Posts Tagged ‘Raindance Film Festival’

I Am Not a Hero (2019) *** Raindance Film Festival 2020

Dir:Pablo Diaz Crutzen, Stijn Deconinck and Robin Smit | Doc, Belgium 

I Am Not a Hero offers a Belgian perspective on the Covid19 Crisis and a serene view of fighting the disease from the experience of the medical staff at the Belgian Centre of Excellence of the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels.

Filmmakers Pablo Diaz Crutzen, Stijn Deconinck and Robin Smit explore the pandemic from the March 2019 lockdown until the situation was well under control in late May. Probably not the most popular release at London’s Raindance Film Festival this November, the film nevertheless offers a contrast of sorts given the lessons learnt as the UK and other major European countries face some kind of renewed lockdown this Autumn.

Not surprisingly Belgium experienced the same issues as Britain, and one of the nurses erupts in total rage with her comments intended for the Belgian government: “Where are the masks and equipments they promised? How can we work in these conditions? Why are the aprons now so thin?” Yep, sounds familiar.

We witness a nurse speaking to the family of a very sick patient who has spent most of her treatment lying face down – hence the marks on her face – the situation looks optimistic, but it’s still early days.  Another nurse shares a grim experience of having to deal with the body bag of a patient who died alone without their family – or anyone – for comfort.

Belgium is rather like Britain where hospitals are staffed by multicultural nurses and doctors who nevertheless all get on like a house on fire. And the atmosphere is for the most part cheerful if soberly so. The main commentator here is a ‘bubbly’ Moroccan nurse Meryem –  who describes how she copes with having a growing family to look after, and the need to spend a few days with them now and again to keep everyone happy. There is also a pleasant consultant called Fabio who comments encouragingly. “Most of the patients eventually pull though” Those we do see (although faces are hidden) are white, middle-aged men.. But there is also an in-depth chat with a plump, white nurse who describes her symptoms as a dry cough, loss of smell, and she undergoes a really painful nasal swab.

Fabio does allow the family of a dying patient to visit in the final hours of life. And this is particularly difficult to watch as Fabio organises another visit for a man who will certainly die that night. He has been in the hospital for a month and the shock of his deterioration is clearly hard to accept for his nearest and dearest. Belgium is one of the few countries that have allowed these humane visits.

Filmed on the widescreen as the camera hovers over the hospital and impersonal close-ups on the ward and in the morgue, I Am Not a Hero is always respectfully – the focus is a random hand or the fleeting glance of a wheelchair going into an ambulance ensures discretion. As we leave Fabio and his team, the worst of the crisis is over with a jubilant patient leaving the ward and later arriving home, a little shaky but walking on air.

Maryam feels she has enforced her commitment to her profession and is looking forward to going back to ‘normal’. Sadly that ‘normal’ time is still to come as we face the Winter with our unwelcome visitor from China. MT

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 2020

 

Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance (2020) *** Raindance Festival 2020

Dir: Khadifa Wong

Khadifa Wong’s life experience as a dancer informs her lively if over-talkie debut feature about the origins of jazz dance.

Celebrating its international premiere at this year’s Raindance Film Festival, the film traces the roots of this expressive and iconically American dance form from its early history in the 19th century and through to the current day. And it all start during slavery – wouldn’t you know? Back then it was a vital form of protest, not just a way of expressing enjoyment. Well that certainly makes it a topical film with the current Black Lives Matter month in full swing.

Wong’s ground-breaking documentary also offers a political and social chronicle of the times, alighting on more weighty issues of racism, socialism and sexism while offering up a passionate and thought-provoking musical biopic.

The dancer and director has delved into the archives enlivening her film with cuttings and news footage. Over fifty experts offer up their valuable insight from choreographers to teachers and dancers themselves so it does occasionally feel overwhelming to have so much knowledge and opinion in the space of less than two hours. But the movement and dance elements are what really makes this a winner and Matt Simpkins’ camerawork captures the essence of bodies gyrating to great affect.

Curiously enough it was white men in the shape of Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Jack Cole who really emerged as the forerunners of the form. And one of the most engaging talking heads, dramaturg and choreographer Melanie George shares her thoughts about why these luminaries were so influential while Black innovators were often lesser known. And she discovers that their ability to codify  the various forms of jazz dance with Hollywood and Broadway that gave it a different profile that took it above and beyond its roots and origins. The lesser-known artists also have their say, Frank Hatchett, Pepsi Bethel and Fred Benjamin Wong amongst them – although none is particularly famous to mainstream audiences.

Wong cleverly makes the point that jazz dance was actually a pared down version of the tribal form of communication for many Africans, and particularly slaves, enabling them to express themselves with their bodies in highly syncopated, exaggerated and meaningful ways – almost like silent film – relying on strong facial and body language – to make their feelings known. The Pattin’ Juba and Cakewalk were both dances that originated in the plantations of the Deep South where enslavement relied heavily on this kind of vital communication for protest, or even survival.

Eventually jazz became more sophisticated and sinuous moving through the bebop and hard bop years and we start to recognise names such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. There is also some impressive clips that show James Brown and Little Richard and really convey the seriousness of their political message – they were not just merely there to entertain.

A documentary about dance expression should always focus primarily on the dancing, and this is the only slight criticism that one can level at Uprooted. Wong has done so much research for her deep dive into the subject seems to focus on talking and commentary over movement and music. When we see Chita Rivera and Graciela Daniele doing their stuff the film comes alive — so their stories of segregation and racial alienation seem all the more poignant. There is a fascinating piece about Patrick Swayze’s mother Patsy, being the only white dance teacher in Texas to allow Black children into her school. If there’s one talent those entertainers have it’s the ability to move their bodies in magnetic and beguiling ways. And Black dancers have it in spades. MT

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 28 OCTOBER – 7 NOVEMBER 2020

The Waiter (2019) ***** Raindance Film Festival 2019

Dir: Wri/Dir: Steve Krikris | Cast: Aris Servetalis, Yannis Stankoglou, Chiara Gensini, Alexandros Mavropoulos, Antonis Myriagos | Drama, Greece, 93′

This deliciously dark and sardonic Neo-noir sees a lonely waiter fall prey to a ménage à trois that throws a spanner into his ordered life in modern day Athens.

Steve Krikis has already won a string of awards for his stylish Greek new wave debut, a crisply captured, elegantly framed affair that unfurls in an upmarket quartier of Greece’s capital. Beautifully balanced like a tray of martini cocktails and tinted with the same olive hue, it follows the day to day existence of plant lover and bar employee Reno (Aris Servetalis) whose routine is meticulously laid out in the opening scenes: the comfortable black leather shoes are polished; the white shirt pressed and pristine, the glossy black hair slicked black and ready for business. Every day follows the same pattern for his work in one of the oldest establishments in the city.

Then one evening while emptying the rubbish Renos finds a dismembered body the dumpster. And recognises it as his neighbour, Milan (Antonis Myriagos). The following night in the corridor of his modernist block he bumps into the neighbour opposite, a be-spectacled man with a leonine shock of red hair, known as “The Blond” (Yannis Stankoglou) who invites him in for dinner, a dinner which starts suspiciously with enormous pieces of osso buco (braised calf bone) followed by beef bourguignon. Renos is naturally alarmed. And from then on he becomes a sort of undercover detective enthralled by this macabre man and his surreptitious comings and goings. And so do we.

Deadly, dialogue light and mostly silent, apart from a bewitching soundtrack, The Waiter is an enthralling and seductive story that says as much about Renos as a character as it does about the enigmatic Blond, and his discretely unwilling female companion Tzina (Chiara Gensini). Clearly their perplexingly teasing relationship presses buttons for Renos in the sexual department, or lack of it. Renos also starts to question his own rather vacuous existence while wondering whether the couple are accomplices to a murder, and if he is the next victim. One particularly beguiling scene is set in an Athens dawn in a beautiful outdoor temple where Renos comes across Tzina suffering a bout of hiccups. He tries to explain to Tzina the medical reason for hiccups and she asks him if he’s always so calm. “Don’t you ever get scared” she says. Renos replies: “Fear disrupts the will”. Clearly he is a self-contained man with hidden depths, practising the art of being “in the now”. For the moment.

But ‘the now’ soon unravels for Renos as his placid routine gradually becomes destabilised by his sinister new friends. And the compelling denouement offers a surprise in a sultry wooded area at dusk, captured sumptuously on the widescreen by DoP Giorgos Karvelas whose immaculate camerawork has made this something of a visual treat. And we are left to contemplate the humdrum nature of everyday life. Often a desperate wish for change, can also ruin the status quo forever . MT

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 18 – 28 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

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