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Revealing fly-on-the-wall documentary about Ghanese scams luring overseas people into sending money by promising sex
Saw this at the IDFA documentary festival 2018 in Amsterdam. Being a world premiere, there was no information available before the screening. I only had the festival website, from which I deduced that the story would delve deep into the problem of e-waste. For sure an interesting topic. Apart from the obvious pollution it leaves behind, this movie shows additional issues arising when disposed computer media like disks or other data storage hardware, is abused to blackmail someone elsewhere in the world, by using privately made photo or video material stored on it. Alternatively, one may exploit passwords found on a disk to masquerade as someone else. Still another method is establishing contacts based on personal data, using initimate knowledge found while pretending to be an acquaintance.
Contrary to my prior assumptions, however, I saw that e-waste was not the main issue at all. It was merely shown in passing. We see hardware being dismembered, often with greater force than I had imagined. I had wrongly assumed that rare chemical elements were to be rescued, being worth some money. I don't think recycling is common practice here, after having seen how crudely everyone dealt with the material. But we can leave that topic to another documentary: Welcome to Sodom (2018) by Krönes and Weigensamer (see IDFA website for details).
Plenty couleur locale is included in this movie. Many scenes show money going from one person to another, involving meticulously counting bank notes by both sides. Everyone seems eager for money, for all sorts of purposes, including legitimate ones, like entering an internship to become a hairdresser. Other examples demonstrated that everything can be bought, including a passport that one can obtain via a travel agent. Is this one of the (many) messages that the film makers want to convey?? As a result, I found this a "noisy" movie, by showing a lot of personal stories, thus hiding the main subject for unprepared viewers. An example is above "hairdresser" story that confuses the issue. Such side-paths prevent the movie from hitting the target audience with the intended morale or message.
The announcement on the IDFA website mentioned the example of a man having to buy fish ad 250 euro per week commissioned by his employer, while himself earning only 12 euro per month for the job. Indeed, this gap in incomes and wealth seems typical for the situation of many in that country. It may explain why there is no compassion with the people they rob overseas via the so-called Ghanese scams. Everyone living there knows as a fact that people in the USA, Europe etc have lots of money. Simply browsing through photos found on the disks or via Google Street View displays expensive houses. It clearly depicts an unsurmountable gap in perspectives on the value of money. (The situation is comparable for the so-called Nigerian scam, Commonly known as the "419" scam. It is practiced for many years already, and does not seem to stop. This has little to do with Nigerians having no conscience, but rather comes from said gap in incomes and wealth.)
The movie does not take a stand, nor does it frown upon what is happening. We see the complexity of what is going on, which we never would have known otherwise. Superficially, the scams look so easy but in fact take a lot of care and persistence to massage the victims. I would not be surprised when a large percentage of the contacts "worked on" will eventually falter, meaning that the victim doesn't transfer the money asked for a sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, either while suspecting a scam or simply while not having the requested amounts available. That these scams are happening is an open secret in Ghana. No one condems it when "whites" are on the other side (see reasoning above).
In the final Q&A, the film maker mentioned that he avoided taking interviews, these usually leading to sad stories about money shortage and their deplorable way of living. He has chosen a different composition by just observing, something he could do without disturbing the proceedings. This "fly on the wall" way of filming is typically something an arbitrary film maker from outside Ghana would not have been able to accomplish.
Kaleidoscope of issues around domestic violence, and balancing work vs home. Expect an unusual way of story telling, probably puzzling unprepared viewers but rewarding
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019. This movie shows a kaleidoscope of issues. Apart from a central role of domestic violence in this movie triggering most developments, there are also underlying issues around the degree of being passionate for your job and how much you want to sacrifice in favor of your family and related domestic tasks. These are cleverly mixed to demonstrate there are always two sides.
On one hand, there is Simon forseeing problems when he would pressure his employer to have Fridays off, after which Mette suggests him to find "another job where you can". Simon reacts with a puzzled and confused look, lacking the proper words to say that she does not understand anything about his line of work. Later, as part of a hefty discussion, she belittles his work as "finding an efficient way to operate a steamroller" (Simon works for a road builder). Most people will recognize similar debates from their own situation or others in their neighborhood.
On the other hand, Mette takes her work literally home when she finds that Miller does not get sufficient help from the support group where Mette's previously worked. Mette feels an urgent need act on Miller's problems with her violent partner cq ex-boyfriend Frank. When husband Simon is away for a week, she takes Miller home. This "solution" starts off very well in the beginning, but it is bound to have unexpected consequences. Mette's and Simon's job passions are very different ar first sight, yet very similar in that everything must make way for solving a job-related problem, at the expense of a safe and peaceful family life. Neither, each in their own way, cat let go of problems at work.
Contrary to many reviewers I found the story not overly puzzling. I must admit that I was prepared for a non-linear way of story telling, saving me lots of confusion (I think) during the screening. I cannot deny, however, that I missed more than a few clues and hints. For example, Frank is the one bad guy in all story lines, which can only be deduced in hindsight from an unobtruvise remark in the beginning. That is the moment when Miller tries to convince Mette that they both should work together to press charges against Frank, because he is both her violent ex-boyfriend as well as the causing Mette's injuries and her subsequent recuperation after obvious serious injuries. The connection between these two problems that Frank seems to have caused, becomes clear after the screening when talking to others who have seen the same movie and thereby picked up very different hints that I did.
One can wonder whether the non-linear way of story telling contributed anything to the viewer experience. Was it only a gimmick, an experiment, something to let reviewers chew on?? The recitative singing voice that surfaces every now and then, may be intended as an extra form of subtitling, to point out what happened at the moment. It missed me all along, partly as the words were not always understandable, partly due to being not aware that the voices might have been an important aspect of the way this story was told. So, though being prepared on one hand for the time shifting way of story telling due to having read the announcement on the Berlinale website, I still was not aware that the sound track was in some way significant.
All in all, even when missing part of the story line due to frequent time shifting, the issues are very recognizable. Finding a balance between work and home is an important one, next to the problems with domestic violence that move the story forward. I found the acting very convincing, particularly the scenes in the rehab center. Mette obviously had severe problems with talking, apart from visible scars (including a large one showing through her hair, apparently from brain surgery). She needed help for even basic tasks, like eating. Frequently in her circle was a cynical and obstinate co-patient, named Klaas, bringing life to several scenes that would otherwise have left us depressed. The scenes where these two were in, inside and outside the rehab center, emphasized the unfavorable situation such patients were in, each very different but all showing only very little progress, with some ups and many downs, regardless of the obvious care and help they got. Also, visits from family and friends were well-intended but not always helpful.
Di jiu tian chang (2019)
Successful undertaking to show three decades of life within a Chinese rural environment, covering all ups and downs that can befall an average family
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. Two prizes were awarded: Silver Bear for Best Actor (Wang Jingchun) and one Silver Bear for Best Actress (Yong Mei). Apart from the acting, it was very interesting to see China transform in thirty years time, albeit that we see only a rural part of China, far away from the big city centers, thus avoiding large scale business and touristic areas.
Showing China while undergoing a drastic change, is one of the main themes of this movie, if not the main one. From a side line we get to see the transformation in progress, going from a communist country towards modern (semi?) capitalism. Factories, workplaces and houses the people work and live in, seem carefully designed to be true to the reality of the times at hand, thereby demonstrating an admirable attention for details.
A perfect example was the factory closure. The gathering with the workers was very illustrative. It showed that such things went in communist times exactly as how it goes nowadays. The workers assembled can protest and find that the director must be sent away. The harsh reality was (of course) in communist times exactly as in our capitalist times. Jobloss overcomes the humble workers, as if it was a natural disaster. There is nothing they can do about it, regardless of all being called "comrades". Neither can help be found in communist textbooks and the principles of "worker's self management".
On the other hand, regarding the implicit second theme, the family related stories of the protagonists, the developments were difficult to follow for me. This was partly due to some unnecessary time jumps and flash backs, partly caused by not telling who-is-who when a new protagonist appears, partly because of me being unable to tell Chinese people apart. Though the story starts with a fatal drowning accident, the people involved will re-unite in the end and will live happily ever after, even when the real truth comes out thirty years later, and even after someone admits having played a dark role in the accident.
It is no problem to sit out the three hours this movie lasts, though not really involving on a human level. And it was certainly not moving or heart-breaking as per what other reviewers wrote. The ground cause for this psychological distance is (see above) the difficulties I had to follow the persons involved, besides the fact that their logic was failing on me a few times.
All in all, I was glad to have seen this movie, regardless of my problems with following the various personal story lines and their interwoven connections. The nearly three hours are easy to sit through, so no problem there. And the ending was a surprise (no details, no spoilers), particularly because it did not cause a hard break in relationships, despite there would have been ample reason for a break-up after admitting a few 30-year-old lies.
Ghost Fleet (2018)
Insightful documentary about shady fish catching practices at sea
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the Culinary Cinema section. We watched an insightful documentary, about something that we (really) don't want to know. It is somewhat similar to our knowledge that we need cows/chicken/pigs to grow meat/eggs/milk, while at the same time being worried about their welfare. Nevertheless, we rather do not want to give up our daily portion of the final product.
That there was something sinister going on with sea food, was new to me. Firstly, there is the slavery which is the core of this movie's story. Indeed, a daunting fate for those who come into such a situation. Secondly, there is also the fact that these fishermen do not care about destroying the fish population in general: loads of extra incidental catch that they find in their nets, is thrown overboard as redundant stuff they don't need.
The people who succeed in escaping usually land on a very foreign coast, having no other choice than hiding in the jungle for years. There is no future for them. Their family in Thailand thinks they are dead, after having fruitlessly waited for a number of years. It is all very depressing, but the movie makes it abundantly clear and is impressive in that respect.
There is uncertainty about the number of contemporary slaves. The only sure thing we know is that the group of activists who we followed in this movie, already had found and repatriated some 5,000. In itself this is an impressive figure. It makes us wonder, however, how many are still there at sea, without any hope to escape. Estimates, mentioned at the end, vary wildly but numbers with 5 and 6 digits came about.
All in all, insightful but feeling helpless to do something about it, other than observing control stamps and quality labels on what we buy in the supermarket.
Ich war zuhause, aber (2019)
For me a WTF experience. Synopsis was promising but story went nowhere. Interesting to see very different scores from professional critics versus "normal" viewers like myself
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. The Jury awarded a Silver Bear for Best Director (Angela Schaneler). Not my idea, as this movie was a WTF experience for me. I did not walk out as something happened all the time and I was hoping for a desperately needed binding conclusion where it was all about, alas to no avail. The synopsis was promising, but the story actually went nowhere.
The threesome animals (donkey, dog and hare) we see in the beginning, suggesting life on and around a farm, returned in the end, without having any connection (as far as I could see) with what happened in the rest of the movie. No clue whether it is relevant or not.
All of the core story is located in Berlin, far away from the country side. I also noticed, especially in the first quarter, a lot of semi-still scenes, like a cartoon where someone says something significant, after which the scene jumps to a subsequent scene with a new meaningful sentence spoken.
There are a few longer scenes, all centering around the mother. Among others, we see her buying a second-hand bike, having a long monologue towards a stage director she meets at the supermarket, delivering unsolicited advice towards the teachers at Philip's school, returning the bike to its previous owner due to some malfunctions (wasting a lot of running time), and much more such scenes without any obvious useful purpose.
Peculiarly, contrary to the gist of the announcement on the Berlinale website, not Philip was apparently the center of the story but rather his mother with her unpredictable behavior. She seems to hide a lot of rage underneath, bursting out at random moments, like when her daughter has used the stove to prepare something to eat, followed by a heated discussion and even throwing both her children out, who can do nothing else than wait on the street until she cools down. This is not motherly behavior in any way, though her children embrace her even after being pushed away, so I assume this sort of scenes happened more often before.
One reviewer wrote that there was boe-ing ànd applause at the end of this movie's premiere yesterday. I'm glad that I'm not alone in loosing track of this movie and its theme (if any). It is also interesting to see that professional critics score very differently (average 7) from "normal" viewers like myself (average 4.4). I don't know what to write about this movie, other than the above. It is very difficult to write a consistent discourse about this movie.
Uninviting plot but the atmosphere "got" me. Developed very well into a tense story. Not the downtrodden path horror movie with zombies that it initially seemed
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition (but got no prize). Peculiarly, the venue was only half full, contrary to all other screenings in foregoing days in the Berlinale Competition with usually 1,750 viewers present in the same venue. I assume that many people thought this movie had all appearances of a downtrodder path Horror movie with zombies. That genre left traces by everyone, caused by bad B-movies we all sat through in the past but avoid them nowadays. However, this movie does not have any of the negative characteristics of said genre with a bad reputation. It is true that strange figures appear when the story progresses, but they stand still, make no sound and do not attack. They just stare from a safe distance.
The fatal car accident in the opening scene could have been a suicide or a real accident. We saw it happen and we can't tell either way, and neither has the police any idea. The dilemma casts a shadow over all daily tasks within the village. The uncertainty eats the villagers, and the topic returns several times in conversations. It is a closed community of 200 to 300 people, committed to support each other, to the extent that outside help is flatly refused by the mayor.
At first, we see nothing out of the ordinary. But strange things start happening, albeit innocent and harmless. Gradually, it gets stranger and stranger. The first time that we come to think there is more to it than just strangers wandering around, is when a "social worker lady" is locked up after one of the unknown figures outside a derilicted building slams the door while she is inside. No harm gets to her, she easily escapes and reports the incident. Without any witnesses she meets nothing but disbelief. Probably a "weak nerves" case is a common conclusion.
When more and more strange figures appear, we become gradually aware that something is really going on. The figures do not harm anyone. They maintain a safe distance from the villagers, they just stand there and make no sound. Nevertheless, their mere presence feels threatening. It is no use to describe what happens next. Suffice to say that situation and atmosphere "got" me. It became more intense by the minute. I have no explanation why, and also no idea how the film makers achieved the effect it had. For me a unique experience, as most "horror" movies have no effect on me at all.
I must confess to be slightly put off at first, due to the festival announcement talking about the 16 mm format intended to strengthen the admosphere, and that traditional celluloid was used for similar reasons. This sounded like a typical case of format-over-substance. In other words, conversation pieces for professional critics and film makers, but shooting over the heads of layman viewers like myself. But I stand corrected and my prejudice proved false. Despite the format and the cellulloid, or maybe even thanks to this, the atmosphere took me in and kept me interested all the time.
All in all, an intriguing movie by effectively letting a tense atmosphere grow on me, something I felt deep inside. I wonder how the film makers did it.
Mr. Jones (2019)
Documentary about something that happened nearly a century ago. Still, its "fake news" topic is more relevant than ever
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition section (but got no prize). In the current era of "fake news", this documentary comes at a suitable moment. Propaganda is not new and invented many decades ago, if not centuries ago. The current scale and persistence is without precedent, however. If this movie showcases the value of professional and honest journalism, it is very welcome today. Even when showing a chapter in history that is nearly a century old, it brings a contemporary message.
We witness a daunting adventurous trip that results in a report about the famine in the Ukraine. It is a story that no politician at the time wanted to be brought in the open. He has to deal with obstructions on several levels and by several parties, in Russia where it could be expected as well as in his homeland UK. The Powers That Be deem a good relationship with Stalin more important than people's lives in the Ukraine. The actual truth behind the industrial "miracles" in the Ukraine, as repeatedly told by the Sovjet propaganda machinery, is very different. We witness it from close by. Alas, our reporter is captured and moved out of the country, with no proof whatsoever other than his memory. With famous Pulitzer Price winner Duranty siding on the Sovjets and consistently countering Jones, there is a problem who to believe...
The story develops in stages. We see the risks he takes, we see him remove some obstacles e.g. by forgering a letter of recommendation, we see his arrival in Moscow with a visum valid for a week only, and most of all we see his journey through the Ukraine in question. We see from very near that such a journey was not something to be taken lightly, coming very close to witness what a famine really means. We also see wheat being shipped to Moscow, as this is the "currency" that Stalin needs to pay for armery and planes, things that are officially manufactured in Ukraine as per Stalin's propaganda (aforementioned industrial "miracle").
As a documentary about the pre-WWII part of Russian history interacting on a political level with the rest of the world, particularly UK and USA, it works very well for me. I knew little about this beforehand, and it clarifies a lot. However, did I miss that insight before today?? (I think not.) It was nevertheless a tense two and a half hours, where so much could go very wrong, fatally wrong even, be it in Moscow, be it in the Ukraine, or even back in the UK with spies and hired killers all around. His adversaries may deem his reports unwelcome, and with their deep pockets and vazals to be hired they can get away with everything bad that an honest reporter may befall.
Question remains whether the two-and-a-half hours running time were necessary to get the message across. I know that Killing Your Daughters is not always easy, but we viewers have rights too. Please don't construe this as a statement that I was being bored stiff. Nevertheless, mixed feelings about the pacing of this movie remain.
Beautiful story, covering religious traditions and ineradicable male chauvinism. A "loser" category woman rises to the challenge and an improved version comes out of it
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition for the golden bear. The jury awarded none of the available prices, however, but still I was very satisfied to have seen thie movie. At its core is a nice story, that develops very well, irrespective of the initial setting of a "loser" type of woman who consistently fails to find a job. It covered lots of social commentary about religious traditions dating back from medieval times and about ineradicable male chauvinism. Both topics were to be expected after having read the synopsis.
You can imagine that it has all the elements of a biblic parable, combining several parties who all claim they are right: (a) the vaste gathering of young men, having trained for diving to get the cross, but Petrunija was first, so the men hold that she "stole" the cross while only men can participate in the ritual since centuries, (b) the church is involved, but the patriarch refuses to file a complaint that she "stole" the cross, which would be a lie, so he tries several other arguments, (c) the police, populated of course with lots of male chauvinist pigs, but not all of them fit in that category, (d) the two parents, concerned about what the neighbours will say, and (e) a woman journalist accompanied by a male camera man, having their internal struggles with their bosses and with each other.
Everything that happens in this movie, a lot more than can be derived from above ingredients, showcases the current state of that part of the continent: it is a small world, and residuals of past centuries are still very persistent. The visible presence of mobile phones at the scene where the cross is dropped in the river, allowing the diving act of Petrunija to be filmed and going "viral" on Youtube, seems contradictory to the previous sentence. Can it both be true??
The nice thing is that we see Petrunya change from a sheep to a wolf, something related to a story told by the interrogating police officer, about a sheep disguised as a wolf. But then she turns the story around in the final scene.
Petrunija is a perfect example of a "loser" in the beginning, but she becomes calmer and calmer as the story progresses. We see her grow to become a better woman out of it after this experience. Notwithstanding (I must admit) that I had expected some police brutality while she was held in "for her protection" custody, but there was none of it. And neither is there any trace of corruption, albeit common in many East-European police forces (I know that Macedonie is no ex-Sovjet country, but still I cannot avoid thinking of the many ex-USSR movies that I've seen).
All in all, while covering several interesting topics as side dishes on the menu, the fact that Petrunya rises to the challenge and comes out of it as a better version of herself, is the main course of this story. Unattractive as she is from the outset, the process she goes through is richer with developments than could be assumed from the synopsis. So ignore the uninviting title of this movie, and book tickets for it at your earliest convenience.
Ut og stjæle hester (2019)
Visually attractive but I failed interest in what the main protagonists did
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition for the golden bear. While not winning the 1st Prize, the jury awarded a Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution, for Rasmus Videbæk who was responsible for the cinematography. Be that as it may, however, the movie failed to interest me in the protagonists and their behavior. Shots of landscapes, rivers, nature and (of course, given the title) the horses were more interesting than what the actors said and did. So, it could have been a nice watch but that is never my prime reason to see a movie.
In particular, the frequent switching between 1999 and 1948 annoyed me several times. It broke the logic flow in the story line. Luckily, it was clear with every flash back/forward in which time frame we were, due to other actors playing the younger variants. For me it remained unclear from start to finish what it was that the protagonists did tick, and why they did what they did. I cannot imagine that the fatal Cain/Abel scene, where a young boy inadvertently shot his brother, can have such a long term bearing on everyone actions, but what do I know??
Maybe the underlying book is better in explaining the psychology driving these people's actions, but I missed it dearly here. It is even very well possible that the Cain/Abel scene was not so important after all, but that it was the woman he had eyes on but who was in fact courted by his father. I wonder, due to suggestions in that direction in the announcement on the Berlinale website, but I can recall only a single scene from memory to more or less confirm this plot element.
All in all, despite the visual elements to make it a nice watch, I failed to get interested in the story or the psychology of the protagonists. I see hints in various reviews that there is more substance than I could derive from it. Such things can happen during a festival where one sees three of four movies per day.
Story telling confused me. Scenes seem in the wrong order. May be deliberate choise of film maker. Nice to watch farming and landscapes
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019. I was glad to have read the synopsis beforehand, otherwise I would have understood nothing of what happened. Without preparation I had admired the farming rituals and the rural environment, mostly due to reminiscences of my younger years when I grew up on a farm (half a century ago), some distance from neighbours and far from the rest of the world. I must admit, of course, that the distances between farms in this movie are much larger than most in my youth, but inevitable feelings of similarities remain. The isolation creates a 24/7 life style, very different from city life and hardly understood by outsiders. That mental distance is two-sided. We see that illustrated when the farm hands (for example) scratch their heads about the term "happy hour" for the consumation of large quantities of alcoholic drinks in a short time frame.
Farming, working on the land and handling animals may seem romantic in the eyes of the average citizen, but there are other sides of the coin. Though cattle can be objectively considered to be not much more than moving capital, the warm way these people handle their animals show that it by far exceeds money on four legs moving around (or two legs in the case of chickens). We see price negotiations, on the other hand, follow familiar rules as we know "in the city", after which the sold cattle is handed over without any form of mourning. Money must be made, another (colder) side of said coin.
The robbery in question is shown several times throughout the running time (quote: "a robbery has to be fast", literally repeated). I assume (not supported by facts) that we saw a recurring nightmare, as the fragments did not logically fit in the story at hand. Also remarkable in the screenplay is that we see Marcelo just coming back at work after some absence. In one of the opening scenes someone says to him that he could have prolonged his absence longer. In other words, he is back from a down period, sort of sick leave after the robbery of 100 pieces of cattle for which he felt himself responsible. Conversely, his last work day on the farm is shown near the end.
All in all, I conclude that everything is shown out of sequence, leaving it to us viewers to join the puzzle pieces together in order to arrive at a logical story. It is a choice any filmmaker can make, as long as it benefits our viewing experience. This time I'm not so sure. Nevertheless, I won't go that far as to dismiss this way of storytelling. My only grip on the story was the synopsis that I've read beforehand. I fear that not everyone will be so lucky, and I wonder what they will think when watching this movie unprepared.
Not my way of story telling so be advised to read synopsis beforehand. Too much emphasis on the lowly position of women in South Africa. Several things confused me
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was the opening of the Panaroma section. I saw too much emphasis on showing that the situation of women in South Africa (and, by extrapolation, everywhere else in the world) is deplorable and deserves our pity. Didn't we know that already?? Further, it was very peculiar how black women openly talked about white's penises on a wedding party, and how others talked explicitly about the first night together. Is this typical for South Africa?? Before today, I assumed that only men say such things "among us", yet never in mixed company. But what do I know??
Anyway, it was nice to see South African landscapes and how people live there, far away from the big city, sort of a modern African variant of the American pre-1900 Wild West. The movie was South-African spoken, a language that "sounds like" Dutch, but I was glad that we had English subtitles. We got a touristic tour as icing on the cake, as integral part of the story, with Nathalie and Poppie fleeing on horseback to get away from lawful prosecution.
But apart from the icing, the cake itself had not so much taste, mostly due to the far-fetched-ness of the story. Most irritating example are questions what Billy was doing in the shed, not visible to us, where we saw only Nathalie, her horse, and the priest in the wheelchair. We heard some shooting, while leaving us in the dark who shot who. Billy was just released on parole after 15 years in prison, but he had no real purpose in the shed (I deduce from information given in a different scene, there were 500 miles in between), other than looking for a quiet place to stay where no one would bother him. The fact that the same Billy was once engaged (15 years ago) with Captain Beauty, the second main protagonist of this movie, turns the story into something overly complicated without any useful purpose.
Despite that a detective story may present false tracks to bring color to the story, three confusing things were thrown at us for no reason. Firstly, we saw Bakkies and Beauty on the murder scene while messing with some tracks, leaving unclear why they did that, given that Billy was considered guilty of the shooting from the outset. Secondly, we had to outguess that Bakkies and Beauty had at least contradicting reasons to have Billy as a confirmed killer. Thirdly, we were led to believe all along that Nathalie was the real killer of the priest, but we did not really see it, so the investigations going in many different directions casted doubts. Normally this is a good thing in a detective story, but now I'm not so sure. The order in which subsequent events are shown on screen, is not very helpful and adds to the (my) confusion.
Another confusing element is Poppie, the third main protagonist. She does everything to confirm what male chauvinists say about women in general, like being irresponsible, emotional, and so on. On the other hand, Nathalie and Beauty convince me to be no cardboard figures, unlike Poppie who destroys all hope that women can have all sorts of faults yet nevertheless capable of re-inventing themselves once needed in a difficult situation. The other two, Nathalie and Beauty, make a commendable attempt to counter the clichés we find in Poppie.
All in all, as opening movie for the Panorame section of the Berlinale 2019, I do not consider this the perfect choice. Though I usually admire detectives and thrillers that show a good building-up of the plot and explore several side lines to keep the tension about the ending, this movie did it all wrong (in my opinion). Reading the synopsis beforehand may alleviate some confusion about how the story develops, it still has its flaws, many of which I outlined above.
Born in Evin (2019)
Well-made documentary but her research does not provide any answers. The cliché that Time Heals All Wounds does not apply here
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, as part of the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section (Perspectives on German Cinema). I left the venue with mixed feelings about this documentary, thereby not meaning to dismiss its qualities as a documentary, but rather that her objectives make me doubt as well as that she eventually achieved not much. The research attempt was commendable, but we did not learn much more than what we already suspected. The mother of the film maker was not the only obstacle withholding her to find information about circumstances in the Iranian prison where she was born. All others were equally defensive about their years as a political prisoner, only providing sparse details, or even cancelling the appointment at the last moment, thereby telling it was too difficult to recount those dire years. The cliché that Time Heals All Wounds does not apply here, obviously, even after forty years have passed.
It is daunting to imagine daily life in an Iranian prison at the time. These prisoners have done nothing wrong in the context of our legal system. They were only held in custody while deemed political adversaries of a regime that tolerated no free expression whatsoever. Some of the prisoners were hanged eventually, some were "only" interrogated (mind the quotes), but all were kept under miserable circumstances for many years, packed with many in the same cell, without due medical care nor proper food.
The little we get to know about giving birth in such a prison, is nightmarish to say the least: if the mother in labor made too much noise, the other women in her neighborhood would be beaten. Another former prisoner who lived there as a young child, has nightmares about beatings and blood all over, something deep in her memory as she was very young at the time, but the dreadful images keeps popping up regularly in her dreams.
The opening scene tells a fairy tale (or a myth) that baby's are born with a burning candle on their head, knowing everything there is to know. Once they are born the candle is blown out and he/she forgets it all, thus having to regain that knowledge piecewise during their future lifetime. This story is told with a purpose, I assume, and lets us ponder how much a very young child remembers from their first years. This notion resurfaces near the finale, but I can't remember exactly whether it was linked to said nightmares and what is kept in memory of those very young years in prison.
The daughter/filmmaker goes to every imaginable length to learn more about her years in prison. She was born there and lived there some years together with her mother. As a result, she thinks she has every right to know, though her mother stubbornly refuses to tell anything about it. Remarkably, halfway in the movie someone says that the history she is researching is not her history but that of her mother's (and a large part of the audience applauded, so it felt on furtile ground). Gradually, she learns some fragments about the time in prison, some bits and pieces, but a real insight is not provided. And given the few fragments we heard, it is OK to leave it at that, as such details are not the things you really want to know.
Grâce à Dieu (2018)
Strong visualization building a legal case against priest who abused summer camp scouts. How it works out in the church hierarchy is shown too
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. It did not win the 1st prize, the golden bear, but instead the 2nd in line: the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Strong visualization of building a legal case against a priest who abused children in summer camps on a regular basis some 20 to 30 years ago. What is shown in a perfect way is that each victum has struggled with what overcame him, but each in his own private way. No one was prepared to listen at the time. Some still suffer the consequences, again each in his own way. Some become normal citizens with a job, a family and still going to church. Others cope with persistent problems, without a proper job and without a family. And all combinations thereof. Compelling story telling fills over two hours without a problem.
The first main protagonist has a family with 5 children, all going to church and receiving the sacraments. Within his family he is very open about what happened to him when he was a boy scout. They talk about it (with all children attending), how he felt once seeing the offending priest in question still active in mass and confirmation classes. It was a trigger to start writing letters to the official contact person for these matters. As a result, meetings take place with minutes made. His case is handled proficiently and professionally by that contact person, following-up with replies, establishing contacts with the priest in question, later with higher echelons in the church hierarchy. Even two of his sons have a meeting with the superior of the priest. Every meeting runs its course in a polite and peaceful way.
The interaction with the church officials went much better than I had assumed beforehand, but still the case falters after some time and for no obvious reason. Seeing the priest still serving mass, he leaves church together with his family, explicitly stating that he does not want communion to be served out of the hands of that priest. Not knowing what else to do, he files an official complaint with the district attorney. To demonstrate that his case is not unique, he talks with a fellow participant of the summer camps where most of the sexual contacts took place, attempting to convince him to file a complaint too. Alas, he has troubles to follow suit and is unwilling to go to the police. The case seems to get a dead end.
Separately, others chime in and also file complaints with the police. They hear that someone else did the same before them but have no clue who it was. From that moment on, the story takes off, the addresses of other summer camp participants are collected and are phoned up. A few times they get only an indifferent response, while others show hefty reactions like bursting into tears. We follow some of them in the story, to show their attitudes and their motivation to follow suit, or conversely why they refuse to act.
New for me, even an eye opener, was that we also see how the case develops within the church hierarchy. It turns out that the church bureaucracy perfectly knew what was going on. Even worse, the priest in question had frequently reported that he had problems with children, but he persistenly got jobs where he could not avoid them, even in summer camps with ample young boys around and where he had all freedom to do what he wanted. The church deemed the priest very charismatic, preaching very well, and thus bringing in a lot of very desperately needed finances. For the church officials it was thus very difficult to dismiss his services, or even to defrock him. Their actions confined to moving him around several places but letting him keep his role in mass, sacraments and confirmation classes. The latter activity offered him ample opportunities for extra lessons on an individual basis, hence new opportunities for sexual activities with boys entrusted to him.
I could not avoid remembering an earlier movie with a strongly related theme, namely Le silence des eglises / The Silence of the Church (2013) by Edwin Baily. There are considerable differences, however, due to the 2013-one having only one boy and one priest as main protagonists. This new 2019-one has a reverse setup, focusing on a single priest and his hierarchy, with the abused boys taking action after 20 years. Still, similar is the instruction to the victims to keep it a secret or telling them that they are selected out of the group and treated as a favorite. Also similar is the denial by parents, teachers and other educators, as they cannot imagine that the priest who does so much good work and who is loved by everyone, can be suspected of something evil like sex with minors. And both movies show that the immediate as well as the lasting effects can be very different for each of the boys, some even killing themselves as their only escape to avoid the unwanted sexual advances.
All in all, both movies show a contemporary theme that has come in the open after decades of hiding. This one also shows the side of the church bureaucracy and their staffing problems, given a shortage on priests and hoping that denial and switching places moves the problem away. The story telling in this movie is very strong and keeps our attention for two hours without a problem.
Perfect storytelling and deep delving portrait of how teachers, social workers, therapists and foster parents end up without options to find a suitable future for a 9-year old
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official competition for the golder bear. It won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize "for a feature film that opens new perspectives".
I myself can only humbly add the following praises: Perfect storytelling, deep delving portrait of the many people involved (social workers, schools, therapists, foster parents, natural parents, and so on), all having their daily struggles in general like everyone else, but additionally must cope with such a difficult (hopeless) case as Benni is. Pitying and caring is not enough. Benni defies all logical behavior, despite of normal intelligence and old enough to correlate her own behavior with how people respond on what she does and how she acts. Some of the hefty scenes are uneasy to watch but without overdoing it nor over-exploiting the situation.
This movie succeeds in avoiding most clichés about difficult children, incapable parents, and well-meaning social workers. All protagonists act believable in their own role, even Benni's natural mother who is a problematic case herself, apart from being unable to handle Benni, even to the extent of fearing her own daughter. Thus, she cannot fulfill Benni's desire to live with her natural mother, regardless of how often Benni repeats that she really wants that. Acting such, she frustrates all efforts wanting her in a different direction.
Micha is a different case altogether. In the beginning he seems the only one capable of dealing with Benni, thereby showing progress for the first time in the story. But he "comes too close" (his own words), and fears to lose his professional distance. The two instances when Benni encounters Micha's family, one on Micha's own initiative and one due to Benni arriving on their doorstep. Both seem to work out very well initially, alas both strand in some sort of near-disaster after a few seemingly happy days.
The child protection service woman believes and repeatedly says that living with a natural mother will solve all problems. She really beliefs that natural parents implicitly have a supernatural influence. It is clear (and proven in this case) that it does not work every time, and certainly not here. Apart from that misconception, she goes at any imaginable length to find a solution. Her despair is truly visible. The repeated efforts to find a new home for Benni are heart moving as well as hopeless.
We can do nothing else than follow this well-meaning woman in her feeling of despair. We witness many situations that seem to start well yet always end in a sort of disaster. It follows that pattern repeatedly, nearly exhausting all options for Benni as well as drawing on us viewers. Though all subsequent attempts end miserably, the situations are still sufficiently varied. The apparent repeats may be wearing us out along with the social workers, but not in a boring repetitive way.
We are offered no hope for any sort of happy end. Even worse, I'm not sure what to think about the ending. The final scene leaves unclear (I assume on purpose) how the story with Benni ends. I imagine that a better way to end the movie cannot be thought of, given the ingredients.
Hail Satan? (2019)
Despite this movie's title it shows nor says anything blasphemous. The movement, however, uses symbols bound to confuse people to think they are really Satan's followers
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the Big Screen Competition (but another film got the price). There is nothing blasphemous in this movie, though one could derive it from the title, especially when overlooking the question mark. Nevertheless, this movement gives rise to frequent controversy, as shown in many examples. Such an amount of resistance can be readily expected in a country where "In God we trust" signs are everywhere, on banknotes, in governmental buildings and many other public places. The mere existence of this sentence all over the country, is always the standard argument against The Satanic Temple (TST for short), to point out they have no place in the USA, and even to suggest they are unconstitutional.
The seemingly obvious fact that religion and the existence of God is laid down by the Founding Fathers and hence in the Constitution, proves incorrect as per the talking heads (I did not verify it). The binding role of religion came about in the 1950-ies as a determining (uniting) factor in the days that Communism was deemed something dangerous, the "red scare" as it was perceived at the time. Think of McCarthyism and more such political phases in USA's history. In 1956 US Congress made "In God We Trust" the national motto.
TST fights for separation between religion and state, and they lay their fingers on many aspects of life that are (inadvertenly?) grounded on Christian beliefs. USA may advertise adhering a strict separation between religion and state, in practice it is not. Take for example the prayer in schools, which should also be allowed to be led by someone belonging to a non-Christian belief. Thus, by extension, prayers could also be led by someone from TST. Be that as it may, a negative side effect of this (in my opinion) is that TST outings state that one could also praise Satan in those prayers. This will inevitably lead to uproar, being purposely controversial in its choice of words. So, though their basically proper intentions about separation of religion and state, they also create resistance while bordering on what is allowed versus what is frown upon in "standard" religions. The naming of their TST movement alone is evoking resistance, both from people basically supporting their principles, and (even more so) also by everyone else balking on their name, their rituals, and particularly the "black mass" events they organize.
As a documentary, this movie does a good job in showing many aspects of this movement, regardless of being against them, for them, or somewhere in the middle. As I wrote in previous paragraphs, I see their cause and what they stand for, but their attributes and their outings are deliberately confrontational. This is not really helpful in spreading their word. Each time when Satan is mentioned or when satanic symbols are shown, resistance can be expected, with the result that their actual cause is overlooked and drowned in the upheaval.
Believable, real-world people and compelling dilemma's incorporated in a well acted/casted drama. What would my choice be in that situation??
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the Big Screen Competition (another film got the price, alas). It was a mixture of real world dilemma's and believable people. A compelling drama, very well acted/casted, and all intermediate steps were very good to follow. Moreover, not everything was predictable, keeping us interested all the way. There were no good or bad people. All meant well for their children, if not the best. That is the reason that the adoptive mother (as she stated) ran out of arguments when trying to talk individually with the loudest protestors. Similarly, the last couple she spoke with, where man and wife disagreed, both had proper arguments to support their respective opinions. Despite some opinions were blown out of proportion, it was clear where they came from, making it difficult for us to prove them right of wrong.
To top the uneasy choices to be made: Even the adoptive couple disagreed. One parent found it more important to remain in peace with the village, given that it was very relevant for his work. On the other hand, the mother wanted to sue everyone who decided to shift the problem away to a different school in an adjacent village. I concur with the feelings of the mother, despite I understand the motives of the father very well (grown up in a small village myself, so I see the merits of his opinion).
All in all, I could do nothing else than scoring a maximum 5 for the audience award. Others seem to disagree, as this movie eventually got a mediocre 50th place (out of 162) with score 4.409 (out of 5). I assume that the odd mixture of issues raised by the story, are not all that easy to digest. Both the opinions of the adoptive parents as well as the parents of the other pupils are understandable from their viewpoint, and I cannot be sure what my stance would be when in the position of the parents involved. I consider it a complement for the film makers that they were able to stir up those dilemmas within the viewers, thus arriving at a mixed score. It is not easy for everyone in the audience to judge the quality of the movie and keep it strictly separate from the actions and opinions of the main protagonists.
Compelling plot, believable characters and unexpected developments. Despite that I usually avoid relational dramas, this one did its very best to counter my usual reluctance
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the Big Screen Competition (another film got the price, alas). Despite that I usually do not like relational dramas, this one involved me due to a compelling plot, believable characters and unexpected developments. It is sad that it does not end well for everyone involved (no details, no spoilers), but I don't think that a different outcome would have been so much better. Main character Anne makes unwise choices, and has to live with the dire consequences, but it is easy for us to say from our comfy chairs.
All in all, unexpectedly for me with this kind of relational theme, I scored a maximum 5 for the audience award, for which it eventually received a very good 13th place (out of 162) with score 4.487 (out of 5).
Koko-di Koko-da (2019)
No variation on Clockwork Orange or Funny Games that I suspected beforehand. Some interesting parts but the overall result failed on me
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the official Tiger Competition. It is not a variation on A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick 1971) or Funny Games (Haneke 1997) that I deduced from the synopsis, but very different. It kept us awake and let us suffer along with the candidate vicitims. I was glad that the recurrent encounters with the evil threesome were very different each time, luckily leaving out redundant repeats from previous instances, like the discussion in the car about B&B versus tent. The role of the white cat is not clear to me, maybe just a gimmick letting us wonder whether its recurrent appearances were intended to mean something.
There is no morale or message embedded in the story, other than Tobias and Elin stopping their previous mutual nitpicking in the final scene and visually were connected again. What still puzzles me is that only Tobias seems to remember the previous encounters with the evil threesome, albeit only part of it and only knowing that some awful things are about to happen again, contrary to Elin who has no reminescenses at all. On the other hand, we see Elin following the white cat in a nightly quest of her own. Another mystery is why the evil threesome pops up at places far away from the camping spot where the couple fled from, after a fruitless attempt to evade unhappy encounters like the previous.
All in all, a lot of things are not understood but may mean something. The movie does not make me long for a real explanation, however. The only morale or message that I could deduce from this movie was that the couple may have been at a breaking point in their relationship when the story started, but were visibly together again near the end after the dire events they went through.
Loosely coupled scenes showing lawlessness in a country at war, based on real events published on social media. We see facts grossly ignored and they/us differences overblown
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019. If this movie wanted to showcase chaos and lawlessness in a warzone annex newly born country, they did it very well. On the other hand, we did not get a chance to feel involved with the local people as we hardly know enough about the circumstances and the differences that kept those people apart. The division in loosely coupled chapters did not help either. There is nothing to bind the chapters together, merely leading to several (and now for something completely different) sketches. All of them interesting in their own way, but we are left to our own devices to arrive at a common morale or a message.
We often heard the word "fascist" used, more as a general word to denote something negative, rather than having to do with the real meaning of fascism (just like the word "communist" in the Mccarthyism era in the USA was used for everything beyond the norm). I got the impression that the soldiers at the road blocks also did not know exactly what was going on and in which battle(s) they were involved. Similarly, the man tied to a lantern pole and exposed to the whims of the public, was also often accused of being one of the fascists over there, leaving us to assume that the people "over there" also used some label for the opposite side. As a side note, the German journalist held up at one of the road blocks was indirectly labelled as a fascist, because he may not be a fascist himself, but his father and grandfather surely had been one (I quote).
The movie consists of a series of separate chapters, on very different locations and in even more different settings, among which a road block and a wedding. Only the first and last chapter were connected by showing the same persons and location, having their make up ready in preparation of a "real live" scene. The ending of the second instance was a bit unexpected, however, but fitted very well in the "fake news" theme of the movie. We hear, for instance, a witness who saw a mass killing from her balcony, give her "testimony" two times in front of a camera crew, seemingly spontaneous including tears and being unable to speak further. We know better while watching how the scene was created twice (a second take was needed for a wider shot, but the "spontaneous" elements were identical).
All in all, the movie kept me at a distance and did not involve me. Even worse, I saw the well-known problems of former Sovjet-countries also manifest here, like corruption, unability to depend on the law, and self-serving civil servants. (Is this a pun? It sounds like one but not intended.)
The emphasis on fake news as the central theme of this movie, escaped me. But I see it in any synopsis or review, so I may have missed something important. Or was it intended to suggest a contemporary theme, something we should be concerned about?? I've read somewhere that the stories we see were all based on previous "fake news" clips on social media. In hindsight, this may explain the assortment of loosely coupled "sketches" without a common central theme.
The Best of Dorien B (2019)
Relational drama with normal people yet with ample unexpected developments to make up a rich story
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the Big Screen Competition (another film got the price, alas). Usually, I don't like relational dramas, but this one proved no problem at all. Sufficiently complex drama and populated with believable characters, not too much out of the ordinary, so portraying normal people yet not resulting in a shallow plot line. And a bit of humor was added as icing on the cake. The mixed entourage of the main couple, with their children as well as her parents contributing proficiently to the plot. All of this succeeded in achieving a rich story with ample developments.
An interesting quote from the Q&A after a question from the audience: why was Dorien a vet?? The director said she was a doctor at first. But a vet has a certain advantage that people coming for her advice, usually project their problems on their animals. In other words, this is a richer situation than "just" a GP or a specialist in a hospital. And it offers an opportunity for interesting developments (as happened here a few times). My personal translation of this statement is that a vet has to deal with two "patients", the owner as well as the sick animal, each bringing in their own very different attitudes and problems.
All in all, despite my reluctance to watch relational drama's, I enjoyed this one without problems. Unexpected developments worked as icing on the cake, but not too far-fetched to become surreal. People like the ones appearing in this movie, may work next to you or live next door.
Real-world story about a gay immigrant exiled from Iran. He sees different freedom in Mexico but his problems to find his place there are also very well portrayed
Saw this at the Rotterdam Film Festival 2019. Sufficiently complex story but a bit depressing after all, seeing the many obstacles Ramin must face. Gradually, he gets to know some new people, which is not always easy in a foreign country, but it happens often that they are suddenly planning to go to a better place (some real, some only in their fantasies). As a result, there are a few sub-plots proficiently woven into the story, most of them running dead for a good reason but certainly living up the proceedings.
Eventually, we don't know how Ramin will continue his life further, which of his many options he will explore, and which he will really follow-up on. He has seen the existing freedom yet there are also some counter forces that confine his newly obtained freedom. The language is a complication as well as a plot element, demonstrated via the two-sided language lessons between Ramin and Leti, one wanting to learn Spanish and one to learn English.
All in all, the developments cover many if not all relevant aspects of the plot mixture: immigration, gay sex, building relationships, language problems, unfamiliarity with local culture, and so on. Ramin must work to earn a living, but we see no money problems and he seems to find subsequent jobs without noticeable problems, something that puzzled me. Similarly, there are several other story elements left unexplained, leaving it to us to connect the dots. It did not hamper my viewing experience, however.
Finally, when in doubt to see th is movie, there is no gay sex in the story nor any male nudity. So, don't be afraid to see this movie and live along with the protagonists and their real-world dilemma's. There are more than enough topics you can recognize, gay or straight or something in between.
Slowly paced but steadily developing story. Remote farm with father/mother/five sons. A suddenly arriving outsider with modern gadgets disturbes the balance of power
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019. The screenplay shows very good dramatic developments, slowly paced but not too slow to be bored stiff. The calm proceedings perfectly match the situation at hand, where nothing much happens within the mini-world with only father, mother and five sons. In this world, one does what is necessary to sustain family life and the living stock on the farm, following the rhythms of day/night and the seasons.
The relationship between the five brothers starts clear cut: oldest brother Aslan runs the farm, and his brothers are assumed to help him with the variety of daily chores (and to rest only on Sundays). The father is away most of the time to sell their products, and we don't see him much. Only once we hear (not see) him disciplining one of the younger brothers, not sure what he did wrong to deserve this, but the father makes clear that Aslan better had done this before him, in his place so to say, acting as his deputy to maintain order and discipline around the house.
The power balance is disturbed when outsider Kanat arrives with modern gadgets, such as a tablet and computer games, thereby showing a very different life style, without any interest in the farm and its live stock. It is natural that the brothers are circling around him and severely derelict their farm related duties. This poses a dilemma for Aslan, requiring action. It changes the course of the story when he reveals some secrets of which the younger brothers thought no one knew about it. On the other hand, the younger brothers also know secrets about Aslan. Once lots of mutually known secrets are revealed, a new power balance arises, and it is sealed by promising to keep it all under the hood and not tell their father.
Eventually it creates a fresh relationship between the brothers, now more based on equality. They even cooperate without much ado in helping each other with the daily chores, even working harder than ever before. And, as a result, the initial attraction of Kanat and his gadgets seems to lessen. The father, unknowing of the cause of the better atmosphere, praises Aslan for his leadership.
When suddenly Kanat disappears, we viewers as well as nearly all brothers (except the youngest) do all what is necessary to hide the truth about Kanat's disappearance, whatever that truth may be. Of course, the brothers have their suspicions what has happened. Just like we are led to believe that Aslan has some hand in the disappearance. We see the brothers jointly burning Kanats clothes, which confirms our suspicions even more. Eventually, a surprise for me as for all brothers, the actual truth proves very different from what they (and we) assumed.
All in all, the interactions between the family members are very well portrayed. Normally we would call it a character study, but it is done too subtly for that. Steady developments, albeit served in a very calm tempo, keep us awake all the time. I can imagine that the settings and the synopsis will not attract the crowds, but I consider that to be their fault.
Compelling array of footage how crime was prevalent in Naples, but the movie lost me after 2/3 of the running time
Saw this at IDFA 2018, the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. For 2/3 of the running time it was a compelling array of footage about how crime was prevalent in the streets of Naples. It was the most natural thing to do, given the circumstances. People found they had no other choice, due to a lack of honest jobs. Even young children from the age of 5 were involved in shady activities, starting reasonably benign with selling cigarettes, gradually escalating to street robbery, because of knowing nothing else to survive and to pull their weight in supporting their family.
The story lost me around 2/3 of the running time, at the moment we saw the aftermath of an earth quake. I was wondering what this and subsequent scenes had to do with the main story line. But it may be obvious for any Italian who has the necessary background information about it. I could imagine that it might refer to possible corruption with bad buildings as a result. I could not deduce anything from the subtitles.
The dialog with the "boss of bosses", a title Raffaele Cutolo denies, may be illustrative. Even someone in prison for life can retain control yet still deny involvement in anything what happens "outside". 'He is open about helping someone finding a job, hence he is still powerful as per the conclusion of the interviewer. But the prisoner also downplays his influence as a "boss", by telling that it came down to writing a letter to a friend, so nothing suspicious in near sight. This Raffaele Cutulo remains a sort of Robin Hood in the eyes of the locals.
All in all, I partly missed the things that (I assume) the film makers tried to bring across. It may be caused by not knowing some facts that are obvious for any Italian. Nevertheless, the movie is worth watching, due to the very interesting footage included.
The Panama Papers (2018)
Extremely relevant documentary about tax evasion, without neglecting dangers involved in revealing those secrets. Difficult topic to find appropriate visuals for
Saw this at IDFA 2018, the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. The movie makes abundantly clear that corruption in the broadest sense of the word, is not confined to countries far away. Politicians in Europe and USA, as well as "fellow" citizens with more money than they can spend in a life time, go at any length to hide their assets. They do that mainly for tax evasion purposes. That observation is extra painful, given that richness and poverty are very unevenly distributed. By refusing to pay their fair share of taxes, they also avoid contributing to the solution of these problems.
This movie presents a very relevant overview of the situation as it is nowadays. However, as a movie it has its problems, because it is a difficult story to find appropriate visuals with. Talking heads are inevitable around topics like this, but what can be shown in the background, next to what they tell us?? The subjects are relevant, so that is not the issue here. But showing documents in passing, thereby highlighting text fragments and signatures, totally out of context, does not work for me. This form of presentation is not attractive in any way.
There are relevant remarks about the risks for the journalists involved. Ditto for the whistle blowers who provide the ground work for the published articles. The movie mentions some earlier whistle blowers, Manning and Snowden, despite having played their role in a very different context. Their names are explicitly mentioned here, if only to emphasize that their lives drastically changed after they went public. We know what happened to these two, which might work as a deterrent for followers in their footsteps. And the one journalist involved in the Panama papers, who lately became the victim of a car bomb, is also a frightening perspective. Their adversaries are powerful, their pockets are deep enough to pay any straw man, or assembling an army of sollicitors, and thus can easily get away with it.
All in all, despite some minor limitations in presenting the dry subject at hand, due to a lack of appealing visuals, the underlying issues are relevant enough to accept the lack of vividness as a fact of life, given the nature of the material.
A Sister's Song (2018)
Fascinating topic, and very interesting dialogs. The movie doesn't offer answers to many existential questions raised. And neither have I some
Saw this at IDFA, the International Documentary Festival 2018 in Amsterdam. To prevent misunderstandings upfront, there is no sex involved anywhere in the movie. Everything we had thought to read between the lines in the synopsis on the IDFA website, about the relationship of Tatiana and Gerondas, is an assumption that is completely wrong. Rather, Gerondas is more like a guru, a confessor (Dutch: biechtvader), with whom Tatiana says to share everything. It includes things she cannot share with even her sister or mother.
We enter a world very different from ours, despite the apparent openness of the monastery. The interior appears very modern and visitors are not kept out. Yet prevalent existential principles are very different. For example: one of Tatiana's fellow-sisters states that Marina has not achieved anything, being divorced twice from people she had pledged to share her life with. That is precisely along the line of an interesting and relevant quote (I forgot by whom): "There are two pathways to heaven, one is to marry and start a family, the other one is to devote your life to God." (loosely quoted).
Apart from sister Marina, their mother has also an important role, which becomes apparent later in the story. Until now she had only spurious contacts with Tatiana. The last one was over a year ago. She is still annoyed about what happened many years past, when Tatiana made some drastic changes in her life. For example, Tatiana threw away all her clothes, to wear only black from that moment on. It pained her mother that there was no way to reason with Tatiana after she decided to follow Gerondas, though their contacts were confined to only a few moments. A difficult thing to accept for a mother who had raised her and cared for her all her life. Such a drastic switch away from a mother who loved you for many years, is bound to cause pain forever, especially when there is no clear explanation given for this move.
Dialogs are important in this movie. The camera is usually close to the face trying to find an answer for the question raised at that moment. Consequently, we see that the answers are not easy and hence do not come quick. It thus gives us time to ponder what answer we can expect, and/or what the most desirable answer would be. The time devoted to these dialogs is very appropriate for this movie, where such deep delving existential issues are brought forward. I was relieved that no simplistic answers were offered.