Silent Grieving

in 18th Oslo Films from the South Festival

by Marina Kostova

New Directions is the section of the Oslo Films from the South Festival that is judged by the FIPRESCI and the Critics award includes a guaranteed support for DVD import and launch in Norway of the winning film. The section consists of 13 films, mainly of young authors and, in terms of competition, this year it was quite strong. The jury unanimously awarded Jia Zang Ke’s 24 City (Er shi si cheng ji), a film that was a class above all other competitors.            

However, there are four films that I would like to talk about that deal with a silent process of grieving in a very subtle and yet similar way. Flower in the Pocket, the debut from the Malaysian director Liew Seng Sat, is a touching story about two little boys whose mother died and whose overworked father does not have time to take care of them properly. They are left on their own, in the street, and that is where they discover the world, the joys and pains of life.              

There is a lot of love and tenderness in Liew Seng Set’s portrayal of the kid’s lonely life. He actually assumes children’s point of view and much of the tone of the film is set by that – their silent craving for parental love and care is also mixed with the joys of child’s play and the pleasures of their curiosity. The film has beautiful photography, brightly lit, as if the world is seen from joyful children’s eyes.            

Wonderful Town (also a debut), from the Thai author Aditya Assarat, deals with the attempt of two young people to pick up the pieces of their life and make a new start. It’s a story of a young architect from Bangkok who comes to the south of the country that was destroyed by the Tsunami to supervise the construction of a new hotel on the beach. He falls in love with the owner of the hotel where he is staying, a young, somehow reserved and lonely girl. Their love story develops in almost heavenly surroundings and Assarat tells it in a slow pace, with long, beautiful shots. And as the two people start to open up for one another, as if healing from a long illness, there is a menacing intrusion of the outer world – the locals and the girl’s family are not too happy about her affair. With the same slow pace and assurance, Assarat handles this change in the mood of the story. This climaxes in the unexpected ending that is brutal, abrupt and tragic; much like the Tsunami itself.  

Both Flower in the Pocket and Wonderful Town won the Golden Tiger award at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival.              

El Camino, the debut of the Costa Rican author Ishtar Yasin, is a moving, at times painful, account of the exploitation and suffering of children left alone by their economic emigrant parents. It’s a story of a 12-year old girl and her little mute brother who, in order to escape the molestation of their grandfather, embark on a journey from Nicaragua to Costa Rica to find their mother who left them years ago to work there. The strongest part of the film is the girl’s efforts to cope with the heavy responsibility and to be on top of this tragic situation – her struggle to protect her brother and herself, her innocent longing for her mother’s care. Yasin has a very poetic visual language and a lot of sympathy for her characters, creating an emotional road movie whose tragic ending, although predictable, leaves a blow in the stomach.              

And last but not least, comes 10+4 (Dah be alaveh Chahar) by the Iranian author Mania Akbari. She is a friend of Abbas Kiarostami and also acted in his film Ten, and her film is a sequel of a kind to his film.              

10+4 is a brave, honest and non-manipulative account of coping with a hard, disfiguring illness. Akbari uses the style of Ten – still shots of characters talking while driving a car, or driving in a taxi or in a mountain carriage. But besides the style, a much more important point here is that she talks of her own experience of coping with breast cancer, an illness that not only destroys her body but also brings a stigma in the society where it is observed as a result of sinful living.              

There is a powerful scene, almost scary with it straightforwardness, where Akbari and her friend, who also suffers from breast cancer, discuss their experience – how they felt when they first saw their body after the operation, what was the reaction of their partners and family, their fear of death and where at the end of all that pain and confusion they find the strength to go on with their life. In that respect, 10+4 is much more than a simple feminine view of the illness that takes away the essential part of the female body. It’s a personal and bold reflection of how one lives in the shadow of death and copes with loss.          

Edited by Steven Yates