In trying to decide how to cover our trip to Reykjavik, I’ve decided to divide it into two entries. In the first, I’ll discuss the films that we saw. Unfortunately, despite our best intentions, we didn’t see as many films as we’d planned. It’s understandable when you realize that for us this was first and foremost a holiday, but there were still a number of films that I regret missing. Nonetheless, here are my impressions of the stuff we actually got to:
Slepe Lásky (Blind Loves) (2008, Director: Juraj Lehotsky): I missed this at TIFF and heard good things, so I’m glad I was able to catch this film. A documentary that soon becomes a “documentary,” Blind Loves tells the stories of several blind couples and one blind teenage girl and their experiences with love and romance. Told so imaginatively (including the filming of a blind man’s dream sequence) that we quickly become aware that it can’t be a traditional documentary, the film actually blends true stories and nonprofessional blind participants to create something completely unique and compelling.
Mr. Big (2007, Director: Tiffany Burns): This very personal documentary exposes the use of a particularly nasty investigative technique used by Canada’s RCMP to obtain confessions from suspects. In “Mr. Big” scenarios, undercover police lure people into what they think are criminal networks and then use coercion and often fear to get them talking about crimes they may or may not have committed. The director’s young brother was implicated in a double-murder through the use of one of these sting operations, and we meet several other convicted suspects whose claims of innocence may be justified. We also learn that these tactics would be illegal in the US or Britain due to the danger of entrapment. This is not particularly sophisticated filmmaking, but it does what documentaries are meant to do, to shine a light into dark corners where injustices exist. Hopefully more people will see this film in Canada and perhaps we can get the Justice Department to reconsider the legality of these sorts of tactics.
Missing (1982, Director: Costa-Gavras): Though some of the acting seems a little over the top (seemingly a common trait of films from this period), Missing tells the compelling true story of the disappearance of American Charles Horman during the 1973 military coup in Chile. A brave film for its time, Costa-Gavras exposes American compliance in this human-rights disaster, and the audience was left wondering what’s really changed in the world when innocent people can simply be “disappeared” and killed without anyone knowing why. Though Criterion is bringing out a brand new special edition of the film this month, the print shown was apparently the director’s own scratchy copy, with French subtitles burned in.
Here’s the Q&A with director Costa-Gavras from after the screening:
Über Wasser: Menschen und gelbe Kanister (About Water: People and Yellow Canisters) (2007, Director: Udo Maurer): Co-written by Michael Glawogger, whose 2005 film Workingman’s Death (review) this is very reminiscent of, About Water is structured as three separate episodes about our world’s most valuable liquid. In Bangladesh, the problem is too much water, with yearly floods eroding much of the arable land, and forcing villagers to move their houses or risk being swept away. In Kazakhstan, we hear about the diversion of water by the Soviet Union that resulted in the disappearance of the once-huge Aral Sea. Images of ships rusting in the desert speak volumes about the folly of human environmental meddling. And in Kenya, water is a commodity, bought and sold at official and unofficial “water points” by “businessmen” that have done nothing except tap into a water main. Unfortunately, this film didn’t look its best due to the projectionist showing it at the wrong aspect ratio. Widescreen cinematography that should have dazzled looked terrible squeezed into a 4:3 frame.
Kamienna cisza (Stone Silence) (2008, Director: Krzysztof Kopczynski): This documentary about the alleged stoning of a woman for adultery in Afghanistan attempts to get to the bottom of the case, and fails miserably. Muddled and confusing. A disappointment. Also, another example of bad projection. This widescreen film was also shown in 4:3 ratio and therefore whatever redeeming qualities the film’s cinematography may have offered have also been lost.
The Story of Stuff (2008, Director: Louis Fox): Hosted by Annie Leonard, this animated short film is a great introduction to some of the environmental issues facing us. It’s available to view and download for free on the web, and deserves a wide audience. I see it as being particularly aimed at students, and the site provides lots of additional resources. Recommended.
The last three were part of a program of Icelandic shorts, although the only Icelandic contribution to Varmints was the soundtrack, written by Johann Johannsson:
2 Birds (Smáfuglar) (2008, Director: Rúnar Rúnarsson): An incredibly beautiful, disturbing, heartbreaking and heartwarming story of a young man’s first love, told in 15 minutes. Rúnarsson is a huge talent, as is his young actor Atli Oskar Fjalarsson. This reminded me quite a bit of Aaron Katz’s Dance Party USA (review).
Naglinn (The Nail) (2008, Director: Benedikt Erlingsson): A man suffers the consequences after accidentally driving a nail into his forehead. As we discover the man’s responsibilities, the consequences grow more comic. This was entertaining though slight. Notable, though, was the fact that it was filmed in the very house in Reykjavik where Reagan and Gorbachev met in 1985 to sign a peace agreement.
Here’s the Q&A with directors Benedikt Erlingsson and Rúnar Rúnarsson from after the screening:
Varmints (2008, Director: Marc Craste): Based on a book of the same title, Varmints is an animated short film that evocatively tells the story of one small creature’s struggle to live in a world full of pollution and indifference. That it communicates this with images and not words makes this universal story even more universal. Despite my slight unease with the character designs, I foresee huge acclaim and success for this, at least among animation fans.