Because No One Cares About Them

in 29th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Silvia Süess

On a wall in the women’s toilet of the Cinema Capciné in Fribourg, where many movies in the 29th Fribourg International Film Festival are screened, is a sticker upon which it is written: “Help in Emergencies. SOS for becoming mothers”. Under this text is a phone number to call to receive help. No such help is offered to Huyen, the Vietnamese teenage girl in Diep Hoang’s Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere (Dap cánh giua không trung, 2014), who is in just such a situation. She is pregnant and doesn’t want to keep the baby, but she has neither the money to finance an abortion nor someone to help her out of this situation. “Sell your body”, is the advice given to her by a prostitute, and so Huyen’s transsexual friend helps her to make contact with a pimp. She winds up in the arms of a pregnancy fetishist, who gives her a lot of money for being with her. But her belly grows, and an abortion becomes more and more dangerous as time passes.

Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere is one of various films that screened in Fribourg’s international competition that chronicles the struggle for survival of young adults. They are almost still children, yet need to manage their lives alone, with no support from a social safety net such as a family, a local community, or a welfare state—because no one cares about them. In very different ways these films show the strategies of their protagonists to make some money and examine how far they are willing to go in their desperation to support their most basic needs.

The director of Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere tells her history with a lot of affection for her really great characters, whom her camera follows through the network of narrow streets in her suburban ghetto—a seemingly documentary setting. It’s almost as if you can smell the city. The way Diep Hoang films the cockfighting that Huyen’s boyfriend does to earn money for the abortion also feels like a documentary. But this documentary style has been broken up with surreal and very poetic scenes, always when the pregnancy fetishist appears. Then the foggy forest or the dark river seem like very mysterious places, extensions of this rich, strange man who has no story to share. This combination gives Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere a very special magic.

While in Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere young boys engage in cockfights to earn a little money, in Children’s Show (2014), they fight with their own fists. The Philippine director Roderick Cabrido is relentless in the way that he shows the brutality of these fights, in slow-motion, in close-ups, with a loud beat and very esthetic light, he shows how fists pound on heads and how the blood spurts. Jun and Al are brothers, living in a suburban ghetto with their grandmother. They perform in these illegal fights in the hope of winning and earning some money. But when Al gets badly hurt in a struggle with his drunken father, the whole situation worsens. And the hope for a better and a more dignified life fades.

González, the protagonist of the film of the same name (2013) from the Chilean Director Christian Díaz Pardo, lights upon an even less conventional escape from poverty. The film’s beginning is distinguished by the maelstrom of the images. The camera follows González very closely while he walks through Mexico City, and the city presses in around him: the low-income apartment block where he lives, the neighbours playing football, the subway. Under these images we hear his voicemail messages, which are all from people demanding money owed. How Díaz Pardo combines these two layers gives the movie a great drive.

To be able to pay his debts, González starts working as a call centre operator for a neo-evangelical church. But the only goal of these consultations is to convince the callers to donate funds to the church. González finds himself in a new world full of lies and greed. And the big guru of this world is wonderful played by Carlos Bardem, who uses his sermon to show the church members exactly how they have to get out their money out of the pocket and into the collection basket. González is a very socially critical but never a moralistic film.

Also very socially critical without being moralistic is Sand Dollars (Dólares de arena, 2014), directed by Laura Amelia Guzmán, from the Dominican Republic, and Israel Cárdenas, from Mexico. To earn money, the young and beautiful Noelí sells her body to western tourists on the beaches of Samana, Dominican Republic. For three years she has been in a relationship with an older, affluent French lady who is hopelessly in love with her and who wants her to come with her to Paris. In a very subtle way, Sand Dollars shows the traces of colonialism that still determine everyday life on the island. The camera is very sensual, the way it brushes lightly over the bodies of the two women. There is the old, wrinkled, white skin of the French woman, played by Geraldine Chaplin, and there is the black, young, tender skin of Noelí. And there is a third body to behold as well: nature, which the camera immerses itself in, brushing across the forests and the sea.

“Vivo en desesperación”. “I am living in despair”. Sand Dollars begins with an old, wrinkled man, singing these words. And these words, which announce the theme of the film, could appear at the beginning of all the movies mentioned here. It is the desperation of young people that we see. Young people who try to survive in a capitalistic world without having access to any capital—which makes a decent living impossible. Their present is desperate and their future hopeless.

Edited by José Teodoro