During last year’s film festival I organised my film reviews using the festival’s own themes – Highlights, New World Cinema, Documentaries, Altered States and Shorts – which worked well as my viewing centred on a couple of the categories allowing me to corral them neatly. However, this year my viewing was rather less thematic as I saw a rather more disparate selection of films. So I find myself with three remaining films to write about that don’t seem to really hang together. However, arguably, these three films epitomise the theme of the films I saw over the course of the festival. Which is that of the importance of love – whether romantic, familial or platonic – and it’s absence, to our lives and how they interact with the world around us.
I picked this film out from the program because I’d seen Nadine Labiki’s first feature film Caramel several years ago, during my first run through of the 12 films challenge. And the film certainly lived up to my expectations even if it could not have been more different in subject and tone. It’s a film about poverty and exploitation, about cruelty and kindness, the price of survival and whether or not it is worth paying. Caphernaüm, we are told in the opening title, means chaos and that’s as apt a description as any of the world the characters inhabit. An invisible world of desperate poverty, petty crime, illegal immigrants and refugees.
Capernaum is like Caramel in one important aspect, in that it is a film about love and the lack of it. Most of the action is driven by Zain’s on-going quest to be a good older brother, first to Sahar and then to Yonas. To defy those who insist that love is only something to be exploited and abused for profit. The film’s only true moment of grace feels like a reward for Rahim who, despite her own troubles and struggles, finds the space to be kind to Zain in a way that almost no-one else in the film even tries to be.
Anna and the Apocalypse
I’m not sure what category this film should be put under. It doesn’t really fit under any of the film festival categories – for that matter, it’s a complete genre mash-up. It’s very definitely not a Hollywood movie though; it’s fundamentally a very Scottish movie – less about the accents than the news anchor of choice being Jackie Bird. I picked it because it was one of the young film programmer’s choices, and they gave us one of the gems of last year’s festival Cloud Boy and they did not let me down. This film was a delight.
It’s not a great work of cinema but it is genuine pleasure to watch. I knew it was a comedy horror going in, but not that it was also a musical and that could have gone horribly wrong. However, the second musical number makes it very clear that the film knows full well it’s ridiculous and isn’t remotely embarrassed about it. It’s the perfect balance between silliness and sincerity that allows them to pull it off. Though it probably also helps that the horror elements work really well, the gore effects are excellent, there are real moments of tension and some good jump scares to sit alongside the physical comedy that goes along with fighting zombies.
Birds of Passage
This is a film about the drugs trade in Columbia like no other. For a start it’s about marijuana rather than cocaine – and frankly in the day-to-day lives of the protagonists, it’s alcohol that causes the most damage. Additionally it’s set among the Wayuu people of northern Columbia – the largest indigenous ethnic group in the country – so not only is about 80% of the dialogue in an indigenous language, people both adhering to and ignoring cultural traditions affect everything that happens. In fact, everything that happens later is a product of our central character Rapayet’s quest to get the dowry for his chosen bride. As such the film ends up being not only about greed and corruption but also the battle to keep cultural traditions alive in the modern world. It’s sort of a gangster film in the family saga tradition, but it’s also something much more interesting and much stranger.