Reviewing my experience as a viewer at the Carthage Film Festival 2019. PS: I’m only going to pick one film to be the highlight of each day.
Throughout the week I was bombarded with all sorts of images, sounds, and stories from all around the world. So what has clung to my mind at the end of it?
Day1: I began with appetizers; 3 short films. “Le dernier voyage” ( the last trip) by Latifa Ahrrare is a short documentary in which she retraces the steps of her deceased militant father. Although I wasn’t so caught up by the film in itself ( the cinematography and editing rhythm weren’t that captivating) I really haven’t watched before any documentaries of this sort. Generally speaking, documentaries tend toward objectivity and common societal issues. But this one was a personal story and most importantly a personal and emotional choice of a story. The main subject of this film does not seem like a remarkable individual. But it was to the director. And of course, we can still relate to the experience of losing our loved ones. This film was sort of a diary, or a small space to express one’s grief and gratitude. And this intimacy is what made it so special to me.
Day2: Today we got ourselves some heavy rains and a Lebanese long film named 1982 directed by Walid Mouaness. I like films with a double scale; a big one where you can find a local or universal issue (here the 1982 invasion of Lebanon at a private school on the outskirts of Beirut) hugging a small intimate story (a 11 yo boy trying to gather up the courage to make a love confession to his school crush). Aside from this aspect, I found the characters to be underdeveloped. Although the diegetic world, the drawings and animation at the end were all quite interesting, you could almost always sense that something is missing. Furthermore, I don’t think that the film has communicated any thought-provoking ideas nor any remarquable emotional stimulation.
Day3: A facebook friend of mine casted for this film and suggested I go and see it. It’s a Syrian film by Joud Said named “Entre deux frères” (Najmat Al-Sobh). First things first, the opening scene was dazzling in terms of imagery; every frame has its own interesting composition, the colorgrading had the right amount of grunginess… And it also sets the general mood of the film right from the start; a combination of tragic events and light almost-comic emotions. We can see that someone from this village has died in an explosion and how everyone is mourning his death at his funeral. You can feel the heaviness of the situation and yet you can’t hold a laugher at the sight of a weird grimace and all of the Syrian humour injected in the dialogue. I could still remember a scene where two newly married couple got attacked the day of their wedding. The broom is still singing as naively as he is, cut-legged, on top of this groom’s corpse. The director has no issue at showing more and more intense violence and human slaughters in contrast to the humoristic behaviour of the characters. This kind of confusing yet rich combination reminds me a bit of Clockwork Orange (S. Kubrick).
Day 3: “Miroirs de Tunis” filmed by the Chilean Raoul Ruiz in 1993, is also an interesting kind of a documentary, a poetic one! And in this film we have more than one poet; Abdelwaheb Meddeb a Tunisian poet living in France, and Ruiz himself through his “camera stylo” kind of aesthetic. The film gathers all together a documentation of trans ceremonies, a narration of the poet’s childhood and a dialogue between Ruiz and his main character. It’s a bit unfair to categories it as a documentary after all since it has its fair amount of fiction (albeit being a replay of real moments and events from the poet’s memories). What the director seems to be trying to do, is not to reflect a direct realistic image of Tunis as the title suggests, but rather he holds the mirror to the Tunis in Abdelwaheb’s memory. Thereby, we can see additional images from the poet’s imagination and subjective experience of the place, an extension to Tunis and the medina of Tunis more precisely. The imaginary shadows, the childhood thoughts, the hand-held camera at certain times…
Day 4: Chance decided that I should see When Mariam Spoke out; a 2001 Lebanese film directed by Assad Fouladkar. The director has attended the screening, greeted us and simply told us that we’re about to watch a love story, based on true events. The film opens with Mariam narrating her story to the camera, presumably breaking the fourth wall (we discover at the end that this was a video tape left for her husband). To be honest, I was at first a bit disappointed by the VHS-like image quality, only to question later if this was intended to go along with the tape shots. The dialogue and acting was kind of flat except for some secondary characters that had some edge and funny details about their behaviour. The whole atmosphere reminded me of Lebanese series from the nineties. Towards the middle of the plot, things get a bit more interesting. The love that once seemed so unshakable is now withering without any romantically reasonable justification. But to think of both reason and romance together is in itself quite ironic, isn’t? And surely, Mariam who was found out to be infertile is the victim of this relationship, a victim to inconsistency, to a gradual break-up, a victim to false hope. She does not let go of her love, she holds very tight until the very end of her life, marked by a sudden shocking and subtle suicide. Mariem suffers a great deal of pain. We witness along the film a degeneration of this protagonist, a loss of her principles and overall emotion balance. She starts seeking a clairvoyant, having reoccurring nervous break-downs and panic attacks, fades gradually, ends up being depressed and finally ending her own life. Anyone who would see this movie can’t help but get all emotional and empathetic, especially towards the end. Whenever a love scene was about to take place, we see shots of wet body parts. I found this to be a bit weird after repeating numerous times. We lately discover these were close-ups of Mariam’s corpse-wash ritual. Ziad her husband was the one performing the wash. This scene, shot in a high angle was tragically captivating. The credits rolled up and I could see and hear some of the audience still crying. The structure of the film is what kept hunting me around. There was clearly an impressive writing and editing work, threading the events cleverly in a way to inject tragedy in a very subtly way to the plain love life of Mariam and Ziad.
Day 5: Friday I have decided to rewatch a masterpiece that is so dear to my heart: Poesia sin fin (Endless poetry) of Alejandro Jodorowsky. You could already tell that there is gonna be a lot of praise. And thus I would like to make an exception for this day and talk about another less impressive film that I have watched the same day, just for sake of counterbalancing day 5. That of course implies that the other film was quite terrible. Once a woman, a film by Jalil Akbari Sehhat. I’ve heard about Iranian cinema being an interesting world to discover, But I’ve never watched anything apart from Abbas Kiarostami’s Where is the friend’s home and 24 frames. And so I did have some expectations. What I ended up watching was a feature so pour socially, psychologically, philosophically, aesthetically… Well, there were some considerable well-composed shots. But otherwise it was all flat. The characters where empty. The man who was helping Homa to find her brother, a main supporting character, declares at the end of the film that Homa has helped him to find himself after being lost. Although we do not see how Homa was helping intentionally or unintentionally, nor him struggling with anything during the film. The greatest challenge he had to pluck up the courage to face was all settled at the beginning where he knocks down his boss and stands up to his exploitation of the workers. And even that did not seem like much of a challenge, since we directly see the fight scene, it really sounded effortless to him. So yes! Basically, the characters are just too one-dimensional. Homa eventually finds her brother in Kenya. Her new supporting lover becomes a manager. And they live happily ever after. I really have struggled to make it to the end of the film. Now comes the good part. It was all super immersive. I don’t know where to start. Endless poetry is a sequel and the second part of Jodorowsky’s film surrealist autobiography, which began with La danza de la Realidad (The dance of Reality), which focused on Jodorowsky’s childhood in Tocopilla (northern Chile). One of the most important influences in Alejandrito’s childhood and youth was his complicated and unsettling relationship with his father. A tyrant kind of a father, firm and strict, conservative and fearful of vulnerability. This reminds me of Kafka the young writer and his father. We come to assume after watching The dance of Reality that he has changed and grown up to be more understanding and “warm”. But, faced to the cruel new environment he finds himself in and his son’s “faggoty” carrier aspirations (he wants to become a poet) Jaime Jodorowsky returns to his old self. It is kind of frustrating to see how humans and old people in general are almost determined to stay faithful to their initial selves and emotional patterns. Alejandrito’s sensibility to life and poetic spirit caused him to be bullied by this family and peers. Fortunately, he can’t take it anymore and rebels. And this was how he found himself a new family of artists, one that understands him, accepts him as he is and even encourage him to persue his desires and ambitions. But then what? He waits for love, a prophecy of a “A naked virgin that will illuminate his path with a blazing butterfly”. He founds her in a bar. She shares his passion for poetry. And she has the face of his mother (His lover was casted by the same actor that played the role of his mother). And I don’t think this was due to a shortage of actors. Psychologically speaking, we don’t just tend to recreate our childhood parental love patterns in our adult love life, but also we seek the image of our (opposite-sex) parent in our potential lovers. If this was the message intended by the casting choice, I highly salute the director. The film is rich with so many symbols in addition to that; the parade, the black figures appearing every now and then to serve the characters, the clown to laugh at one’s tragedies and absurdities…etc. Then, in spite of the initial admiration and familiarity he had for his lover, Alejandrito feels alienated in the relationship. He learns to stay true to himself and let go of his poisonous infatuation. He moves on, only to found himself lost again… again and again all along the film, an existential crisis after another, he is in constant search for an identity, for authenticity… We follow along… We see the world through Jodorowsky’s eyes and it’s beautiful, it’s tragic, yet beautiful, sad yet beautiful, ugly yet beautiful. The film resembles a big cinematic parade of ars combinatoria; puppets, circuses, poetry, and a theatrical presence. I think this film transcends mere fantasy as they usually like to categorise it. It’s a celebration of life!
Day 6: We finish the week with A girl missing by Koji Fukada. Fukada presents to us a slow-burn drama about a kind and hard-working nurse whose life got shattered when her nephew kidnaps a girl she’s been mentoring. This is a story about a woman who has dedicated her whole self to help others and was eventually let down and even stabbed in the back by everyone she knew and trusted; her colleges, her fiancé, her friends, her patients… The composure and calmness that Ichiko has tried to hold on to since the beginning has done nothing but make things worse, she almost starts blaming herself for a fault she did not commit. And because she did not stand for herself, she felt mislead and incapable of doing anything but revenge. The parallel timelines along the film were a bit confusing rather than exciting. All the characters seem like a static surface hiding a more complex and unsettling nature. But we don’t get to see that in depth.