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Entries in International Cinema (9)

Tuesday
Jul242018

RUSSIAN WWII MASTERPIECE RESURRECTED FOR SYDNEY AUDIENCES

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” - The Book of Revelations, Chapter 6: Verse 7-8.

Elem Klimov was a young man when the German military seized Stalingrad, forcing what was left of his family to flee; with his mother and younger brother, the teenage Klimov crossed the Volga River in freezing temperatures on a makeshift raft.

With co-writer and fellow World War II survivor Ales Adamovisch, Klimov drew upon the horrors he witnessed under Nazi rule for his 1985 film Come and See (Idi I smotri), now widely considered one of the most harrowing depictions of wartime suffering ever filmed. Australian audiences have a rare opportunity to see the film courtesy of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival, who will be screening a digitally remastered print this Sunday, July 29 in Sydney and Brisbane.

Come and See depicts the journey of a young man named Florya, played by 14 year-old non-actor Aleksei Kravchenko (pictured, top) in one of international cinema’s most remarkable film debuts. Klimov (pictured, right) and Adamovich present Florya as an idealistic freedom fighter, determined to rid his Eastern European homeland of Byelorussia (modern Belarus) of the German occupiers. As the young man’s narrative unfolds, the audience endures through his naïve experiences horrific acts of genocide, destruction and cruelty. Almost every moment in the film is based upon documented fact; Adamovich hailed from the region during the period and Klimov shot much of his film on the very soil that the atrocities took place.

Prior to his wartime masterpiece, Elem Klimov had forged a respected career for himself within the Russian sector with films such as the popular satires Welcome, or No Trespassing (1964) and Adventures of a Dentist (1965); the docu-drama Sport, Sport, Sport (1970); and, the troubled historical epic Agony The Rise and Fall of Rasputin, which debuted in 1981, despite principal photography having wrapped in 1976. In 1979, Klimov lost his wife, fellow filmmaker Larisa Shepitko in a car accident; he dedicated the early 80s to producing a short feature in her honour, named Larisa (1980) and finishing her own dream project, a social drama called Proshchanie (1983).

Many critics and film scholars have surmised that it was the grip of this dark period of grief that inspired Klimov’s use of language, sound and visual motifs in Come and See. Florya, young innocent Glasha (Olga Mironova; pictured, below) and much of the support cast spend their roles directly staring into the camera as their world and loved ones disintegrate before them; Klimov’s audience is party to the nightmarish escalation of violence and brutality via the first-person technique, resulting in a world of horribly-skewed disorientation yet rendered in vivid, stark honesty. The director’s soundscape has been lauded as revolutionary; the use of impressionistic surrealism to interpret torture and murder on a vast scale proves inescapably confronting for both Florya and the viewer.

The film was released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Russia’s WWII victory and drew some criticism from quarters who thought it was propagandistic. The portrayal of the German officers (based upon the infamous 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS) is unforgiving, yet Klimov stated vehemently many times that the film is anti-war and anti-fascism but not anti-German. Come and See became a box office sensation in its homeland, was submitted as Russia’s Foreign Film Oscar entrant (although was not selected) and would earn two major trophies at the 1985 Moscow International Film Festival.

Klimov was named the First Secretary of the Russian Filmmakers' Union, a newly-established, progressively-minded industry body that, in the then prevailing spirit of ‘glasnost’, opened the film industry to fresh new ideologies. His masterwork would grow in stature in the prevailing years, with industry luminaries such as Oscar winning screenwriter Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, 1967; Dog Day Afternoon, 1975) and two-time WGA award recipient Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, 1994; The People vs Larry Flynt, 1996) calling it the greatest war film ever made. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, Oscar winning cinematographer of Blade Runner 2019, includes Come and See as one his ‘10 Greatest Films of All Time’; Empire magazine named Come and See one of the 100 Best Films of World Cinema, stating “No film – not Apocalypse Now, not Full Metal Jacket – spells out the dehumanising impact of conflict more vividly, or ferociously.” As voted by a prestigious body of film directors, it ranked 30th on Sight and Sound’s poll of The Greatest Films Ever Made.

In an interview in 1986, Klimov (pictured, left; on-set, directing Kravchenko) addressed the responsibility of the role he had undertaken within the Union and when his next project would be announced. “I would much rather not have my present job. I didn't want this job in the first place,” he said with a laugh. “But this is a special moment right now. A lot of changes have to be made quickly. I am completely absorbed in this new job. But I hope that perhaps next year I will be able to start a new film.”

A fitting legacy, Come and See proved to be Elem Klimov’s final work. He remained committed to his work within the bureaucracy of the Russian film industry until his passing in October 2003, aged 70.

The Russian Resurrection Film Festival with present COME AND SEE at the Event Cinemas George Street Sydney and Event Cinemas Myer Centre Brisbane this Sunday, July 29. Ticketing information is via the venue's official website.

 

Saturday
Feb032018

THE WIDOWED WITCH TAKES TIGER TROPHY AT IFFR 2018

The 2018 Hivos Tiger trophy for Best Film at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has been awarded to Cai Chengjie’s The Widowed Witch. In a statement issued by the official Jury, Chengjie’s remarkably assured debut feature, “is a film of epic dimensions with a narrative that is greater than one person or moment. Its bold vision, created by a lyrical layering of cinematographic elements, makes [the] film stand out.”

Also singled out from the eight films in contention for the Tiger honour was Muayad Alayan’s The Reports on Sarah and Saleem. Screenwriter Rami Alayan earned a Special Jury Award for the personal and politically charged drama, the Jury declaring, “The screenplay intertwines the personal and the political and it manages to balance a complex plot with convincing characters.” An international co-production between Palestine, The Netherlands, Germany and Mexico, the film also won the coveted Hubert Bals Fund Audience Award, a €10,000 cash prize named after the late festival founder. (Pictured, below: IFFR 2018 winners include, from clockwise, The Widowed Witch, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Nina, Azougue Nazaré)

The Bright Future Award, a €10,000 endowment to a first time feature director, went to Tiago Melo’s mystical Brazilian drama Azougue Nazare, a work that employed a non-pro cast from the film's remote location. Malene Choi Jensen’s The Return was also singled out by the Jury for Special Mention for its depiction of, “a personal quest [that] gradually transforms into a reflection on loneliness, belonging, and existential homecoming.”

The most popular film of IFFR 2018 was Gustav Möller’s The Guilty (pictured, right), which took out two honours – the highly-prized Audience Award and the Youth Jury Award. The tense police procedural subverted plot and genre conventions to deliver a thriller which delivered, in the words of the Youth Jury members, “a master class in suspense.” From a program of 20 short films from 18 countries, Oscar Hudson’s Joy in People took out Voices Short Audience Award.

The other audience honour is the VPRO Big Screen Award, chosen by a jury of five audience members that ensures the winning film plays in Dutch theatres and is broadcast on national television. In 2018, that film was Nina, from Polish filmmaker Olga Chajdas.

The local filmmaker chosen by the Circle of Dutch Film Journalists as the festival’s Best Dutch, or Dutch co-produced work was Lucrecia Martel’s Zama. The body of international critics deciding upon this year’s Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (FIPRESCI) honour chose Ere Gowda’s charming Kanarees language Balekempa. 

 

The NETPAC Award for Best Asian film having its World Premiere at IFFR 2018 was Shireen Seno’s Nervous Translation. The NETPAC Jury stated, “its singularly original representation of childhood beautifully captures a unique view full of contradictory interactions, introspection, social and political dissonance, and disquietude. With this film, the director has succeeded in creating an unforgettable cinematic universe.”

The Found Footage Award, an inaugural category introduced to honour those filmmakers employing archive or recycled footage to create fresh narratives, was awarded Slovenian Nika Autor’s mid-length feature, Newsreel 63: The Train of Shadows. 

Festival director Bero Beyer (pictured, right) thanked, “The crazy, daring, outspoken and warm people” of both IFFR and Rotterdam for ensuring the event reached new heights. Several aspects of past festivals were reworked and relaunched in 2018, most notably the Cinemart professional marketplace. The festival has one full day of screenings left before Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin closes out the 2018 program.

Friday
Feb022018

INSECTS: THE JAN ┼áVANKMAJER INTERVIEW

Terry Gilliam says the surrealistic masterpieces of Jan Švankmajer are, “magical, because they make reality mysterious.” One of the most unique visual artists that world cinema has ever known, the Czech visionary defied the strict regime of his homeland with a wave of subversive short films throughout 60s and 70s. When censorship eased in the mid-80s, Švankmajer directed such unclassifiable, often nightmarish features as the Lewis Carroll reinterpretation, Alice (1988); an unforgettable vision of the classic tale, Faust (1994); perhaps his masterwork, Conspirators of Pleasure (1996); and, his family drama Little Otik (2000), in which a husband and wife raise a tree root as their own.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) welcomed the 83 year-old master for the World Premiere of his first feature in eight years, Insects (Hmyz). Based upon the 1922 play by brothers Karel and Josef Capek, Švankmajer focuses on the group of amateur theatre players trying to resurrect the text, yet find theimselves being torn asunder by jealousy, greed, ego…and bugs. The director broke away from a Czech Film Industry function to sit with SCREEN-SPACE and discuss (via translator) his latest mesmerizing film…

SCREEN-SPACE: You are returning to material that you first explored back in 1970. What makes it relevant and still creatively satisfying to you in 2018?

ŠVANKMAJER: This was one of many, many ideas and subjects that I wasn’t allowed shoot back in the 1970s because of the regime and the strict censorship. The 1970s was a very fruitful, very creative time for me. Ideas were just flowing from me, so many interesting stories that I admit I took for granted back then. So I just put those interesting stories into my drawer, a very big drawer, and now, or more accurately from about the 90s onwards, I have been revisiting them one by one and shooting the movies. Of course, certain details have changed from what I envisioned back in the 70s, but the themes and characters are still very relevant to me. I’m not interested in fleeting themes, but material that is deeper and constant in all our lives. It was just my good luck that I stashed them in these drawers around my home, so that I could eventually open those drawers and use the ideas of a younger man to tell stories as an older one. (Pictured, above; a scene from Insects)

SCREEN-SPACE: I find those comments interesting because I found this is to be one of your most buoyant, even playful films, as if you are enjoying the storytelling process with renewed vigour.

ŠVANKMAJER: It is certainly true that I did enjoy the process and that the material inspired new creativity in me, which is perhaps what you have sensed when watching the film. But I don’t think ‘playful’ is the right word. Thematically, the film is actually one of the darkest I have ever made. There is humour, but to observe it more closely it casts a very dark perspective, seeks out the very darkest edges of our persona. I don’t want anyone going into this film thinking they will find the light humour you may find in an American film (laughs). (Pictured, above; Svankmajer, left, directing actor Jirí Lábus in Insects)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your decision to top-and-tail the film with your own direct-to-camera thoughts, as you say in the film like a foreword from a book’s author, is an inspired device. Was that always in the script or did it become apparent that the film needed context as the final edit drew near?

ŠVANKMAJER: Neither, frankly. Not back in the 70s nor recently when I was rewriting the original story to accommodate some new scenarios. Those moments in the film that adopt a documentary aesthetic or the scenes when the actors are relating their dreams are not passages you can conjure in script form. Those are moments that arise during the creative process on-set

SCREEN-SPACE: You draw from the Capek Brothers play, of course, and Kafka’s Metamorphoses. But I also noted Fellini-esque flourishes. What other filmmakers, artists, authors still inspire your work?

ŠVANKMAJER: I love Fellini! I still often think about his work, I have to admit. La Strada is wonderful, although Armacord is closest to my heart. But Fellini can be for me, and certainly for this project, too ornamental, too busy. Do you understand? I think the strongest influence on Insect was Bunuel. He is very close to my heart. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The online diary that wrote while in production gives fascinating insight into your directing methodology. I read with interest the passage, “I direct them as if they were puppets in an animated film…”

ŠVANKMAJER: (Laughs) I’m making imaginative films, works that draw upon specific imagery not always of this world. These are not ‘actor’ films; the story, and so much more, that is important to the film I want to make is not necessarily the responsibility of the cast. Each aspect of the production is equally crucial to what I want to make as any other aspect. Costumes, sound, editing – all those things have to combine for my films to work. My actors always take some time to get used my sets, because the way I make my films is something different. I play with them to get the effect, the end result that I need. I am their puppet master.

    

Wednesday
Sep062017

WINDOW HORSES: THE ANN MARIE FLEMING INTERVIEW

Canadian multi-media artist Ann Marie Fleming has been on a three-decade journey with her creation, the indefatigable Stickgirl. The latest incarnation of the character is Rosie Ming, a mixed-race 20-something poetess who faces a new life experience when her fledgling work gains her entry into a poetry competition in Shiraz, Iran. Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is Fleming’s debut feature, a beautifully humanistic journey of discovery bought to life by vibrant animation styles and the voices of Ellen Page, Shohreh Aghdashloo and, as Rosie, Sandra Oh, who calls the film, “Pro-girl, pro-tolerance, pro-diversity and pro-art.”

The softly-spoken Fleming (pictured, above) chatted to SCREEN-SPACE about poetry, Persia and the little stick girl that allows her a booming, creative voice…

SCREEN-SPACE: Where is your relationship at with Stickgirl? After decades together, how would you describe the life you and your creation share?

FLEMING: She’s very much who she has always been. She’s my avatar, sort of a braver, more together version of myself. She is somebody who is able to step into situations and not judge them. Having worked with her for thirty years, this is the first time she has this must exposure and the first time she has had someone els’e voice. A lot of people now associate her with Sandra’s voice, and not my own. So this is a time where she needs to go on a walkabout, reassess who she is, re-evaluate her goals.

SCREEN-SPACE: What does a ‘stick figure’ design allow you to explore about Rosie Ming?

FLEMING: Because she is just a stick character, you can put anything on her, allowing her to develop into anything you want her to be or that she wants to be. She’s an actor in this film; she’s not really Persian, her mother didn’t really die. Yet her experiences are more alive to so many people because so many people can understand and wonder about her. She is such an excellent way to enter different worlds.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was it easy to see this film to fruition? Was a humanistic portrait of Iran and its people as tough a sell as it sounds in today’s climate?

FLEMING: Many years ago, I did get development money for the film, working with my artistic collaborator Kevin Langdale, who did a great deal of the design for the film. Then, in 2009, the Iranian election happened and there was all that violence, leading to Canada cutting off ties with Iran. Suddenly, financiers and sales people were saying, “Wow, great project, but could you make it in China?” (laughs) But it was important to me to have Iran as the setting for her story, not just for political reasons but because this is a film about poetry. It is about being connected over millennia and about how deep and relevant this poetic tradition is. There aren’t too many countries where poetry is such a part of everyday life. (Pictured, above; Fleming, far-right, with voice actors Shohreh Aghdashloo and Sandra Oh).

SCREEN-SPACE: What are the benefits of animation as a platform for your narrative and the film’s message?

FLEMING: Animation is perfect for showing the imagination. So much a part of what this film is the representation of so many different points of view. Having so many different artists do the different poetry sections, coming with there own backgrounds, from different cultures, with their own skill sets, was so important. And setting the film in Iran was only possible through animation.

SCREEN-SPACE: In a world so divided by nationalism, and an administration in The White House setting such a divisive tone, are international audiences likely to be open to Rosie’s journey?

FLEMING: This story started 20 years ago, and has survived through many administrations (laughs). That’s part of the story, evolving through change. I don’t dwell on it too much in the film, but if you look at the lives of each of the poets, they each survived many different regimes or leaders or conflicts. That seems to be the story of so many artists; you are in or you are out, depending on what you say and who is willing to hear it. There have been so many wars and strifes yet through it all, poetry shows us we are still the same people, still looking at the same moon, still caring about the same things. Different software, same hardware, right?

SCREEN-SPACE: Window Horses is ultimately a film that transcends its setting, that goes beyond the borders of Iran…

FLEMING: For at least the last thirty years, most of what we hear in western society about Iranian culture is not positive. This is not a political film, but I did want to convey that point in every society where we come together as people. The poetry festival in the film is really just my experience at film festivals, where you get to listen to what artists from all over the world have to say, which is crucial if you want to converse with them. It is an environment where you can have respectful discussion, actually talk about ideas and be open to them. It is pretty special.

Wednesday
Jun072017

POP AYE: THE KIRSTEN TAN INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The melancholy and deeply affecting tale of a middle-aged Thai man, an elephant and a pilgrimage to reconnect with childhood memories, Pop Aye has been the darling of the 2017 festival circuit. After a long gestation period in the script lab environment, the debut film from Singapore auteur Kirsten Tan has both wowed critics (earning the World Cinema Screenwriting Jury Prize at Sundance) and been adored by patrons (scoring the Big Screen audience-voted trophy at Rotterdam). “The notion of time passing, wherever you may go, is pretty universal,” says Tan, who spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from her New York home ahead of her film’s screenings at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival…

SCREEN-SPACE: How did the project’s passage through the ‘Festival Lab’ process – the Berlinale Talents initiative, the Torino Film Lab, Cannes Atelier, then Sundance – influence and impact the story you wanted to tell?

 TAN: The script changed a lot from the very first draft. The entire process took about two and a half years, during which we lost several characters. With the help of all these mentors and the ‘lab process’, the themes emerged. It was slow, chipping-away to clarify what I really wanted to say. And just before Torino, I went to Thailand for about three weeks, just to live with and research elephants, to study their movements and personalities so that I could write an elephant character with authenticity. I needed the elephant character to be as real as my human ones.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was the script locked down by the time you arrived in Thailand?

TAN: Once we got to Thailand for the shoot, it took about four months of preparation. I kept adjusting the script to make aspects more real; certain songs that I wanted, for example, were taken out because I learned that they were not appropriate. So many aspects of the script changed right up until we started filming, and then it evolved further as actors began improvising, which I wanted to incorporate as much as I could. (Pictured, right; Thaneth Warakulnukroh and 'Bong', in Pop Aye)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your cast of characters present such a rich cross-section of humankind…

TAN: I tried to paint a realistic story, which for me is one filled with pathos and humour, with beauty and brutality. I didn’t want to present a one-sided story, but rather one that offers a full spectrum of life experience.

SCREEN-SPACE: The casting of Thaneth Warakulnukroh in the leading role ensures a warm empathy is at the heart of your story. His performance is a subtle, sweet everyman figure…

TAN: In his younger days, he was this really edgy Thai rock star. It was insane; in his old photos, he literally looks like Mick Jagger (laughs). At the height of his fame, he just quit the music scene and disappeared. All these years later, I’m searching for a lead actor and my friend recommends him to me. Now he looks so gentle, so reserved. That juxtaposition of who he was and who he is intrigued me. I could see he was someone who had experienced the extreme highs and extreme lows of life. When I got him to audition before the camera, he proved a natural. Then he put on 10 kilos for the part, he was that committed. (Pictured, above; Thaneth Warakulnukroh and 'Bong', in Pop Aye)

SCREEN-SPACE: Does a location shoot in a place like Thailand influence the creative process?

TAN: We shot in what would become the hottest Thailand weather in four decades. Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to Thailand, but it’s already pretty hot (laughs). But that heat added something to the journey; if you see Thaneth in pain or discomfort, he’s probably not acting. The climate pushed us all to extremes, which must have influenced what we created. We actually charted his path from Bangkok to Loei, to study the kind of landscape and terrain he would pass. Then we shot around Loei, matching locations with what we had seen on our own journey. Most of the shoot took place only an hour or two away from the city centre.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the film’s greatest assets is its refusal to anthropomorphise the elephant, to play for any kind of cuteness in it’s portrayal…

TAN: In their presence, you can’t not respect these animals. I just tried to bring some truthfulness to the depiction of Pop Aye. I didn’t want to milk the cuteness or the exotic aspects; I didn’t want to mould them into what I, or an audience, might want them to be. I just wanted to show him as he really is, because that is what is most beautiful about him. (Pictured, right; Tan, centre, with crew on location during the filming of Pop Aye)

SCREEN-SPACE: As Pop Aye, your elephant Bong pulls off one of the most evocative close-ups in recent memory…

TAN: We shot that using a crane, to give us the slightest elevation, and there was some slight movement on his part that captures such emotion. Actually, just out of frame, we were filling his mouth with bananas just to keep his head still (laughs). We were finally able to cut the sequence so that, yes, it is imbued with a great deal of meaning.

SCREEN-SPACE: Why is this little Thai film playing so well internationally? What about it is so appealing to audiences from Rotterdam to Sundance to Sydney?

TAN: It was important that the film spoke to a larger humanity. To me, the film is about time and its inevitable passing. This notion of inevitability, of the passage of time, is really universal. As is the bleak humour in one’s existence, which I tried to capture. I was born in Asia but have spent most of adult life in America, in New York, and I do see people on both continents employ humour to cope with life’s tragedies.

POP AYE screens June 16, 17 and 18 at the Sydney Film Festival. Full session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.