Tag Archives: LFF 2012

LFF 2012 #3: El taaib (The Repentant/Le repenti, Algeria-France 2012)

Rachid meets his father in his home village after deciding to ‘repent’

By the time of my third film of the day, I was very tired and this was a demanding film in the circumstances. This interesting review from Cine-Vue suggests that the film was well-chosen as part of the ‘Debate’ strand of the festival (a slide on-screen announces this after you’ve sat through the rather tedious festival filmed introduction sequence of a young woman watching films and stuffing herself with popcorn). I’m not sure that simply giving us ‘Debate’ – almost as a command – works for me, but having an Algerian filmmaker or critic present to introduce the film would have been good. LFF is actually quite good at this kind of thing.

Merzak Allouache is a veteran Algerian director (born in 1944) and I remember with pleasure his 1996 film Salut Cousin! about a North African visitor’s sometimes comic adventures in Paris while staying with his cousin. This new film is very different. A statement during the credits tells us that a ‘Repentant’ is the official term used by the Algerian authorities for ex-soldiers from the Islamist guerrilla groups who fought in the Algerian Civil War and who were prepared to come down from the mountains and forests, hand in their weapons and report to the police before resuming ‘normal’ life. One such is Rachid, whose appearance at the beginning of the film in his parent’s village creates a local stir with some villagers attacking him as the only available possible murderer of their family members. I didn’t pick up the precise time period for the action in the film but historically the story would fit in the period around 1999-2000 following the passing of legislation about ‘civil concord’.

Rachid reports to the police in the neighbouring town. He is offered a job in a café-bar arranged via the police and expected to start naming names. But when he discovers the identity of the local pharmacist, he feels compelled to act without telling the police. I won’t spoil the narrative. Suffice to say, we don’t know at first why the pharmacist is so important or where the story is going to go. Narrative information is given to us sparingly and there is a palpable sense of unease. The film is quite short (87 mins) and it ends rather abruptly. I think I agree with the Cine-Vue reviewer that some of the characters such as the (very reluctant) café owner and the local police chief who set up Rachid in his new identity need more time on screen.

The Algerian Civil War was brutal in many ways and it clearly isn’t ‘over’ yet. I think it’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t succumb to over-optimistic outcomes. When I reflected on the narrative afterwards I thought this was a restrained and powerful little story. Having said that, I’m not sure what there is to debate. It’s a neglected war in terms of histories and contemporary media coverage, especially in the UK and it shouldn’t be – especially given recent events in the rest of the Maghreb and elsewhere in the Arab world. The film doesn’t take sides or explain why the characters behave as they do, it just shows us some of the terrible consequences of civil war. Allouache himself says that he wanted to “question the amnesia” about the war in Algeria itself. He lives in France and made the film on location in just 20 days with little co-operation (but no banning restriction) from the Algerian cultural authorities. (See his statements in this Euromed Audio-Visual report – including some interesting comments about film culture in Algeria.)

The film was another to be screened in Cannes in Directors Fortnight and it was given a prize by Europa Cinema distributors. I hope it does get a wide release but I think, unfortunately, that it will be a hard sell in the international market. All the more reason then to be grateful to the LFF for bringing it over.

LFF 2012: #2: 3 (Uruguay/Argentina/Germany/Chile 2012)

Graciela, Ana and Rodolfo en famille in Rodolfo’s car

Uruguay is the richest country in South America, but it also has the smallest population. No surprise then that this film is a co-production. For a country with such a small population (under 4 million), Uruguay produces some major talents in football and cinema and this film is a worthy addition to the national output.

I thought at first that this was going to be a drama. I was surprised by the ending but on reflection it all makes sense. Perhaps a ‘comedy family melodrama’ is the best description? Director and co–writer, Pablo Stoll, has previously made dry comedies such as the international hit Whisky (2004) with collaborator Juan Pablo Rebella. 3 is his second solo film and it was screened in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 2012.

Rodolfo and Graciela are divorced. Rodolfo is in a second marriage, but that too is failing and his contact with his teenage daughter Ana remains important and brings him back to Graciela’s apartment, now sadly neglected. Rodolfo is a roly-poly dentist with an obsession for order, a love for his collection of houseplants and a passion for football which he still plays quite well, despite his weight. As one marriage deteriorates he finds himself increasingly trying to patch up his old one — literally in terms of falling plaster and damp on the walls and, in human terms, with his daughter.

Graciela is introduced as a harassed mother and single woman who nightly visits the hospital where her spinster aunt is gravely ill. At the hospital she meets a younger man who is similarly visiting as a ‘carer’. The two hospital patients are never seen, joining Rodolfo’s second wife, whose recent presence is signalled by ashtrays full of cigarette butts (everyone smokes with a passion), as unseen but narratively important characters.

Ana is a typical adolescent, first introduced as the bright girl being cautioned by a tutor because her lateness and frequent truancy are likely to see her repeating the year. She is also sporty, playing on the school handball team and taking after her father in a way. Ana discovers boys, alcohol and other means of spending her time. She is well-played by Anaclara Ferreyra Palfy, who at 20 manages to look 15 most of the time – although the traditional school uniform doesn’t help. She also bears some resemblance to Sara Bassio as her mother, so the casting works well.

3 has excellent music, some good laughs, terrific performances and overall offers decent entertainment. It should do well on the international market, though at 115 mins it is perhaps a tad too long. If I was being hyper-critical, I’d suggest that the narrative favours Rodolfo just a little too much. I liked him as a character but I’d have liked to know more about Graciela. There is a useful ‘official website‘ (in Spanish and English).

LFF 2012 #1: Memories Look at Me (China 2012)

Song Fang and her mother in Memories Look at Me

Memories Look at Me was a good place to start my visit to the 2012 London Film Festival. Writer-director Song Fang is known to arthouse audiences in the West as the young Chinese film student who appears in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Paris-set Flight of the Red Balloon (France/Taiwan 2007). In this, her first feature, she has Jia Zhangke as executive producer. With two of the leading masters of Chinese cinema as mentors, it isn’t surprising that she has absorbed something from both filmmakers and that this feature seems so confident and composed. Inhabiting that territory between fiction and documentary that features in much of Jia’s work, Memories Look at Me is a meditation on growing up and growing old – and also a critique in many ways of the changing China and, in particular, the one child policy.

Song plays a character like herself, on a visit home to her parents’ small flat in Nanjing. Her real family play themselves (though, presumably, as fictional characters). Almost all the ‘action’ takes place in the flat and this, for me, was the only disappointment in that I would have liked to see more of Nanjing. It was frustrating to be peering through the rain-spattered windows of a car and to be told that a decaying building was the cinema where Song’s parents often went, only for her doctor father to receive an emergency call part way through the film. But then, the film deals with the interior lives of the family members and what they remember as they talk in the confined space of the house.

The film is almost an exercise in restraint and it works very well in allowing us to begin to understand the characters and their circumstances. There are relatively few moments of real drama such as when a neighbour brings the family a chicken which seems then to be kept temporarily in the shower room. Song proves inept at securing the chicken’s legs and we see no more of the bird. I presume that somebody must kill it so that they can eat it?

There are several references to Song as an unmarried woman who has passed 30 and I confess that it might have been interesting to see how she got on with the blind date that her brother and sister-in-law were keen to arrange for her. But this is one of the moments of restraint – nothing more is heard of the idea. The ‘one child’ policy crops up several times, e.g. when Fang asks her mother why she seemed so old when Fang was a child and her mother explains that she was five years older than the other mothers in Nanjing because she had already had Fang’s brother – and all the other mothers only had the one child. Fang’s uncle had no children and so Fang’s brother was important to him and later Fang visits her parents’ friends who are worried about the health of their only child.

I think it is remarkable that a woman in her early 30s should make such a mature film about getting older and realising that you have simply not taken in the import of the things that have happened to your parents’ generation. I wish that I had been that aware and mature at her tender age. Not a film I would recommend for a rollicking Friday night out, but definitely one to savour at a more sober time of the week. I hope this gets a wide distribution.

London Film Festival 2012

The BFI London Film Festival has a new director, Clare Stewart. She replaces Sandra Hebron who did a great deal to enhance the status of the festival with its three different audiences of cinephiles, film industry professionals and the general London filmgoing public. Ms Stewart has decided to consolidate the move towards more prominence for the three competitions: ‘First Feature’, ‘Documentary’ and ‘Best Film’. More controversially, at least for me, is the shift to ‘themed’ strands in the main the programme, so now festivalgoers can choose from strands such as Love, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Debate etc. I can only assume that this wheeze was dreamed up by a marketing section – no doubt after extensive consultation. If your aim is to find all the new films from France or East Asia, Britain or Latin America, the 108 page guide isn’t going to help you much.

The festival opened on October 10th and I booked early to get the best seats, choosing films over three days at Southbank and the Renoir and aiming for the quieter periods. Despite being told that screenings were sold out, there were plenty of seats vacant at the front of the auditoria on the first couple of days of the festival. I’m trying hard to report from the screenings, but finding the Wifi connections is not as straightforward as it should be – oh to be in Cornerhouse or the National Media Museum! Reports to follow soon!