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June 22, 2021

TIFF Culture (IV)

One of the opportunities – otherwise extremely rare in the general context – offered by TIFF is the viewing of films that recently won awards at important international festivals. A special section (“Supernova”) is dedicated to them, allowing for a review of the latest developments in art cinema (but not only that). Awarded at Cannes, but also at several other festivals, “The Golden Dream” (directed by Diego Quemada-Diez) is more than an intensely tragic look on emigration. The “Mexican” road from Guatemala to the US is not only the opportunity for a fresco of an infernal geography, a “dark forest” dominated by violence, exploitation and poverty, but also a journey of initiation through the meanders of personalities in the process of being formed. The humiliations, the disagreements, the envy, even jealousy, but also the attachment, the gratitude, the comradeship – all against the backdrop of a hounded and fragile adolescence. A shapeless world undermined by a regress of civilization (like a railway overwhelmed by weeds), structured on a concentric exploitation (police officers, employees, robbers) of extreme vulnerability, pray to a cruel dehumanization – dramatic purgatory towards an evanescent “paradise,” a simple lamp lighting for a moment the fall of snowflakes.

Another violent world, located in another corner of the world but seen also through the eyes of adolescence still unaccustomed to the conformity of abuse. The Caucasian Georgia from “In Bloom” (directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross) is one of post-soviet wars, but especially one of patriarchal mentality. A simple (chaotic) bread line sums up an entire society, structured on the basis of the symbolic prestige of the gun owner, but also undermined by compensatory violence, meant to cover up cowardice. The theft of girls (the equivalent of forced marriages), the revenge, the domestic violence, but also the arrogance of gangs of teenagers, are taking place against the backdrop of a war that at the same time seems to be the cause and effect of all of that. “Normalization,” Robert Kirchhoff’s documentary, is also talking about the political dialectics of violence, in an entirely different scale. The title refers to the age that followed the brutal interruption (through military invasion) of the “Prague spring” in 1968, trying to read in a political key a judiciary case that had made a sensation in the second half of the 1970s. The case concerning the killing of a female student, case left unsolved for several years, subsequently leads to the sentencing of 7 youths from the so-called communist bourgeoisie. The documentary however reveals multiple contradictions of the case, starting off with the pressure placed on suspects and witnesses and ending with the hiding of some evidence. The surprise comes with the re-sentencing of the defendants (released in 1990) more than three decades after the murder, in the new post-communist context, raising the suspicion of a verdict meant to cover up old abuses. The most suggestive image is from a school festivity (during a visit paid by the Slovak president, occasion on which he nervously refuses making any comments about the new verdict): a folk dance in which every dancer “steals” the cap of the person close to him – the image of extensive complicities that are impossible to dismantle. The implicit hypothesis of the documentary is that the regime found some scapegoats meant to offer satisfaction to the “proletarians” against the kids of the communist rich, but also to illustrate the backsliding of a communism tempted by typically Western depravity (the 7 were accused of gang rape in spite of a forensics report dismissing such an event).

An unusual look on violence is also offered by Chinese director Diao Yinan’s “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” the winner of the latest “Golden Bear” at the festival in Berlin. A metaphysical police film, an atmosphere worthy of an Asiatic Raymond Chandler. A “black widow,” a depressive police officer, the unbearable banality of murder, skating as an existential sliding, suspension in a Ferris wheel which reminds us of Orson Welles in “The Third Man,” and even a lonely and grotesque dance that seems to pastiche Marlon Brando in “Last Tango in Paris.” Nights with snowfall, interiors with a seemingly frozen atmosphere, decrepit buildings, bleak days. Such humanity seems to be living in such an out-of-phase universe in which the existential accents are no longer the usual ones.

Another already multi-prize-winner film presented in Cluj was Iceland’s “Of Horses and Men,” directed by Benedikt Erlingsson. A comedy with tragic undercurrents, a parable of tense complicities between two species of animals, but at the same time a bitter-sweet fresco of human passions, impregnated with Nordic humor. A humor which, in a more spicy variant can also produce a surprising Scandinavian Tarantino – Hans Petter Moland and his “In Order of Disappearance,” a savory black comedy which is also a parody counterpart to the new Nordic noir fiction culture.

An interesting perspective on the old psychoanalytical theme of the “Oedipus complex” is offered by the iconoclast Kim Ki-duk in “Moebius.” A pseudo-horror in which the cutting-out of the penis becomes a ritual of enacting identity crises. How do our psychological attitudes alter when we suddenly become the victims of brutal emasculation? It is a radical questioning of a culture based on a specific erotic philosophy. We owe another in-depth introspection to Peter Solan – a Slovak director to whom special homage was paid at this edition – and his “Before Tonight is Over” (winner of an award in Locarno in 1966), a remarkable anthropological investigation into the value of money. As a parable set against the backdrop of a bar during the holidays, the film is a gallery of typology portraits, each character integrating in a different manner the need of money in his own existential attitude. But in the end the perspective seems more subtle than that – evanescent existences, marred by disproportionate efforts and inconsistent results.

Maybe the most “artistic” of the films presented at this edition was “Sacro GRA,” the first documentary that won the “Golden Lion” in Venice. Gianfranco Rosi combines the portraits of (apparently) marginal characters with periphery landscapes, but apart from the script options or the structure of the montage, the picture is remarkable. Fixed images in which movement is present discretely, because the frame inspired suggests a certain “stable” ontology. Like a palm tree garden, immobile apart from the extremely discrete noise made by larvae. This director repositions his “eye” and “listens” to the discrete music of visual frames. While the film crew filming itself in Fellini’s “Roma” was paroxysmally using the rhythm of road movement and was an opportunity for a rather hilarious-grotesque perspective, Rosi prefers the opposite of a road-movie and uses more delicate tones without being an intimist. It is at the same time an old-fashioned landscape artist that knew how to integrate the more iconoclastic perspective of the lopsided angle, which also represents a moral choice because his characters suggest samples of alternative humanity in an exercise of poetic reconstruction.


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