Entertainment » Movies

Film Fest presents divergent international fare

by Kevin Langson
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 24, 2011

One of the more unique approaches of bringing the best international films to audiences throughout the country comes with the work of the Global Film Initiative the Global Film Initiative, which each year tours a series of diverse titles from throughout the world to film venues in museums and schools throughout North America. This year is no exception, with some nine titles that offer award-winning narrative feature films from Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Georgia, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Uruguay.

Called Global Lens, the series has been fostering discussion on topics concerned and encouraging cross-cultural awareness through cinema since 2003. The program at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts where it runs through May 29 before moving onto other museums and universities through August, including sites in Montreal, St. Louis, MO and Tampa, FL. For more information visit the festival's website.

EDGE's Kevin Langson saw three titles in the Festival and reviews them below. To read more about the titles remaining in the festivals visit the Museum of Fine Arts website.

White Meadows

"White Meadows" is an exceptional sort of folk tale rendered through stunningly evocative cinematography that captures the mysteriousness of the rituals and interactions that boatman and tear collector, Rahmat, encounters. This Persian film follows the ordinary, somewhat disgruntled man who has spent the past thirty years on the rather unusual mission of collecting the tears of the mourning for the sake of some sort of redemption. He rows from remote island to remote island in a sea that is increasingly salty, like the water that falls from his subjects’ eyes to fill his vials. On each island he is known and welcomed eagerly, with apparently unwavering faith in his healing abilities, as if the inhabitants are grasping for some sort of deliverance from the hardships of existence.

The solitude of his aquatic transience is interrupted when, upon lifting the sheet from what he believes is the corpse of a notoriously beautiful young woman, discovers clever stowaway, Nassim. The boy exudes innocence, and after initially being thrown overboard in a fit of rage, manages to persuade Rahmat to take him along so that he can find his father. He is tolerated by Rahmat but not exactly embraced. When he asks if it is true that Rahmat turns tears into pearls, absolving the dead of their sins, his question is ignored. Throughout the film, one of these two is often in the role of voyeur, looking on at a peculiar proceeding or an act of cruelty that they are powerless to prevent.

When, on the third island visited in the film, Nassim tries to intervene, he meets a tragedy of his own. Here, a young bride is carried to the sea on a wooden board. Her hysterical cry, "I don’t want to be a bride", is ignored, as she has been selected as a sacrifice. Marrying her to the sea- performing a ritualistic water burial of sorts- should placate the gods and bring rain from the angrily abstaining sky. In this sequence, the film’s visual splendor is at its height. Here the pale blue sea (sometimes an indistinct shade of brown that blends with the sand) is punctuated by circles of fire, as the soft-hued sand is punctuated with the black tents of witnesses. Three mean appear in succession to testify from a wooden box, two validating her virgin status, the other declaring her the most beautiful girl on the island and, thus, the consummate bride of the sea.

On the following island Rahmat ineffectually tries to help obviate the torture of a painter who "sees wrong". Because he paints the sea red instead of blue, the elder of the village commands that the iniquitous vision be burnt out of him, which is occasion for another visually elegant but deeply disturbing ritual in the sea. The painter refuses to concede that the sea is blue on the occasion of this occasion; he insists that he sees just fine and revels in his glorious, irregular vision of the sea. "White Meadows" is a dreamy, quietly rousing allegory for official parochialism and oppression.

The Tenants

"The Tenants" is a tense urban drama about the discomfiture that results when a family’s middle class home life is encroached upon. Valter is a caring husband and father who labors hard lifting boxes and attends poetry classes at night for self-improvement. At work, he tries to persuade his boss to bless him with official working papers with a humility and passivity that proves ineffectual in the face of a capitalist force seasoned at tactfully evading responsibility. But this is far from the biggest trial for Valter. Despite seemingly precarious employment, his family has a comfortable home and leads a normal life in a relatively safe area of an unnamed Brazilian metropolis. This equilibrium is shattered when a group of hooligans moves in next door, becoming co-inhabitants with a hapless older man, Senhor Dimas, about whose torment Valter and his wife, Lara, can mostly only speculate.

Confronting the corruption of their contentment, Valter and Lara have to negotiate how to best care for their pre-teens, Fernanda and Diogo. Valter chides his wife when she wants to keep their son from biking around the neighborhood but shows a similar protectionism when Diogo has an accident and at other occasions. In one sequence, a watched news report about a loose rapist of young girls cuts to a scene of Fernanda dancing with her friends in the street, the incidental sexuality of their fun apparently noted by a middle-aged man who stares on, spurring Valter to snatch her off the street. Then, we cut to an unprompted Lara mentioning that the rapist has not been captured yet. The connections and iterations of swelling violence in the neighborhood are not subtle, yet the drama feels well balanced- not bloated.

In addition to the expected reactions to what is happening next door to them- for example, Lara becoming visibly flustered that her children are being exposed to cursing and loose women in revealing outfits- Valter’s mind is being invaded by anxieties about the shady goings on next door. On the bus, he dozes off and sees his dog, which he has been barking at to toughen up, jumping the fence and returning with a severed hand. At another time, he sees a dark vision of the girl who has been raped. In this way, the film takes us out of mundane frictions and suggests a psychological toll- also well-illustrated by Valter’s head banging and chanting, "I have a wife and kids". What is it to be a responsible family man who is impotent against pernicious outside forces?

As Valter’s poetry class is also interrupted by street violence, we get the sense of violence as a pervasive force that cannot be denied or avoided. The film works well as a consideration of the awkwardness of dealing with the violence around us. Even if we consider ourselves external to it, the city insists that we all heed its notices.

Street Days

"Street Days", which plays out in an unnamed Georgian town, is a remarkably palatable druggie film. Through the amusing misadventures of its central character, Checkie, it gets at certain pitfalls of the junkie lifestyle. It takes us to a gloomy, fatalistic place with a touch light enough to breathe humor and devious pleasure into the ride.

Checkie, whose mischievous expressions and unkempt hair lend him a boyish charm despite his middle age, is a thoroughly likable guy. This, however, doesn’t stop his wife and former grade school teacher from ceaselessly scolding him- a beleaguering he has earned well with his familial negligence and shameless scouring of the streets (with his adult gang) for junk (heroin), even loitering outside his son’s school in hopes of scoring. At one point, his new unexpected bud, the clean cut teen Ika, who is the son of Zaza, the town minister and former classmate of Ika’s, relays that someone told him Checkie used to be a good guy, before he turned to junk. Still, Ika is set on shooting up despite his assertion to Checkie, "I’ll never become a junkie. I hate them- not you, of course." Herein lies the central conflict of the story- Ika’s destructive determination to rebel against his safe existence and Checkie’s resolve to protect him. And Ika is in serious need of protection because a trio of corrupt cops who know Checkie and his activities well blackmail him, demanding that he frame Ika so that they can get money from Zaza, dubiously claiming that imprisoning Ika now will prevent him from falling into a life of junk.

There are moments in the film when Checkie’s selfishness in pursuit of junk is absurd. For example, when his transaction with his dealer is interrupted by the dealer’s father leaping off a balcony to his death, Checkie insists on his goods, effectively assaulting the incredulous, grief-stricken man to get it. Yet we have seen enough of Checkie’s playfulness and tenderness (sometimes these elements poignantly co-existing with his condemnable self-service, such as a scene in which he dons a horse costume snatched from the theater teacher to kidnap a young girl) that when he faces entrapment at the film’s climax, it is easy to be distraught at the possibility of his ruin.

The film is such a delight to watch because it gets at the bittersweet street life and adult responsibility in a small town (in this case, a former Communist country presumably struggling for national identity and prosperity) with a genuinely humane spirit and a vivid sense of the irony and buoyancy that defines this existence.

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