Friday, June 11, 2010

2010 Movie World Cup, Group G

Group G -- Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea, Portugal

Films: Almost Brothers, Adanggaman, North Korea: A Day in the Life, Colossal Youth

Brazil: Almost Brothers (2004, Lúcia Murat)

The film has an interesting setup in linking the Brazilian military junta's political imprisonments in the 1970's to a modern day depiction of favela gangs. The story starts off in the 1950's when two men from vastly different social backgrounds are brought together by their common love for music. Two decades later, their sons find themselves as cell mates during the military junta's crackdown. The two develop a frienship in the prison but find themselves on opposite sides after an experiment to treat all inmates as equals fails leading to a prison divided on racial grounds. And another few decades later, the two friends find themselves on opposing sides again, with Miguel a politician seeking to improve slum life and Jorginho stuck in prison yet running a slum gang remotely via phone. To complicate matters, Miguel's daugther is involved with a gang member who works for Jorginho.

There are some engaging prison sequences in the film and some interesting moments involving a friendship continously put to the test due to racial, social and political divisions but overall, it is a disappointing effort given the previously thorough depiction of Favela/gang life on film. The presentation of the story across decades with constant cuts disrupts any flow the film builds and weakens both the present and past portrayals.

Ivory Coast: Adanggaman (2000, Roger Gnoan M'Bala)

Adanggaman blends fact and fiction in its depiction of slavery from an African perspective in the 1600s. The film starts off with Ossei's clash with his parents over his refusal to marry as per tradition and their wishes. But after an attack on his village, Ossei finds himself on the run and is eventually captured to be sold as a slave.

North Korea: A Day in the Life (2004, Pieter Fleury)

A lot of credit must be given to Pieter Fleury for making an accurate film depicting state of things inside North Korea despite working under the watchful eye of the North Korean government. The government chose the family that Fleury could interview and probably limited where his camera could go. Still, despite being confined in a rigid framework, Fleury has emerged with a film that confirms what one reads about North Korea and its controlled environment.

The chosen family, from grandfather to the young granddaughter, utter anti-US messages every chance they get, thereby pleasing the North Korean officials who probably reviewed the footage. Besides filming inside the family home, Fleury also films in a factory, an office, a local school, an English language learning class and all these sites confirm people are working/talking under a watchful eye. The family and the office workers words don't ever seem genuine and thereby serve as evidence of the staged nature of the interview. In the factory, Fleury's camera is able to give a truthful view of the working conditions that exist. The employees have daily targets to meet and even if there is a power shortage (which are frequent and almost daily), it is up to the employees to work harder and faster to make up for the lost time.  Fleury is also able to capture a discussion among a group of school teachers about whether the lessons and stories they teach in school will accurately emphasize their great leader's generosity.  It is amazing to think that tiny footage could have escaped the North Korean censors as it clearly shows that only things related to the great leader are to be taught in the classroom.   There are also radio annoucements included in the film which convey the daily propaganda fed to the people about the great cause of their nation and beliefs.  And the film ends by giving us a good look at the great leader, naturally.

The film won a special Award for Best Documentary at Pyongyang Film Festival in 2004, so obviously the North Korean powers were pleased by the image the film presents. It is remarkable that the film manages to depict exactly what the government would have wanted to stop anyway. There are subtle things that maybe the government didn't pick up such as the office workers body language giving away the artificial nature of the interview.  The documentary comes off as a comedy in its observation of people's routines but ofcourse it is no laughing matter considering that these people have to spend each day under the watchful eye of the great leader and his followers.  Orwell's fictional 1984 is still a reality.

Portugal: Colossal Youth (2006, Pedro Costa)

Colossal Youth is a living breathing painting that lets us observe its beauty and allows us to listen in to the sounds flowing within the canvas.

The mesmerizing opening shot is an indication of the beauty that lies ahead.
The film completes the Fontainhas trilogy and picks up after most of the residents from In Vanda's Room have been relocated to pristine lifeless clean apartment complexes.

Vanda is back as well, along with her cough, but this time around it is Ventura who is the camera's main focal point. Here he goes looking for Vanda.
Ventura has to select his apartment but he is taking his time and is in no hurry. The clean walls of the apartment hold no joy for Ventura as his heart is torn in between Fontainhas and his dream Lava House in Cape Verde.
Fontainhas provides Ventura an opportunity to do most of his thinking from his red throne where he can view the disappearing neighbourhood.
And there is just one scene where Costa's camera gives a glimpse of life that exists beyond the two worlds of Fontainhas and the apartment complex. This scene shows lights glittering in the distance and is the first indication of a city's existence in both Colossal Youth and In Vanda's Room.
Otherwise, Costa's camera is only focused on the relevant details, be it alleys, walls or faces.

And finally, the music and words of the infectious liberation song that Ventura plays on the record player stay long in the mind even after all the credits have taken leave.

Standings and Points (Maximum out of 9)

Colossal Youth: 9
North Korea: A Day in the Life: 7
Almost Brothers: 6
Adanggaman: 5

The big surprize has to be the North Korean elimination of Brazil who were the defending movie world cup champions from 2006. Since the Brazilian film In the Middle of the World had won my 2006 movie world cup, I had put some pressure on myself to ensure I got a good Brazilian film for a worthy title defense. After I failed to get my first pick of Garapa (José Padilha), I had little to choose between my 2nd pick of Margarette's Feast and 3rd pick Almost Brothers. In the end, I went with Almost Brothers by default because my 2nd pick was not readily available. Yet, I am sure I could have made a better selection than Almost Brothers.

Technically the North Korean entry is a Dutch film made by a dutch director. However, it is set entirely in North Korea and the work got the approval of the government so I see no problem in using it to represent North Korea in this movie world cup.

Soccer Group Prediction

This group was initially labeled as a Group of Death because of the stellar players on display for Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast. But this group does appear to be light weight with Brazil clear favourites to take top spot and advance along with Portugal in 2nd place.

Brazil might not play with too much flair and score many goals but they will get their 3 wins. Drogba's possible absence will be felt dearly by Ivory Coast who need his experience to muscle in some goals. Plus, it is hard to see what Sven-Göran Eriksson can accomplish with the limited time he has had with Ivory Coast. If Portugal's golden generation of Luis Figo and Rui Costa could not win anything for the national team, then it is hard to see the current squad do much at the world cup. Ronaldo will be busy doing his step-overs but they will amount to nothing. It will be interesting to see if Portugal can get rid of their diving and play acting. North Korea are an unknown entity but are unlikely to repeat the shock result of 1966 when they beat Italy 1-0.

Brazil, Portugal and North Korea are also tied historically to the 1966 World Cup. In 1966, Portugal were in the same group as Brazil and the two took part in an ugly game when the Portuguese players kicked Pele out of the world cup. Even today, it is hard to watch those images of Pele being repeatedly hacked and fouled in one of the earliest examples of ugly football. North Korea's last match in the World Cup was a Quarter-Final tie in 1966 against Portugal where they raced to a shock 3-0 lead before Eusebio took over and scored 4 goals en route to a 5-3 Portugese win. No repeat of that score line will take place when these two meet but atleast the North Korean team will be encouraged that a previous generation of national players scored three goals in the opening 25 minutes against Portugal.

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