Films of Anger and Sorrow

in 12nd Motovun International Film Festival

by Ivana Kronja

Motovun film festival 2009 offerred a concentrated selection of socially engaged and, for the most part, aesthetically challenging films, including features, shorts, documentaries, and animated works. The main competition programme of the Festival screened thirteen films, twelve fiction and one documentary, Letters to the President (Canada/France 2009), by Petr Lom. Sort of a road-movie, following Iranian president Ahmadinejad on his trips through rural countryside, and interviewing firstly enchanted and later dissatisfied members of the Iranian community, the film is a thorough study of political populism, but also of the complexities of rule within difficult circumstances for both a population and its leader.

The special focus of the Festival was devoted to new Finnish cinema; to the films made within the last 5 years (selected by Igor Mirkovic from MFF). Among them, a recent film from Mika Kaurismaki, Three Wise Men (2008), has shown an extraordinary study of contemporary gender troubles and the alienation of three Finnish men (Kari Heiskanen, Pertti Sveholm, Timo Torikka).Showing their behaviour on and off the stage, that is, their intimate agonnies and attempts to hide it from their best friends in order to retain ”proper masculine strength”. Based on Biblical motifs, filmed, according to Mika Kaurismaki himself, with a lot of improvisation, it gives an impression of a well-shaped and concluded, mature film study of human emotions.Man’s Job (2007), by Aleksi Salmenpera, also discussed the problem of masculine power and identity, less symbolic then Kaurismaki, in the realist style. Led by an excellent performance from one of the most distinguished Finnish actors, it shows how one, in this case a man with a depressed wife, is gradually more and more exposed to humiliation and an insecure territory where the line of ethics is crossed.

Within main programme, in competition for the Propeler prize of the Festival, and also judged by the Fipresci Jury, the winning film, Fish Tank (UK 2009) by Andrea Arnold, offerred a shockingly convincing drama from the margins of society. The protagonist Mia, an angry fifteen-year-old, with an emotionally cold mother,half-sister and ambivalent stepfatherfigure, Connor, who sexually abuses her, suffers mixed emotions of honest friendship and uncontrollable, selfish sexual desire, expressing her rage and fighting rebellious moods throughout the film. Brilliantly rendering filmic space and time to keep a steady pace and the storygoing, with sudden, unexpected twists that spit in the face of hypocritical society, thedirector sucessfully gives a sort of political lecture on adult irresponsibility, working class coping strategies usingsex and alcohol as relief, and a severe criticism of the father figure, as the bearer of society’s inequalities. One scene displays the perfect paradigm; after Connor’s sudden departure and their secret sexual encounter, Mia follows him to another part of town,desperate for answers and emotional care, discovering his ”happy family” and his own daughter dressed as a princess.Viewing her as eternally superior due to the fact that she has a father in the house – eventhough he cheats on her mother and sleeps with under-aged teenage girls – Miabrutally kidnaps and almost kills Connor’s daughter. Arnold’s message is clear: what you are doing to other people’s children can also happen to your child.

In competition for both Propeler and Amnesty International Award, Necessities of Life (Canada 2008), by Benoit Pilon, depicts the utmost finery of both film expression and its humanist message. Based on a rich, emotionally engaging performance from its main actor, Denis Bernard, in the role of an Inuit, Tivii, separated from his family and his natural habitat due to tuberculosis and put in a sanatorium, the film points out the need for communication and mutual understanding between people as the main necessity in life. The characters are treated with tenderness and wisdom;captured by the soft, colourful photography of Michel La Veaux, while cultural differences are elaborated, beginning withthe racism towards Tivii from his fellow patients, moving on to acceptance and friendship from the main medical sister twoards Tivii and a little orphan boy, whoTivii adopts, but who tragically dies. Tivii goes back to his family, disturbed by the events and the encounter with a different world. The film is, as expected, is on side with the more natural, less agressive and alienated civilisation of Inuit Canadian natives.

At least two more films, in and out of competition,dealt with the topic of sexual and emotional violence towards children, mainly coming from socially privileged, and powerful, but emotionally disturbed and selfish, fathers and father figures. The issue preoccupies the authors of different films such as Stella (France, 2008), by Sylvie Verheyde and The White Ribbon(Austria/France/Germany/Italy, 2009) by Michael Haneke (out of competition).Stella, with its freestyle cinematography and suggestive close-ups of the convincing young protagonist, concentrates on a single family pathology, depicting a girl who has to grow up in a poorer, and therefore emotionally disturbed, urban community, showing the strength of adults in fighting for her integrity and psychological survival;something that grows in a new community atan elite primary school where she is accepted,owing to herexcellent grades. The White Ribbon sees family perversion and children’s ritual evil as a pretext forthe cruelty, inequality and selfishness of the whole society, which, at the end of the film, facesthe First World War. Certainly a masterpiece of both directorship and cinematography, capturedin HDV technology, The White Ribbon uses symbolism and self-conscious film form to conveyits message.

Edited by Tara Judah