All the Lonely People By Ronald Bergan

in 49th IndieLisboa- Lisbon Festival of Independent Film

by Ronald Bergan

It may seem incongruous that a vibrant, young (only 3 years old) film festival like the IndieLisboa should have the strong theme of loneliness, exile, alienation and suicide dominating many of the best films in the competition. The prime image in these first or second features is the isolated main character wandering aimlessly around, whether walking or driving, seeking some ineffable answer. A Korean-Chinese woman on her tricycle (Grain in Ear – Mang Zhong), a man, who has just pulled the plug on his dying mother, taking off north in his car (Drifting States – Les Etats Nordiques), an oil-rig worker with only his dog as a companion (Snow) hallucinating while driving through the white landscape.

The FIPRESCI winner, the Chinese/Korean film Grain In Ear, directed by Zhang Lu — a translated title that sounds strange on the English ear — shows a Korean woman trying to survive in China with a young son. She is isolated from the community and is sexually exploited by the men, which leads to multiple deaths. What is striking about the film is Zhang’s use of dead space to emphasise the emptiness and the gaps between the characters.

Style and subject matter are also beautifully wedded in two impressive Canadian films, both set in the desolate North, and both about lonely men: Denis Coté’s Drifting States and Hakan Sahin’s Snow. The protagonists find themselves in communities seemingly cut off from the rest of the world as they themselves are. These men cling to any warmth they can get from human contact in the harsh, cold climate.

Also seeking contact is the slightly crazy man who lives alone in a big city in Shark In The Head (Zralok V Hlav), a likeable Czech film by Maria Prochazkova. Marginalised, too, is a teenage girl in a poverty-stricken family of Travellers living in relatively prosperous contemporary Ireland, in Parry Ogden’s Pavee Lackeen.

Alone, as well, is the metaphorically named title character of The Death of Mr Lazarescu (Moartea Domnului Lazarescu), the already much-awarded (including the FIPRESCI prize) film by the Romanian Cristi Puiu. The dying widower is shunted from pillar to post, gaining little sympathy from doctors. The 150-minute film, which actually takes place over 5 hours, is shot and edited as though it is real time.

There is attempted self-destruction in the sombre German film Longing (Sehnsucht), directed by Valeska Grisebach, in which a happily-married man is unable to handle having had a secret liaison with another woman; a young man shaken by his divorce jumps off a building in the Chilean Play, (which gained the International Jury award), made with real style by Alicia Scherson, and, obviously, in Toru Kamei’s Double Suicide Elegy (Shinju Elegy).

What is clear from the films in competition and from the other wide-ranging sections of the festival, is that they reflect the personal tastes of the three passionate and knowledgeable directors of the festival — Miguel Valverde, Nuno Sena and Rui Pereira — ‘les triplets de Lisboa’. Perhaps the youngest international film festival in the world, IndieLisboa has already developed a distinctive personality which attracts large and enthusiastic young audiences to over 200 screenings on six screens in three cinemas all within walking distance. IndieLisboa should certainly figure as an important date on the annual festival calendar.