Common Themes and Aesthetic Variations

in 27th Tromso International Film Festival

by Robbie Eksiel

If the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was ever to transfer chapters of his own tumultuous life on paper –hereto his trials to elude the Videla authorities in late 40s, having been declared enemy of the state as a communist- , the result would probably be a noir-western hybrid, with deeply flawed, unrepentantly obsessive characters struggling to outsmart each other in the wackiest possible ways. Or so argues Neruda by Pablo Larrain, one of the greatest Latin American filmmakers of our times, who never stopped exploring modern history –and not only Chile’s, as Jackie recently confirmed- as a matter of objectivity, depending on which side of the facts one stands. For Larrain, perception is fact’s worst enemy. And since every single fact is open for interpretation, even if it happens right before our eyes, fiction will always triumph over it. Let alone within the realm of moving pictures, the most deceivingly… convincing art form of all.

Adapting reality to one’s own needs and psyche was the main topic for other films also within the Tromso Film Festival’s 12-title competition frame. Elderly Louise finds herself struggling with memories of a bygone youth while coping with winter’s harshest natural elements in the beautiful, appropriately washed-up color-coordinated French cartoon Louise en hiver (Louise by the shore) by Jean-Francois Lagouionie. The intrusion of a psychotic colleague in his already complex life sidetracks kind fantasist Philippe (Francois Damiens) even further in Dominik Moll’s latest, the occasionally ingenious but ultimately all over the place Des nouvelles de la planete Mars (News from planet Mars). And 11year old tomboy Toni’s (Royalty Hightower) attempts to fit in a high school dance troop, apparently “cursed” as we gradually find out, climax in an eerily realized liberation in the mostly silent, constantly mesmerizing metaphor The fits, independent US filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer’s feature debut, and one of the two coming-of- age stories from the competition along with Iceland’s heart-wrenching Heartstone (Hjartasteinn).

Common thematic denominators aside, there was a welcome stylistic diversity in the arctic festival’s competing films program. Echoes of Ken Loach’s work are noticeable in Kivanc Sezer’s My father’s wings (Babamin kanatlari), a both politically and sentimentally poignant Turkish drama recounting the turning point in an ageing Kurdish construction worker’s life after he’s diagnosed with cancer. Politics also come into focus through the intimate story of three German-Kurdish siblings going back to their village in northern Iraq to bury their late mother and coming up against their relatives’ objections in Soleen Yusef’s passionate, though slightly obvious House without roof (Haus ohne dach). And genre sensibilities are spectacularly manifested against a political backdrop (the Japanese-occupied Seoul of the 1920s) in Kim Jee-woon’s The age of shadows (Mil-jeong), a perhaps overwrought but expertly executed thriller which peppered with some heated action the otherwise gloomy competition proceedings.

© FIPRESCI 2017

Edited by Martin Botha