Searching for Better Life Overseas

in 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

by Yael Shuv

One of the recurring themes in the First Feature Competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival was the search for better life overseas. Three of the best films in the strong program, composed of mostly impressive and entertaining debuts, told timely stories about people who travel to faraway countries in hope of forging better lives for themselves.

The Quiet Maid (Calladita), written and directed by Miguel Faus, follows Ana (the excellent Paula Grimaldo), a young Colombian woman who works as a maid in a summer mansion in Costa Brava, where a wealthy upper-class family enjoys its holiday. The mother, Andrea, is an art dealer which is why the villa is full of fragile ornaments that are bound to be broken. Andrea has promised Ana to arrange for her to get papers that would allow her to stay in Spain (and look for a better paid job). Counting on that, Ana quietly performs her chores until the neighboring house’s servant Gisela tells her she has been lied to. It is then that she starts to plan her rebellion against her employers.

This particular kind of class struggle has been the subject of numerous films, but Faust finds new paths in the well trodden field. The main metaphor in the brilliant and composed cinematic language of the film is the big window that separates Ana from the members of the family and through which she peeks into their lives and sometimes imitates them. She often cleans this large window, and as the plot moves forward, she takes control of the remote control that opens and closes it, just as she takes control over her life. The Quiet Maid – a 94 minute version of a short film made by Faus in 2020 – is a very accomplished feature debut that ignites high hopes for Faus’ future oeuvre.

Dilli Dark from India has a very different vibe, with a much freer style, structure and energy. Written and directed by Dibakar Das Roy, this entertaining comedy tells of a Nigerian student trying to make it in Delhi. Samuel Abiola Robinson is very pleasant as Michael Okeke, who is studying towards an MBA, while supporting himself as a drug dealer. He really doesn’t want to do it, but being a darker-skinned outsider in Delhi he finds that no one will hire him for any other job. The story takes a surprising turn when Michael is introduced to a witch who helps women get pregnant, or does she? Dilli Dark is a lively and witty comedy about racism, filled with sharp irony and good music. Also worth mentioning is Shantanu Anam’s very funny performance as the friendly neighbor.

While the FIPRESCI jury chose to give its prize to Aylin Tezel’s beautiful romantic drama Falling into Place, the festival’s jury chose The Moon Is Upside Down as the winner of the First Feature Competition. Loren Taylor’s dark comedy is composed of three intertwined stories, the best of which tells about Natalia (the wonderful Victoria Haralabidou) a Russian mail-order bride who arrives in New Zealand where she is welcomed by her future husband Mac (Jemaine Clement) and his disapproving sister. Natalia, who has been abused as a girl, is in her 40s and she doesn’t have illusions about the life awaiting her. She does have an impression that the shy Mac is a good man and that she could teach him to feel more comfortable in bed.

When she finds that there was one major thing that Mac didn’t tell her about himself, and that she is expected to be more of a nurse than a wife, Natalia leaves. On the road she runs into Faith (Elizabeth Hawthorne), the protagonist of another story, about a wealthy woman who develops a conscience. The scene in the car in which Natalia shares her emotions with Faith, while not really revealing the details of her story, is the most powerful in the film and one of the most memorable in the whole competition.

Ana, Michael and Natalia are very different in many ways, but if they were to meet, they would have lots to talk about, as their experiences of alienation, exploitation and being lied to are similar. As such, the poetic title The Moon Is Upside Down suits them all.

Yael Shuv
Edited by Steffen Moestrup