Buick Riviera (2008, Croatia, Goran Rusinovic)
Goran Rusinovic’s brilliant film illustrates how hatred can persist through generations and lay dormant until one day it is unleashed into a full fledged war. On the surface, the film appears to be about two strangers whose chance encounter leads to volatile consequences but it is clear that the film is about more than just two people. The two characters give us one example of how hatred can suddenly flare out of a seemingly harmless situation and result in bloody revenge. In this regard, the film can explain why fighting broke out in the former Yugoslavia or why other cultures/tribes are in a race to destroy each other. The simple answer can be that people just don’t like each other. But why? Why don’t people like each other? Query this question and often the answers are the simplest things. An unreturned smile can immediately label someone as an enemy. And sometimes, ofcourse, a nice smile can cause distrust. Add all these little things up and you build a catalogue of distrust and hatred, eventually leading to horrific consequences.
Buick Riviera starts off in the snowy American mid-west. After Hasan’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, he is fortunate to get a lift from Vuko. The two exchange jokes and things are quite pleasant especially after they discover they are both from the same land. But Vuko’s constants remarks about Muslim behavior anger Hasan and he counters about Vuko’s Serb identity. Immediately, hatred and distrust flare up. Hasan heads home and things appear to have ended. But Vuko shows up at Hasan’s door, determined to buy Hasan’s beloved broken car (the Buick Riviera). The car becomes a ground for asserting each other’s control over the other -- Hasan needs to preserve his car while Vuko wants it at all costs. Watching the duo’s confrontation with confusion is Hasan’s American wife, Angela, who does not understand what is going on. Still, her character is essential because she serves as a moderator who oversees a critical scene in Hasan’s and Vuko’s battle at the dinner table. The camera work is brilliant in this dinner table scene where Angela is seated at the head of the table, equidistant from Hasan and Vuko who are across from each other. However, the camera’s perspective is altered in moments to make it like look that Angela is siding with Vuko in some debates. In this regards, the camera perspective portrays Hasan’s inner feelings of how he feels he is on the verge of losing everything. Memories of bloodshed in his former land come to Hasan’s mind and he is determined to fight back harder.
A fascinating film and one of the year’s best!
Link: Sarajevo 2008 write-up.
Border (2009, Armenia/Holland, Harutyun Khachatryan)
A dialogue-less picture which lets the powerful images speak for themselves. The film shows that if people can’t trust an animal from the other side of the border, then how can they ever get along with humans from across the border. At the film’s start, a buffalo is found injured near the border. The people from across the border tend to the buffalo and bring it over on their side. However, the village people and even the farm animals treat the buffalo with suspicion. Seasons pass and the buffalo appears to be assimilated with the people’s daily activities. Still when something does go wrong, it is the buffalo that is blamed.
The buffalo ends up being a symbol of a refugee, a stranger who finds himself in a different community and tries to adapt. A few subtle images highlight the strains of the border on everyday life and the distrust that exists of those on the other side. Even the buffalo appears to feel the strain of that border and yearns to break free of the human created border.
The director has called the film a blend of documentary and “live-action film” but the film’s keen observances of everyday life erase the boundary between documentary and fiction. This film does not feel like scripted cinema at all but is a rich work where an animal is used to expose humanity's many faults, especially intolerance of a stranger.
Link: Official website
Delta (2008, Hungary, Kornél Mundruczó)
A special thanks is given to Béla Tarr at the start of Kornél Mundruczó’s Delta. It is easy to see why that is the case because Delta incorporates a few touches from Tarr’s masterpiece Satantango and The Outsider. While Tarr’s films are in black and white, Delta is in color and this sets the film’s mood and atmosphere apart from Tarr’s work. Also, there are some scenes in Delta that evoke Lisandro Alonso’s Los Muertos and Theo Angelopoulos’ The Weeping Meadow. Overall, Delta is a visually sharp film and a real cinematic treat.
Dogtooth (2009, Greece, Giorgos Lanthimos)
Original title: Kynodontas
This Un Certain Regard winner is part Lars von Trier, part Ulrich Seidl with a touch of the absurd. The story goes from dark humour to shock in an instant with its depiction of family abuse and incest. The film may be hard to like but it is equally difficult to ignore this work. There is plenty to chew on in this film, especially regarding the consequences of a controlled environment that the father imposes on his family. The father creates a closed environment where he controls every aspect of the household from what the children see on tv to what they learn. However, his closely guarded world is threatened when the introduction of an outside element into the house changes the equation drastically. In essence, the film forms a twisted case study of the butterfly effect.
Strella (2009, Greece, Panos H. Koutras)
After Yiorgos is released from prison, he encounters Strella, a transvestite, in a hotel. The two sleep with each other but complications arise after their encounter. What follows has roots in Greek mythology but the film takes things to another extreme by adding a wicked twist. It is hard to talk about the film without giving the twist away but without the twist, there is really nothing to talk about. Still, the film manages to pack an emotional punch.
Trailer for Dogtooth