Sunday, August 10, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup Final

The 2014 Movie World Cup kicked off back in December 2013 shortly after the Soccer World Cup draw was made. The spotlight lasted 8 months because it took a long time to hunt down 96 films from all the 32 countries in the tournament. Thankfully, a majority of the films proved to be exciting selections with only a few disappointments. Surprisingly some of the disappointments came from nations with an abundant amount of options, such as those from England and USA. On the flip-side, films from nations with limited selections proved to be a pleasant surprise, such as those from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Honduras, Switzerland and Costa Rica. This little bit of unpredictability added to the fun and some of the results came as a surprise. For example, the two finalists, France and Italy, have an inexhaustible list of films to choose from but neither of the two films in the final, L’Argent and Il Posto, were in the original shortlist. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert was initially Italy’s Film #3 but a chance visit to Casablanca Video brought Il Posto in the frame. A faith in Ermanno Olmi allowed me to take a gamble on the film, a similar gamble taken on Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs which was the other film rented on the same night. Both films proved to be worthy selections and more importantly these were the last two films I rented from the video store that was my source for foreign and independent cinema for almost two decades. Back in July, Bogie’s Casablanca Video shutdown while the original Casablanca Video in Marda Loop is slated to move to a new spot in mid-August. Therefore, it feels appropriate that one of those rented films has made it to the 2014 Movie World Cup final while the other finalist is the last film from Robert Bresson, one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema. The two finalists are a trip down memory lane to a time when 35 mm ruled and the word ‘film’ truly meant something.

2014 Movie World Cup Final

France (L’Argent, 1983, Robert Bresson)
Italy (Il Posto, 1961, Ermanno Olmi)

Both films abstract aspects of our society in such precise and fine detail that these films are timeless. L’Argent and Il Posto showcase cinema at its finest and are films meant to be seen multiple times with each viewing allowing for a different aspect to stand out, amplified by a viewer’s evolving life perspective.

L’Argent uses the life-cycle of a counterfeit money note to depict how society functions. In the film, a rich young man and a business owner easily get away by exchanging fake currency but an innocent worker Yvon (Christian Patey) has to pay the price for their crimes. Bresson’s film was released in 1983 but was based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy (The Forged Coupon) which was published back in 1910. The seven decade gap between the short story and film illustrates the timelessness of such a story because illegal trading of fake money or currency is as old as human civilization and cheaters have existed at every point in society. The film and short story could easily apply in modern times, with a slight variation. In our current society, fake currency trading has moved to the bits and bytes level as depicted by the 2008 Economic Crisis. As history has shown, the guilty, who are often the rich and well dressed men, get away while the workers get trapped. It is not a surprise to see the camera shop owner in Bresson’s film is dressed smartly while Yvon is shown to be in overalls.

Il Posto nicely captures the stress associated with writing an exam and waiting for an interview in order to get a job. The scenes are shot in a verite style and immediately brought chilling memories of my own experience writing exams. The brilliance of these scenes would have been enough to solidify the Italian film’s claim for the 2014 Movie World Cup title but Il Posto goes further and shows the fate that awaits when one passes the exam and gets the job: the dreaded office desk where a person can spend decades sitting in one spot. A promotion means a person moves up just one spot to a desk nearer to the front. As Il Posto shows, this front desk has more light while the desk at the back of the room is partially dark. Using such a simple technique of depicting rows of desks lit differently, Olmi is able to highlight the hierarchy and seniority that exists in offices. Of course, a variation in certain companies is that a promotion signifies moving to a better cubicle or an office with a window. On top of that, Il Posto also manages to show elements of romance and the excitement and hesitation associated with a first date. Il Posto is an Italian film made back in 1961 but it will always be contemporary as long humans have to study in order to find a job or an individual has to seek out a companion.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
France: L'Argent 001113
Italy: Il Posto 111115

Italy takes the 2014 Movie World Cup with a 5-3 win over France.

2014 Movie World Cup Top 4 Films

1. Il Posto, Italy, 1961, Ermanno Olmi
2. L’Argent, France, 1983, Robert Bresson
3. Neighboring Sounds, Brazil, 2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho
4. La Promesse, Belgium, 1996, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Top 10 from all 96 films

A separate top 10 is required because the format of the Movie World Cup doesn’t reflect a true placing of all the films. This is due to the rules of the Movie World Cup where only one film from each of the 16 nations that advanced to Round 2 was selected. This impacted a nation with two or three strong films. Also, due to the draw, some good films were eliminated early on as they came across stronger films. On top of that, for the time in the history of the Movie World Cup, a coin toss was used to select a winner. South Korea and Russia were tied after all their three Group films could not be separated on goal-difference. As per the rules, the final tie-breaker was a coin toss. South Korea’s best film The Day He Arrives had tails while Russia’s Stalker was heads. When the coin landed on tails, it eliminated Stalker one of the top films in this Movie World Cup. Therefore, a correction in the form of a top 10 is required, a list free from the soccer draw and past end-of-year lists.

1. Stalker (1979, Russia, Andrei Tarkovsky)

Tarkovsky’s film based on Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s novel Roadside Picnic can be seen as an extension of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and shows what could have happened after Godot arrived. In Waiting for Godot two men wait for Godot to bring them happiness. However, in Stalker two men (the Writer and the Professor) find their Godot in the form of man named Stalker who agrees to take the two to the Zone, a location that may provide happiness and help fulfill their wishes.

It has been almost two months since I viewed this film but I am still trapped in the Zone. A few more visits will likely pull me out.

2. Il Posto (1961, Italy, Ermanno Olmi)

3. L'Argent (1983, France, Robert Bresson)

4. Taste of Cherry (1997, Iran, Abbas Kiarostami)

5. In the City of Sylvia (2007, Spain, José Luis Guerín)

6. Le Quattro Volte (2010, Italy, Michelangelo Frammartino)

7. Neighboring Sounds (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho)

8. The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira)

9. This is Not a Film (2011, Iran, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi)

10. La Promesse (1996, Belgium, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)

The strength of these top 10 meant many other excellent films had to be left out. Some of these omissions include Like Father, Like Son (Japan), Extraordinary Stories (Argentina), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Japan), The Battle of Chile (Chile), World on a Wire (Germany), Holy Motors (France), Bastards (France), Ossos (Portugal), El Violin (Mexico), Invasion (Argentina), The Referees (Belgium), Whisky (Uruguay), Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico), The Day He Arrives (South Korea), Two Years at Sea (England), Faces (USA) and A Useful Life (Uruguay).

Top 5 discoveries

The best aspect about the Movie World Cup is hunting for films from nations which are normally overlooked in cinematic discussion. This time around, there were some incredible films that were found from unexpected countries.

1. Aristotle's Plan (2006, Cameroon, Jean-Pierre Bekolo)

A tribute to 35 mm and cinephilia set against the backdrop of political charged revolutionary ideas. There is no shortage of humor or unbelievable scenarios which adds to the film’s charm. The film evokes Godard and is one of the best African films I have ever seen.

2. We are the Faithful (2005, Switzerland, Michael Koch)

This 9 minute short documentary captures the essence of a soccer game perfectly. The camera never shows us the game but we can gauge the game as per the fans' expressions.

3. Burn it up Djassa (2012, Ivory Coast, Lonesome Solo)

A first hand perspective on the dangerous street life in Abidjan.

4. Black Diamond (2010, co-production, Pascale Lamche)

In highlighting the corruption surrounding the trafficking of African players, the film looks both backwards and to the future when increased money injected in the global game will increase the problem.

5. Mi Amigo Angel (1962, Honduras, Sami Kafati)

The first ever Honduran film falls under the neo-realist category.

Honorable mentions: Bad Day to go Fishing (2009, Uruguay, Álvaro Brechner), Eldorado (2008, Belgium, Bouli Lanners)


No comments: