Posts Tagged ‘Migration’

Buoyancy (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Rodd Rathjen; Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros; Australia 2019, 94 min

Rodd Rathjen’s feature debut has a worthy but not always convincing narrative. A teenage boy from Cambodia tries to find work in Thailand, but ends up being one of 200,000 boys from South- East Asia to ‘contribute’ six billion $ for unpaid work in the fishing industry of Thailand. More often than not, they will never see their homeland again.

Fourteen year-old Chakra (Heng) slaves away in the rice fields with his father and brother Kravaan, who is being groomed as the heir. Chakra only wants to find a girl friend, but is rejected because of his low social status. Fed up with the whole set-up he finally snaps and travels with smugglers to Thailand.  There he will have to work a month for free, to pay for the cost of the transport. But on the ramshackle trawler, where the catch is substandard seafare (to be processed into dog food), Chakra soon find out this is a life sentence of hard work. One of his fellow workers tells Chakra they “they are already” dead. The ship’s captain, Rom Ron (Kasro) and his second in command punish the crew mercilessly for any disobedience, and bind them in chains, before throwing them into the sea. Chakra’s neighbour, who is losing his mind, is bound with ropes and thrown into the water, whilst the captain brutally manhandles Chakra at the so the propellers catch Kea. More tragedy will follow.

Rathjen keeps strictly to a one-to-one realism, and DoP Michael Latham catches the doomed atmosphere on the trailer in moody images. But somehow the ending undermines what has been said before, leaving the audience with a muted reaction. MT


Chèche Lavi (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Sam Ellison, 2019, Mexico/Haiti/USA, world premiere

A poetic and peaceful paean to Haitians seeking a better life, Sam Ellison gloriously colourful images tell a story we already know but in a zingingly positive and honest way. Low on dialogue but long on musical interludes Chèche Lavi offers its characters a chance to tell their tale while we listen and enjoy the scenery and creatively composed shots of the laborious odyssey via Brazil and Peru, in order finally to ride into Mexico in the cargo hold of a truck. Hoping for a new life in the USA, but then there’s the wall.

Director Sam Ellison cut his teeth as a cinematographer of narrative fiction, and his film’s meticulously constructed visual language – formal compositions, long takes, and long silences – draws from that experience. This appealing style draws us into the emotional world of Robens and James as they embark on their borderland adventure, deepening our understanding of their trails. Gradually they cease to feel inaccessibly foreign.

Haiti and Haitian immigrants, specifically, are often singled out as undesirable in crude and racist attacks. And Ellison has tried to push back against this ideological climate with his calm and placid approach that avoids “headline” sensationalism as the protagonists go about their journey.

French and Portuguese speaking Haitian refugees Robens and James naively dreamed of utopia. They come up against unpleasant surprises, but Sam Ellison quails away from the horror of displacement. His portrait sees two likeable young men adopt a philosophical approach to their journey, always looking on the bright side despite their sense of disappointment and resignation. Getting what you want was never going to be easy. And we feel for them. Ellison’s humane but detached approach honours this timeless yet topical theme. Chèche Lavi is a documentary that works like a narrative art-house feature, and looks like one too.



Acid Forest (2018) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rugile Barzdziukaite | Doc | Lithuania | 63′

Rugile Barzdziukaite describes her eco-film as a creative documentary. It is set in her native Lithuania where a strange phenomenon has occurred in the forested region of the Curonian Spit, a scenic peninsular edged by the Baltic from one side and the lagoon from the other. ACID FOREST makes its premiere at Locarno Film Festival 2018.

Taking her cue from the likes of documentarians Sergei Loznitsa and Jem Cohen, Barzdziukaite’s debut feature often sees the funny side of this blot on the landscape. This humour comes out of the spontaneous comments made by unsuspecting visitors to the otherwise appealing UNESCO world heritage site, known for its natural resources and high-end beach resorts.

Training his camera on a look-out platform in the midst of the acid forest, her DoP Dovydas Korba gets a bird’s eye view not only of the tourists, but also the black cormorants who migrated back to the area nearly twenty years ago in 1989, after becoming extinct, and have since laid waste to the native pine trees with their acid-rich droppings that fall from the nesting places. where these destructive birds roost and bring up their young. But it’s not all bad. Deciduous trees have now started thrive in the area, feeding on the cormorants fishy manure. And so gradually the forest is mutating from one of pines to one of oaks and ashes. And this narrative very much chimes with the cycles of human migration that have happened all the world since time immemorial. Acid Forest is a an unusual but fitting metaphor for the surreal world that we live in. MT


El Mar La Mar (2017)

Dirs: Joshua Bonnetta, J.P. Sniadecki | USA 2017 | English, Spanish |Doc | 94 min · Colour

Renowned documentarian J P Sniedecki teams up with Joshua Bonetti for this episodic reverie that scratches at the edges of fantasy horror as its gradually emerging narrative explores strange occurrences in the Sonoran Desert between Mexico and the United States (rather than the seascapes suggested in its obstruse title).

The opening scene, entitled Rio (River), is a dizzying affair bordering on nausea as the camera flickers alongside a waterside seen peeping through vegetation. The second is called Costas (coasts) but it is difficult to make out its obscure subject matter, as the mood gradually grows more unsettling.

Disparate reports of strange sightings occur daily in this sparsely populated and inhospitatble region and nameless locals narrate their experiences against blacked out footage: visits from travellers and immigrants making their way from Mexico seem totally unprepared for the horrors that await them: snakes, insects, fierce climatic changes and spiky vegetation are some of the perils of this dangerous route, not to mention the human element in the shape of border guards, both official and self-appointed, who are are known to open gunfire both day and night.

The directors’ approach has a highly bewildering feel, and as the mood grows increasingly sinister, faceless voices talk of traces of human remains and even dead bodies sadly left to decompose without trace, save for their faded clothing. Abandoned rucksacks, shoes and toys are testament to this trail of tragedy, gradually becoming part of the gruesome landscape.

EL MAR LA MAR‘s polyphonic soundtrack, disembodied voices and 16-mm visuals are a stark and strangely beguiling tribute to human endeavour, recording for posterity those who never made it in their quest to seek a more financially rewarding life. Sometimes the grass is not greener. MT


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