Saturday, September 22, 2007

CIFF Notes, Day 1 & 2

Since I spent a good portion of the summer watching Eastern European movies, it was appropriate that I started the first day of CIFF with two films from Romania and Poland. Both films were uncompromising, gritty and had a few moments which would make anyone squirm and feel uneasy. Cinéma vérité at its best!

4 Months 3 Weeks 2 days (2007, Romania, Director Cristian Mungiu): Rating 9/10

This is not as easy movie to watch. And the uneasiness comes from the extended discussions and scenes regarding abortion. None of the complications regarding such a decision are removed and we are given a front row seat in the hotel room where the core of the film's scenes take place. When things get a bit too uneasy, a little breather is given when the camera leaves the hotel room. But even though the camera shifts to house party, the film still presents a realistic dose of life in modern day Romania where some city folk look down upon the villagers and the country life style. And finally, the camera returns to the hotel room to give the most unnerving scene of the film.

The title may refer to the abortion decision of a character but that topic is just a springboard to peer into other aspects of life in 1987 Romania, a time when the communist rule kept people on edge.

Saviour Square (2006, Poland, Directors Joanna Kos & Krzysztof Krauze):

This award winning Polish film is based on a real life story about a mother's attempts to take her own life along with that of her young two sons. The film gives a background story to her life as she reached that difficult decision. The directors makes a smart decision in stripping any dialogue during some of the most difficult scenes (wife abuse, suicide attempt, court case) and only having background music. This allows the powerful images to speak for themselves without any of the scenes feeling over-dramatized.

When it comes to the couple's problem, the film is similar to Béla Tarr's The Prefab People. In fact, the scene where the husband is leaving home while his wife is begging him to stay is reminiscent of Tarr's film. But this story adds a complicated layer by including the mother-in law and a housing scam which results in the couple forced out of their savings. The issues depicted are relevant to any country around the world -- a woman's turbulent relationship with her mother-in law & a husband's reluctance to help with house-work is common to almost all cultures all the world.

Rating 8/10

Day 2, Sept 22:

Khadak (Belgium/Germany, 2006, Directors Peter Brosens & Jessica Hope Woodworth):

There is a hypnotic poetry to this tale set in the picturesque locales of Mongolia. The story revolves around a family of nomadic shepherds who are forced to relocate to the city because of a plague harming their animals. Packed with stunning images, the equally engaging soundtrack meshes a shaman magical tale along with a political depiction of Mongolian life. Silence dominates the film but near the end when a beautiful orchestra music fills the screen, the effect is mesmerizing. The majority of the film is spliced with abstract images which are connected to the film's magical tale of a young shepherd learning about his spiritual destiny. It was a real pleasure to watch this on a giant IMAX screen and be sucked into a stunning world where magic melted the boundaries of reality.

Rating 8.5/10

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