Festival Report: Asturian shorts

Cuenta con nosotros_Dani Pérez Prada and David Pareja

More than 70 shorts were screened in Gijón – films from around the world, in and out of competition. I concentrated on the Spanish ones (for obvious reasons) but even then I didn’t manage to see all of them. In the end I’ve written about some of the ones that were in the Asturian section – I’m not familiar with cinema from the region, so this seemed like a good place to start. If you cast your mind back to my Gijón dispatches, you may remember that I had one evening when I wasn’t well and ended up returning to the hotel rather than going to the final session of the night. That session was for the Asturian films that were in competition, so I’d like to thank Alicia Albares, Roberto F. Canuto, Pablo A. Neila, Kiko and Javier Prada, Pablo Vara, Daniel Vázquez, and Benjamín Villaverde for giving me access to their respective films after the fact. For reasons of space, I could only focus on three of the films in my report, but hopefully I will have the occasion to write about the others in the future. My report can be found over at Eye for Filmhere.

Festival Report: Gijón, part 2

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The second of two reports I’ve written for desistfilm about films I saw in Gijón is now online. This one focuses on the Convergencias films – in essence, I’ve looked at what the films have in common (interesting use of sound / silence and idiosyncratic visuals).

Links to reviews will continue to appear in the other post(s).

UPDATE (29/12/15): the 1-hour recording of El séptimo vicio that centred on Convergencias is now online (here). I am in the first twenty minute section (specifically 04:20-09:21) alongside Félix Dufour-Laperrière and Víctor Paz. The middle section consists of Martín Cuesta, Pablo González-Taboada, Eduardo Guillot, Carlota Moseguí and David Tejero discussing the state of film criticism in Spain, and then the final section is Martín and Víctor.

Reviews: Gijón

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I have a few reviews of films I saw in Gijón forthcoming over at Eye for Film. I’m starting with three of the features (I will add links to this post as and when they are published), but there will also be something on (some of) the Spanish shorts – I haven’t decided whether this is going to entail reviews, a report, or some combination of the two. I will either extend this post to include links to reviews of the shorts or write a separate post for them – it’ll depend on what I end up writing.

UPDATE (21/12/15), a review of one of the short films in the main competition:

I interviewed Adán Aliaga earlier in the year in relation to his feature (co-directed with David Valero), El arca de Noé / Noah’s Ark – that interview can be found here.

My Gijón Top 10:

Leaving aside Transatlantique – as I was the reason that that film was there – my top 10 of FICX53:

1. In the Crosswind (Martti Helde, 2014)
2. Aferim! (Radu Jude, 2015)
3. Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce, 2015)
4. Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones, 2015)
5. Krisha (Trey Edward Shults, 2015)
6. Black (Adil El Arbi and Bilal Fallah, 2015)
7. André’s Eyes (Antonio Borges Correia, 2015)
8. Test (Alexander Kott, 2014)
9. El Movimiento (Benjamín Naishtat, 2015)
10. Communing (Helga Fanderl, 2015)

[UPDATE (09/12/15): I’ve realised that I’ve missed out Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet, 2015) but I don’t want to re-do my list and bump Fanderl out, so please consider it as being part of the second half]. I’ve learnt that if I don’t want to return to work a complete wreck, then I have to pace myself at festivals and to also acknowledge when I’m too tired to give something my full attention (and have an early night instead) – so I know that I didn’t see as many films as I could have done (or as many as I’d put in my original schedule), but I feel like I ended up with the right balance between watching films and exploring the city. With that in mind, I prioritised the first screening of each of the Convergencias films (when people were giving their presentations) and also the experimental films (I’m less likely to get the opportunity to see those elsewhere). Doing that meant that there were some films that I really wanted to see but wasn’t able to because they clashed with those other events (or on one day because I just wasn’t feeling well). Films that were in Gijón that I’d like to catch up with in 2016 include: Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015); Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015) [I’m presuming that this will get UK distribution]; Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaró, 2015); La Novia (Paula Ortiz, 2015) [the two screenings this had both clashed with Convergencias screenings]; Paulina (Santiago Mitre, 2015); Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015) [in this case, I know that it has UK distribution next year but I’m now all the more interested since Víctor Paz described it to me as “una obra maestra…y la mejor ópera prima desde Citizen Kane“]; Un monstruo de mil cabezas (Rodrigo Plá, 2015).

Postcard from Gijón: Days 7-9

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My Gijón adventure is now at an end and so I will quickly round up the last few days before checking out of the hotel.

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Thursday saw the second presentation of Transatlantique. I was less nervous this time and I felt that my introduction was a bit more fluid. I interviewed Félix Dufour-Laperrière while the film was screening and then returned for the Q&A. There were film production students in the audience and they asked very different questions to the previous session (most of them seemed to be specialising in sound and it’s an interesting film from that perspective).
Next, myself and Félix – and the other critics participating in Convergencias – went to a radio station to take part in a recording of El séptimo vicio (The Seventh Vice) for RNE3 (Radio Nacional de España 3). Host Javier Tolentino was amused to learn that I have listened to the programme as a podcast on iTunes – he visits a lot of film festivals and talks to interesting filmmakers (especially in terms of the kinds of Spanish films that I like – but the programme covers international cinema, not just Spanish films). The entire episode (they’re usually about 59 minutes long) will be centred on Convergencias, so I will put a link on here when it has been broadcast (you can listen to it online without iTunes). My mind went blank a couple of times (including in response to “Who is your favourite Spanish director?” and in the very last round-up with the group) but overall it wasn’t too bad. UPDATE (29/12/15): the podcast is now online – here – I am mainly in the first section between 04:20-09:21.
The only films I saw that day were shorts in La noche de cortos españoles [The Night of Spanish Shorts] – as I’ve said before, I’m going to write about the shorts as a group later, so I won’t expand any further now except to say that there was real variety in the selection.

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Friday saw the sixth – and final – Convergencias film: The Road (Rana Salem, 2015), chosen by Eduardo Guillot (you can read Eduardo’s text, here). For me, the film seemed quite different to the other Convergencias films (which share some characteristics, although each interprets them differently) although it does make use of sound in an atmospheric way. A road movie of sorts, we see an unnamed couple (played by director Rana Salem and her real-life partner Guy Chartouni) in the aftermath of some kind of unspecified upset – both of them seem distracted and the woman is clearly in an emotionally fragile state – and they set off on a journey from Beirut into the Lebanese countryside. The structure is very fragmented. There are repeated cuts to black (which are held for several seconds at a time) and what are eventually revealed to be flashbacks (the chronology of events isn’t clear until relatively late in the film) that show the two leads in different domestic/familial environments. Eduardo said in his introduction that it’s a film that asks questions of the audience rather than supplying the answers, but I was left a bit nonplussed by it overall.

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Next was El movimiento / The Movement (Benjamín Naishtat, 2015), which screened without subtitles so I’m not going to claim to have followed everything that went on. Set in Argentina in 1835 (by weird coincidence the same year that Aferim! is set) in the aftermath of what the festival catalogue tells me was the emancipation war of the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata, a fratricidal conflict develops while the new administration settles in. Several armed groups are wandering the Pampa, looking for resources but each also claims to be the legitimate representative of El Movimiento. The leader of one of these groups, known simply as el Señor (Pablo Cedrón), presents himself with the language of idealism and the moral high ground but unleashes hideously violent acts via his henchmen. Shot in black and white, the film is visually very striking – the lighting is very high contrast (it mainly seemed to rely on light sources within the frame), casting jet-black shadows across the numerous close-ups of faces, and at times it looks almost like a painting. The soundtrack is also unusual given the era in which the film takes place because it includes electronic sounds (late in the film, a truck and a motorbike also cross the back of the frame) which build to a low rumbling threat – it becomes quite oppressive. I would watch it again with subtitles – in order to follow the subtleties of the political machinations, which were beyond my Spanish – so hopefully it will make its way to a UK festival.

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I wasn’t feeling well on Friday night, so I didn’t go to any of the later screenings. Therefore the next film for me was on Saturday: Lamb (Yared Zeleke, 2015). The first Ethiopian film to be selected for Cannes, Lamb follows nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) after his father leaves him with relatives in the Ahmar Mountains while he seeks work in Addis Abeba. Ephraim’s best friend is Chuni, a sheep who belonged to his late mother. Chuni brings Ephraim into conflict with his new relatives because his uncle wants to slaughter the animal for upcoming festivities – Ephraim begins to concoct an escape plan for him and Chuni to get out of there and either on the road to return to his birthplace (where he has other relatives) or in search of his father. It’s the second Ethiopia-set film I’ve seen this year (the other being Crumbs) and it makes full use of the astounding vistas of the green mountains and the valleys below. Ephraim is a sweet-natured and sensitive protagonist and the film is effectively a coming of age tale. I’m probably going to review it, so I won’t say any more for now (plus I’m trying to get this up before I leave the hotel).

Dead Slow Ahead
I went to the Closing Ceremony (again hosted by Carlos Areces) on Saturday night – the list of award winners can be found here. So the last film of the festival for me was Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce, 2015), a documentary set on a cargo ship and the directorial debut of the director of photography of films such as Arraianos (Eloy Enciso, 2012). There are obvious points of similarity with Transatlantique but the two films are also completely their own things – Dead Slow Ahead puts me in mind of a sci-fi film at certain points with a soundscape that includes a lot of electronic beeping and an alien strangeness to some of its more abstract images and heightened colour palette. I actually watched Dead Slow Ahead on Festival Scope a couple of weeks ago, not realising that it was going to be in Gijón, but it is a completely different experience on the big screen and with surround sound – and it is another very immersive film. It is my intention to write something about the two films together (possibly also including Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, 2013) because it seems to me that it would be impossible not to acknowledge that film in relation to them – although not necessarily ‘an influence’ as such, it’s more that in the eyes of the spectator a connection will be made (if they’ve seen it)), so again I’m not going to expand on the film any further at this juncture (she says, with one eye on the clock).

So that is the end of the Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón. I will be reviewing some of the films I’ve seen (I haven’t had time to write anything other than these postcards while I’ve been in Spain), I am writing a report on the experimental section for Desistfilm and probably also an overview of Convergencias, and a report on the Spanish shorts for Eye for Film. It will take a while for me to write all of those things (not least because I return to work on Tuesday), but I will link to them on here once they’re online.
I’ll just finish by saying muchísimas gracias a Martín Cuesta y Víctor Paz por invitarme a Gijón como participante en Convergencias – ha sido una gran experiencia y espero que puedo vuelvo para futuras ediciones (y que vemos en otros festivales también).

Postcard from Gijón: Days 5-6

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This is now the longest that I’ve stayed at a given festival and I’m at that stage where time has become elongated – my days of the week are all mixed up and I’m finding it hard to judge where I am in the day itself.

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Anyway, according to my notebook it was on day 5 that I saw Aferim! (Radu Jude, 2015) – another of the competition titles, and one of my favourites of the festival so far. If I had to classify it, I’d go for ‘picaresque Western’ with touches of Don Quijote. Set in the Romania of 1835, the film follows the adventures of father and son police constables Constandin (Teodor Corban) and Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu) as they pursue an escaped Gypsy slave (Carfin – played by Toma Cuzin) who is accused of stealing money from the local lord. With satirical touches – and no end of idioms, courtesy of Constandin’s fondness for folkloric sayings – the dialogue reveals xenophobia, racism, class strife and feudal injustices to be endemic to the time (of course, this can also be taken as commentary on the present as well). Even while the characters are conscious of these injustices (Constandin and Ionita discover that the situation with Carfin is not quite what they’ve been told – and Ionita goes as far as to suggest that they should pretend that they can’t find him because they know that he’s not guilty of the crime he’s accused of), they nonetheless feel that they can do nothing to change them (“The world will stay as it is, and you can’t change it”). The film is laced with humour and shot in a crisp black and white utilising the varied Romanian landscape as if viewed by John Ford – it just feels as if you’re in the hands of a director who has something to say and knows how he wants to say it. Recommended.

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Next I went to see an exhibition of photographs of Mexico by Luis Buñuel. He shot twenty films in Mexico, from Gran Casino (1947) to Simon of the Desert (1965), which amounts to almost two thirds of his filmography. The photos seem to have been taken while he was scouting for locations – the exhibition indicates which film they relate to and uses a still from the film to show how they appeared onscreen – and serve as an illustration of his eye for detail and exhaustive preparation. I thought that the next event was a roundtable discussion with the other Convergencias participants, but it turned out that I’d misunderstood – we were interviewed on camera (en español, claro) by TCM/Telecable about our choice of film and what else we’d seen at the festival that we’d recommend. I haven’t watched the video yet, but I’ll post a link within this post when I have (provided I haven’t made an arse of myself).

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Next was the fourth of the Convergencias titles – Os olhos de André / André’s Eyes (Antonio Borges Correia, 2015), a Portuguese film chosen by Jesús Choya (you can read Jesús’s text on the film, here). Jesús is the youngest of the participants (he is only 16) and I was really impressed by how articulate he was in explaining his choice of film during the interview earlier in the day – that, in combination with the fact that the film had also been recommended to me by a friend, meant that I was keen to see this one. The film tells the story of a single father and his sons, the youngest of whom has been taken into care after their estranged mother raised a question about the child’s paternity. The story is ‘performed’ (probably better to say ‘recreated’) by the actual family involved – apart from the mother, everyone in the film is essentially playing themselves. It feels like a very honest film without any artificial constructions, and it is impactful in an emotional sense because you watch events that are obviously traumatic for a family, being re-lived. I know that the film is on Festival Scope, so I’m intending to rewatch it when I get home – I may return to it on here at a later date.

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The last film of the day for me was The Thoughts That Once We Had (Thom Andersen, 2015) – an essay film that the opening titles tell us is ‘a personal history’ of cinema but refracted through Gilles Deleuze’s book The Movement-Image (1986). I loved the journey through cinema and the juxtapositions making connections (or illustrating evolutions) across different eras and cinemas, but for me there was too much Theory (with a capital ‘T’). It may have been the lateness of the hour, but I found it difficult to assimilate and process the numerous quotations from the book with sufficient speed to make my own connections with the images (and to personally join the dots between words and image). I’d watch it again (for the clips above all) although I’d probably prefer to do so in a format where I could pause it and think the ideas through as I went along.

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I spent Wednesday morning writing the previous one of these posts (I’m trying to write them regularly, otherwise I end up with a glut of stuff to write up at the end – also, writing just a paragraph on each film seems to be a good way to fix it in my mind). So the first film of the day for me was another of the competition titles – Black (Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, 2015), a Belgian production and adaptation of two novels by Dirk Bracke. The film is effectively a contemporary Romeo and Juliet within the world of rival urban gangs – and also a commentary on the experience of immigrants and first-generation nationals in Belgium, because the gangs are Sub-Saharan African and Moroccan in origin. Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio) and Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi) fall in love after a chance encounter at the police station (both have been arrested for theft) and begin a clandestine relationship that puts them in danger with their respective gangs. I have some issues with the depiction of sexual violence against women within the film (the female characters are treated like meat by the males). For me, the opening sequence, where we intuit that a woman is being sexually assaulted through the combination of screams and abstract patterns of colour, movement and light that are seen through glass (we cannot explicitly see the event itself), was a more imaginative representation than a later assault when a female character is stripped and effectively put on display for the camera as well as her attackers. It could perhaps be argued that that is in keeping with how the men who are present view her but I get a bit fed up with women being filmed in traumatic situations in that way. However that issue aside, the film has a lot to commend it – it is directed with real verve (and makes excellent use of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’, here performed by Oscar and the Wolf feat. Tsar) and has two engaging performances from the main protagonists. I’ve seen it described on twitter as ‘Romeo and Juliet as directed by Tony Scott’ – and I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I would take it as a positive. I saw it in the press screening but from what I can gather it was a hit at the public screening later in the day.

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Next was the fifth of the Convergencias films – Ispytanie / Test (Alexander Kott, 2014), chosen by Pablo González-Taboada (you can read Pablo’s text on the film, here). If In the Crosswind has only voiceover and no dialogue, and Transatlantique has audible (but incomprehensible) voices, Test goes one step further with not a single word spoken and instead communicates through the actors’ expressions. There are no titles at all, so I’ve had to look up when and where the film is set – according to The Hollywood Reporter, ‘the geographical setting can be deduced as somewhere near Semey in modern-day Kazakhstan, then known as Semipalatinsk — notorious as the site of the USSR’s first nuclear test, in August 1949′. A teenage girl (Elena An) and her father (Karim Pakachakov) live self-sufficiently in a small homestead on a windswept and parched plain in silent harmony. Two suitors (one local (Narinman Bekbulatov-Areshev) and the other an interloper (Danila Rassomakhin)) will compete for the girl’s attention and affections, while we also note ominous convoys of military vehicles crossing the plain. I haven’t seen any of Kott’s other films but in his introduction Pablo said that this one represents a step up in terms of the director’s cinematic expression. It’s a visually imaginative film – highlighting the textures and details of the characters’ lives and the natural world around them but also shooting them in a way that feels fresh (for example, there are quite a lot of overhead shots that give us an alternative perspective on the lay of land). One small detail that I liked – Rassomakhin’s character turns up in the dark at one point, in order to project the photo he took of the girl onto the side of her home. As he disappears out into the darkness again, he attempts to light his way by flicking a lighter on and off – the small light momentarily hovers in the blackness, each time appearing slightly further along, until a match cut turns the flame into a small bird in the sky the following morning. A really beautiful film.
The last session of the day was another of the FICXLab screenings, this time a retrospective of Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. The screening took the form of 26 16mm shorts, split into two programmes of 35 minutes, taken from their “philosophical-poetic-fictions”. Many of them are humorous and playful – visual ‘jokes’ or experimenting with the form in images that contain multiple exposures to overlay different aspects of a theme. I’ll have to give some thought as to what the overarching connections were because there wasn’t any contextualisation within the films themselves and they’re not artists with whom I am familiar.

To be continued…

Postcard from Gijón: Days 3-4

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Sunday being a day of rest, it was only appropriate that I should catch up on some sleep (and also write the first of these postcards) – so the first film of the day for me wasn’t until 5pm.

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Under Sandet / Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet, 2015) – one of the Official Selection (competition) titles – is a Danish-German co-production that tells a little-known story from the aftermath of World War 2, namely that German soldiers were used to clear mine fields in countries that had been under Nazi occupation during the war. Some two million mines had been laid along Denmark’s western coast (someone apparently thought that it was a possible site for the Allied landings that would in reality occur in Normandy) presenting an obvious danger to the civilian population. 2,600 German troops (most of them teenagers recruited in the dying days of the war) were put to work defusing and removing the mines, having been told that they would only be allowed to go home to Germany once every mine had been recovered. The film gives two points of view: Sargent Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller), an experienced Danish officer who is overtly and openly hostile towards the German forces who occupied his country (the English title obviously has the double meaning of ‘my land’ and ‘minefields’); and the young German soldiers (most notably Louis Hofmann, Emil Belton and Oskar Belton – the latter two play the team’s youngest members, a pair of twins who are barely in their teens) who he must train as a bomb disposal unit. If the treatment of what is an interesting story perhaps leans towards the conventional (the narrative arcs of certain characters is telegraphed from early on and although there are several sequences of high tension in relation to the bombs, that tension cannot be sustained for the duration (that said, I jumped in my seat at least three times)), the acting is great (a lot of it communicated silently through gesture and expression) and the characters are differentiated sufficiently for us to become invested in what happens to them as individuals.

In the Crosswind
The second film screening from the Convergencias selection was Risttuules / In the Crosswind (Martti Helde, 2014) – chosen by David Tejero (you can read his text on the film, here). I think that this will end up being my favourite of the festival (unless something astounding comes along) because it is utterly original in form and visualisation, and emotionally devastating – in contrast to the majority of screenings where people start chatting and filing out during the end credits, in this case you could have heard a pin drop and barely anyone got up from their seat until the credits had ended. This is another film that tells a little-known story in relation to World War 2: Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic states from the early 1940s onwards involved thousands of citizens from Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia being forcibly sent by train to remote outposts in Siberia. Their predicament continued after the war ended and most were unable to return to their homelands until some time after Stalin’s death in 1953.
In the Crosswind tells the story via a series of letters (heard in voiceover – there is no spoken dialogue in the film) based on those written by Erna Tamm (played by Laura Petersen) as if to her husband Heldur (Tarmo Song) after they were separated during the removals. But the most arresting feature are the black and white tableaux vivants through which Helde conveys those moments when time stands still for us at those junctures when our lives are irrevocably changed. People stand stock still, emotion frozen on their faces, captured in moments of rupture and turmoil. The camera moves through a given scene in one continuous take (as far as I recall) – with the sound continuing as if everything were in action – and the staging is ingeniously blocked-out in such as way so that the movement of the camera through the tableaux allows a set up to change without cutting. The best example of this is a sequence where the camera is moving through an interior and passes a series of windows with pillars of wall in between them – the camera keeps slowly moving and each time we see the view out of the window, the (frozen) action has moved on, telling a violent and horrific story. The effect is a bit like looking at individual frames – or still images – taken in succession. It is genuinely unlike anything I’ve seen before and I hope that I can see it again.

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My last screening on Sunday was one of the FICXLab (experimental) sessions showing two films by Robert Nelson: Suite California & Stops Passes Part 1: Tijuana to Hollywood via Death Valley (1978) and Suite California & Stops Passes Part 2: San Francisco to Sierra Nevadas & Back Again (1978). I found the combination of sound and image to be quite discombobulating. Part 1 features a spoof of the narcotrafficante ‘genre’ border crossings and there is humour throughout, usually via the juxtaposition of sound and image, but what emerges across both parts is multi-faceted portrait of California. The recourse to historical facts and monuments – giving a kind of historical layer to the presentation of landscape and place – reminded me of James Benning’s Deseret (although in visual terms they are quite different, as is Nelson’s focus on people within the spaces he explores).

The Sky Trembles

Monday started with The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (Ben Rivers, 2015), another discombobulating film and I still don’t know quite what to make of it. It starts as a ‘making-of’-style documentary, showing Spanish director Oliver Laxe making his new film, Las Mimosas, in Morocco. The press kit probably has the best synopsis of what happens: ‘Shooting against the staggering beauty of the Moroccan landscape, from the rugged terrain of the Atlas Mountains to the stark and surreal emptiness of the Moroccan Sahara, with its encroaching sands and abandoned film sets, a director abandons his film set descending into a hallucinatory, perilous adventure of cruelty, madness and malevolence. A Paul Bowles story combined with observational footage forms a multi-layered excavation into the illusion of cinema itself’. My response to a film immediately after seeing it is usually a reaction – that is to say emotional rather than intellectual – and I only really start to form a coherent opinion when I begin writing. In this case, I think that I need to watch it again because my response feels like it’s stuck in reaction to the visuals (very beautiful and eerily strange) rather than engaging with what is going on at a deeper level. One to return to at a later date.

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Next up was my chosen film for Convergencias – Transatlantique (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2014). This was the first time that I’ve introduced a film at a festival (or anywhere else other than a university) and led the subsequent Q&A, but my nerves were mainly about doing it in Spanish and making myself comprehensible to the audience (Félix spoke in French, which was then translated into Spanish by a translator). The original text that I had to submit as a proposal was almost 1,000 words but this then had to be edited and rewritten into a 200 word version for the festival catalogue:

‘Part meditative travelogue and part wordless maritime reverie, Transatlantique unfolds in the spaces of a cargo ship undergoing a transatlantic voyage between Antwerp and Montreal. The black and white cinematography registers the inkiest of blacks and blinding whiteness in the Atlantic’s unruly seascapes and, as the swaying motion of the ship causes a chiaroscuro dance on its surfaces, a complexly layered soundscape combines the sounds of the crew with audible elements of the ship and the encompassing sounds of the sea and wind in an evocative and transportive symphony.
This essay film is part of the trend for immersive documentaries, but its singularity resides in its relationship with the new silent cinema and the manner in which the film only offers a narrative in the sense that it begins in one place and ends in another; it is a stream of consciousness representation of the journey and the lives of those onboard rendered in an elegant and idiosyncratic visual form. It is fitting that a film exploring a ship at sea – an in-between space and no-man’s land in the interstices between national borders – uses the universal language of cinema at its most elemental to communicate with the audience.’

It was great to see the film on the big screen as my original viewing was on a computer (as I’ve said previously, I wasn’t able to see it in Edinburgh). Seeing it on that scale made certain things visible. David Cairns wrote about the film during EIFF and he mentioned ‘a breathtaking shot of the sea, blackly luminous’ and wondered whether it was played in negative – watching it for the second time, on a larger scale, and having recently seen Noite sem distancia (Lois Patiño, 2015), it seemed to me that the image was indeed one from elsewhere in the film flipped into negative. Someone asked about it during the Q&A and Félix confirmed that that was the case but that he had also digitally cut part of the image so as to remove the horizon line. I’ll be presenting the film again on Thursday.

Dorsky et al
I returned to the FICXLab screen for the last session on Monday, this time for a programme of shorts by Nathaniel Dorsky, Helga Fanderl, and Jonathan Schwartz. I’ve not seen any of their work before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The programme was split into two, with Dorsky and Fanderl in the first half and then Schwartz in the second because the work of the first two complement each other whereas Schwartz’s films are quite different. The (silent) films by Dorsky (Prelude (2015) and Intimations (2015)) and Fanderl (Communing (2015)) have images of the natural world, repetition, reflection, and an emphasis on patterns of light and shadow in common (although the treatments are different), while Schwartz’s (a set of miniatures (2015), animals moving to the sound of a drum (2013), 3 1/33 series side a (2005-10), if the war continues (2012), 3 1/33 series side b (2005-10), Happy Birthday (2010)) utilise sound and the duplication of images to create worlds in miniature. My favourite of the evening was Fanderl’s film, although again my reaction was one of sensation rather than thought – but I’d like to see more of her films (which are shot on 16mm Super 8 and edited in camera). I will be writing a report for Desistfilm about the experimental section, so I won’t expand on these films any further for the time being.

To be continued…

Postcard from Gijón: Days 1-2

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I had a slow start to the festival on Friday in part because my day started so ridiculously early (I was at the airport at 5am) that I hit a brick wall of fatigue by mid-afternoon. I’ve not had the chance to properly explore yet – I had a wander around to find the locations main screens on Friday afternoon and in the process found the seafront, but I’m intending to go further afield during the coming week.
So my first event on Friday was the opening gala, presented by Carlos Areces in his own inimitable style. In addition to presenting the various sections of the festival, the opening gala is the occasion for the presentation of “career achievement”-type awards. One of these is the ‘Mujer de Cine’ [Woman of Cinema] award, which is intended to raise the profile of – and give recognition to – women working in the film industry. In this instance the award went to Kristina Bayona, a renowned casting agent and actors’ representative (she discovered Jordí Mollà (who sent a video message) and Penélope Cruz – and is still the agent of the latter as well as a host of high profile Spanish actors, including Elena Anaya (who presented the award)). The other main award is the Premio Nacho Martínez (Nacho Martínez award, named after the late Asturian actor), which was given to José Sacristán. It was impressive not only to see the career montage – and how many key Spanish films he has appeared in (illustrating what I said in my preview, that he has ‘effectively incarnated, performed and subverted Spain’s changing society across more than half a century’) – but also to hear that great gravelly voice in person.

La calle de la Amargura
The opening film was Arturo Ripstein’s La calle de la Amargura (which imdb lists as having the English title ‘Bleak Street‘ but I don’t think I’ve seen it referred to by that title anywhere else). I haven’t seen any of Ripstein’s many films and only know of his work by reputation, so I don’t know how this new film fits within a career that stretches all the way back to the 1960s. Based on real events – two prostitutes, intending to drug and rob their clients, accidentally killed two famous ‘lilliputian’ [the preferred term of the two characters in question] wrestlers when they gave them the same dose as meant for a full-size male – the film (written by Paz Alicia Garciadiego, Ripstein’s frequent collaborator) chronicles the circumstances in which the events played out in a tale of degradation, humiliation and poverty. Shot in black and white, the film visually recalls classic film noir (the shadows of alleyways and stairwells are utilised to great atmospheric effect – in fact stairwells and stairway landings are key transitional spaces within the film, places where exchanges (of all sorts) happen and part of the film’s emphasis on community) but with an almost Shakespearean dimension of tragedy wrought through wretched desperation and the attendant levels of melodrama that that implies. There’s no small amount of grotesquery but the characters aren’t judged – each has their reasons for behaving as they do and each is shown to be capable of acting out of love. It’s not really my sort of film but it’s well made and I’d be interested in seeing some more of Ripstein’s films in order to put it into some sort of context.

La delgada linea amarilla
Day 2 started with another Mexican film – but a very different vision of Mexico – La delgada línea amarilla / The Thin Yellow Line (Celso García, 2015). A gentle road movie that – much like the job undertaken by the characters – sticks to the line it starts off on and never wavers: it’s the sort of drama where the characters go on a journey in more than one sense. But Damián Alcázar is great in the lead role as a man who has lost something of himself over the years but is striving for dignity through work. Something about it reminded me of The Wizard of Oz (probably that yellow line they’re painting on the road and the way in which each of the gang has to ‘fix’ a missing / defective part of themselves) but I think that’s more down to my warped consciousness than any deliberate frame of reference. I won’t say any more about it as I’m intending to review it.

Poster_Hitchcock:Truffaut
Next up was Hitchcock / Truffaut (Kent Jones, 2015), which I found enthralling and could easily have watched at double the length. It examines the impact of the interviews Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock across eight days in 1962, both in terms of how they changed perceptions of Hitchcock (who up until this point was generally viewed as an entertainer rather than a serious auteur because of the genres he worked within) but also how the subsequent book (published in 1966) influenced subsequent generations of directors. A series of very articulate directors such as David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, and James Gray discuss how the book – in which the text is accompanied by stills, effectively giving a breakdown of editing patterns and what effects Hitchcock was achieving through his choices and style – opened their eyes to the methods behind filmmaking, and inspired some of them into their careers. My one criticism of the film is that no women are interviewed – although off the top of my head I can’t think of a female director who seems obviously influenced by the Master of Suspense, I’m sure that his films inspire filmmakers irrespective of gender and it should be possible to reflect that in terms of interviewees. Impressively film writer Kent Jones effectively translates the book into audiovisual form – we hear the recordings of the interviews in combination with the text in the book (with key phrases highlighted) and the relevant sequences from the films under discussion. The result is a celebration of cinephilia (both Truffaut’s and that of the contemporary directors), of Hitchcock and Truffaut and their art form, and a fascinating dissection of the films. It has made me want to re-read the book (it’s probably more than ten years since I last looked at it) and to (re)watch Hitchcock’s work in parallel. I would also really like to watch Jones’ film again – so hopefully it will get a UK release.

Krisha
I also went to the first of the selections of Asturian films, in this case a programme of shorts – but I am going to see several of the shorts selections, so I will return to the eight I saw yesterday when I have seen more of the others. Therefore my final film of the day was the first of the Convergencias films – Krisha (Trey Edward Shults, 2015), chosen by Carlota Moseguí (you can read Carlota’s text on the film – here). Thanksgiving family reunions in American cinema are often the sites of recrimination and disaster – Krisha fits within that tradition but it presents the mental disintegration of the eponymous character in such a way as to put us inside her experience. Camera movement, alterations of tempo and light, and a layered soundscape (with varying volume) all coincide to knock us off kilter in parallel with Krisha as events and interactions become too much for her to cope with, causing a sense of dread and impending doom to build almost from the outset of the film and her arrival at her sister’s house. Likewise the aspect ratio changes in stages to reflect Krisha’s perception of things closing in on her. Inspired by an event within the director’s own family – and with some family members playing a version of themselves (including Krisha, who is Trey Edward Shults’ aunt) in a fictionalised recreation of a traumatic rupture in their family – this is an impressive directorial debut by a filmmaker who seems to be in complete control of the story that he wants to tell and the way that he wants to tell it (in marked contrast to his protagonist). Another film that I would be happy to watch again sooner rather than later.

To be continued…

FICX53: Convergencias

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Back in June I saw the following call for papers/proposals from the Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón:

‘[Asociación Cultural Convergencias de la Crítica Cinematográfica] and the Gijon International Film Festival will be hosting a second edition of its critics’ strand: CONVERGENCES. This strand intends to become an opportunity for film critics all over Europe – a meeting point of discussion for a diverse and wide-ranging spectrum of cinephilia. In order to realise this in FICXixon, we are organising a call for papers. The aim is to select six films not previously shown in Spain. This strand is conceived as a place for discovery and recognition of directors who have not received the appropriate attention of Spanish programmers and curators. We encourage critics to participate by sending proposals of films to programme at FICXixon. The first edition of this strand was a great success, working as a meeting place for Spanish film critics, that presented the selection to over 1,200 spectators. This year, we would like to open this participation to our European colleagues.’

A critic could participate if they were frequently publishing articles or discussing film on TV or radio. You had to submit a CV and a covering letter as part of the proposal to explain why you were interested in taking part. The film proposal itself had a word limit of 1,000 words in either English or Spanish – within the conditions set out (a film produced between 2014 – 2015, preferably one that had not yet been shown in Spain, and relevant to contemporary trends / delivering fresh ideas for the evolution of film language), you had to make the case for the importance of your chosen film and why it should be included in the festival’s programme. The final choice would be made by the section’s coordinators, Martín Cuesta (Cinema ad hoc) and Víctor Paz (A cuarta parede).
I wasn’t sure that I published frequently enough to qualify because I tend to have bursts of activity when I go to festivals followed by slow periods when I watch more than I write. But I knew that I had various upcoming festivals in September and early October (I didn’t know that I’d get derailed by the brouhaha over at the old blog during August) and I thought that it was worth going for given that they specifically stated that ‘only the quality and depth of the several points developed in the texts will be taken into account, no matter what the previous experience of the film critic is’. That seemed like an admirably open door and to be worth the effort of applying. But what film to choose?
At that point in the year, the only festivals I’d been to were in Barcelona and Edinburgh – obviously anything I’d seen in the former had already been shown in Spain, so that was a dead end. There wasn’t a great deal in Edinburgh that fitted the bill either (incidentally, it can be quite a faff to work out which countries a film has screened in). I was giving this proper thought while I was in Edinburgh, and looking through the festival catalogue there seemed to be two films that might fit the bill – films that were unusual enough that I’d probably be the only person suggesting them but that also sounded like my kind of film (liking the film wasn’t one of the conditions – but I would struggle to argue for a film that I didn’t actually rate). Anyway, I saw one of them but wasn’t bowled over by it. The other one – Transatlantique (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2014) – wasn’t screening until after I was leaving Edinburgh but it was in the videotheque so I headed there to watch it, only to be stymied by the fact that there was something noisy going on in the next room and this had been described as a silent film (which isn’t entirely accurate but it’s certainly a quiet film). So I bailed on that plan. In the end I watched it on Festival Scope….and I found it to be a singular and mesmerising film. So I wrote a proposal about it.
All of which is a very longwinded way of saying that I was one of the six critics chosen – Transatlantique is screening at FIXC53 with its director in attendance, and the festival is paying for my flights and accommodation so that I can be there too. I’ll get to meet the other chosen critics and discuss the films with them. I’m really thrilled to be taking part and to be meeting the other participants, and I’m intrigued by the other Convergencias films, none of which I’ve seen before (I’m also really looking forward to seeing Transatlantique on a big screen because it is visually stunning in a way that a computer screen cannot do justice to).
I will return to Transatlantique on here is some form, but I thought that I’d give a brief outline of each of the films in the section. The festival’s press release about the chosen films says that they’re connected through the use of sound in a creative capacity as a narrative element and through an expressive use of silence – I shall find out more when I watch them, but I can already see other potential overlaps in the descriptions below.

André's Eyes

André’s Eyes / Os Olhos de André (António Borges Correia, 2015) – chosen by Jesús Choya.
Trailer
Synopsis: An experimental docudrama in which the actual family members themselves participate in the recreation of their own story. Set in a small village in the Portuguese countryside, the film follows the struggle of a divorced father to keep his family together after his youngest son is taken away from them and placed in a foster family.

In the Crosswind

In the Crosswinds / Risttuules (Martti Helde, 2014) – chosen by David Tejero.
Trailer
Synopsis: In a series of black and white tableaux vivants, the film tells the story of an Estonian woman and her young daughter struggling to find their way home after being deported to Siberia by the Soviet occupiers in 1941. The imagery looks fable-like, and the detailed description on the TIFF website says that ‘carving out an uncanny space between motion and stasis, these images evoke a state in which the past seems solid and the present like a dream’.

Krisha

Krisha (Trey Edward Shults, 2015) – chosen by Carlota Moseguí.
Synopsis (taken from the official website): ‘Following a prolonged battle with addiction and self-destruction, Krisha, the black sheep of the family she abandoned, returns for a holiday celebration. But what begins as a moving testament to the family’s capacity to forgive soon spirals into a deluge of emotional bloodletting, as old wounds are torn open, and resentments are laid bare’. The cast includes several members of the director’s family.

The Road

The Road (Rana Salem, 2015) – chosen by Eduardo Guillot [not on Twitter].
Trailer
Synopsis: Rana and Guy, a young married couple, live in today’s city of Beirut. Drifting away from reality with no sense of time and space, Rana is trapped in memories and dreams. Guy decides that they must go on a trip. The director says that ‘the film is inspired by my life with my partner, but the characters are not us, even though we’re the actors. The Road is a very personal project, and it takes a look into how it is to be in love and maintain a long relationship in a country where it’s difficult to make long term plans due to its instability’.

Test

Test (Aleksandr Kott, 2014) – chosen by Pablo González-Taboada.
Trailer
Synopsis: Test is a story about the first nuclear bomb test which was conducted in Semipalatinsk in 1949. Director Aleksandr Kott has said of his dialogue-free film that “…have you noticed that when somebody is really close to you, you don’t need many words to communicate, you communicate with glances, gestures, and actions. Sometimes silent communication means much more than empty conversations. This film is for those who love looking, for those who remember that the cinema is, before all, an image. And when cinema was invented, it was without words.”

Transatlantique_11

Transatlantique (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2014) – chosen by me.
Trailer
Part meditative travelogue and part maritime reverie, Transatlantique is a black and white essay film – without dialogue – exploring the spaces of a cargo ship undergoing a transatlantic voyage. The brothers Félix (director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor), Nicolas (co-cinematographer) and Gabriel Dufour-Laperrière (sound recordist) boarded the Federal Rideau in Antwerp and embarked on a 30-day journey to Montreal. The film is as interested in the architectural spaces of the ship as it is with the sea and its depths, and makes interesting use of sound…but that is all I shall say for the time being.

There is also a Convergencias video presentation by Martín Cuesta – here.