As someone from an Eastern background, what surprised me most at the recently concluded Istanbul film festival was the number of films from the West that dealt with the growing up problems of teenagers. The best of the lot, “L’Esquive”, walked away with the FIPRESCI award. But I was equally fascinated, for entirely different reason, with three other films in the competition, “Love in Thoughts” from Germany, “Evil” from Sweden and “Young Gods” from Finland.
I was particularly intrigued by “Love in Thoughts” directed by Achim von Borries. Here were children of the rich, immensely privileged, who were behaving very badly. They thrash the summer home of one of the parents, steal from the wine cellar and, inevitably, end up with murder of their hands. In my culture children are generally respectful of their parents and given the amount of poverty around them, the children of the rich are more thankful than disrespectful of the privileges bestowed on them. The film reminded me of a similar one I saw in Venice last year, Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers”. It also had lots of debauchery, and explored the limits of romantic desire. It had the same conceit: the children of the rich behave differently. Despite its attempts to shock, I found “The Dreamers” inconsequential. “Love in Thoughts” works better for me.
Both these films take me back even further. Film goers of a certain age will remember “Compulsion”, the 1959 movie that also had brilliant rich students who turn to murder. The film had a stylish jazz-age format and the three principal actors — Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman — were jointly given the Best Actor Award at Cannes.
All this is fine. I have no problems if the West is fascinated by the growing up problems of affluent teenagers. We, from the Third World have other things on our mind. The kids in shanty towns of South Africa, for example. For that you have to see “The Wooden Camera” by Ntshaveni Wa Luruli. A thirteen year old boy is looking for an escape from his dreary background. He finds help in a white girl who come slumming from the mansion on the hill. The director will one day perhaps make a good movie. This isn’t it. Good subjects and good intentions do not necessarily make good films.
For my money, the best thing in Istanbul was, hands down, “L’Esquive” by Abdellatif Kechiche, a Tunisian director living in France. This film was a revelation since the director’s work is new to me. Here we have problems of teenagers that get my attention. Perhaps it is a Third World bias and I am not ashamed of it. Another jury member will write more about this film. All I can say here is that I was deeply affected by the expertise of the filmmaker and the ensemble acting of a group of children, of emigrant background, who so marvelously show us what it is like living in a poor neighborhood of a European city where you are torn between the conservative cultures prevailing inside your home in some housing project and the reality of drugs, casual sex and other “attractions” that exist outside as soon as you walk out of the door. The conflicts are enormous, and my heart went out to these children.
© FIPRESCI 2004