A Bird's Eye View

in 5th PKO Off Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Eithne O'Neill

Twelve films of a high overall standard vied for the prize, seven being first features. Of the three entries by women directors, Electrick Children, Rebecca Thomas’ debut, was the award-winner. A wide range of styles and tones in the selection was to be observed and appreciated. From the classical sibling rivalry narrative of the Polish contestant, Courage by Greg Zglinsky, the viewer was led, via the thriller treatment of the contemporary Italian male’s dilemma, Emiliano Corapi’s Sulla Strada di casa (On the way home), to the latter-day fantasy of Bellflower. This film is about a bunch of hot-blooded boys and girls with wild imaginations and zany self-destructive behavior, a picture of suburban violence mixed with a road-movie element. However, despite the differences of cultural sources and artistic approach, a striking feature of the competition was the recurrence of major basic themes.

For his first movie, The Woman in the Septic Tank, the Philippine director Marlon Rivera also acts his own part as a filmmaker tackling the problem of extreme poverty with a successful, iconoclastic, near screwball comedy touch. Joshua Marston’s The Forgiveness of blood, a tale of traditional vengeance, has as its backdrop and underlying motif, the fight for survival in rural Albania. Yet, in this independent festival context, socioeconomic dimensions were being played down, all the more interestingly as the backgrounds depicted are, by and large, middle-class. The topical issues of sex and gender have gained ground.

A framework is provided by the existential quest for identity, embracing characters of all ages, which loomed large, from Avalon (Axel Petersen) on. This Swedish filmdeals with a 60 year-old ex-con’s attempt to conquer a place in society; Electrick Children depicts Rachel,the teenage daughter of a Mormon polygamist, who believes she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, i.e., by a song listened to on an old tape-recorder. Rachel’s transgression or «sin» is outstripped by the masterly staging of her transgression of traditional gender roles. Conflict is triggered between entrenched norms and less conventional life-choices. Whether the confrontation turns out to be explicit, as in Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy, or more surreptitious, as in Marston’s presentation of the forthright Albanian daughter, dramatic tension increases, and ultimately, reflection on these situations is encouraged in the viewer’s mind as is debate with the audiences.

Dovetailing with the staging of introspection and the painful path towards self-acceptance, the representation and the self-representation of the body is best illustrated through the trio formed by the Swedish director, Lisa Aschan’s controlled debut She Monkeys, Mark Jackson’s meticulous Without from the US and the modest and well nigh flawless Danish Teddy Bear by Mads Matthiesen. This director has based his first full-length film on his short about the same character, a professional body- builder and bachelor. (Dennis) Following in Sciamma’s wake, Aschan uses games and sport, in her case, equestrian gymnastics, as a vehicle for the portrayal of the female body and the encounters with both budding sexuality and same-sex eroticism. A 9-year old girl apes her elders, in dress and gesture, bringing up the whole contemporary debate about the shrinking years of childhood in our civilization.  At the same time, the clash between the two ambitious young girls is also a power-struggle. Does it blur the sharpness of the sex and gender problematic?

For her part, Joslyn is a bright and lovely twenty-one year old girl who minds a paralyzed Grand-dad in a sequestered house on an island and experiences in this solitude a phase of doubt and facing up to mourning. The exclusive concentration on the single character, doing her chores, on the exercise bicycle and examining her erotic fantasies is an achievement. Finally, Dennis’ amazing tattooed torso is only rivaled by the delicate handling of the discrepancy between the bulk of his muscular strength, his deference to Mamma and his shyness with regard to the female sex. In a word, this man is a gentle creature, a genuine teddy-bear. In terms of form and humanity, the film is a little triumph.