Crazy Love in Rotterdam

in 44th International Film Festival Rotterdam

by Carolin Weidner

Even if the film “Heaven Knows What” by the Safdie brothers Josh and Benny was not part of the selection of movies within the “Bright Future” section we were (Jury-wise) responsible for, it was the kick-off for me regarding one or two films in the program and a certain topic of craziness. Craziness, containing lots of crazy love and, of course, despair. “Heaven Knows What” is a great (and very extreme) example for those kinds of dynamics, set in an environment that is predestined to see things go upside down, with insanity spread all over the place: New York City. But this new film by the Safdies (some may be familiar with their earlier works including “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” (2007), “Daddy Longlegs” (2009) and “Lenny Cooke” (2013)) won’t cover a lovely-neurotic NYC-craziness we all know from the works of Woody Allen or recent series (of course I’m referring to Lena Dunham’s “Girls”), but digs deeper into a world most people wouldn’t voluntarily deal with – a heavy street life where the next shot is just a few steps away.

This is the world of Harley (Arielle Holmes, who wrote a currently unpublished book about her own experiences, on which the Safdies’ film is based), a vanishing figure with huge, expressive eyes, a young woman who deeply struggles not only with her own heroin addiction, but also with her love for Ilja (Caleb Landry). The movie opens with a long intense shot of the couple kissing – it is an innocent time and a spaceless moment, far removed from the emotional terror that awaits the audience during the next one and a half hours. You can’t help but recall Jerry Schatzberg’s 1971 “The Panic in Needle Park” even though “Heaven Knows What” works with a very different style of cinematography that is noisy and bright and, on many levels, over the top. The soundtrack contains pieces by Tangerine Dream and Isao Tomita’s adaption of Debussy’s “Claire de lune No. 3”. There are bright pop moments, too. Or cruel-romantic peaks of cheesiness: one time Harley gives herself a shot while an older woman who leases her place to homeless youngsters is repeating Ilja’s name, not knowing that her young guest is just about to reach an acute high. Not easy to get over a person if “coincidence” creates such strong bonds.

A real lack of love, loneliness and physical longing is the starting basis of the videos from young Russian, Sergej Astahov, and they are easily located on the Internet. Artist and filmmaker Oleg Mavromatti (for some years now based in the United Sates) takes charge of this inexhaustible material to use it for his own film “No Place for Fools”. The film features not only Mr. Astahovs hard to withstand appearances (an endless mantra of patriotism, religious beliefs and, surprisingly, homoerotic  fantasies) but also some even harder to withstand video footage that shows exploding cars, suicides and people trying to escape from burning houses. This is real tough stuff. Mixed with sequences from Russian grocery stores and people freaking out because of special offers, gives a very disturbing picture of today’s society, and one you won’t forget easily.

Craziness in a far less exploitative in Evgeny Ruman’s “The Man in the Wall” (Haish shebakir). Shir is waiting at home over the course of a  night for Rami, her husband, who disappeared without saying a word. During that night Shir is confronted by a constant stream of visitors who tell us a lot about the young couple’s relationship. There is, for instance, a befriended couple that shows up for dinner (we learn that Rami is also the (violent) ex-boyfriend of the visiting lady), and a guy Shir seems to have an intimate relationship with. There is Rami’s dealer, and Rami’s best friend who will find the large shoes of Shir’s mysterious male visitor. “The Man in the Wall” is an intimate play that is set in only an apartment space. You’ll see beautiful Shir running up and down like a caged tiger, not knowing where to go or what to do. That the horror of the whole situation is caused by a deeply poisoned and, on some alarming level also very common, relationship, something that comes out at the very end of the film. A well directed dance through the dark shadows of love, or at least, what is taken for it.

“The Man in the Wall” was in our competition, and even though we selected another film as our winner (Isabelle Tollenaere’s outstanding “Battles”), Evegeny Ruman’s feature film was one of my favourites., But I’d like to end this short personal retrospective piece with a film that definitely had some crazy parts in it, and also a lot of love: “Hearts Know* the Runaway Brides” from Dutch director Kris Kristinsson. It tells the story of a man, probably Kristinsson himself, who lost his bride shortly before their wedding day. Traumatized by this experience, the lonely husband looks for reasons behind it. He goes to Germany, Morocco, South Africa, England, India and a various other places, asking people why the bride may have run away. The answers tell us much about the culture Kristinsson is traveling through and the small episodes are immingled with music, dance and ritual. Some of them hold great wisdom, too. There is a certain craziness in this movie; the research, the poetry that may or may not be staged. “Heart Knows*” surely comes from a very different place than the love-madness you might find in “Heaven Knows What”, “The Man in the Wall” or even “No Place for Fools”. But, having said that, I appreciated them all.

Caroline Weidner
(Edited by Tara Judah)