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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day IV Report


Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.


One, Two, One
(Iran, 2011)


Dir:  Mania Akbari

What tends to happen when you pick a lot of films you’ve never seen before at a festival is that sometimes you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into.  Iran has produced a lot of phenomenal cinema over the past decade or more, including last year’s very popular A Separation.  This along with the fact that it was playing in the international competition was enough to get me on board for One, Two, One.

What surprised me was that it is essentially a series of clearly demarcated and very tightly framed conversations, sometimes with only one character talking on the phone.  The main protagonist is Ava, a beautiful young woman whose face has recently been disfigured.  The long takes focus on her discussions at various centers of healing (beauty clinic, psychiatrist, fortune teller) and those of the men who love her.  Relationships and especially beauty are the key themes of the day.

Beauty has a slightly different context in Iran compared to the occidental world as women must cover themselves with veils and yet many characters seem to obsess over how Ava’s appearance may change due to her accident.

Rather than being slice of life, the intimate conversations are filmed with a very noticeable camera that forces its subjects to be still and may slowly and mechanically pan from left to right if the protagonists are sitting beside each other.  This style is very deliberate but it wasn’t always clear why it had to be so rigid and dry.  As a result One, Two, One often feels like a formal and sober experiment.

There were some near-monologue scenes which attempted gravity that I felt didn’t sit well with the other sequences.  Also, since the short film is so neatly packaged into standalone sequences, it is inevitable that you end up judging the elements before the whole work.  Some scenes were wonderful and the project is certainly topical but it was also a little disparate and the effect came off as distancing.

I will say that this isn’t really a style of cinema that I am drawn to and yet I still enjoyed it.  I imagine some others will take away from it than I did.


Where Do We Go Now?
(France, Lebanon, Egypt, Italy; 2011)


Dir:  Nadine Labaki

Festival director Thierry Jobin presented this film which is screening as part of a Lebanese section.  He mentioned that it had been released in Fribourg recently and had attracted a total of 20 viewers.  There were far more of us this time around and having now seen Where Do We Go Now? I have to say that it is a crying shame that this did not get a better run.

It’s a close call but this may be favorite of the festival to date.  Nadine Labaki’s film was beautifully made and though it is only her second film (after the popular Caramel; 2007), it seemed like the work of someone who has been doing this her whole life.  The cinematography was gorgeous and also cleverly effective as it employed slight changes to guide our emotional responses in separate parts of the film.

The film chronicles the happenings in a village split between Muslim and Christian congregations.  They are cut off from civilization and have already lost many young men to the war.  When the woman learn of civil strife erupting again they do everything they can to hide this information from the men of the village who are already starting to antagonize each other.

Like many films before it Labaki’s film approaches a difficult subject through comedy and in my opinion is more successful than most (for instance I’m not a fan of Benigni’s Life is Beautiful; 1997).  What’s more this is also a woman’s film and the female protagonists are colorful and very strong.  If I were to offer any criticism it would that the portrayal of the petty, violent men versus the almost saintly women is a little naïve, even if it isn’t far off the mark!

I highly recommend Where Do We Go Now?, I thought it was hilarious, moving and powerful.  In a word:  magnificent.


Yabaa
(Burkina Faso, Switzerland, France; 1989)


Dir:  Idrissa Ouedraogo

When I chose all my screenings I didn’t realize that I had picked two films from the same Burkinabé director until the opening credits rolled for YabaaTilai (1990), which I saw on Day I, was the other film from Idrissa Ouedraogo and now having seen two of his films I’m starting to see it in a different light.  I am also eager to discover more of his cinema as I am coming to appreciate his direct and idiosyncratic style.

The same actors and settings, namely tribal villages, populate both his films and seeing how his characters interacted the second time around immediately reminded of Yasujiro Ozu’s magnificent body of work, which constantly recycles the same actors and stories and yet always succeeds in being pertinent, new and frankly masterful.  Ouedraogo’s films are very matter-of-fact and cut to the heart of the issues on display almost immediately yet they do not spoon-feed you any easy conclusions the way some lesser films would.

Yabaa is an old woman who lives on the fringe of a community and is called a witch by its inhabitants.  A young boy befriends her and when his friend falls ill following a knife cut, she believes it to be tetanus but the villagers become convinced she has possessed the sick girl and chase her from the village.

As with Tilai, Ouedraogo examines outdated tribal beliefs and the intransigence of these communities.  An alcoholic hobbles around and chimes in with his information on grave matters, which seems to be correct, but he is brushed off as a drunk.  The question then is why did he turn to drink?

I found Yabaa to be a wonderful film and in retrospect I would have to say that Tilai is better than I had first thought.  I am happy to recommend Ouedraogo’s work and I know that I will be seeking out more.


Guerilla
(Bangladesh, 2011)


Dir:  Nasiruddin Yousuf

I was really looking forward to this film but I am sad to say that the screening of Guerilla was nothing short of a disaster.  During the film’s introduction we were told that the copy of the film wasn’t top grade and sure enough it seemed like a very poor Beta transfer.  The print was full of snow and the colors were way off.  What’s more it was presented as a small window on the screen and I can’t for the life of me understand why they didn’t enlarge the image, it was tiny.  Lucky for me that I could read the inset English subtitles but for those (most I’m sure) that needed to read the French subtitles, they were about a yard below the image.

I was already annoyed by this poor projection and was having trouble getting into the film which chronicles the guerilla resistance during Bangladesh’s war of independence of 1971 against their Pakistani oppressors.  The film was a big success in its native country but wasn’t what I was expecting.  It was much cornier that I had imagined and while it wasn’t outright bad some scenes were not good and the effects were terrible.  I was disappointed at first but I slowly got into the film.

However, 30 minutes before the end, the sound suddenly shut off and though someone immediately exited the theater to inform the management it was nearly 10 minutes before they paused the screening.  After a number of apologies and few false starts it was clear that they weren’t going to get it going again in a reasonable time frame so I had to leave.  I was not at all impressed by this screening though I will say that all the others have been of a very high standard.




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