By Ali Moosavi.
Writer-director Igor Drljaca shows us the wide gap and the glaring contrast between the haves and have nots in Sarajevo.”
In Tabija / The White Fortress, Faruk (Pavle Cemerikic) is a young Muslim boy living in Sarajevo. His mother has passed away and since his parents were estranged from each other, he lives with his grandmother. Faruk gets by with some help from his grandma who draws her meagre pension and by helping his father finding scrap metal to sell to a scrap merchant. Faruk also earns some extra cash by taking girls to the residence of Cedo (Ermin Bravo), a local gang boss. When picking one of these girls up from Cedo’s residence, he notices that she has been sexually and physically abused. Faruk feels a duty to ensure that Mona (Sumeja Dardagan), a girl that he has just started going out with, does not fall into hands of Cedo. However, Faruk’s position is perilous, since he owes Cedo some money.
Mona belongs to a well-to-do family, with political aspirations. They want to send her to Canada to continue her education. Faruk is from the other side of the tracks. Throughout the film we hear the Muslim call to prayers and promises by politicians on TV and radio that they will fix everything. It is however apparent that neither religion nor politics can help people like Faruk, who are on the road to nowhere.
Faruk takes pleasure by watching old WWII movies which refer to Sarajevo. He feels that people were better off during those times, even with a war going on. He doesn’t see any hope for himself to save him from the bleak predicament that he is stuck in. What keeps him going is his love for Mona but he knows that there is no hope for that relationship to prosper. In fact, he receives a message, in no uncertain terms, that he should forget Mona.
Writer-director Igor Drljaca shows us the wide gap and the glaring contrast between the haves and have nots in Sarajevo. Power hungry politicians are only interested in furthering their own careers, while the Muslim clergymen can only offer prayers. The acting, particularly by Pavle Cemerikic, is excellent. The scenes between Faruk and Mona are very touching, particularly the film’s haunting final scene which is beautifully realized by Drljaca and his cinematographer Erol Zubcevic and touches the hearts in an indelible way, like an enduring poem.
Baillif’s film cries for more compassion and understanding towards young outcasts of the society.”
La Mif (The Fam) is an extraordinary film as it occupies that space between documentary and fiction. It takes place in a care home for troubled youth in Switzerland. Fred Baillif who wrote, directed, produced and edited the film, has worked as an intern in such an institution. He taught himself film making while studying social work and playing professional basketball for a club and Switzerland. The filming process involved two years of workshops with residents of such a home and improvisations with non-professional actors. Filming was done in an actual care home, with all the dialogue in the script improvised by the non-professional actors. The film was shot in only two weeks.
Director Ballif has decided to divide the film into chapters, each focusing on one of the care home’s residents. The first chapter is devoted to Audrey (Anais Uldry), whose parents have been killed in a car accident. One of the social workers catches Audrey, who is 17, making love to a 14-year-old boy in her room. Because of the boy’s age, this is considered rape and they have to report it to the police. This results in that care home to become exclusively for girls. Lora (Claudia Grob), who is the senior social worker in the care home, has a special affinity with the girls and tries to defend their actions. She asks the other social workers to have more understanding and not just focus on the taboos and don’ts, but Lora is alone in her crusade as all the others just want to toe the line and not venture outside it. Claudia Grob, who is the constant in all the chapters, had been a social worker due to retire soon. Baillif had worked for her as an intern some 20 years ago. She gives an astonishing performance and is totally believable in her role.
The second chapter focuses on Novinha (Kassia Da Costa), a girl who is not physically very attractive but is constantly talking about having had sex with numerous partners. We see her single mum who seems to be interested more in drinking and going out with men than the wellbeing of her daughter. Novinha is put in a diner for work placement. Desperate as she is for this opportunity, she has difficulty hanging on to it.
Chapter 3 introduces Preciuse (Joyce Esther Ndayisenga), an African-Swiss girl who has been brought in due to places which became available upon the boys leaving this care home. Her mother visits the home demanding that her daughter be given back to live with her, but her request is turned down. Preciuse claims to have been raped by her father just prior to becoming a teenager.
Justine (Charlie Areddy) is the subject of Chapter 4. She is different to all the other girls. Her parents are living, love her and are rich. Therefore there does not appear to be any reason for her to be there. Baillif saves the answer to this mystery, plus some information about other girls and the staff, for the end. The only explanation Justine gives in this chapter is that she cannot go back to her family home as it will remind her of what she had done. Meanwhile, Tamara (Sara Tulu), subject of Chapter 5, is an African girl seeking political asylum in Switzerland. When her asylum application is turned down, Lora advises her to run away and hide but she has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.
Alison (Amelie Tonsi) and Caroline (Amandine Golay) are jointly the subject of Chapter 6. Alison is lesbian and in love with Caroline. But Caroline seems unsure about her sexual preferences and prefers to just remain close friends with Alison. Caroline is quiet and gentle while Alison is wild and rebellious. Their outing is snatching an old man’s suitcase and having fun going through its contents. It is as though they have not experience any normal happy outing that other children have.
Chapter 7 is dedicated to Lora. We discover the secret that makes her so emotionally attached to these girls. Lora is full of regrets with an urge to help the girls to atone for her past mistakes. Her declarations of “a children’s home is not a prison” and “sex is not a crime. It is a right which needs to be taught” have no takers within the care home’s staff. You can see every pain, every disappointment, every torment on the lines of her face.
Chapter 8 concerns the whole “family” or “fam”. We learn new revelations about Alison, Justine, Preciuse and some of the key moments in the film are repeated but with additional information. In the next and last chapter, we see the repletion of this cycle of life with a new very young girl being inducted into the care home.
These girls are a microcosm of many girls and boys who, not through their own choice, have been dealt a losing card. Baillif’s film cries for more compassion and understanding towards these young outcasts of the society. Lora and the girls do not act the parts, they live them. One cinematic device which Baillif has effectively used is to shut out dialogue in some scenes and replace it with classical or choral music. He leaves just enough dialogue to convey the inner turmoil of the girls, and the anguish of their supervisors.
La Mif very deservedly won the top prize for best film in the Generation 14Plus section of the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival.
Debuting filmmaker Tracey Deer deservedly won the Discovery Award of the Directors Guild of Canada. A 12-year-old Indigenous girl during the Oka Crisis, she draws heavily from her own experiences.”
Beans is inspired by the so-called Oka Crisis of 1990 in Quebec. The Mohawk community protested against the expansion of a golf course and the development of townhouses on disputed land in a Quebec region that included a Mohawk burial ground.
Director Tracey Deer’s film uses the above crisis to explore the political and sexual awakening of Beans (Kiawentiio), a young Mohawk girl. Her parents, especially her mother, Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) are determined that Beans gets the best education they can afford. In the interview with a prestigious school, Beans is asked what she want to do in future. She replies to be a doctor or a lawyer. When they ask her why, she cannot answer. These aspirations having been drilled into her by her parents, she is too young to grasp the intricacies of these occupations. Beans hangs around with April (Paulina Alexis) and her brother Hank (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai). April is rebellious and tells Beans to toughen up, accept her Mohawk identity, and confront those who are against their cause. Hank, on the other hand, is only interested in making sexual advances to Beans.
When the confrontation of the Mohawk community with the local population results in the death of a policeman, things turn really ugly. The Government is forced to bring in the army and tanks to quell the crisis. The way the locals behave towards to Mohawks is reminiscent of the worst days of the Civil Rights Movement in US. Supermarkets refuse to sell goods to them, and the media paints the Mohawks as terrorists. A scene where Lily’s car, while driving her kids to another town, is attacked by people pelting it with stones, while the police remain as onlookers, joking and laughing, is both genuinely harrowing and very upsetting. It begs belief that such scenes were happening in Canada in the nineties and if the events depicted here were not inspired by real events, they would have seemed too farfetched.
The events that unfold, and the influence exerted on her by April, change Beans’s character. She becomes socially aware and politically active. She also drifts away from the conservative values embedded in her by her parents, in her behaviour and appearance. She toughens up but is too young and inexperienced to understand her limits and goes too far. She has some tough choices to make about her future, her own identity and what she wants to do.
Debuting filmmaker Tracey Deer deservedly won the Discovery Award of the Directors Guild of Canada. A 12-year-old Indigenous girl during the Oka Crisis, she draws heavily from her own experiences. She has taken an event of which not many people outside Canada are aware, to highlight that racism and bigotry are still too alive and well. By incorporating archive footage of the event, she has given the film an extra dose of authenticity.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran(Intellect, 2015).