Light and Darkness

in 19th Motovun Film Festival

by Jesús González Notario

One of the most outstanding films at this year’s festival was The Disciple (Kirill Serebrennikov, 2016). Apparently, it tells the story of an antisocial teenager who is obsessed with reading the Bible, which he learns off by heart. His faith makes life impossible for his mother and a teacher, but he gets approval from the school management and other teachers. However, this is only scratching the surface; The Disciple is a fierce (but hidden) denunciation of the religious control of education and, by extension, Russian society (no need to ruminate too much to find other parts of the world where this also happens). This topic was also touched upon in Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014). Benjamin, the disciple, dressed in black, is homophobic and more extremist than the priest who teaches religion. His antagonist, Elena (not incidental that this name means light in Greek), is his science teacher who has to stand up against the weapons of faith and social hypocrisy; a battle between light and dark with freedom of speech and respect at stake.

The Croatian festival, which clearly focuses on independent European cinema, showed a selection of films from the Balkan countries. They have all used cinema as a way of atoning for past or current problems. This is the case of A Good Wife (Marjiana Karanovic, 2016), winner of the Fipresci Award. The protagonist, Milena, discovers that her husband committed atrocious murders of civilians during the war, and she is then diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, the director did not decide to exploit the drama of the plot, turning these sad facts into a brilliant metaphor for a country, Serbia, which cannot move forward without eradicating such issues completely.

Slovenia submitted Nightlife (DamjanKozole, 2015) where a woman, again, is the protagonist of a nightmare: the disappearance and torture of her husband, a renowned lawyer. A long night of unknowns and suffering allows Kozole to subtly condemn the manipulation of the media and slowness of the justice system in his country. All the Best (Snjezana Tribusson, 2016), the entry from Croatia, is a simple Christmas story that helps us forget our problems for a bit. Cinema is also for dreaming, right? This time the Motovun festival is very aware of the problems threatening Europe, Fuoccoamare (Gianfranco Rossi, 2016) reminding us of the issue of immigration. This documentary discusses the arrival of thousands of immigrants in a dramatic but respectful crescendo. They are fleeing hunger, the authoritarianism of their governments, and war. At the same time we get to know the inhabitants of the island of Lampedusa, where they were initially received. We meet Samuele, a boy who plays war with his friend ignoring what is happening around him.

Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016) and Ma Loute (Bruno Dumont, 2016) were also shown, two films committed to the director’s views in their own views. Reichardt’s film is a portrait of contemporary local customs with three storylines that intersect at points. The most interesting aspect of the film is its slow tempo set against the description of daily life in Montana; cinema from Hollywood about ordinary people, with a bit more glamour. At the opposite pole is Ma Loute, describing the class struggle at the beginning of the 20th century. While we already know his aesthetic preferences for the most disadvantaged (somewhat in the style of Pasolini but more punky), now the French director explains his vision of the bourgeoisie. He depicts them as aliens passing their holidays in the provinces; disconnected from reality, naive, superficial, frivolous and hysterical, a caricature that contrasts with the simplicity and primitivism of the fishermen. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that there is a big culture shock which causes irreconcilable situations, especially when it comes to survival.

Edited by Steven Yates