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.

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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 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.

Aferim

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…

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.
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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.
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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].
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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.”

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Transatlantique (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2014) – chosen by me.
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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.