‘Perspectives’ at the LIFFe

in 23rd Ljubljana International Film Festival

by Katharina Dockhorn

The FIPRESCI jury at the LIFFe focused on ‘Perspectives’, a well-selected program of 10 titles coming from Europe, the United States and Latin America, and which had already been screened at the big festivals of Berlin, Cannes, Rotterdam and Sundance. They were features by first or second time directors, and most centred on childhood and the problems of teenagers and young adults, dealing in particular with their sexuality.

The tragic love story ”Habibi” – presented by young director Susan Youssef in Ljubljana – was influenced by Shakespeare’s ”Romeo and Juliet”. Layla and Quas from the West Bank are forced by the Israeli government to quit university without receiving their degrees. The two lovers return home to their little town in the most conservative area of Gaza. Layla is supposed to be getting married to an old friend of the family who studied in the US, so her father doesn’t accept the poor Quas who lives in a nearby refugee camp. The lovers try to escape, but don’t have a chance of getting to Europe.

”Clip” (”Klip”) by Maja Milos was a big box office hit in Serbia and Croatia. 16-year-old Jasna is searching for her place in life and trying to establish her values. Her father is severely ill and her mother’s attentions are solely focused on him. Jasna and her friends rebel against their parents and their conservative society: they are party girls, and enjoy drinking and taking drugs. Jasna is in love with Dole, an attractive but brutal boy from school. She hopes to find love and tenderness, but instead finds a strange relationship based only on sex. The film follows their passionate relationship with images full of sexual display.

A similar subject was chosen by young Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu. He studied in Prague and filmed his debut ”A Night Too Young” (”Prílis mladá noc”) in a little Czech town.  Three young adults – David, Stepán and Katerina – are looking for their first experience of love and sexuality, alcohol and cigarettes in a little flat. The strange and shameless behaviour of the trio is observed by two 12-year-old boys picked up by the trio in the snowy street. The youngsters forget about time and are finally subject to a police search. But the young policeman is also fascinated by Katerina and forgets his duties.

Three sisters the same age as Katerina negotiate their new lives following the death of their grandmother in ”Back to Stay” (”Abrir puertas y ventanas”) by Argentinian director Milagros Mumenthaler. Young Maria acts maturely, concentrating on her studies and looking after the household, but Violeta and Sofia behave like the teenagers they are, seeking their independence, going out with their friends, and exploring the sexual power of their bodies. The rhythm of the sisters’ life is interrupted by their hidden conflict, one which is revealed only by gestures, until one day Violeta disappears without warning.

The new power of Argentinean cinema was also in evidence in Hernán Belón’s ”In the Open” (”El campo”). This psychological drama focuses on a couple looking to re-kindle their relationship by moving to an old house in the middle of nowhere. But they find themselves unable to deal with this rural home, the silence, the sound of the wind and especially the traditional life of their neighbors.

This was another example of strong South American filmmaking in the Brazilian film ”Neighbouring Sounds” (”O Som ao Sedor”) directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho. His film was artistically the most interesting of the ‘Perspective’ section, and received the FIPRESCI Prize in Rotterdam in 2011. The director uses the sound of different quarters of the town of Recife – a favela, traditional middle class houses and a big apartment complex – to reflect an atmosphere of fear and paranoia in Brazilian society and to reveal the gentrification of the country’s big cities.

”Beasts of the Southern Wild” by first-time director Benh Zeitlin was a visually stunning fairy tale, a surreal big-screen epic drama and a spiritual journey dealing with changes caused by global warming. Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl, lives with her father in a shack deep in the swamps near New Orleans. He is a drunk and unable to protect her, and even his friends have lost all connection with civilization. Hushpuppy is the only member of this strange society willing to face the inevitable after a massive storm floods the river and the swamp and returns a few aurochs from their icy graves.

In ”Sister” (”L´enfant d’en haut”, dir. Ursula Meier) 12-year-old Simon lives in a similar situation in a bleak and dilapidated industrial valley near a luxury ski resort in the Swiss mountains. His parents have abandoned him and his older sister Louise. She is unemployed and often leaves their little flat to stay with various boyfriends. Forced to manage on his own, Simon steals expensive equipment from rich tourists at the resort and sells it on to local people who would otherwise be unable to afford it. At the end of the season, Simon has some trouble with workers at the resort, and fears that he will lose Louise completely. He finally confronts her latest lover with the hidden secret that Louise is in fact his mother.

A secret also destroys a normal Austrian family in the powerful drama ”Still Life” (”Stilleben”) directed by Sebastian Meise. Bernhard finds an old letter from his father to a prostitute in which he asks the young woman to play the role of his daughter Lydia. He also finds a box of photographs of Lydia which his father hid in the barn. At last he realises that his sister was abused by their father. When he confronts his family with the truth about his father’s paedophilia, everyone is forced to negotiate their position with respect to a past that has been suppressed.

Political thriller ”Policeman” (”Ha-shoter”) by Israeli director Nadav Lapid also deals with the permanent impact of violence on the soul. Yaron belongs to an elite police force serving an anti-terrorist unit. He has been trained to confront Palestinian enemies, but his troupe now finds itself set against radical groups of violent protesters fighting for better living conditions in Israel. The drama focuses on the conflict between the protest of a generation tired of being at war and and a young man raised to believe in the ideals of the past.

Edited by Alison Frank