Posts Tagged ‘Krakow Film Festival’

Pearl of the Desert (2019) **** Krakow Film Festival 2020

Dir: Pushpendra Singh | Doc with Moti, Nijre and Anwar Khan Manganiyar |  India/South Korea | 82′

A young Indian boy from the lower caste Muslim Manganiyars is forced to sing traditional songs in celebration of his masters in this simple but enchanting ethnographical documentary from sophomore filmmaker Pushpendra Singh (The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs). 

The Thar Desert is vast region to the North of the Indian subcontinent, a natural barrier between Rajasthan and Pakistan’s Sindhi province which forms a vibrant natural backcloth to this fascinating coming of age story of oral history driven forward by its haunting ballads that tell of love, life and hardship (“Oh opium, you made me sell my jewellery”). The Manganiyars Muslims are a people well-known for their folk music which is handed down through the generations and supported by wealthy local Rajput benefactors (jajmans) in caravan towns. Although traditionally Muslims, these troubadour singers often tour around to perform during Hindu festivals invoking the Hindu God Krishna at ceremonies for birth, death and marriage.

Singh follows a straightforward narrative structure interweaving her film with delightful hand-drawn inter-titles that explain the origins and activities of these ancient people who also play instruments such as the bowed Kamaicha; a hand drum or Dholak, and a Khartaal or type of Indian castenet. The instruments are described in the film’s second act which also introduces dancing that feels dervish-like in style. The final act sees Moti leaving his village and travelling to make a studio recording for an Australian radio programme covering a music festival. He has finally found a ‘stardom’ of sorts in these celebrity-driven days.

The crux of narrative surrounds the Manganiyars status as ‘beggars’ a title that sits badly in today’s climate and humiliates young Moti, the central character, despite the pride he feels in his singing and in his cultural traditions. But there is no bitterness here as the Manganiyars feel a natural compulsiveness to sing and can use their vocal skills and treasured heritage to earn decent money and support their families. Singh works with DoP Ravi Kiran Ayyagari to create a vivid and lyrical cinematic gem that is informative, enjoyable to watch and beautiful to look at, its nighttime scenes in the desert are particularly alluring. MT

PEARL OF THE DESERT won the GOLDEN HEYNAL for BEST DocFilmMusic | KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 31 MAY – 7 June 2020



Acasa My Home (2020) **** Krakow Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Radu Ciorniciuc; Documentary with Gica Enache, Nicolina Nedelcu, Vali Enache, Rica Enache; Romania/Finland 2019, 86 min.

The Enache Roma clan are the subject of this powerful ethnographical portrait from Romanian first time filmmaker Radu Ciorniciuc.

The wilderness surrounding Bucharest’s Lake Vacaresti has for the past eighteen years been home to a couple and their  nine children on the banks of a former reservoir dwarfed by tower blocks. Four year’s in the making Cioroniciuc has followed their existence which is so radically unconventional compared to the average Romanian lived through decades of change as Bucharest moves into the 21st century.

We meet parents Gica Enache, a former chemistry lab assistant, who left the ‘wicked’ city with his wife Nicolina Nedelcu 18 years ago. Their nine children frolic around unsupervised, taking advantage of the beautiful countryside, particularly the lake. The family survive despite their financial poverty, putting a meal on the table from the farm stock that shares their dilapidated shack (we see the offscreen slaughter of a pig).

Social services has long tried to get hold of the children, and we witness another unsuccessful attempt by the authorities, when Gica asking the oldest, Vali, to take his younger siblings into a hiding constructed specifically for this purpose. Meanwhile Gica prefers to lounge around smoking rather than being involved in family matters, which are left to emaciated Nicolina, who is totally overwhelmed by the lack of amenities. Her husband is the model of an authoritarian patriarch playing the role of a free-wheeling hippy. But their days in anarchic freedom are limited: The Romanian government declares the Bucharest Delta a Nature Reserve, the Prime Minister and Prince Charles (!) appear on the scene to celebrate the occasion – followed by the bulldozers. 

The clan has no alternative but to agree to a move to the nearby capital, where they are housed and the children integrated into the school system – a traumatic event for most of them, because their contemporaries are far more sophisticated. Only Vali, soon to be eighteen, has a go at fitting in and this brings him into conflict with his father who burns the books the younger children have been given. Vali moves out to live with his girl friend, who is soon pregnant. With great insight he tells her they should not have a child “because then we would be three children”. On a visit home, Vali listens to his father who, in his usual long-winded speeches, blames everybody else for the family’s plight. He excludes his wife: “Only Nicolina has given me any hope” which Vali counters with “and what have you given her?”. The ending is melancholic: the family, who has not looked after the flat, is put into inferior accommodations’, whilst Vali works in the new Nature Reserve, which was once had been his play ground.        

Lyrical and poetic despite the challenging topic, Acasa is a powerful and passionate long term study about was freedom really means. Their upbringing in mother nature certainly appealed to the young kids, but poverty and isolation had a greater impact on their upbringing. As Vali shows, there is an alternative to strict ideological-based country living. As for his younger siblings, integration meant discovering a whole new world. Ciorniciuc maintains a detached approach never letting the growing familiarity with the clan cloud his judgement. A labour of love and a memorable one. AS


An Ordinary Country | Zwyczajmy Kraj (2019) **** Krakow Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Tomasza Wolskiego; Documentary, Poland 2019, 53 min.

Polish writer/director Tomasza Wolskiego (Gold Fish) has created a devastating and filmic portrait of the work of the Stalinist Security Services and the Citizen’s Militia in Poland in the 1970s and 80s.

Enriched by found footage from the agencies, it paints a sombre snapshot of everyday life: we are not talking here about people being victimised or wanting to overthrow the system – far from it, the sins are purely those of the flesh brought on by their persecution complex and neurosis.

The footage, shot in black-and-white, bears witness to state operatives busy recording and arresting with a self-importance associated with some massive nationwide conspiracy. This paranoia  is transferred to ordinary people inducing misplaced feelings of guilty, and even shame for crimes not even contemplated. Hunter and hunted often look the same, particularly when the agents try to turn their victims into informers – in 1989 the number of officers in the two services was 24 000, the number of informers 90, 000. In a way, this was like a pandemic, slowly eating up more and more of the population. 

The pathetic nature of it all is best seen in the case of an ordinary house wife whose husband works for Ocean Sailing, and is accused of illegal dealings in foreign currency. Whilst the woman is interrogated, another officer tapes the conversation, his co-worker trying to trip the woman up: he wants to know the exact price she paid for a radio, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner and a fridge. Not getting anywhere, he switches his focus the price of meat, the number of loaves of bread, the amount of butter and margarine consumed. He then announces pompously that conversation is being recorded “and will be used as evidence in the case of prosecution.” Switching tack, he asks her how much her husband earns. Did he have a foreign exchange supplement? How much? When the woman pleads ignorance, the interrogator gets indignant: “Come on, you are a house wife, you know the figures”. Finally, he gets to the main question: “How much did you get for the blouses?”. When the woman insists she has no need for blouses because she has everything at home, he gives up for the moment: “You sold nothing and have everything at home. Fine. Thank you”. 

Then there is the case of diplomat caught in flagrant for two-timing his wife. Polaroid photos of crumpled bed sheets are brought out to indicate “intimate purposes”. The officers record their conversation with the diplomat in his flat, the kitchen door is plastered with pornographic images, under the bed old “Playboy” and lesbian magazines. “But we come here to you like friends. If you are with us, we will take care of you. We’ll take care of everything, to keep you safe. From your wife in particular. We should make a deal. We are aware of your contacts in Germany and America. They are looking for links to Solidarnosc. Help for help. We close your case” After promising not to ruin his career but make it flourish, the deal is struck.: “I, the undersigned will help the Polish Special Service. I will keep this fact strictly confidential”. Then: “Put a dot there, and start with a capital letter”. Afterwards he is released with a final warning: “We do punish ignorance.”  

The overall impression is that of great sadness: more or less innocent people are coerced into becoming informers, or face long prison sentences for minor offences. But the real culprits are not the men or women, phoning relatives abroad for haemorrhoid medication because the shelves are empty in Poland, but a State who treats its citizens as criminals, for simply wanting to survive.

This is a paradise for Kafkaesque officers, who spend their days denying others the smallest of pleasure in this grey morass of officialdom. Meanwhile, faceless bureaucrats at the top let loose an army of petty policemen, posing as a ‘service for the people’. Ironically these weasels are as much victims as those they persecute, denying others a soul, having lost their own. AS


Advocate (2018) **** UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche; Documentary with Lea Tsemel; Canada, Switzerland, Israel 2019, 110 min.

Advocate explores the work of Israeli defence lawyer Lea Tsemel, who defends Palestinians – suicide bombers as well as innocent clients – earning her the name “Devil’s Advocate” in her home country where the Law often stands alone in the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinians.

Born in 1945 in Haifa, Tsemel volunteered for the 1967 Six Day War and was one of the first Israeli women to visit the Western Wall. Somehow the conflict politicised her – she could not believe in the Government slogan ”War for Peace”. After studying law, she served as an apprentice to Human Right’s Lawyer Felicia Langer.

One of Tsemel’s first trials was the defence of Ahmed, a 13 year-old Palestinian boy in 1972.  Ahmed and his cousin Hassan were captured with knives and accused of an attempted suicide bombing, even though video evidence was to the contrary. Under Israeli Law, nobody under the age of fourteen can be prosecuted for a crime. But a sensationalist media called for the death penalty for Ahmed. As it is often the case when innocent Palestinians are involved, the Israeli prosecution went for a plea bargaining, and reached a guilty verdict in spite of the lack of evidence.

Tsemel’s next got her teeth into the case of Israa Jabis, a young Palestinian mother who was also accused of an attempted suicide bombing after her propane gas tank in the back of her car exploded. Although Israa was the only one injured, the case made legal history, making it illegal to use evidence from admissions gained under torture and duress at court. 

The directors use “Fly-on-the wall” techniques to show Tsemel working on two concurrent cases, one professional, the other personal – and it soon becomes clear that she is not an easy person to work for. The directors made fluent use of historical footage and TV appearances of Tsemel,  juxtaposing them with the here and now. But the application of Rotoscope and split-screens (to hide the identities of many involved), as well as the sparse use of music by Marcel Lepage, create a very unsettling atmosphere. Tsemel’s husband, Michel Warschawsky, a director of a Palestinian project, also becomes one of her clients after being arrested for his activities. Interviews with him and the couple’s son and daughter are illuminating. But Advocate would have been more convincing as a document had the filmmakers questioned Tsemel more insistently about her motives to defend violent perpetrators. Calling herself a “very angry, optimistic woman” and a “losing lawyer” she has the last word with her life’s motto “All I want is Palestinians to find justice in Israeli courts”. Tsemel has gone on to win  international Law awards in France and Germany, Tsemel’s is not as powerful in her homeland and is possibly should be. Advocate is certainly proof that truth is often the first victim during wartime. AS





The Men’s Room (2018) **** Krakow Film Festival 2019

Dir. Petter Sommer, Jo Vemud Svendsen, 75 min., Norway

This watchable award-winning tribute to male friendship and vulnerability positively glows with a lowkey charm so redolent of its Northern European origins, and so real it could never quite work as a drama, avoiding sentimentality and cliche to achieve something rare. 

It sees a group of 25 Norwegian men in their prime getting together every Tuesday to sing and drink beer. The joke is that they have promised to sing at each other’s funerals and it soon looks like the choir’s conductor will prove the first one to go. It turns out that one of them is diagnosed with cancer and the doctor has given him just a few months to live. Naturally he feels fine. But it’s roughly the time that the choir has to prepare for its biggest gig to date: a warm-up job for Black Sabbath before their concert in Norway 2016. . The countdown has started, and the cancer-stricken conductor and desultory band of ‘choirboys’ try to keep their spirits high with songs about the hardships of middle-age, while they also prepare to say farewell. Soft-peddling over their feelings for the opposite sex, their irreverent banter is always respectfully playful and well-received in this middle-class milieu of contemporary Oslo. The  mood is kept buoyant by their community singing that provides the vehicle for sharing their thoughts and opening up, joshing with each other as they do. Rarely has a film been so quietly amusing, and surprisingly moving. The Men’s Room goes straight to the heart and stays there. MT

KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL | 26 May – 5 June 2019

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