The world’ story between documentary and fiction
For the second consecutive year, the 51st International Film Festival in Rotterdam was forced by the pandemic to take place remotely. This removes that allure perceptible only in presence, where it is possible to appreciate the atmosphere of a city as welcoming as Rotterdam, combined with the warmth of the audience in the cinema, meetings with the authors, etc etc. Despite the distancing imposed, the exhaustive selection of the Tiger Competition section allowed us, remaining (unfortunately) seated at home, to take up an exciting world tour with fourteen world premieres. Furthermore, with the Tiger Competition being a section dedicated to young authors, to the promises of the future, we also have the opportunity to understand where new sensibilities are leading the art of cinema. We can certainly affirm that the cinema present at the 51st IFFR, as a whole, has forged an ever stronger bond with the reality that surrounds us.
Many titles fall into that category called docufiction, poised between documentary and fiction (in the sense of staging) as in the French-Swedish Excess Will Save Us (2022) by the young director Morgane Dziurla-Petit which tells of a tiny village in the north of France that mobilizes dozens of police cars, after a phone call in which a frightened woman says she heard shots and shouts like ‘Allah Akbar.’ It will all work out as a misunderstanding. Dziurla-Petit investigates this matter starting from her family and signs a film at times funny in the staging and at times surreal, with good narrative solutions keeping the balance between fiction and documentary. Unfortunately, in the second part the pace slows down and the narration loses some compactness. Ten minutes less in duration would have greatly benefited this feature film, the son of a 2019 short film presented in Clermont-Ferrand.
The delicate, minimalist, intimate, Mexican film Malintzin 17 (Mara Polgovsky, Eugenio Polgovsky, 2022) edited by Mara herself also has its roots in reality after having accidentally rediscovered the shot of her brother Eugenio, who passed away at the age of 40. A little bird hatches in its nest sheltered against rain, smog and more, while squirrels and men run and roam non-stop. Eugenio Polgovsky filmed all this for months from the balcony of his house, interacting with his very young daughter in a relationship of great osmotic exchange and confidence. Life resumed in its becoming and finally edited with love by his sister Mara.
Also in The Plains (2022) by the Australian David Easteal the tracks of the docu-fiction are used to show the alienation in the suburban reality of Melbourne and its repeat everyday. We could also call the film “At Five in the Evening”, like the famous poem by Garcia Lorca, as it is precisely at five in the evening that this Australian lawyer, close to the pension, finishes work and drives home in his car in a kind of repeating, characteristic of the iterative nature of commuting. Easteal takes care of direction, writing, editing and scenography, articulated in this movie in only eleven long sequences (which take place in visibly different seasons), where in five of them he also plays the role of a travel companion and colleague. An unusual “road movie”, with disturbing aspects as life appears only as yet another effort to wake up, go to work and go home. Something similar to the hamster in its wheel. This docu-fiction involves and captures the viewer without boring, despite the almost three hours of projection that unfold in a single environment: the cockpit of the car with the occupants seen from behind. A location that, despite having many famous precedents in the cinema, in this case reserves new pleasant surprises.
From Australia to Paraguay with EAMI (2022) by director Paz Encina who, after sixteen years since winning the FIPRESCI award in Cannes with Hamaca Paraguaya (2006), returns with a powerful, poetic work on the slow but inexorable disappearance of the Ayoreo people. We are in one of the last remaining strips of forest in the Chaco region of Paraguay which, according to a 2013 study by the University of Maryland, suffers the highest rate of deforestation in the world. This human, environmental and cultural catastrophe is told in Eami with incredible tact and with great poetic sense. The local population, children, and women are filmed with feminine sensitivity by Encina. On the other hand, the invaders remain out of sight, out of frame. Of them we hear only through the firing of rifles, the ferocious barking of dogs, the crackle of the burning forest. We are witnessing conscious and powerless, but no less guilty, the destruction of the Ayoreo, a people with a deep ancestral culture. The narration of the Encina remains constantly clear, clean, deeply poetic but also without discounts even in the sobriety of the images that thus touch even more the strings of indignation for this useless havoc.
Even with Proyecto Fantasma (2022) by Chilean Roberto Doveris, we are on the side of the docu-fiction. With this indie work, led by the excellent Juan Cano, and shot entirely in the apartment owned by the director himself, situations and episodes that really happened in Doveris’s life that also plays in the film to offer an even more truthful representation of today’s lifestyle of young people raised under the effects of youtubers, influencers and a fluid sexuality that freely moves from heterosexual to LGBT without particular problems.
Still in the balance between documentary and fiction, the Chinese film Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish (2022) by Lei Lei, an emerging director of Beijing who mixes different visual and narrative levels: from stop motion in which he models clay, to filming of old family photos, to documentary films and pop-art animations, all to explore themes such as memory and its perception. The result is a compelling and fascinating journey that blends a strong family history in a powerful and evocative setting during one of the most crucial historical / political moments in Mao’s China.
Also from China, we have To Love Again (2022), the first movie by the young director Gao Linyang, already an appreciated screenwriter. The 31-year-old Linyang with incredible maturity wrote and directed this film which deals with the events of a old-age couple in today’s China. Like all people who have lived for a long time, the protagonists of this story also have to deal with their past, spent in China in the 1980s, and with the present where the rites are always collective: from weddings to funerals. The writing and directing of this film are so fluid, so skilfully alternating dramatic moments with lighter situations, that in the end you believe you are almost in front of a documentary. Curious counterpoint with a western-flavored soundtrack, which recalls the splendid guitar chords of Ry Cooder in Paris Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984).
Finally, also Kafka for Kids (2022) by the Israeli Roee Rosen, with a visual system that could also recall Georges Méliès, in an attempt to retell Kafka, it ends up with children, about two-thirds into the film, turns away from the surreal and naïve structure and into a documentary investigation of the ways in which childhood is defined by Israeli military law in the occupied territories. The occupied territories offer a double law: settlers are ruled by the Israeli one, while Palestinians are under military law, with a very different definition of childhood. A further work, therefore, contaminated, to tell us a world in constant evolution, fluid, wavering, where once again, however, cinema proves to be an essential and reliable tool for narration, decoding and reflection.
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2022