By Yun-hua Chen.
Continuing with last year’s commitment to world cinema from both established and emerging filmmakers, EIFF 2013 showcased films from more than 60 countries this year. Apart from the usual strands of animation, Black Box, International Competition, and Michael Powell Award Competition, the programme includes Focus on Korea (The Berlin File (2013), Jiseul (2012), National Security (2012)), Focus on Sweden (Belleville Baby (2013), Call Girl (2012), Sanctuary (2013)), American independent cinema (The Bling Ring (2013), Francis Ha (2012), Magic Magic (2013), What Maisie Knew (2012), Upstream Colour (2013)), as well as a series of Not Another Teen Movie (Old Stock (2012), Struck by Ligntning (2012), You & Me Forever (2012)), which is selected by young audience of 15 to 19 for their peers. Meanwhile, retrospectives celebrate the works of Richard Fleischer and Jean Grémillon, and films such as Gold (2013), Viola (2012), Reaching the Moon (2012), Three Sisters (2012), When Night Falls (2012) and Leviathan (2012) were curated from Berlinale and Viennale and premiered in the United Kingdom. In their own ways, “10” (2013) and The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012) are beautiful city symphonies. In fact, a strong thread of personal and collective memories, past and trauma in diverse geopolitical contexts ran through the film festival, as we can see in the compilation film Historic Centre (2012) directed by Aki Kaurismäki, Pedro Costa, Victor Erice and Manoel de Oliveira, Jiseul (2012) by Muel O. and Stories We Tell (2012) by Sarah Polley.
Revisiting the past also manifests in films that lament the loss of one’s home under the Palestinian situation, such as Infiltrators (2013), The Turtle’s Rage (2012), and A World Not Ours (2012), the latter of which won the audience award. With an observational camera, Khaled Jarrar’s Infiltrators follows various Palestinians attempting to cross the seven-metre-high wall that has been built by Israelis to separate the Palestinian territories. The camera’s movement is synchronised with the erratic pulses of the infiltrators, and it is clear the film crew is exposed to the same peril. Pary El-Qalqili’s debut feature documentary The Turtle’s Rage shows the Berlin-born filmmaker’s heartbreaking pursuit to understand her Palestinian father Musa. The father and daughter embarked upon a verbal and physical home-searching trip together, despite Musa’s reluctance to discuss the matter in a personal tone. Musa’s unpretentious expressions of stubbornness, silence, anger, pride and fear, as well as arguments between he and his daughter throughout the trip, tenderly reveal the inner world of a man who has realised he will never regain his home. Mahdi Fleifel’s A World Not Ours is also a documentary about searching for home. Seen through the director’s warm gaze, the film takes us to Ain el-Helweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, where the Palestinians are not given any sociopolitical or economic rights but at the same time are not permitted to leave. During the World Cup, the national flags of their favourite football teams dominate the rooftops. After some tense matches, Ain el-Helweh residents get into fights for pride of their football teams, whose countries they will likely not have a chance to visit. Living without hope of escape and without a nation, the refugees wait idly for a return home—a desire that seems too abstract to realize.
We also see a celebration of pure cinema and a return to the beauty of black and white in this year’s EIFF. White Epilepsy (2012), directed by Phillippe Grandrieux, makes use of this simple colour template to evoke many concepts from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, such as becoming-animal, body without organs and shifts between the smooth and the striated. This seems to be a conscious decision for the filmmaker, as he himself calls the project “an assemblage of affective intensities.” White Epilepsy is a poetic film which defies narrative, reaching for indiscernible images by providing pure optical and audial experiences. Unusually shot with a vertical and narrow frame approximating iPhone images, and composed of three segments, the film starts with slow motion of intertwining naked bodies of a man and a woman in dim light, making all subtle movement of their well trained muscles visible. The distorted bodies are truncated as the head and the legs are cut off from the frame, and hence pure movement and gesture are laid bare without the intervention of human faces. In the second and third segments, the film foregrounds a ghostly face heavily made up in white colour, half covered by long hair and flowing blood, and visceral images of an aged body. In its play with light and shadows, the film balances sombreness and brightness, movement and stillness, as well as eroticism and spiritualism. Juxtaposed with unsynchronised sounds of heartbeats and unidentifiable percussion, White Epilepsy is haptic and dreamy, a cinema which portrays time.
Joy (Hara), the second feature film by established Greek TV documentarian Elias Giannakakis, is a black and white 35mm film. It starts off in colour, and after a few minutes into the film, as the camera follows legs in high heels walking upstairs and approaching a door, the picture abruptly turns black and white and remains so until the end of the film. The impact of financial crisis and austerity measures in this troubled country is not directly addressed or discussed, but is broadcasted through the radio in Hara’s house or a countryside taverna. The film has been divided into sections, which are separated by fade-outs and dark screens. It drifts from Hara indulging in the joy of living with a child, a short road trip, and eventually lengthy scenes at court and in Hara’s prison cell. In a way, it is quite an unusual festival film from Greece; its focus is rather personal and the socioeconomic backdrop downplayed. The narrative and the setting are not specifically anchored in Greece and could also be found in another era and another country.
In contrast, the other Greek film at the EIFF 2013, All Cats Are Brilliant (2012), is explicitly politically engaged and strongly rooted in the current sociopolitical turmoil of the country. Directed by Constantina Voulgaris (who is also directly involved in activism like her protagonists), the film follows a young Athenian woman named Ilektra (Maria Georgiadou), one of the “lost” generation, who wanders between a babysitting job, visits to her boyfriend (a political prisoner), and walks around the city to put up politically charged posters in the Exarchia neighbourhood. Seeming to be a typical day in Athens, Ilektra encounters gypsy accordion musicians on the metro, discusses parenting with an older friend while walking her dog in Syntagma Square, and assists with a co-op cooking party in a park, which in reality was created by the citizens of Exarchia after struggling against building a car park on the site. The film further blends the worlds of fiction and reality when actual footage of demonstration on an Athenian street was inserted into the film, with all the demonstrators’ faces deliberately blurred apart from the main actress. At the same time, Voulgaris celebrates the dynamism of the city, and notably celebrates the local food culture as well by making the characters comment tirelessly on lentil soups, cheese pies, and chocolate tarts. This is probably an optimistic note, as revolution cannot happen with an empty stomach.
Meul O.’s Jiseul (2012) uses black and white cinematography to capture the look of archival footage, as well as for theatrical effects and terror. The historical backdrop is set in 1948, when Korean troops, under the direction of the U.S., carried on a brutal campaign against the inhabitants of the southern island of Jeju. Constantly shifting perspectives between somewhat naïve and doomed villagers and a bloodthirsty army, the film re-examines the historical trauma emphatically and reflects upon the unnecessary cruelty of the Civil War without sinking into sentimentalism. The opening shot is a beautiful widescreen composition of a group of villagers squeezed into a big underground hole, all of them horizontally placed like a tableau. This composition carries on throughout the film as the key image of the villagers, until they enter a deep cave. The film progresses from a light-hearted depiction of characters to an increasingly gruesome development, and the villagers vanish one after another from the composition.
Yun-hua Chen completed her PhD in Film Studies at the University of St Andrews, and is currently working on several academic articles.