Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Light It Up

In The Intense Now (2017) - Salles
Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 6.24.45 AM
Brazilian documentary filmmaker João Moreira Salles looks back at the year 1968 where everything seemed possible. He concentrates on four different events and places - Cultural Revolution in China, the student uprising/general strike across France, Soviet Invasion of Prague and March of the One Hundred Thousands against military regime in Brazil, all in that fateful year. Culling from images of homemade movies, newsreels and documentaries, Salles examines what it's like to take it to the street for something you believe in in that fateful year.

It starts out with the tourist footage in China in 1966. Salles' mother was there, taking in a foreign land where everything was opposite of what she was accustomed to. As many picturesque scenes play out - farmers, children, on-lookers, other tourists in the sunny, happy settings, Mao Zedong's China in the beginning of Cultural Revolution seemed like an idealist utopia (except for incessant insistence on singing of songs praising the Chairman) that gloomy French students only dreamed of in the streets of cities across France in 1968. In his mom's words, the trip to China gave her "ineffable emotion that follows the shock of the unlooked-for encounter." This seeming spontaneity, unfettered enthusiasm are the themes Salles visits again and again when he talks of taking it to the streets.

The May 68 first started as demonstrating students occupying college administration buildings. I do not want to generalize this nation-wide civil unrest or make light of it, but the gist of it was this: their opposition of American Imperialism in Indo-China and traditional social hierarchy with their Marxist, Maoist ideology struck a core with the factory workers, resulting in a largest general strike in France's history. School administrations and police's violent reaction just inflamed the situation even further. Armed with wealth of footage around that time, Salles examines the short-lived unity forged between students and striking workers against the status quo of de Gaulle regime and how quickly it dissipated.

He spends quite a substantial time on Daniel Cohn Bendit, who was one of the key figures in the student movement. Through several interviews and Salles' voice-overs, we get the impression that the decentralized student movement of 68 didn't actually have an end goal. And his road trip to Berlin accompanied by a photographer and funded by a magazine was seen as a sell-out. Even one of the famous slogans on the wall, 'Sous les pavés, la plage'/'under the bricks, a beach' can be read as extremely bourgeois.

But does it matter though when you talk about the spirit of 68? You believed in something so strong you had to take it to the street. These protests weren't without casualty though. Gilles Tautin, an 18 year old High School student died near car factory. The self-immolation of Jan Palach to protest Soviet occupation in Prague put the nation in moaning. Then there was Edson Luís who as shot to death by the police in Brazil.

The footage that stands out is a young woman factory worker interviewed by the news crew outside a car factory. She is crying and refuses to go back. She protests that nothing has changed, that everything is going back to status quo. The factory management made some concessions but the thought of revolution showed a glimpse of a more just world.

As the history that unfolded after that period, we know that Mao might have succeeded in building a cult for himself and solidified his political power with Cultural Revolution, but it also did irreparable damage and brought misery and death to millions of people. de Gaulle regime's grip got stronger and Communist and Socialist party lost support.

The smell of teargas and horse manure in the air, a street protest can be an exhilarating experience. A full-on revolution might not be possible in our heavily capitalist conditioned society, and we put too much emphasis on ends over means, failure over efforts. Neither Salles glorifies the May 68 nor dismisses it as naive. He doesn't spoon-feed the audience. What Salles is showing with his documentary is that a shock to the system, albeit minuscule in the grand scheme of things (May 68' movement didn't even last 6 months), is a necessity to keep the world in check. The legacy of 68 is that it made people 'woke'. Its impact still felt from Occupy Movement to more recent the Black Lives Matter and #metoo movements. Anyone who took to the street for one cause or another can deeply relate to In the Intense Now. With the disparity between haves and have-nots is greater than ever, the spirit of 68 is more relevant than ever before.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Self Discovery at Sea

Fidelio, l'odyssée d'Alice (2014) - Borleteau
Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.41.06 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.52.23 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.48.31 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.45.44 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.47.03 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.51.06 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.47.42 AM
Alice (Ariane Labed) is called in from her vacation with her Norwegian boyfriend Felix(Anders Danielson Lie) to replace an engineer who died at sea on Fidelio, a merchant ship. It turns out the captain of the ship is an old classmate at the Naval academy and a former lover Gaël (Melvil Poupaud). The ship consists of half seasoned seamen of French nationals and half devout Christian Filipinos. Alice, only woman on the ship, turns out to be a very capable engineer and has no problem getting along with everyone. Things get complicated when Alice succumbs to desire to hook up with Gaël. She also starts reading the diary the dead man left behind.

Fidelio touches upon the life at sea theme - loneliness, alienation, freedom, etc. The ship in the sea also provides plenty of cinematic moments. Seeing Labed in coveralls with oil smudged face is also a plus. You might think my summary of Fidelio above sounds like melodrama on the high seas, but the film is really not. Without getting too deep into character's backstory, it paints the picture of a woman who is finding out what she wants in life head-on. I loved the physicality of the film both in characters and its surroundings. Alice is very much in love with Felix. He is the anchor that grounds her life. They have intense physical relationship. But would he be there for her every time she docks after each long journey?

Lucie Borleteau balances well btwn bigger themes in seafaring life and nitty gritty details of life on and outside the ship. Alice is not above anyone Hemingway style when she is spending time with her parents and family. She also contends well with centerfold photos that adorns the decks and corridors of the engine room of Fidelio. From a shot of a sea snake caught in the bucket to Filipino crew doing karaoke while Alice looks on behind the round nautical window, Fidelio's full of graceful moments. Loved it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Dangerous yet Seductive NY in the 80s

Call Me (1988) - Mitchell
Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 11.47.18 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 11.48.00 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 11.56.21 AM
Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 11.45.47 AM
Anna (Patricia Charbonneau), a reporter at some New York paper with boring food writer boyfriend living in what's considered as South Williamsburg in still sketchy NY. She starts getting obscene phone calls. It ain't right. She wants to confront the pervert and he suggests a rendez-vous in the Polish Bar, a local dive. A suave, dangerous looking criminal element (young Stephen McHattie) is also there hitting on her. Is he the phone creep? Then she witnesses a murder in the bathroom. Some dirty cop is involved. Anna is convinced that that dangerous but irresistibly charming man is indeed the man on the other line. Also he might be involved in that murder?

With David Sanborn style cheese jazz score and Manhattan skyline over the bridge from the windows and rooftops, Call Me paints that stereotypical New York in the 80s- dangerous yet highly seductive. The plot doesn't make much sense and convoluted. It's twists and turns highly unnecessary. McHattie looks great in bleached blonde hair and dark long overcoat, doing his best Rutger Hauer. Charbonneau, a dark haired Sheena Easton beauty looks great in various 80s outfits. Steve Buscemi and David Strathairn show up as well to round up the cast. It also has one of the hottest phone sex scene ever captured on film. A total nostalgia piece that I always wanted to watch just looking at its VHS cover long long ago. Worth it!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Interview: Ziad Doueiri on The Insult, The world on Fire and the Greatness of Train to Busan

ziad doueiri
Ziad Doueiri, whose Hollywood credentials include being a cameraman for most of Quentin Tarantino's earlier films (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown), has made several films in his native Lebanon (West Beirut, The Attack, Lila Says). With his new film The Insult opening stateside, I had a chance to talk with him. We didn't only talk about his terrific new film, but also the chaotic world we live in and his love of Train to Busan.

The Insult opens New York and Los Angeles on 1/12. National roll out would follow. Please visit Cohen Media website for more info.

I had to do a little bit of research on Lebanese history before and after seeing THE INSULT. I find that Lebanon has an incredibly complex history with a very diverse society in religion, ethnicity, the whole make up of the society. Was it then a conscious decision for you to concentrate on the two individuals, despite the whole geopolitical dynamics – the US, Israelis, Iranians and other big political players surrounding Lebanon?

Of course. When you do a film you have to think of your main characters. And you have to build those characters in a way you get attached to them. Now you can build it on a local platform or international platform and you can add whatever conflict you want- it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s the story of those two people.

Now, the Middle East is a very complex place. It is so misunderstood by the world and the Middle Easterns themselves: when you sit down for dinners or parties and you talk with people from Lebanon, for instance, you don’t even have two people agree with each other – there are so many different opinions and everybody gets very passionate about it because it’s such a mix of place. It makes rich? Yeah. It makes profound? Yeah. Also it makes a very volatile place too. The proof? Look what’s going on in the Arab world now. It’s fucked.


So, whenever you have all these things and you make a movie, you have to make it clear to an audience – I’m not making a film for people who are only in Lebanon. I’m making a film for audiences in general. Whether it’s a Lebanese or American film, you have to make a complex film told in a simple way. The best way to tell the complex subject treated in the simple way. The best way to extract the complexities is by telling your story in a simplest form. That’s what I believe. All my films are very simple. They go in deep contextually but the way it’s told, through dialog, through storyline, I believe it must be simple. Because the simplicity it will make the audience understand the spirit of the film better than when it's layered. When you make everything complex – dialog, plot, you might get lost. You should not lose the thread of the story.

Now, from time to time, you can talk about things that you don’t understand as a western audience. For example, when I talked about Bashir Gemayel, most westerners don’t know who he is. Bashir Gemayel is one of the most prominent figure in Lebanese history. He was the founder of the Christian Militia and he became president and he was assassinated in 1982. OK? He is a cult figure in Lebanon. He is also a very controversial figure because half of the people love him and half of the people hate him. When you make a film and talk about Bashir Gemayel, the Lebanese audience can totally understand all the nuances and details, but all the others will probably not.

But they will all understand the characters you create. They will understand a character who belongs to the party of this guy. Now you don’t know who Gemayel is but you know the character is a Christian because he belong to the group and he wears a cross. That’s what you need.


Again, you take a complex story and you tell it very simple. That’s what it is. It’s very important. Yes, the Middle East is so difficult to understand. I always try to take a simple way to explain it.

That’s what I wrote down on the margin of my note here. ‘It’s a simple portrayal of a complex society.’

That's right!

Can you tell me what happened with the Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigning in Riyad, Saudi Arabia? It was all over the news.

Yes. You know, it’s very funny I get asked that question and the answer is that nobody knows.

Nobody knows?

Nobody knows, really.

I know it’s been a critical chapter, that month when he was gone for two weeks. And nobody knows exactly what happened. I don’t know.

Is the film based on real life or anything?

Not really. But I’m sure you read an interview or two I gave somewhere. The drainpipe and the water dripping (which started the whole incident) that is based on what happened to me before I wrote the story. That’s what made me think writing the story. That little silly thing got me started. Then I thought, what if we have that story in Beirut, where such a silly, such insignificant incident with absolutely no relevance becomes more complicated? This guy is expecting some kind of apology and the other guy doesn’t give it to him. And then it gets complicated. It goes from the boss, to the judge, to the supreme court to the presidency. Ah, now it’s interesting!

The second question I asked myself with my co-writer (and ex-wife) Joelle Touma, ‘could that happen in the Arab world?’ The answer was yes, it could definitely happen. No one who had seen the film thought, ‘no I don’t buy it.’ It’s like the Rodney King incident in the US – white policemen beating a black motorist created a riot. Remember this?


That’s credible. In America, the issues at stake are race issues. In Lebanon, they are religious issues. You can start a mini civil war based on race. It might get contained but the possibility is there. In France, you can start a war on class issues. It’s part of their heritage. Religion is part of our heritage. That’s why I put Christian and a Muslim. In the Middle East it is complex- it could be religion mixed with political affiliation.

You can’t get away from it if you live there though. Right?

It’s all connected. That’s what the movie is all about. It has all of that mixed in but it’s not too difficult to understand.

It is a human story. The best part of the film that I really liked was when—

When Tony fixes Yasser’s car?


Everybody says it! Everybody loves that scene! Joelle wrote that scene and I have to give her credit. Everybody loves it because it is a scene that reveals a lot about those two characters. It’s a turning point.

I know you’ve been working in Hollywood for a long time. What made you to go back to Lebanon to make films?

I grew up from 1 to 19 in Lebanon. These are formative years. When I was 12, the (Civil) war started. And I remember it. We grew up with it. I saw my parents in it. I saw how my life was and how I lived during it. It marks you for life. That’s it. It stays with you. If I grew up in Island those years, I would probably influenced by everything Iceland, if I grew up in America, I would be influenced by… you know what I am saying. At least for me, I’d always go back to those formative years- it doesn’t mean I will always be in Lebanon and do films in there. But it’s so ingrained in me.

And it’s not just growing up in any other country. The war started when I was 12. That’s a big event. It’s not a car accident. A war, day in and day out, you see things over and over, you see blood and injustice, incredible humanism and incredibly violent human behavior also. As a child growing up, I’m not seeing this TV or reading in a book, you live it. You leave home to go to school and there are checkpoints after checkpoints, there are cousins who got killed, family involved in killings, I mean, it’s big! All these things keep building in your head. You say why I keep going back there, because I have rich history there. I have rich background, rich past. I’ll probably do another movie in Lebanon. Or America which is my second home. I don’t know. You never know.

I’m pretty sure that Beirut has changed a lot over the years. But in the film, it seems so vibrant. Can you talk about the city?

It’s very vibrant and very chaotic. When I think of Beirut, I think of it where you are very welcomed. It’s not a cold place. It’s not a solitary, dark, pessimistic, gloomy place. Despite all its past and problems, it’s anything but. Lebanon has been through a lot of blood and a lot of vicious things. And yet when you go out, I was there last week, you go and sit with your people, they are full of life, seriously. They are very optimistic and love to have fun. It doesn’t mean that there is no dark side but there is also a bright side. Knowing that these people have gone through so much turmoil, but has not lost their passion for life really touches you.

Beirut is a very alive town. I think it could’ve been better have we not had the war. The way we have been in the 60s before the war started- very educated and sophisticated. The war chopped our heads off. You should go and visit.

I’d love to go.

You should go and see. There is such dynamism and also very eccentric. It’s a very eclectic town. You have gay and lesbian communities, all kinds of people and remind you that you are not in America, you are in the Middle East! But you still see things and you go “oh wow, we have that here?” It’s very fancy, very traditional, very western, very conservative, very religious, very secular… it just has everything.

It’s so great even though it’s such a small place.

True, in such a small place.

It’s a very timely movie. That words mean something. That insults cut deep, especially with Trump is relying on his Tweeter as his main communication, saying outrageous things on a daily basis. Did you have that in mind?

Absolutely not. I started writing the film in 2015. And we shot in in 2016, way before Trump came to power. When you say it’s timely, it’s because maybe the world is going through a crsis. It just happened that we made a movie that is on point. You do not predict historical events. You know? You are either ahead of the event or behind. Seriously, it’s a coincidence. Maybe it’s a good coincidence. We didn’t provoke it. You don’t choose those things.

It happens that the film was shown in Spain just when Catalunya was seceding. The day the film was shown, was the announcement of the secession.

Oh my god.

And it became a crisis. When I showed that film there, people came out in tears. And they were saying, “oh my god, we see Spain’s problems in your film!” Because the society was divided just like the Lebanese. And then, the film was shown two weeks ago in Kerala in India. And my actress went to present the film. And when she came back she told me. “Ziad, people went crazy there about the film because the Hindu and Muslim conflict there were reflected on it.”

So the world is going through a huge crisis and the film happens to be there.

So funny because I grew up in South Korea and the whole time I was doing a little bit of research and then watching your films, I could understand where the film was coming from. A small country surrounded by powerful countries and getting invaded left and right. I could really understand the conflict of these characters.

That’s why Korea bought the film. Korea bought The Insult to be released. Lebanese film being released in Korea? It never happened before. They bought the film last month. I was invited to Busan but I couldn’t go because I was working. I was shooting my series. I wanted to go so bad because I own about a hundred Korean films. I’m a big fan of Korean films. The Last Train to Busan was one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Have you seen it? It’s fucking great!

The zombie movie? Yes.

Did you like it?

It’s great.

Just great? It’s more than great! It’s a masterpiece! Joelle who knows that I love Korean films, said, “Go see that movie and take a box of Kleenex with you” I swear. I said, "But it’s a zombie movie," "Just trust me and go". I just fucking broke down and cried in the theater. Things change when you have a kid. I have a daughter. I cried so much! I saw that movie four times! Fucking Korean cinema, excellent!

I didn’t know the history of the Damour massacre. I learned it from your film. But that was the direct retaliation of the massacre before in Beirut where Muslims were killed.

What you are saying is very controversial in Lebanon. A lot of people are saying, "Oh it’s not fair that you are talking about Damour but you are not talking about other massacres that happened before and after". I want to tell you something: If I want to talk about massacres, I will end up with ten hour movie.


Massacres in Middle East are plenty. I can go on all the way back to Jesus Christ. There were nothing but massacres. Yet they are somehow linked- they are all linked! So the story I had to ask myself was ‘what story am I telling?’ The story of Tony Hanna. That’s it. It’s not a story of Safra massacre, Sabra Shatila massacre nor Mountain war massacre. It’s about him. He had to flee from home at age of 6. He saw some things and he has to live with it. That’s the story. So that consequently upset a lot of people. Even couple of days ago, we had a screening in Los Angeles some Palestinian guy went through the roof, screaming, “Why are you talking about this but you didn’t talk about Sabra Shatila?” I said, “Guys, it’s not about Sabra Shatila. The film is about this guy.” But as you see in the Middle East, people are still very attached to their history and we are still at a boiling point. We are still very passionate and everyone wants to tell their stories.

As the character says, “Nobody has monopoly on suffering”

Exactly, that that applies to everyone, not just Palestinians. It applies to Native Americans, it applies to Jews, it applies to Koreans, it applies to…

Very true.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Insult Paints a Well Balanced Picture of a Complex Society

The Insult (1017) - Doueiri
Situated just above Israel and bordering now war torn Syria, Lebanon's history is just as complicated and tumultuous as any other neighboring countries in the Middle East. With its diverse religious, cultural and political make up of Lebanese society came to a head in the long civil war (1975 - 90) and semi-permanent Palestinian refugee camps within Beirut and other cities have been creating lots of tensions between the majority Maronite Christians and growing Muslim population. Ziad Doueiri's new film Insult, takes the subject head on, in a story of a dispute between two men, one Christian and one Palestinian Muslim and projects it on a national level by way of a unfolding riveting courtroom drama.

Tony (Adel Karam) is a hard working car shop owner with a beautiful wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) who is expecting a baby, living in a rapidly changing, busy Beirut neighborhood. Their apartment and his shop are always inundated with hardline Lebanese right-wing Christian political propaganda - that Palestine Muslims are always inciting violence, draining valuable resources, that they are scourge of the country, etc., on TV and the radio. Yasser (Kamel El Basha) is a foreman of a construction project overseeing a high-rise building being built in the neighborhood. He is a Palestinian who's long been living in a refugee camp with a Lebanese wife.

Their lives intersect when wastewater from drainpipe of Tony's apartment balcony drenches Yasser below. Tony curtly rejects Yasser's polite offer (the construction firm he works for is big on community outreach) to fix the pipe and have it up to the city code. When Yasser's men fix the pipe without Tony's consent, Tony breaks the pipe with the hammer, resulting in Yasser calling him names.

Tony complains to the construction company and wants an apology from Yasser. But when Yasser shows up at his garage with his boss to apologize, Tony enrages Yasser by saying. "(Ariel) Sharon was right, you Palestinians need to be wiped out from the face of the earth!" Instead of apologizing, Yasser ends up punching Tony in the chest, sending him to the hospital with two broken ribs. They go to court, but the judge sides with Yasser and dismisses the case. Tony seeks out a high-profile, hotshot lawyer Wajdi (Camille Salameh) who has history with defending National Christian political figures in the past, to have his case be tried in high courts.

Their trial become a national sensation. In the polarized political climate, their case become a flashpoint for daily violence on the street. In the courtroom, their private lives are scrutinized and outside, their lives are being threatened with violence.

Even though The Insult is one of those politically charged film, it never loses the sight of characters. Tony and Yasser's stories stay personal and never fall into the stereotypes who get easily swayed by their surroundings. Unlike other films of this nature, they are not rewarded by their ideology or identity. They don't get supported by other entities other than themselves. Doueiri never wavers from reminding us that Tony and Yasser are ordinary working people living in a country with a very complex history where one can't separate their politics or identity from their ordinary lives.

Perhaps the best scene in the whole film is right after their meeting with high court judge, who suggests Tony to drop the assault charges to avoid the ensuing the media frenzy circus of a trial. At the court house parking lot, they go their separate ways. But Yasser's old car wouldn't start. Tony, already driving away, looks in on his rearview mirror, comes back to fix Yesser's car. Doueiri hits home with the fact that they are decent, working class people despite their prejudices and bigotry.

Being the smallest country in the region and ethnically diverse, Lebanon has been long mired in geo-political power games by powerful neighboring countries (along with the US), the film also puts a spotlight on lesser known facts like the PLO led massacre in Damour, a seaside town where many Christians were killed. It was a retaliation of a massacre of the Muslims in Beirut that happened just before. 'No one has a monopoly on suffering and pain' is the main take away in the film.

The Insult is a timely film in the world of extreme political polarization and where political correctness is viewed as a bad thing, and that every word that we utter still matters, that there are consequences to what we say.

The Insult opens Friday 1/12 in New York and 1/19 in Los Angeles.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

First Look 2018 at MoMI Ushers in the New Year with Boundary Breaking New Cinematic Work

In its seventh year, MoMI's First Look film series, organized by chief curator David Schwartz and associate curator Eric Hynes, introduces bold, formaly inventive, innovative international films to start the new year. And to all the adventurous cinephiles, this is definitely a good way to start 2018.

This year's selections in First Look go beyond the traditional screen presentsuch as Daniel Cockburn's quasi-film lecture All the Mistakes I've Made (Part 2); a new program of Radio Atlas short works comprised soley of audio recordings and projected subtitles; and even a work being produced during the festival, an update of Wim Wenders's documentary Room 666 in which filmmakers talk about the state of the art form.

First Look to open with U.S. premirere of Blake Williams's 3-D film PROTOTYPE, and will include new boundary-breaking work by James Benning, Ken Jacobsm and an exciting array of emergining artists from around the world January 5-15. Please visit MoMI website for more details.

Here are 7 outstanding films I was able to sample:

The Last Days in Shibati - Hendrick Dusollier
Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 11.56.50 AM
Disappearing urban slums have been documented before - Fountainhas of Lisbon in Pedro Costa's films, Kowloon: The Walled City by a German TV channel in the 80s, and of course, 24 City by great Jia Zhangke among many others. Frenchman Hendrick Dusollier spends a year in the last old district in Chong Qing one of the mega cities situated in the southern China. He films its inhabitants as the neighborhood slowly but surely disappears.

Unlike many other documentaries or dramatizations of a specific place, Dusollier let himself exposed and known to his surroundings. Everyone he meets and treats him as a foreign man with the camera who doesn't understand the language but films everything. His insistence as mostly silent observer wins over some curious inhabitants, namely a barber and his mother whose open, dimly lit shop continues to serve the community under the threat of imminent eviction, Zhou Hong, a neighborhood kid who shows Dussollier around through the labyrinthine dark alleys and Mrs. Xue Lian, an old woman who makes living by picking up bottles and who turns out to have the biggest collections of weird junk in the corner deep in Shibati.

Dussolier comes back to the place and revisit these people, sometimes with an interpreter, sometimes not. He visits them after they were forced to relocate. They understand that he is in Shibati to film what's going to be lost forever. It's this mutual understanding that makes Shibati different from other anthropological documentaries. Dusollier keeps things personal and human.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts - Mouly Suriya
Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 8.17.37 PM
Sprawling, picturesque vistas of an Indonesian Island lensed in widescreen format as a back drop, Mouly Suriya's Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, is a rape revenge western from a female perspective. Marlina (Marsha Timothy), a widow farmer is visited by Markus (Egi Fedly), who tells her that his gang is on his way to rape her and take all her livestock and reminds her that there is nothing she can do about it. When the rest of the gang get there, she poisons them and decapitates Markus while being raped. With Markus' head, she takes a journey to the police station- first by bus, where she meets Novi, a very pregnant woman and befriends her, then later on a horse. At the police station, she learns that justice won't be forthcoming and has to go back to her house for Novi who was captured hostage by the rest of the gang.

Marlina is quite significant coming from an extremely patriarchal society. Weird mixture of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Thelma and Louise, the film features some beautiful landscapes and local customs - keeping mummies of the loved ones in the house for example and humiliating sexist traditions - cattles for a dowry etc.

Communion - Anna Zamecka
Ola, a 14-year old school girl is the focal point of Anna Zameca's intense documentary on fractured family in Poland. We also get the glimpse of a still deeply religious society. Ola has her hands full taking care of her autistic brother, Nicodem, and drunkard father. The film takes place when Nicodem's communion is approaching. Using the communion as an excuse, Ola tries to reunite her family with their estranged mom, who lives apart and has a baby with another man.

Ola is pretty much a mom to Nicodem, she bathes, clothes, feeds and takes care of his school needs. She is also a strict disciplinarian with her alcoholic dad, calls him to make sure he comes back home from pubs, no TV while baby's sleeping, shuts him off from saying incriminating things to welfare officers. She sweeps, washes, cleans and tends to the wood burning oven, yet she likes to put on a dress and have a good time at school dance.

Zameca captures some astonishing moments of intimacy and authenticity in a tiny, cluttered home. It also puts a spotlight on autism and how many societies are not equipped to deal with it. Nicodem is treated like a normal kid both in school and in the church. He definitely severely affected in his speech, attention, and repeated hand gestures. Yet is that kid who is 'a little strange'. It's also kind of scary to hear moments of clarity when he says things out of the blue. At one point in the bathtub, he repeats "The reality becomes fiction."

It's a family where the child parent roles are reversed in all functionality. She acutely observes that Ola growing up way faster because she has to- yet she is still a child who naively hopes that their family will be together again. Komunia is a heart breaking, beautiful film.

Railway Sleepers - Sompot Chidagosornpongse
Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 12.08.27 PM
Part love letter to the Thai railway system, part documentary, part experimental, this Apichatpong Weerasethakul produced film moves along from Northern Thailand to South, recording two days and two nights of locomotive travel. First inaugurated by King Rama V in 1890s, Thai railways are revered and regarded as the nation's backbone. We see travelers of all ages and social strata, eating, talking, gazing and sleeping in a confined biosphere, a great microcosm of the world as it were- two recent previous films come to mind as a great example of this - Bong Joonho's dystopian Sci-Fi Snowpiercer and J.P. Sniadecki's artful Iron Ministry. Railway Sleepers feels more personal and intimate. Its slightly moving camera as the train moves along, captures day in the life of ordinary Thais. The film has that lulling hypnotic effect: it's as if the gently undulating train cars with that unmistakable, repetitive sound of a train rolling on the tracks invites you to sleep.

Exiled - Marcelo Novais Teles
Screen Shot 2017-12-26 at 11.37.15 AM
Marcelo Novais Teles, a young Brazilian man, moves to Paris to pursue an acting career in the 80s documents his life in grainy Super-8, Hi-8 and DV. L'Exilé is at once a deeply personal film and a time capsule of a certain generation of French filmmakers/actors. Teles, with his soulful face and charming accent, was able to surround himself with like-minded young, struggling artists. The film is filled with their honest conversations on life, art, love...etc. There are some recognizable faces in French cinema popping up now and then in Teles' home video footage - most notably Mathieu Amalric. This is way before he became famous.

There are a lot of footage of Teles playing with his friends' kids (including Amalric and Balibar's later on). Forever bachelor and struggling with his loneliness being an illegal alien in a foreign country, he shows his anxiety about constantly producing something meaningful in his lifetime.

As we watch an honest depiction of someone's life floating by- hope, ambition, love, regret, even considering the specificity of Teles' circumstances, we realize how universal our 20-30s are. Beautifully edited and intimate, L'Exilé is something that every struggling artist can relate to.

Colo - Teresa Villaverde
"We are not at war and no one's ill!" shouts Marta (Alice Albergaria Borges), a teen girl in a household disintegrating under the weight of economic hardship in Portugal. She is merely responding to her hard working mom, who announces that Marta and her unemployed father needs to move to grandma's house temporarily because they can't afford the rent or electricity. There is a time in one's lives, like a war or illness in the family which force us to rely on other family members is what mom tells her. Marta's response encapsulates what Colo and its sad characters are about.

Dad (João Pedro Vaz) spends days soliciting job interviews which he never gets responses from. Completely beaten by the circumstances, he is a hull of a human who can't do anything other than sulking. Mom, doing double shift to support her family, is exhausted and irritable all the time. Marta, going through teen years, gets heartbroken by a boy and falls in with a pregnant bad girl classmate Julia (Clara Jost). Everyone in Colo wants a way out of the situation they are in and out of the family.

Teresa Villaverde takes her time to build the characters but at times it seems things are too stretched out, as if we are seeing things in real time. There are several great moments though. No electricity affords some painterly scenes and there are a lot of beautiful connections among characters. Carefully written and sensitively treated, Colo shows the effect of economic devastation on a family.

The Lives of Thérèse - Sébastien Lifshits
Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 11.27.17 AM
Sébastien Lifshits shifts his gears toward an old pioneer of LGBT movement in a solemn, unsentimental fashion in The Lives of Thérèse, from his usual beautiful young gay subjects in glitzy style. Thérèse Clerc was one of Lifshits' subjects in his documentary The Invisible Ones (2012) where he chronicled LGBT pioneers. As Clerc is dying of an old age, they mutually decided to record her final moments.

Here Lifshits doesn't reinvent the wheel of documentary or anything. But he approaches his remarkable subject directly with an utmost respect and love.

Clerc, as an activist for women's rights movement and fought for LGBT rights, was a subservient wife with 4 kids who had an awakening in 1968 revolution, divorced her husband, and became a lesbian at 40. The film consists of Clerc's daily routine of conversing with doctors at the hospital, with her grown up children and other friends. Her children talk frankly about their upbringing, their mother's sexuality and her approaching inevitable death. Clerc admits her body failing even though her mind is still the same. She talks with a young feminist about her sexuality- back then, homosexuality was a political act, the act of defiance. The young woman disagrees with her, that in her generation, homosexuality is out in the open, that she can be a feminist and a heterosexual.

The Lives of Thérèse is not as serene as Haneke's Amour. Often Lifshits captures Clerc in closeups as she falls asleep from exhaustion but the camera movement and color are all love. The film much more than a feminist manifesto. It's a celebration of an extraordinary woman who lived her life fully and loving tribute by those who loved and admired her.