Festival of new cinema – Full of surprises
By Sergio Martinez – mtltimes.ca
The 43rd edition of the Festival de Nouveau Cinema (FNC) which will wrap up this weekend has been full of surprises, the good and the not so good too. Let’s start by the good stuff. For most people movies are expected to entertain us, but there is another important function the moving image can and should perform: to inform us and even to raise consciousness about certain issues. Throughout the history of cinema many films have indeed accomplished these goals too both in the fiction and the non-fiction (the documentary) format. The FNC has given us the opportunity to experience one pair of excellent documentaries describing two quite different situations, but both with the question of human justice, or rather in these cases, injustice, as their focal points.
Have you ever heard about the Uyghurs before? I guess you haven’t, neither did I before seeing the film “Ouïghours, prisonniers de l’absurde” (“Uyghurs, Prisoners of the Absurd”) a Canadian documentary directed by Patricio Henriquez and shown in the Special Presentation category. The Uyghurs are an ethnically Turkmen people who live in the western part of China, they are mostly Muslim and here is where their problem starts: the Chinese authorities are not very tolerant of religious practices. That situation made some Uyghurs leave China for neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to practice their religion. That is the case of the few young Uyghurs that the documentary follows. Then the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers occurred and the United States launched a military intervention in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime. Through a campaign with pamphlets launched from their planes, the Americans offered US$ 5,000 for each “terrorist” the population would hand to them. Needless to say, the reward was a huge temptation for Pakistani soldiers and some Afghan tribal chiefs to literally sell the young Uyghurs to the American military. The captives, now termed “illegal combatants” a category that the Americans invented and is not protected by the Geneva Convention, ended up in Guantanamo where they spent between seven to eleven years in prison, even after American military commissions found the captives innocent. In a weird turn of events, the Americans even collaborated with the Chinese allowing their agents to interrogate the imprisoned Uyghurs in Guantanamo. It is a real Kafkaesque case which Henriquez and his team researched very well and documented with a comprehensive archival material. It is expected that this documentary will be released next year.
Another remarkable documentary was “Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service” (Vesela Kazakova, Mina Mileva; Bulgaria), where the continuity of an absurd structure is exposed: Antoni Trayanov was a distinguished animator during the golden age of Bulgarian animation in the 1960s. The creator of a popular set of characters known as the “Three Fools” he could have been an artistic star in his country. To a certain extent he was, since he got the recognition of his followers, but he never was “a man of the Party” (others who were members of the Communist Party then took most of the credit for his work). He eventually lost his job and went to work as a construction worker. The curious thing is that after the fall of the regime led by the Communist Party, he was once again marginalized and lost his job as an instructor at the Animation Department in the local university. The same bureaucrats who managed things before, remain in control now, of course no longer as Communists but carrying new political labels.
Going to some of the feature films now, “Hermosa juventud” (“Beautiful Youth”) directed by Jaime Rosales (Spain) is a powerful portrait of youth despair, although some effects introduced to reflect current forms of communication were disruptive and didn’t help in conveying its message. Natalia (Ingrid Garcia Jonsson) is 23 years old, living with her divorced mother, her teenage brother and little sister, she is in love with Carlos who is 22 and has no permanent job. On one occasion they managed to get 600 euros for acting in a porn video. Other than that, there are no prospects for them in a Spain in recession and with high youth unemployment. The film is a realistic reflection of what the Spanish youth are facing, but the introduction of sequences shot with a telephone and other long scenes of videogames, far from providing dynamism to the narrative, create the opposite effect, accentuated some slowness already present.
And then the movies that are not good: Argentina’s “El ardor” (“The Heat”) directed by Pablo Fendrik could be characterized as a cross between Tarzan and the old westerns: Kai (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a man living by himself in the wilderness of the Parana region. He would join a farmer who is threatened by mercenaries forcing the residents to leave, so some industrial developers, never identified, may take over the land. When the mercenaries kidnap beautiful Vania (Alicia Braga) the farmer’s daughter, Kai will take a new role as a hero. The plot is too simplistic although on the other hand it could be regarded as a tribute to the old westerns, especially its last scene.
“Violet” a Belgian film directed by Bas Devos suffers from slow transitions and long, static scenes not justified by the rhythm of the story, which in fact would require a more dynamic narrative. Jonas and Jesse, two teenagers, are attacked in a shopping centre and as a result Jonas is killed. Jesse just stood there, in fear, without doing anything. The whole movie rests on his guilt and how it affects Jesse and the relation he had with those who were his friends.
The FNC is known also as a place for experimental or alternative type of movies. “Adieu au langage” (“Goodbye to Language”) directed by that old French master Jean-Luc Godard, presents a non-linear narration of an encounter between a married woman and a single man, their intimacy and the end of their relation. A dog (the director’s pet) seems to be the only witness to the whole story.
The FNC ends this Sunday, October 19. For information visit nouveaucinema.ca