In Search of a Home Away From Home By H.N.Narahari Rao

in 40th Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by H.N. Narahari Rao

The just concluded Karlovy Vary International film festival 2005 had more than 220 films in its screening schedule, both features and documentaries, covering most of the film-making countries around the world. The topics, issues and subjects dealt in these films are widely varied in nature. The one topic in which I evinced keen interest, among the films that I could see, because of its relevance and universal appeal, is the issue of many, probably millions all over the world, struggling to go in search of a place away from their country of birth, to live peacefully and earn their livelihood. This they do for so many reasons, mostly because of socio-economic conditions, family problems and sometimes political too. A review of such films at this festival, I feel, makes quite an interesting study.

In this genre, Chinaman (Kinamand) — a film from Denmark, by Henrik Ruben Genz — is an interesting depiction of the trials and tribulations of people who get involved in a very peculiar situation, which is the result of their own making to suit their own convenience. Keld, a plumber by profession, after 25 years of married life, having a grownup son, is rejected by his wife. The reason: she finds him dull, lethargic, and emotionless. Keld finds a Chinese friend Feng, with whom he develops a good relationship, so much so that his new friend asks him to marry his sister. He makes it very clear that the marriage is to enable his sister to get Danish citizenship and stay in Denmark; he also offers a handsome compensation, in terms of money for this act of generosity. Keld also welcomes this proposal, because he wants to use this money to complete the divorce settlement with his wife.

The film is handled deftly by Henrik Ruben Genz, at times with subtle humor. The performance of Bjarne Henriksen, in the lead role, is notable. He is so emotionless that it is not surprising that his wife decides to leave him. Equally good is the performance of Vivian Wu as the Chinese woman and Lin Kun Wu as Feng. The film won the hearts of many viewers in the festival and even won the awards from the FIPRESCI and Ecumenical juries. The film is successful to the extent that it proves that marriages are becoming more a matter of convenience rather than serving the emotional attachments of life partners.

Live and Become (Va, vis et deviens, France, Israel, Italy, Belgium), directed by Radu Mihaileanu, is a classic example of seeking emigration for a better living. Ethiopia is a country where people die of starvation in refugee camps. A young black boy of 9 is renamed by his Christian mother as Shlomo to make him a Jew, and she sends him to Israel where he is given asylum. In Israel, he is adopted by a highly cultured family, with a very sympathetic outlook. Both the husband and wife, in spite of having two children, look after him with affection and love. Every thing looks bright, but the boy finds it difficult to adjust to the new environment. He faces many problems. He is at pains to conceal the fact that he is a Christian by birth. He is always haunted that he has lied. He also gets a girlfriend, a white who loves him and faces the wrath of her father. Ultimately, he studies medicine in France, marries the girlfriend and goes back to his country to serve the people. For Mihaileanu, the filmmaker, it is a very ambitious production. He has put in enormous effort to make this film, finding the right kid to play the main role in the beginning, then actors at two more stages of the same role who can speak in three languages. And moving continents for locations. The film is quite powerful in the initial stages, but loses its grip in the later stages as it drags on, becoming more and more melodramatic. It is an important film only because of its contemporary relevance.

What a Wonderful Place (Eize Makom Nifla) (Israel), by Eyal Halfon, which won the special jury prize at the festival, is another film in this genre. So many Ukrainian women find illegal entry into Israel to earn money through prostitution. Similarly, Thais and Filipinos also find entry to work as laborers. Gangster activities, the struggle of the people working under extremely tough situations, a multi-racial environment are brought to the fore in the powerful screenplay. Uri Gavriel, playing the crucial role of Franco, a former policeman, won the acting award for his excellent performance in this film.

Unveiled (Fremde Haut) (Germany/Austria), by Angelina Maccarone, makes an attempt to portray the efforts of a 30-year-old Iranian woman, Fariba, seeking asylum in Germany. She faces the death penalty in Iran for her lesbian leanings and that is the reason she applies for asylum. She changes her identity as a male, then with false and illegal papers, she also gets a job. Now in exile, and in male garb, she has a relationship with a fellow worker, Anne, who is unaware that she is a woman. All this is to find a home away from home, in search of protection and security. But none of her acts gives any positive indication of achieving this. How far is Fariba the Iranian woman, convincing in her male role? It is a question many tried to answer. The film makes an attempt to make it known that people stoop to any level, doing wrong things, one after the other to conceal the truth.