and then Tony runs towards what can only be a chimera, accompanied by Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. 

Tony Driver is an absurdist dream: a fusion of two personalities which are artificially divided: Tony being the hero of his own movie, in denial about the reality of a situation he will fall victim to all over again. There are also shades here of The Last Picture Show, even though DoP Mario Bucci’s have more contrast than the washed-out black-and white photography of the Bogdanovich feature. But we know who will be the loser in this cinema vs. reality race – Tony is a latter day Wile. E Coyote. AS


The Calm after the Storm **** | Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo; Documentary with Victor Gaviria, Marcela Jaramillo; Columbia 2020, 72min.

Colombian filmmaker Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo confronts her childhood and her famous filmmaker father, Victor, in her documentary debut which she scripted, filmed and co-edited.

Mercedes worked as her father’s assistance during the shooting of his final film La Mujer del Animal (The wife of the Animal). Gaviria senior is the only Columbian director whose films have been shown at Cannes Film Festival.

Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo always wanted to get out of the shadow of her famous father: in spite the pleas of her mother, she studied film at Buenos Aires, and worked there after graduation as sound designer. But the pull of the family proved too strong, when she agreed to assist her father in his latest feature La mujer de Animal (2016). On her return to her home, she finds that her mother Marcela, an anthropologist, has left her room untouched, which comforts Mercedes. The Calm is actually two films in one: there are the sequences of shooting La mujer, and the home videos her father shot of her, her brother Matias and mother Marcela. And then there is the diary of her mother, for her yet unborn daughter. “It sounds, like I was her only confidant”. Victor is known for his realism, and using non-professional actors. The story of La mujer is of Marguerita, who lives in the neighbourhood, but does not want to give an interview to Mercedes: Marguerita, who had been kidnapped and raped by “the animal’ at eightenn, is fearful, that the actor, who portraits her tormentor, might bring back the bad spirit of him, even though he died long ago. Marguerita’s role is taken by Natalia Polo, a nursing assistant, who gives up her job, to concentrate on filming. Tito, a bus driver will feature as the villain. It is obvious, that Mercedes is horrified of the rape scene between the main protagonists, whilst her father is directing with calm, taking about the size of the lenses he will use in the next shot. Natalia is often found crying, and Victor sends her away from the set. Mercedes: “Marguerita’s suffering rekindles in every woman’s body”. It rains during the first six days of shooting, and cast and crew get ill – apart from Victor. Next is another violent scene, a sex orgy, where sex workers are brutally raped and beaten. Victor uses real sex workers from Berrio Park, and the lads are from the tough neighbourhood. Mercedes has to close her eyes, but keeps listening. When Mercedes is alone with her mother, she wants to ask her about the diary. “I want her to take my fear away, talking to her. But she only asks, if the catering at the set is ok. I just answer it – to calm her”. In an old home video, we watch Mercedes, called Mechi, being bullied by her father into writing a story for school. Mechi refused, telling him, that a scorpion has bitten her. From her mother’s diary: “Only twenty days left until your birth. You are going to have a very special dad. Even if we have our problems, as you will find out soon. He is very sensitive, always meeting lots of people when he is not with us, because other people need him too. I hope you are optimistic, I was not. You give me strength  to keep on fighting for our love. I loved your father too much, I am always afraid of losing him, you can’t live like this”.  The principal photography for La mujer is over, and Victor discusses with his daughter, that he was well aware of the fact, that the cast used Clonazepam with alcohol, to get over the trauma of acting. “The mixture is so strong, you don’t remember the next day what you have done at all”. From the home videos we learn, that the Tooth Fairy is called ‘Perez the Mouse’ in Columbia – but young Mercedes is not fooled: “Its not true, its Mom and Dad who give me the presents.”. Merceds tries in vain to talk with her mother about the diary. “What would she say to me? That living with a man is not easy. But life must go on”. Thinking back to the shoot and her father: “He finds it easier to direct violent scenes, than to direct Natalia.” Her brother Matias, Mercedes films an ugly spat between macho father and son, is generally not fond of being filmed: “Life has to be lived, before its being filmed”. And a last thoughts about the rape scene:” The contradiction of filming a rape scene being the privileged gender. And a film set full of men. Yes, talk about gender violence in a country suffering from a war.”

Never didactic, the director tries always to keep distance, but it is not easy to keep the distance with your family. A calm, but moving reflexion on gender and filmmaking. AS


Davos (2020) **** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Daniel Hoesl, Julia Niemann; Doc; Austria 2020, 100 min.

Austrian director Daniel Hoesl and co-director/writer Julia Niemann have visited Davos – but not only for the World Economic Forum (WEC), which is staged every year in the Swiss town, but mainly to understand what makes it the Swiss resort tick, outside the circus-like meeting.

First we learn something about Davos and culture: a museum’s guide shows a painting of the Swiss town by the artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, talking about the modernity of the place with its flat roofs, we also hear in a voice-over about another artist with Davos connections: the German writer Thomas Mann, who published in 1925 his novel Der Zauberberg, the same year Kirchner painted his picture. And the townsfolk of Davos were unhappy about the novel, on the ground of it depicting Davos as a world wide as a retreat for the sick.

Next we witness the still birth of a calf in a cow shed – we will meet the cattle farmer, Bettina more often later. We than witness a meeting of councillors, who deal with asylum seekers; one of them, Ali, is in danger of being deported and has been arrested by the police. Afterwards, first contact with the WEC is made in a meeting of the organisers, who listen to questions from the locals. The organisers are proud to announce that the WEC meeting will bring 60million Swiss Francs into the town’s coffers and 94 M SF into the Swiss economy. One participant points out that hardly any social progress has been made in the last thirty years, whilst their security budget has risen astronomically. But the speaker for the WEC is polite, and hopes “that you will discuss and pass the budget for the next six years.”

We meet Bettina and her husband again at the Davos Cattle Show, where the referee explains to the knowledgeable audience, why the winner has been chosen. Meanwhile, in the Davis tourist office, the editorial board discusses the next magazine: only two pages have not been filled, and one member makes a bad joke about “what if nobody dies?”

Outside in the snow, British and Swiss parliamentarians enjoy slalom races, the Swiss, not surprisingly, being the clear winners. In the kitchen of a major hotel, the waiters complain, that they have to drink with guests all night to keep them happy, whilst sitting on the floor, eating their meal. Bettina complains at a meeting with other cattle farmers, that the price they get for the milk is hardly worth the work involved.

Then the big day comes, and the guests arrive in the congress hall where a seminar, “A day in the life of a refugee” is one of many attractions. Outside, protesters take a dim view of the meeting’s slogan: “Davos is a place for dialogue”, and President Trump bears the brunt of their disgruntlement. They hold up placards with slogans such as: “Dictators get free aperitifs, while their people starve at home.”

In the hall, the organisers are being asked some serious questions: Why has the number of women participating in world economics dropped in the last year? The shops of the Arcade have been transformed into showcases for countries: Poland claims to be the “Can-do Nation”, there is a Ukrainian Fashion Show and a Thailand Night. When the WEC is over, these nation showcases go back to normal shops, food halls and fashion houses. Nothing has changed in the wake of the Summit, and we return to Bettina, who has to sell all her animals, and leaves in tears. She visits another public meeting, where the history of the town is celebrated, with music and a special sort of wrestling, which was depicted on another Kirchner painting in the Davos museum.

Davos is a film that grows more and more intriguing as it plays out: the small details make you curious, and Bettina’s fate adds dramatic tension, the visiting dignitaries paling into insignificance. DoP Andy Witmer is a successful fly on the wall, taking in the significant with the banal. Davos reveals the reality behind the facade, giving  voice to the people who live there every day. AS


Wolves at the Borders (2020) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir: Martin Pav | Doc, Czech Republic 78′

Wolves are back in the Czech Republic. And their return is causing ructions in the rural population. In his no holds barred look at the social history of man’s relationship with beast, filmmaker Martin Pav examines whether wolves still have a place in a world where drought and climate change is already wreaking havoc on the farmers particularly the vast forested areas of the Czech Republic. Wolves are, at least, a threat that can be controlled.

From an ecological point of view wolves have as much right to exist as humans, but as a voracious predator of livestock, and humans too – if given a chance, they are posing a serious threat now that their numbers are once again growing.

Not everyone is in agreement over how to tackle the wolf issue. Jan Sefc, a livestock farmer, shows how his flock of sheep is being depleted by wolves, as he throws a armful of maimed dead lambs into a rubbish bin. The wolves don’t eat the new borns, they just maul them to death, adding insult to the injuries inflicted. The problem is how to protect them. How do you build a shelter for 3000 sheep? And they don’t only kill lambs and sheep, deer are being heavily predated. “Tt’s like having a pedophile in a kindergarten” he says. For now he manages to keep the wolves at bay by monitoring the area in his truck, but he can’t be there all the time. Mayor Tomas Havrlant supports his view and is determined to gain the support of the government in this growing concern.

But conservationist Jiri Malik takes a different view, and is more concerned with water conservation in the region, seeing drought as the main enemy of farming and food production. He argues water is key to the survival of crops and the next generation. He is working on ways to improve irrigation.

Wolves have been predators in the Czech Republic since the Benedictines first arrived in the 13th century with the motto: “Pray and Work” (Ora et Labora). Records tell of attacks on humans, and the Monks civilising effects allowed the local population to protect themselves with barriers at a time when folklore was dominated by tales of wolves, synonymous with the Devil. The only punishment back then was to be cast out into the wilderness. Gradually wolves were almost entirely exterminated by the mid-18th century.

But they soon found their way back. In Czechia and neighbouring Poland and Slovakia wolves were still being culled up until the 1970s, when they were shot during the hunting season, and still harboured a fear of humans. These legendary beasts can grow to six feet tall, and now, like the foxes in the Britain, they have started to challenge man. Their population is growing again and the farmers are angry. So the Mayor has decided to file a suit against the State to gain protection for the farmers and the local economy, and encourage young people to stay in the region.

Jiri Malik feels that anything that encourages beauty, diversity, stability of an ecosystem: such as wolves, is good. Anything that goes the other way, is bad. Why don’t the farmers guard their sheep, like shepherds did in ancient times?. And this is very much the view of small-holder Lenka Stihlova who takes the wolves side of the dilemma arguing for a modus Vivendi with the animals.

With its sinister occasional score of strings and measuring detached approach, Wolves at the Borders presents a convincing case for each side in this age-old endeavour: how to live in harmony with the animal kingdom. MT





Fish Eye (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir: Amin Behroozzadeh | Doc, Iran, 70′

The debut feature-length poetic documentary by Iranian filmmaker-composer Amin Behroozzadeh follows the biggest industrial fishing boat in Iran, the Parsian Shila, whose objective is to catch 2,000 tons of tuna fish.

Fish Eye is a sombre meditation on commercial fishing that looks at the human and ecological sides of the trade, in a similar vein to Leviathan (2012) and Dead Slow Ahead (2015) that sees the strenuous peril of traditional fishing give way to a mechanised almost mesmerising daily grind for those involved aboard this behemoth of the seas. Although the film depicts the cruelty and harsh conditions of the job, the men on board enjoy a low key camaraderie, often joining each other in prayer. But there is also loneliness as the ‘sailors’ are parted from their families for weeks, even months.

But the filmmaker is also tuned in to the activity of the fish themselves, and how nature is affected by this activity. Following in the footsteps of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, there is a mourneful aspect to Fish Eye but none of the fear and enormity of Leviathan – this is more low key affair that pictures individual tuna and ray as they flounder on the deck gasping for a final breath in images that are deeply affecting and sometimes difficult to watch. And as Behroodzeh casts off in the poignant final scenes accompanied by an evocative occasional score, a pod of dolphins is seen joyfully leading the ship on its way to more culling. A sad but thoughtful study of 21st century fishing and in anonymous manpower involved. MT


Kombinat (2020) *** Visions du Reel (2020)

Dir: Gabriel Tejedor | Doc, 2020, Switzerland, 75′

A remarkable wide screen opening sequence shows the mighty industrial heart of Russia, the main town of Magnitogorsk in the South Urals and home to the Kombinat, one of the largest iron and steel works in the country. 

But Gabriel Tejedor then narrows his gaze onto the human story behind the billowing pipes and red hot furnesses. That of the locals who live here, and the wider social implications, asking the question: What makes us stay in a place that is potentially detrimental to our health and livelihood?.  The focus here is a family who live in the shadow of the vast industrial complex whose rhythm has dictated their lives from generation to generation, socially, economically and politically. Work in the factory is gruelling and dangerous, requiring heavy protection from frequent electric shocks. 

But the toxic nature of the surrounding environment also has a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of this family and their relatives. And it seems this plant also dominates their leisure time. Lena and Sacha live with their little daughter Dasha. Lena teaches the salsa lessons suggested by the factory. And this helps Sacha to dance away his problems and forget the pressure of work. Meanwhile his brother and his wife are hoping to move to Novosibirsk in Siberia, to escape the heavy pollution that is causing their daughter neurological problems. 

Over the seasons, Gabriel Tejedor (Rue Mayskaya, VdR 2017) paints a portrait of this new generation of workers and young parents whose living conditions seem to be inevitably determined by the Kombinat and State capitalism which feels much the same as Communism in its extreme control of citizens. Not as insightful or darkly amusing as Vitaliy Manskiy’s documentaries about modern Russia such a Pipeline, or Motherland, Kombinat is nevertheless a thoughtful and upbeat snapshot of today’s Russian working class and what it means to belong to a place.MT

VISIONS DU REEL | International Feature Film Competition 2020

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (2020) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir: Sascha Schöberl | Germany, Doc 84′ 

The cult of beauty and celebrity coalesce in this deeply unsettling documentary that looks at Beijing-based plastic surgeon Dr Han and his permanent quest for perfection, not only for himself but for his clients. The film once again connects to the narrative of live-streaming, a big business in China, as we saw in Present, Perfect (2019) the Tiger Award winner at Rotterdam last year.

In her sophomore feature, German filmmaker Sascha Schoberl makes no judgement on Han’s own self-focus. This is not a case of a little nip and tuck here and there, done discretely for women of a certainly age. Dr Han’s patients are young slim, and business orientated, and their surgery is plain for all to see.

Live fashion photos of the Dr Han in various natty outfits decorate the walls of his practice. In the firmament of China’s burgeoning plastic surgery industry, he is a star. Nor does the director question his unusual professional approach, allowing a roomful of spectators to attend the and record the live surgery on their mobile phones. The patient, a young Chinese model who undergoes the procedure without general anaesthetic, has given permission because this is all part of the process of monetising live-streaming, And it cuts both ways. The participants all garner something from the process, although why the camera looks at the patient’s face rather than the operation itself, is unclear. Clearly her stoicism – and tacit endurance – adds to the compelling nature of the footage. 

But beyond achieving beauty, girls in China are really looking to make money from the process of improvement surgery. And this is made possible and achievable thanks to Chinese massive social media platforms WeChat and Weibo who attract millions of followers to experience the surgery – live-streamed from the operating theatre to art fairs via fashion shows, and the private homes of this vast nation – they will use their mobiles not only as a form of contact and entertainment, but also to finance their lives. 

Drone footage hovers over Beijing’s vast tower blocks in the opening scenes as the camera descends on Dr Han’s substantial headquarters in the centre of the Chinese capital. Dr Han goes through his spiel encouraging and mentoring as the women congregate to attend the breast enlargement operation for a young flat-chested model whose sole aim, apart from achieving her desired breast size, is to create a platform where she can showcase her assets and make money from garnering followers on social media. The only slight criticism here is a lack of backstory: who are these girls, what are their personal stories, and how about some more clarity on Dr Han?

The procedure completed, the good doctor is not relieved that things have gone well, and that the patient has emerged fit and fulsome; he is clearly dismayed not to have attracted more followers, just click bait. Meanwhile, the enhanced model is pouting happily in her white bed holding a bunch of flowers for her followers delights, having been forced to look chipper throughout the procedure, her face having being filmed continuously by another woman encouraging her to smile, despite her nervousness.

Being a woman is highly competitive business all over the World, as increasingly so. Intelligence and personality are clearly not enough, and surgeons like Dr Han have cottoned on these women’s susceptibility and panders to their vanity and insecurity. A compelling film that questions beauty as a simultaneously essential yet vain element of society in the era of selfies. MT

Visions du Reel 2020 Online | April – May 2020, Nyon, Switzerland 


Off the Road (2020) Visions du Reel ***

Dir: Jose Permar | DoP Ernest Trujillo | Mexico Doc 76′

Mexican filmmaker Jose Permar takes a shoestring budget and makes a ingenious and cinematic western style documentary set in the bone dry beauty of Mexico’s largest desert region, The Baja. This is a story about a race, a group of musicians and a community clinging to both in order to survive.

The Baja 1000 is the biggest off-road motorsport race in the world that each year brings life into this remote desert community along with three flamboyant musicians Rigo, Davis and Paco, three who celebrate the car rally with a classic guitar beat set by the “corridos”, epic lyrics singing the praises of local heroes.

Their stunning costumes and sultry style add a shot of zinging colour to the suede and khaki dustiness of the desert scenery, puncturing the cacti-strewn landscape with their exuberant songs. . Since 1966, this far flung world looks forward to the roaring caravans of the Baja 1000. And José Permar makes a delightful tribute to the event that sees families gathering together to enjoy the music and the excitement of the race.

But the musicians are not just bystanders there to entertain, they also take part. Rigo has customised the family car to join the race and Davis is an avid enthusiast and onetime driver, now retired from the track. Meanwhile Paco is a young journalist seeking to secure the passage of the cars.

Filmed during the year preceding the Baja 1000, Off The Road is a western that borrows from the codes of a musical to depict, with distance and empathy, individuals relegated to the gateway of the North American El Dorado, who seem to replay their destiny every year via this ephemeral mechanical epic.


Mimaroğlu: Robinson of Manhattan Island (2020) **** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Serdar Kökceoglu; Documentary with Ilhan Mimaroglu, Güngör Batum, Rüstem Batum; Turkey/USA 20219, 76 min.

Serdar Kökceoglu is a composer and filmmaker whose first feature is a vivid portrait of fellow Turkish composer, filmmaker and artist Ilhan Mimaroğlu (1926-2012), a leading composer of electronic music.

Structured in three chapters and using a dreamlike soundscape and evocative visual style the documentary recounts how Mimaroğlu emigrated from Turkey to the USA in 1959, spending the rest of his life in Manhattan as a composer and all-round artist. Mimaroğlu gradually develops into a diary of contemporary music-making in Manhattan in the late twentieth century. But equally important was his relationship with his wife Güngör Batum, whom he married in 1959 back in Istanbul. Both were idiosyncratic in their life style, but, as she said “We were like one person”.

After finishing law school at Istanbul University in 1949, Mimaroğlu had already made his name as a music critic. Later awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant, he went on to study musicology under Paul Henry Lang at Columbia University. He would also work for the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Centre with Edgard Varese and Vladimir Ussachevsky. For Mimaroğlu,, cinema and music were one and the same, his compositions were “like collages, similar to editing a film”.

One of the highlights were his collaboration with Fellini for Satyricon. Working at Atlantic Records in the 1970ies, with Freddie Hubbard and Charles Mingus among others. Mimaroğlu founded his own label, Finnadar Records. German electronic visionary Karl-Heinz Stockhausen was one of his heroes, as was Jean Dubffet, who published Mimaroğlu’s own jazz compositions like ‘Tract A: A composition of Agitprop Music for Electromagnetic Tape’. Under his own record label, he met pianist concert pianist Idil Biret in 1972, the two of them working together for ten years, producing nine albums. After Finnadar Records folded in the 1980s, the composer stepped away from music and focused on street photography and films.

Mimaroğlu was always aware of status near the margins: “I am a composer, that’s one suicide. On top of it I am contemporary composer. And a composer of electronic music – and I compose political music.” He never wanted to go to a conservatoire in Turkey, “because they might teach me the wrong things”. And even in New York, he was critical of the places of higher learning: “University is a self-serving institution. This whole country, being the graveyard of culture, its universities being its mausoleums.” For him, music was alive, he collected tapes for sleeping from sounds of daily life. He compared himself to a preacher in the Sahara, nobody listening to him. “Even if they do, they fail to figure out what I was talking about”. He made a short film about people walking in slow-motion into a mall, past a poster which he had created, showing the MacDonald’s label with the inscription “Mc Lenin”. Like his friend and music critic David Toop said “his records were almost like Graffiti, that’s why he later became interested in Street Photography – the absolute immediacy.” And music writer Evin Ilyasoglu gave the feature its title” I think, he was mad, that people did not understand him. The Robinson of Manhattan. That’s why he was so pessimistic.” He felt that everyone was out to shoot contemporary composers. “Don’t shoot us, we are just innocent bystanders. When I am confronted with Mozart and Elvis, the question is, whom do I shoot first, its a matter of priority: Business or pleasure. And: “Do you think that I am paranoid in this respect? If so, there is a reason for it: Strauss Elvis, Mozart, all in the same bag”.   

The third chapter concentrates on Güngör Batum, who had to branch out into business during her husband’s middle age, “becoming a left-wing artist and a business woman at the same time”. She was shattered at his death, living in denial of it for the rest of her life. “Shortly after losing him, I thought I could only manage the world with a new perspective. Because we had been really close, supported each other in every way. I had to work out how to live without him. The hardest period of my life”. Her son Rüstem, whom she left behind when she left the USA, talks abut the couple’s relationship:” When my mother had guests, Ilhan would just come into the room for a moment, would not greet anybody and leave the room. He was an anti-social person. I could not bond with him, only our relationship with cinema kept us going. He watched some films ten times. They were the polar opposites. He always lived in an apartment at Columbia university, where he always returned for the night.” After having spent many years on the balcony of her NYC apartment, Güngör Batum re-emigrated to Istanbul, reconstructing her life out of memories. In Istanbul she talked to friends about “Ilhan coming soon to join her in Turkey. “Than we can all meet together”. As Rüstem said, his mother had a way of deny certain occurrences in her life. So, for her it was “like living still with him, but by myself.”  

With wonderful archive material, partly shot by the composer himself, this a real art history lesson. DoP Levent Türkan avoids too many Talking Heads, and concentrates Instead on conjuring up a palpable Cinematic essence of the man. A truly unique documentary about music and relationships, with Mimaroğlu having the last word: Old composers never die. They just turn into index cards”.   AS

Burning Lights International Competition | ON VISIONS DU REEL | NYON SWITZERLAND | APRIL- MAY 2020

Elena (2012) **** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Petra Costa; Doc with Li An, Elena Andrade, Petra Costa; Brazil/USA 2012, 80 min.

Brazilian director/co-writer Petra Costa’s debut documentary is a melancholic portrait of bereavement for her much younger depressive sister Elena who became a successful actor in New York in the late 1980s.

Mental illness is often a taboo subject for film makers – Kathy Leichter’s Here one Day being one of the exceptions. Petra Costa’s multi-layered study is as painful for the audience as the director. When Elena left her native Sao Paulo, then New York, at the age of seventeen, she left behind a younger sister who was fascinated by Elena, who filmed her with a cam-recorder. The sisters’ parents were revolutionaries, fighting the military dictatorship – but avoiding taking up arms, due to Li An’s pregnancy with her soon to be born daughter Elena. But divorce was to follow, and Li An took Petra to New York where she tried in vain to fight Elena’s depression: “If I’d had a car in New York, I would have put Elena’s body in the boot, put Petra on the seat next to me and driven into the river.” Somehow, this image has found its way into the documentary, with girls floating Ophelia-like in the water weeds.

Super 8 mm portraits of the city and audio tapes of Elena transmit these feelings of homesickness back home to her mother, creating an atmosphere of doom. No wonder Li An told her youngest daughter “never live in New York or become an actor”. Needless to say, Petra studied Drama at Columbia, asking friends of her late sister about details of her demise. It turns out Elena was not alone – but she felt that way. 

We watch her audition tape for a part in Godfather III, listen to the sober voice of the pathologist, enumerating the substances found and the weight of Elena’s organs. Petra talks to her dead sister, they are very much look-alikes: “You are being re-born a bit for me.” And at the beginning of the feature: “I perform your death, I find air to be able to live”. Watery images fill the frame in a dreamlike, poetic narrative suffused with mournfulness: “Little by little, the pain becomes water and then memory, and gradually fades away. But some find solace in the small openings of poetry. You are my inconsolable memory, made of shadow and stone”.

DoPs Janice D’Avila, Will Etchebehere and Miguel Vassy create ethereal images of floating flowers and leaves, the director distilling the essence of her sister into dreamy evocations of feminine beauty and gentleness. There are shades of Agnes Varda, and Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour. But mainly a deep sisterly longing for her lost, and very much missed, sibling. AS




Picture of Light (1994) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir: Peter Mettler | Doc, Canada, 87′

Narrated in his smooth Canadian drawl Peter Mettler’s meditative melancholic essay film often serves as a maudlin stream of consciousness reflecting on and questioning the relationship between art, nature and technology. “So many of us nowadays experience life only through the experience of others: At the beginning of life there was only the real thing. Now there is media that records, regurgitates, dictates and expresses. We know what is, by what is represented”. And although this seems like a truism, it is an apposite and sad reflection on the human condition.

Floating over surreal images as he sets out on a dreamlike odyssey to film the Northern Lights in the extreme outer regions of Canada’s magnetic North. “Photography is a surrogate for real experience”, he opines. So what we are about to see will never be as good as the experience itself, obviously, but we get a good feel for Northern Canada and its astonishing silent remoteness as the snowbound vastness melts into the mauve horizon. But the following morning after he arrives at his destination in Churchill (Manitoba) the Canadian boreal forest dark pine tree outlines give way to whiteness and a freezing 120 kilometre per hour wind.

Canada is a vast open country that allows humans to be themselves in its wild and spectacular landscapes, and its space that respects the individual. The Inuit have 170 words for snow and ice. Their language has adapted to reflect the unique textural diversity of their frosty environment.

The only protagonists are individuals trying to convey into words their experiences of seeing the Northern lights– describing the phenomenon variously as mysterious, ghostly, mystical even. This is an impressionistic study that relies on an eerie soundscape of echoes and whistles as it records, often though superimposition and reflection the slowing nature of time in the region. One Inuit tells how he travelled over 200 kilometres barely realising the distance until he returned without his toes, having forgotten his snow knife when his skidoo broke down.

Peter Mettler offers a rare and palpable glimpse into the magnetic North. “In a whiteout the last person will always walk in circles to right, often less that a thousand metres from home”. Facts and images are strung together with impressions and feelings to offer a valuable but largely inconclusive arctic travelogue. Mettler leaves plenty of silence for us to gawp at his awesome images. A luminous if disquieting documentary. MT


Aether (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

DIR: Rûken Tekes | Doc, Turkey 82′

Time is up for the past in Hasankeyf. This ancient town in southeastern Turkey, declared a conservation area in 1981, is now at risk of being flooded due to the completion of the controversial Ilisu Dam.

Many have known exile, but to lose an entire homeland forever without trace is an unimaginable tragedy. But that is what will happen to the 20,000 or so inhabitants who will be displaced forever, torn from their roots by the project. In her debut feature, Rûken Tekes uses a lightness of touch to raise the profile of this eco-tragedy, distilling the unique mysterious essence of this ancient city doomed to disappear forever.

With over 12,000 years of rich history behind its location in the valley of the Tigris River, in the Kurdish part of Turkey, Hasankeyf will soon sink beneath an artificial lake, in order to allow for the construction of the hydroelectric dam. Tekes doesn’t try to explain the details of this annihilation but instead creates a space in which the spirit of the place can express itself in its final months. A space that transcends time and reveals the natural cycles of creation, and destruction that lie at the heart of the film.

History transcends mere words and explanations. So her portrait is a dialogue-free sensory one told through a series of exquisite widescreen tableaux vivants accompanied by an ambient , Tekes reflects on the meaning of a past so primordial and unimaginable to our modern eyes we can only watch with awe and wonder as the images unfold the ambient sound of birds and nature enhancing an experience that feels otherworldly yet very much connected to this unique place. This is a remote corner of the earth where centuries of inbreeding has taken its toll on those who have struggled to survive. A death mute woman expresses her tangible disdain for the project in the only way she is able, her lack of words enhancing the emotional pain expressed in her whole body. Another mute man attempts with sign language to convey his feelings about the movement of strategic monuments to another location so that the future can take over. Some resort to playing folkloric music, or even performing ritualistic dances.  Others just sit silently in bars, their facial expressions signalling deep sadness and disappointment for their forthcoming loss. Rather than listing the treasures that will soon be lost, the film transmit a palpable sense of doom as the heavy machinery arrives in silence in preparation for the translocation. But soon whirring engines signal the start of construction. Aether is a delicately drawn, awe-inspiring love letter to loss. MT


Passion – Between Revolt and Resignation (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir.: Christian Labhart; Documentary; Switzerland 2019, 80 min.

Christian Labhart was only fifteen in 1968 but he dreamt of changing the world. And that society would transcend into a utopia of human brotherhood. Fifty years later he reflects on episodes from his own life, trying to understand how they fit—if they do at all—with the major changes of the world. And what happened to his Marxist pretensions?.

Told in chapters to the music of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, and quotes from Brecht, Kafka and Guy Debord among others, Labhard feels his dreams have come to nothing.  Starting with police forces guarding the G20 meeting in Hamburg in 2017, Labhart remembers how he demonstrated against the Vietnam War back in 1968, and swore he would never end up like his bourgeois parents. But contemporary images of the glitzy entertainment world show examples of what Guy Dbord calls “the empire of modern passivity”; alienation and fragmentation having replaced human interaction.

Labhard goes back to 1977 with the protests against nuclear power stations, the rise of violence with the Baader-Meinhof Group; Ulrike Meinhof describing four years in solitary confinement as “akin to being in a house of mirrors, the skin being torn off, and even visits leaving no trace”. Only the once weekly bath gave some relief. In 1980, Labhart was disillusioned with the way things were going, and so with some friends he moved to the countryside, “where they were very tired from work”, but still could not make a living.

After Chernobyl, Labhart and his wife abandoned their farm to become teachers, job-sharing making it possible to rear two kids who then became the entire focus of their lives. After the fall of the wall in 1989, the director visits Bulgaria, his images of deserted communist party buildings are akin to the relics from ‘Planet of the Apes’: the remains of a culture long lost. With communism dead in the water, Labhart reflect, along with the poet Dorothee Sölle: “This cannot have been all”.

The fall of the Twin Towers in 2001 finds the director in a rather sanguine mood in his home in the leafy suburbs: the kids have given the couple a new outlook in life. Starting out as a filmmaker, he asks: “Can I change reality by representing it?” Then quoting Arundhati Roy “How deep shall we dig, to find the courage to dream”.  The big cities are full of impressive but austere architecture, a built environment of post-industrial waste. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2008 falls at a time when the children leave home – Labhart is bereft.

Across five continents he still tries to find a way out of the capitalist jungle that has swallowed up his world. Global warming, war, overconsumption, refugee crises, inequality. Between Revolt and Resignation grows more or more despondent anew conflicts explode nearly every day. In a chapter about Poetry and Uprising, Franco Bifo Berardi is quoted “is useless to burn down a bank, as financial power is not in the physical building, but in the abstract connections between numbers and algorithms.” The chapter about 2011-2015 is entitled “What to be done?” and features the Syria War and the Arab Spring which brings to mind the director’s feelings in 1968.

After this, everything starts to break down, with brutal images in a Buenos Aires slaughter house, ads for Land Rovers, claiming that “Real Life is the greatest adventure”. The closing line is from Brecht “What an age, when to speak of trees is almost a crime. But how can I eat and drink, when my food is snatched from the hungry?”

Whilst Labhart ends on a defensive note “I don’t question the goal, only because we have not reached it”. Puo Corradi and Simon Guy Fässler’s visuals tell a different story: the planet has become the image of a society hellbent on self-destruction. Labhart’s essay is very much a long goodbye to hope. AS



Kiruna – A Brand New World (2019) Vision du Reel 2019

Dir.: Greta Stocklassova; Cast: Timo Vilgats, Abdal Rahman Josef, Maja Jannock Björnström; Czech Republic 2019, 87 min.

The first feature documentary by Czech writer/director Greta Stocklassova is emotional, but well-structured: a work-in-progress report on the Swedish town of Kiruna, 200 km above the arctic circle, which is being moved three km to the east. The 17,000 inhabitants of the 2840 sq/mile city have very different reactions to the move. 

Kiruna has lived off its mining industry, but finally it it has caught up with it: The LKAB company is moving Kiruna because the ground underneath is about to give way. The project of relocation will last until 2100; the movement of zone 4 now under work, will be finished by 2033. We watch houses being transported on huge lorries: classic buildings of all sorts will be saved this way.

In the Philosophy Club we meet Timo Vilgats, an elderly gentleman, a sort of town historian. He is appalled by the relocation, filming the ruins of his house with his mobile and pointing out out where the rooms in the house had been, where his children were born and grew up. Others take the move in their stride: a woman the same age as Vilgats sits down with a planner and tells her where she wants to have the plugs in her new home.

Meanwhile, in the home for asylum seekers, Abdal Rahman Josef is waiting for an interview which will decide his future: he is from Yemen, and his life would be in danger if he was to be sent back. Abdal complains about being left behind, whilst others are processed much quicker. In the end he is granted asylum and tells a fellow immigrant he is looking after his career and does not want to have a girl friend. Maja Jannok Björnström, seventeen years old, is finishing High School. Her school reports are good and, at an interview about her professional choice, she tells the interviewer “ I will always be a Sami”, perfecting the language of her ancestors, and wearing traditional costumes. Samis are still under threat, hate crimes against them are common. At the graduation ceremony, the last one held at the old Town Hall, Maja is just one happy student, like the rest. Meanwhile, at a meeting with the developers of the new town, Vilgats talks at length about the destruction of the old – but others, even the older ones, contradict him, and hope for the best. In the end, we see Vilgats with his dog wandering along the fence, the demarcation line between the old and the new town: deep fog fits his melancholy mood.

DoP Stanislav Adam uses his images to show the beauty of the old and the new. Like the director he is impartial, finding little incidents, like the detonation of yet another part of the old town, directed by the finger tip of a shy young boy who presses the button to show that planning might not solve everything. There is an input for the community, however limited. AS


La Vida in Comun (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir.: Ezequiel Yanco; Cast: Isaias Barroso, Pablo Chernov, El Apoyo De, Uriel Alcaraz, Yuliana Alcaraz; Argentina, France 2019, 70 min. 

This lyrical rather eclectic coming-of-age documentary is set in the remote indigenous settlement of Pueblo Nacion Ranquel in Northern Argentina, where animals and the past play a central role. A puma is stalking the community and a group of young boys start tracking the animal, as part traditional rite of passage. La Vida En Comun is imbued with an atmosphere of transition, as if the whole colony is waiting and watching for something to happen. And Yanco captures this transitory nature of this temporary set-up with its Avantgarde houses that seem to be part of another world. Infact, Pueblo Raquel is decisively otherworldly – the buildings are from the future, but the teenagers live in the ancient world, where animals and humans lived side by side.

Apart from a few teachers, there is an absence of adults and so the unobserved teens are left to their own devices. The action is narrated by one of the girls who relates how, in an act of bravado to impress a girl, one of the youngest boys Isaias (Barroso) defied the older ones by hunting down the mighty puma, and maybe even killing him. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe.

Everything seems opaque, ephemeral, ready to disappear at any second. These are the reflected emotions of a land where expropriation was (and is) rife; where the natives who once owned this country are pushed back into a reservation where they are marginalised by the interlopers. The lyrical tone often betrays this savage past, but it is always there, hovering over the living souls.

Yanco creates his own world where teenagers hunt animals and look for an identity that remains elusive. La Vida en Comun is like a huge question mark: is it a mirage, or reality? The only thing that is certain is mighty puma. We can only watch in wonderment, looking at a unique world in-between. AS




The Wind. A Documentary Thriller (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir.: Michal Bielawski; Documentary; Poland/Slovakia 2019, 74 min.

This poetic essay plays out like a thriller set in the mountain region of Podhale in southern Poland. Although the Tatra mountains are well known as a paradise for winter sports, Bielawski focuses on the cruel and unpredicable natural phenomenon of the ‘halny’ winds. These often terrorise locals but also cause rapid changes in atmospheric pressure strongly influencing the wellbeing of both people and animals and wreaking havoc with their habitat. Bielawski shows how the communities organise themselves to fight back.

A poetess, a female ambulance driver and old farmer, all unnamed, are the main protagonists of this tour de force eco-doc. The farmer is trying to batten down the barn hatches where a cow has just given birth to a baby bull. The storm is so strong that only planks nailed to the door will prevent them blowing open by the strength of the wind. Meanwhile the ambulance paramedic takes a call from a gentleman who says he wants to report a suicide. “Yours, or someone else’s” she asks him. “Mine” comes the strange reply. She remembers a long journey to a town far away where she had to deal with the corpse of a person hanged for his crimes. Meanwhile, the poetess emerges as the one most ‘in tune’ with the wind’s forces. A very fit woman in her fifties, she enjoys reciting her verses in the woods, hugging the trees, many of which have been felled in the recent storms.

The film then tracks back to the farmer who, with his friends, erects a small pylon, later fitting it with a windmill. The farmer and some children decide to go up to the mountain on the cable car, but the old man starts to feels sick. He later visits a doctor, who runs an ECG. Far away, we see a Ferris wheel, like a fata morgana. The poetess collects wood from a fallen tree, she saws it in little pieces and tells the forester she wants to buy a small part of the woods. The ambulance driver meanwhile deals with a drunkard and a victim of epilepsy, while his colleague fails to resuscitate a patient. The poetess sings in the woods where the snow storm is blowing a gale, trees are blocking the road, the windmills are devastated and a fire breaks out in the farmhouse, spreading to the barn and killing two cows before he can open the door. After the storm, the poetess saws off a piece of a fallen tree, takes out a piece of paper, and writes a new poem on the tree. Meanwhile, the old farmer, repairs the windmill as the children watch on.

Bielawski develops an elliptical rhythm as humans permanently try to mend what nature has destroyed. But ironically they don’t blame the storm, or even think of leaving the area: they have accepted their lot, but go on loving the mountains. DoP Bartek Solik’s fly on the wall images, particularly the close-ups, show us a rich emotional life. Most impressive is the poetess who is happy to be a witness to the living and the dead, animal and nature. A unique study of how an ongoing struggle has strangely becomes a rewarding way of life. AS





Sheep Hero (2018) **** Visions de Reel 2019

Dir: Ton van Zantvoort | Doc, 81 Holland

Being a shepherd sounds an idyllic existence. But the bucolic opening scenes of Ton van Zantvoort’s gorgeously cinematic arthouse documentary soon give way to the harsh realities of modern herding as a profit-making business.

The film’s focus is traditional herder Stijn Hilgers who starts of with a romantic view of life, enjoying the peace and freedom that comes with caring for a flock of sheep, as one of the last remaining sheepherders in the Netherlands. We see him waking up in the morning mist as he heads out for another day in the flower-strewn summer meadows. But his idealism soon clashes with the difficulty of being a modern freelance entrepreneur. Confusingly, the next scene sees him in a spacious living quarters, with a partner and child (and a hair cut!) as they furiously crunch numbers to see if they can eke out another year in this precarious, but ancient trade.

Along with many people nowadays who give up lucrative jobs to enjoy the freedom of self-employment in cottage-style businesses, Stijn’s freedom has come at a price. Ironically, he has had to strive year after year against mechanisation, competition, lower farm subsidies and administrative hurdles. When he then sets off to Utrecht to discuss his main grazing contract, he finds out it will not be renewed following year, seeing him risk bankruptcy or worse. And he now has a growing family to support.

So is there really such a thing as freedom as a shepherd. Apparently not. Even when you’re unafraid of hard work. Stijn’s world is now dominated by market forces and arcane laws. And you can see the gradually irritation creeping into his expression as he unwillingly transformed into a modern entrepreneur, taking not only his wife and sons with him, but also his parents as well. There are moments of humour as Stijn is forced to herd his entire flock through a neighbouring village to the consternation of locals who bombard him with complaints about sheep turds. This engaging documentary shows how a man’s fight to makes a success of his life somehow turns into a Kafka-esque nightmare as the freedom of the early scenes give way to nights of the dark soul-searching in his external and internal struggle to survive. MT



When They Left (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir: Veronica Haro Abril | Doc, Ecuador, 61′

In When They Left Veronica Haro Abril tells the story of a dying community in her native village of Plazuela, Ecuador. A series of pithy, melancholy but evocative reminiscences recall a once vibrant mountainside community. But Abril discovers something else in its place.

These gentle old folk are serene and positive about their lives as they go about their daily tasks to maintain self-sufficiency. Lucrecia collects lemons and harvests her potato crop in the orchard:  “I don’t have time to be sad. We love the this place. I don’t know about the people who come from the outside, but for me it’s beautiful”. And she’s right. Abril’s film very much connects  to the global narrative of human survival for remote communities conveying the peace and tranquility of a simple but socially connected place where the villagers are still very much in contact with their family. In some ways the young have lost out by leaving their elders to go the city. They may gain in some ways, but they miss out on the counsel and experience of the older members of the family. For the older generation, the animals are their new ‘children’ offering them produce in return for care. There’s so much to be recommended about village life and these people are never lonely because they have each other to talk through their worries and health concerns. Consolacion and her dog look forward to the arrival of the ice-cream van. 33cents for a scoop of freshly made blackberry seems a reasonable treat. Another tends to her bees with her friend ‘mammita’ donning their makeshift outfits, their hands are left bare. And the honey is fragrant and plentiful. The final act sees them preparing for a musical get-together. The men playing their instruments, and dressed in traditional garb, the women dancing.

Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, Abril’s elegant framing, long takes and limpid visuals make this a relaxing and calming experience, the ambient sound of birds and the soft breeze in the trees is pleasant and invigorating. In the end When They Left is not about loss or sadness but about the intense calm that togetherness brings once life’s struggles are over, reflecting the wisdom and serenity of a life well lived for a philosophical generation who have a great deal to teach us in many ways. MT.


Many Undulating Things (2019) **** Visions du Réel 2019

Dir: Bo Wang, Pan Lu | Doc 125′ US, South Korea, Hong Kong SAR of China

This rhythmic ode to globalised capitalism is driven forward by the very nature of its subject matter. Industriously moving on and constantly swinging between the East and the West, as the title suggests, Many Undulating Things has an elliptical structure that begins and ends in a shopping centre in Hong Kong.

Serving as a kind of dehumanised documentary counterpart to Locarno Golden Leopard 2018 winner A Land Imagined it explores, through the burgeoning built and landscaped environment, how cities respond to the growing needs of the capitalist system that attracts and accommodates both serving and enslaving in its unrelenting march forward. Just as nature ebbs and flows with the changing seasons, capitalism too brings its own inexorable rhythms into our world from the whirr of lifts and escalators to the relentless coming and going of people in an apartment building or corporate headquarters. Each island of industry creates and enables its own ‘eco-system’ in the complex scheme of things.

Zeroing in on the 2o10 universal exhibition as its talking point, the film explores how the event generated a massive local transformation. This took the shape of a built environment accommodating port warehouses, glazed galleries and overstuffed tower blocks all built by a restless industrious urban population of traders and enterprising minds looking to make money and expand financial horizons. Hong Kong is a distillation of all that is acquisitive and about a population motivated for gain. And Many Undulating Things is a psycho0geographical and sociopolitical look at how man has adapted his environment to respond to his own growing needs.

VISIONS DU REEL | NYON, SWITZERLAND |  Compétition Internationale Burning Lights

Kiruna – A Brand New World (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir: Greta Stocklassova | DoP: Stanislav Adam | Doc, Czech Rep, 87′


Werner Herzog Retrospective at VISIONS DU REEL 2019


Throughout 50 years of filmmaking, one of the greatest directors of all time, Werner Herzog,  continues to impress with his unflinchingly creative vision of humanity and its future.


My_Best_Fiend-e1374580306483The retrospective will also screen My Best Fiend (on his volatile relationship with collaborator, Klaus Kinski); Grizzly Man; Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Into the Abyss, that further examine his probing reflections  “why do people do bad things?”, an attempt to get to the core of the human condition. MT

VISIONS DU REEL 5-13 APRIL 2019 | Nyon, Switzerland

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