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SXSW: Figurant

A middle-aged man (Dennis Levant) sees workers line up for a day job. Not knowing what the job is but eager for some paying work, he lines up with them. He signs in and is asked to remove all of his clothes and dress up in an old military uniform. A make-up artist puts a fake scar filled with blood on his forehead. A prop guy gives him a holster and rifle. The group of men head out into a field. The man’s scar begins to bleed and the shots begin to fire. What exactly did he get himself into?

“Short film is a full-fledged format that can capture and point out something that would not work on a feature scale.”

Jan Vejnar

Directed by Jan Vejnar, Figurant is a short drama from Czechia about curiosity, expectation and disappointment. It’s 13 minutes and 45 seconds long and holds its mystery long enough to engage the audience even though we figure out pretty quickly what’s going on. It’s expertly choreographed, especially the battle scene where we witness a POV shot that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before in a film.

Figurant was set to have its US premiere at the SXSW film festival. You can get updates on the film over on the official Instagram page.

OVID streams Patricio Guzmán Chilean documentaries

As someone who devours Spanish-language feature films and documentaries, I was thrilled to learn of streaming service OVID’s new collaboration with PRAGDA, a production and distribution company dedicated to promoting films from Latin America and Spain. This month OVID made seven of Chilean director Patricio Guzman’s documentaries available on their service, timed for the release of his newest film The Cordillera of Dreams/La Cordillera de los sueños.

Over the past 40+ years, Patricio Guzman has been chronicling the natural and sociological history of Chile. Guzman’s home country is one of the most fascinating places in the entire world. It’s the longest and narrowest of countries with 2,700 miles/4,300 kilometers of coast line to the west, mountains that border the east, deserts to the north and a southern tip that is mere miles away from the Antarctic peninsula. The Atacama desert is one of the driest places on earth and because of the clear skies and high altitude, it’s one of the best places for astronomers to observe space and is home to several large scale telescopes. Chile’s history is fraught with political turmoil from the brief presidency of democratic socialist Salvador Allende whose government was overturned by a military coup d’etat in 1973. This was followed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet who was eventually charged with human rights violations and embezzlement. 

Guzman offers poignant and emotionally resonant portrayals of Chile. Let’s take a look at the seven Guzman documentaries available to watch on OVID. 

Guzman’s three part epic depicts the tumultuous days leading to the end of Salvador Allende’s presidency and the beginning of Pinochet’s regime. Guzman and five cameramen were on the ground recording the events as they unfolded. One cameraman even died in action and filmed the last moments of his life as he was by the military in a coup. The documentaries also capture the struggle of the working class who are fighting for their rights as the bourgeoisie rise in power.

The three films include The Battle of Chile: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie/La Batalla de Chile: La insurrección de la burguesía (1975), The Battle of Chile: The Coup d’état/La Batalla de Chile: El golpe de estado (1977) and The Battle of Chile: Popular Power/La Batalla de Chile: El poder popular (1979).

If you’re uninformed about the tyrant that was Augusto Pinochet, watching The Pinochet Case (2001) is a great place to start. Guzman’s documentary takes a look at the 1998 arrest of the dictator while on vacation in London. Pinochet came into power in 1974 and ruled Chile as a dictator until 1990. Over the years, countless political opponents disappeared. Those who weren’t able to flee Chile for refuge in other countries were imprisoned and tortured. Many were murdered and buried in desert in unmarked graves. Guzman interviews over a dozen of victims who lost family members and nearly lost their own lives during Pinochet’s regime. Guzman also offers archival footage of Pinochet in London as he was charged and tried for human rights violations.

In Salvador Allende (2004), Guzman chronicles the presidency of Allende from his election campaign to his seemingly impossible win, to his short lived term that ended with a military coup d’etat and his eventual suicide in 1973. Guzman interviews family members, friends and colleagues of Allende, a CIA operative, as well as one of the last people to see Allende alive. Guzman always offers some hard-hitting scenes that really encourage audiences to appreciate the gravitas of the story. In this film, Guzman tries to find someone who witness the bombing of Allende’s home and gets a tour of the exact spot where Allende killed himself.

In Guzman’s documentary Nostalgia for the Light (2010), audiences learn about the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth which is home to important telescopes that capture images of space and is also where many victims of Pinochet’s regime are secretly buried. Because it is such a dry place, the human remains found in the desert date back from as recently as the 1970s to as far back as the 1800s and even further back to pre-1400s. Nostalgia for the Light is a quiet and somber documentary about how this unique landscape holds dark secrets of the past and helps us explore a world beyond our own.

In The Pearl Button (2014), Guzman man moves away from the desert to Chile’s coast and waterways. The title is a reference to Jemmy Button, the native of the Yaghan tribe who was brought to England, civilized and brought back. He was paid for with pearl buttons. Upon his return to his native land, he stripped away his newfound British identity but was never able to assimilate back into his tribe and lived the rest of his life in exile. It’s also a reference to the button found fused on a metal rod used to sink a political prisoner’s body to the bottom of the ocean. The most fascinating part of the documentary is Guzman’s interviews with some of the last remaining indigenous people of Patagonia and we hear words spoken in the Kawesqar language.

OVID streams a variety of independent and foreign films. I’m new to the service and am already loving how much they have to offer. Visit OVID.tv for more information.

Corpus Christi

20 year old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) has just been released from a juvenile delinquent center where he was incarcerated for a violent crime. Upon his release, he is sent far away from his native Warsaw, Poland to a remote village to work. Instead of taking a job at the local sawmill, he pretends to be a priest in training. Daniel had reconnected with his Catholic faith through the help of the jail’s priest Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat). When the local priest (Zdzislaw Wardejn) takes ill, Daniel takes over. The village he now oversees is reeling from the death of several teens in a head on collision with a local drunk. The widow (Barbara Kurzaj) receives menacing letters from the teens families and its up to Daniel to help heal the divide. Things get complicated when he falls for parishioner Eliza (Eliza Rycembel) and when an old nemesis from jail threatens to reveal Daniel’s secret.

“For Daniel, spiritual guidance is the only pure thing left in his life. I see his actions as a desperate attempt to tell the world what he would do if he were given a second chance.”

Jan Komasa

Corpus Christi is simply brilliant. Directed by Jan Komasa, this enthralling yet quiet film is based on a real phenomena of fake priests in Poland. Bartosz Bielenia delivers a captivating performance as the charismatic yet troubled Daniel. His story is bookmarked with violence. He is the victim of a broken system. Even though Daniel is an impostor, he’s also just what the village needs. Someone who will not only connect with them on an emotional level but also challenge them to open their minds and to find forgiveness in their hearts. I was quite moved by this story. I don’t know what I was expecting out of Corpus Christi but I can tell you that by the end I was blown away.

Corpus Christi is nominated for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s currently screening at select cities. Visit the Film Movement website for more details.

Dede

Set deep in the Caucus mountains during the Georgian Civil War, Dede stars Natia Vibliani as Dina, a young woman struggling against her family’s strict rules regarding marriage. She’s betrothed to David (Nukri Khachvani) but is in love with his friend Gegi (George Babluani). David and Gegi are great friends and David owes his life to Gegi ,who saved him in battle. When the two discover that they both love the same woman and that Dina only loves Gegi, David commits suicide. With David out of the way, it seems like Gegi and Dina can go on with their lives. They marry and have a boy, Mose. However, they face many trials and tribulations as Dina’s failure to fulfill her duty in marrying David creates animosity among her community. A string of tragic events turns Dina’s world upside down and brings a new man Girshel (Girshel Chelidze) into her life. Can Dina ever find happiness in an unforgiving community and an even more unforgiving landscape?

Dede was directed by Marian Khatchvani and written by Khatchvani along with Vladimer Katcharava and Irakli Solomonashvili. It was filmed on location in Svaneti, Georgia. Konstantin Esadze’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. There are breathtaking shots of the secluded village with the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains. I love the juxtaposition of the stunning beauty of the surrounding nature but the brutality of living in such a harsh climate. 

 

This is a quiet, unassuming film with a powerful message. It expertly portrays the cruelty of arranged marriages. When you take the humanity out of relationships and family building in the name of tradition, there are harsh consequences. And while Dina is the main victim of the many tragedies of the story, it’s the community who must learn the error of their ways. You get a sense of how traditions can be soul-crushing for those involved. 

Dede is available from Corinth Films on DVD and on Digital through Vimeo and Amazon Prime.

TIFF Review: Belmonte

Belmonte_03.jpg

by Raquel Stecher

Belmonte
dir. Federico Veiroj
Starring Gonzalo Delgado

Review:

Belmonte is a man in crisis. A celebrated artist, he paints surreal images of naked men on oversize canvases. Belmonte sells his paintings to wealthy patrons but bemoans the commercialization of his work. When he’s not dealing with the art world he’s a single dad making an effort to have a meaningful relationship with his daughter Celeste (Olivia Molinaro Eijo). But his ex-wife is about to have a new child and when Belmonte asks her for more time with Celeste, she pushes back because she wants their daughter to be fully immersed in her own family life. The story follows Belmonte as he grapples with single parenthood and the art world. It also explores his relationship with women and the touch of madness that many great artists deal with.

Veiroj’ film is both a tender portrait of a single father trying to connect with his young daughter and a quirky portrait of a borderline tormented artist. I say borderline because he hasn’t gone off the depend but he begins his slow descent. I found the scenes with Belmonte and Celeste quite touching. I wish the film had spent more time exploring his artistic process but I did get a sense of how Belmonte functions in his given career and how artists must strike a balance between the creation which is key to their passion and the more commercial aspects of the business side of things (patrons, exhibits, catalogs, shmoozing, etc.). While the film makes sure to explore Belmonte’s sex life I felt that this really didn’t add anything to the story, except for some titillation, and could have been removed without affecting the overall movie.

This is the first Uruguayan film I’ve seen and I’d love to see more. I’d recommend Belmonte to anyone who has an appreciation for Latin American cinema, which inherently defies conformity. It’s an unconventional film that requires some patience and acceptance from the viewer.  I particularly loved the sweet father-daughter story which is truly the heart of this film.

I attended a press and industry screening of Belmonte at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

 

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