Be With Her By Frédéric Ponsard

in 17th Stockholm Film Festival

by Frédéric Ponsard

The 16th edition of the International Festival of Stockholm presented, in competition, a broad panorama of world cinema. There were films from dominant industries like the United States, France and Great Britain, as well as films from recognized industries like Iran, Spain and Argentina, and from more overlooked countries like Greece and Singapore. There were also some anecdotal “postcards” from Brazil, Belgium, Denmark and, of course, Sweden.

Bright Northern Lights

The light actually came first from the north with an exclusive selection of Scandinavian, and by extension Baltic movies, with many good surprises. Some of them would have even have been at home amongst the official selection. Of the eight films in this “Northern Lights” section, three in particular grabbed our attention: Homesick (Koti-ikävä) by Petri Kotwica from Finland, the story of a teenager sent to a mental hospital after a traumatic event which we discover step by step; Land of Glass (Stiklo Salis) by Janina Lapinskaite from Lithuania, which distilled a constant feeling of mystery and anxiety through the relationship between a mother and her daughter isolated in a house in the countryside; and finally, Accused (Anklaget) by the Danish director Jacob Thuesen, a tricky story of a father accused of incest by his 14-year-old daughter. We chose to give this film the FIPRESCI award for this “northern” selection.

Stories of Violence

Returning to the official selection, a general impression emerges initially: the majority of the films are the expression of widespread contemporary violence. David Cronenberg was on of the principal guests of the festival and his History of Violence introduced many others. But let us clarify a point immediately. Separately there was an incursion into fanatical Iran, it is not the violence of the world, its wars or its fights (national, social, economic…) but violence on an individual level, interiorized but ready to burst out at any time, which is shown to us. Three films, all first features, are particularly distinguished. The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, the first movie by young British director Thomas Clay, is a film with several good cinematic ideas like the long tracking shots which follow the characters, but these good intentions are nevertheless wasted by an ending which refers unnecessarily and awkwardly to A Clockwork Orange. It spoils the good impression created by this film that’s fairly accurate on the trouble and the drift of a desperate youth in a small English port. Hardcore – a title which does not leave any ambiguity – is also a film to be noted for its blackness. This first film by Greek director Dennis Iliadis follows the common course of two very young prostitutes, an unrelenting dive into the world of sex and money. Lower City (Cidade Baixa) also takes us into the world of the male prostitutes, in the hollows of El Salvador. The film of Brazilian Sergio Machado, in spite of some efficient scenes, does not manage to avoid stereotypes, Manichaeism (good/bad, black/white, whore or not) and a sometimes inappropriate romanticism.

“A Corps Nus”

Naked bodies is another recurrence in the selection. The three French films are particularly significant in this direction. Riviera by Anne Villacèque is devoted to the young prima donna Vahina Giocante who does not manage to prove, despite all the efforts of the director and a very hot strip, that she is a good actress. Far too many sophistications and floating moments make it impossible to keep the spectator in suspense, even if Miou-Miou and Elie Semoun succeed in creating fragile and attaching characters, in the roles of the lonely mother and the awkward lover. The Invisibles (Les Invisibles), is the story of a sound engineer who records everything. A obsession which drives him to discover a hidden world ruled by sex and desire. The first film of Thierry Jousse uses sound like the common thread of a history carried out rather well around conversations and secret meetings. Finally the last French movie, Cold Showers (Douches froides) is a very sensual and physical story around three teenagers in modern-day France. It’s about the initiation of Mickael who is found a judo partner, who also becomes the partner of his girlfriend. The poor kid face-to-face with the rich one, and a girl in between. The inevitable clash is not far away. Antony Cordier, for his first full-length film creates ndash; behind the sentimental education of Mickael – a relevant statement on class tensions in the French suburbs.

Portraits of Women

Finally, two films seemed largely superior to me than the others. Two films which received, for one the FIPRESCI award (Be with me) and the other, the award of the Best movie (Nordeste). Two portraits of splendid women who shone upon the festival. Be With Me is a careful study of isolation and the longing for love in Singapore, intercutting three different fictional “vignettes” with the true story of Theresa Chan, a deaf-and-blind woman. The film presents us with scenes such as an old man cooking for his wife and feeding her as she lies ailing in the hospital; two teenage girls building a relationship via text messages; and the security guard who is a compulsive eater and falls hopelessly in love with an entirely out-of-reach business woman who works in his building. Chan’s own story takes center stage and her real-life history (going deaf at 12, then blind at 14) is told through subtle subtitles and docu-like scenes of daily chores. Singapore auteur Eric Khoo is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Wong Kar Wai, even if he can’t be classified and flawed by any standards. He shoots minimalist films that rely more on stunningly beautiful cinematography and careful structure than on dialogue to tell his stories. Every frame, every single one, is flawlessly composed and beautifully lit. Be With Me plays almost entirely without dialogue, relying on rhythm, imagery, body language, and embedded text to make its points.

We will finish this review with a word on Nordeste, the first film of Argentinian Juan Solanas, the son of Fernando whom he seems to take after. He displays much control in his cinema and especially in his incredible direction of actors, a valid compliment as much for senior actor like Carole Bouquet as for a young remarkable Argentinian actress, Aymará Rovera. But the final praise must be given to the contrast of the female characters: the waverings of Helene, the Frenchwoman who discovers the ordinary violence of miserable lives, answers the daily struggle of Juana, the brave mother who fights to raise her son and keep her house. During the two hours of the film, and this in spite of some slow moments, we are definitely with them until the end.