While I’ve already posted links to my indieWIRE coverage of a number of IDFA films (DONOR UNKNOWN, BURMA SOLDIER, FAMILY INSTINCT, AGNUS DEI, KANO, THE OTHER CHELSEA, MY BAREFOOT FRIEND, iTHEMBA, DIVINE PIG, and THERE ONCE WAS AN ISLAND) as well as some thoughts on the FORUM, I thought I’d briefly cover a few other titles which also screened in Amsterdam.
If my iW colleague hadn’t already covered the film, I would have included Serbian director Mila Turajlic’s expertly constructed film essay in my own round-up. CINEMA KOMUNISTO (pictured above) examines the national myth of Yugoslavia through its national cinema, while also interweaving the story of the former country’s infamous yet charismatic leader, Marshall Josip Broz Tito, who made film a national priority with the construction of a world-class studio city complex, and who was himself a cinephile who employed a personal projectionist to screen at least a film an evening for his entertainment. Full of intriguing movie clips and fascinating history, the project is a clever approach to exploring the idea of national cinema and begs for a number of Yugoslavian films to be rediscovered by an international audience.
THE GOOD LIFE
Another film that would have made my report if an iW profile hadn’t already been written out of CPH:DOX is Eva Mulvad’s self-confessed riff on GREY GARDENS. Anna Mette, a nearing 60-year-old woman, harangues her mother, Mette, about the luxurious life they used to lead, before a series of circumstances cost the family its fortune. Now living together in a small apartment in Portugal, Anna Mette refuses to work, blaming her mother for not preparing her for such an existence, and chooses instead to continue selling off artwork and jewelry to pay the bills. Mette, for her part, often quietly takes her daughter’s verbal abuse, frustratingly so, but also shares laughs at old memories of better times. While there’s probably one argument too many, giving the film somewhat of a repetitive feel, there’s no questioning that Mulvad found the perfect characters and established a remarkable rapport with them, resulting in a privileged glimpse into the lives of the once privileged.
Michael Madsen’s provocative meditation on time and radioactive halflife was one of my favorite films at another festival I attended earlier this year, but because it screened as a sneak preview, I couldn’t write about it then. So while I didn’t watch INTO ETERNITY at IDFA, its inclusion in the lineup gives me the opportunity to finally offer up a few thoughts. The film explores the monumental construction of Finland’s Onkalo, a humongous underground depository for nuclear waste that won’t be completed until the 22nd Century. Dealing with spans of time in the hundreds, and even hundreds of thousands, of years, the film offers plenty of food for thought about the limits of our ability to communicate with and plan for a future far beyond our typical musings. If there’s one aspect to Madsen’s approach that I take issue with is his too frequent appearances on camera, interludes in which he tells a cautionary tale. A little of this goes a long way, and what might be viewed as a welcome bit of showmanship in the earliest section becomes a bit wearisome by the end. Despite this quibble, the film is smart and thought-provoking, and worth seeking out.
Jennifer Fox, known most recently for FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, filmed her latest project on and off over the course of twenty years. The film profiles two men, Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, and his reluctant son Yeshi, who was recognized long ago as the reincarnation of his father’s uncle and teacher. Growing up in his native Italy, where his father relocated after escaping Tibet, Yeshi is at first resistant to his distant father’s teachings and to his own apparent calling, but over time gradually accepts his path. I’m generally in awe of longitudinal projects like this one, where a filmmaker maintains a relationship with his/her subject over multiple years, allowing their film to (hopefully) show real change happening to their characters over time. Fox, a student of the Rinpoche, stated in the film’s Q&A that she deliberately tried to make the film accessible to non-Buddhists – while she generally succeeds, there are long passages that indulge in Rinpoche’s at times riddle-like teachings, making for a sometimes frustrating viewing experience, and making the two-hour film feel its length.
Making its world premiere at IDFA, Barney Broomfield, Juan Reina, and Marc Hoeferlin’s portrait of the titular soccer team, composed of albino Tanzanians, is a perhaps too short, but spirited, look at the positive effects of combatting prejudice and superstition. In Tanzania, albinos are believed to possess magical qualities, resulting in the disturbing development of a black market that trades in albino body parts. The members of the soccer team put a very public face to the issue, playing in competitions as a way to bring visibility and awareness that the only thing that distinguishes them from their fellow countrymen is a lack of pigment, not some mystic essence worth killing them over. The film is amiable, profiling a number of players, but its short running time – barely over an hour – limits the engagement an audience can have with their story. Still, given its avowed purpose, the film is successful in bringing attention to the issue.
Another IDFA world premiere, U Roberto Romano’s film looks at three young Latino/a-American teens who are basically forced to live a nomad’s life with their parents, picking crops under inhumane and illegal child labor conditions in order to help provide for their families. Moving frequently to seek out the next job, they sacrifice their childhoods, stability, and education, yet still only manage to subsist, caught in a vicious circle of poverty, hard work, and lack of opportunities. While the three youths’ backgrounds and situations are compelling, their actual story arcs seem somewhat incomplete. Regardless, they’ll generate sympathy, and hopefully the film will help serve as a call to action to address the economic inequalities that lead to their situation.