Cinemanila 2010 closes today. Although the standard of films has been extremely high as usual, the showings have been sparsely attended. That’s a great shame and I hope organizer Tikoy Aguiluz who does such a fantastic job every year of bringing the very best international art films to Manila, doesn’t give up.
I know the poor guy has received a lot of unsolicited advice on how to promote the festival, but I do feel that the lack of an overall schedule on the website was an unfortunate omission. That’s really what people need to plan their viewing.
There have been criticisms of Market Market as a venue for the movies, but I think that just goes to show how lazy most people in Manila are; if it is slightly off the beaten track, or a bit masa, they won’t make the effort. I was a Market Market virgin before yesterday, and although losing my virginity wasn’t quite as much fun this time around, I got a kick out of the loud rock’n’roll feel of the mall. The cinemas had nice wide screens, Dolby sound, and comfortable seats. What more do you want (apart from Greenbelt)?
Anyway, on to the movies.
The best movies can help you make sense of the strangest physical environments and social contexts and Tulpan from Kazakhstan did that brilliantly. Although the storyline hangs on the efforts of a young man from the steppe to wed a girl (Tulpan) from a neighboring yurt and therefore escape from servitude to his harsh brother-in-law, this is not a plot-driven movie. Or, if it is, it tells one of the oldest stories of humankind: large families living on top of each other and their livestock, battling an unforgiving environment to survive, and yet somehow creating moments of tenderness, song, and humour. That is pretty much how we have all lived for 99.9% of the time human beings have been on earth—my own family in Scotland practised subsistence agriculture up until less than 100 years ago, and you may not have to climb too far down your own family tree to find ancestors who would have also related perfectly to Sergey Dvortsevoy’s picture of life on the Khazakh steppe.
Technically, the film is a triumph. The performances, especially of the totally un-camera-conscious kids, were as naturalistic as I have ever seen on screen, and the cinematography brought the whole gritty reality of life on the steppe all around you. I felt as though I needed to blow my nose to get rid of the sand as I left the cinema.
Another film with plausible and interesting set of characters was Pandora’s Box, the box in this case being an old Turkish village woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s. As her three Istanbul-based children struggle with the dilemmas of coping with a dotty old parent, the old lady’s presence brings latent problems in their own lives out into the open. I guess that doesn’t sound too entertaining, but in fact the film is full of funny moments, most of them arising from Tsilla Chelton's quite brilliant portrayal of an old woman who is an unpredictable mixture of total confusion and brutal honesty.
Without laying it on with a trowel, the film also presented a vivid picture of a society in transition, from the mother whose life was probably much the same in its external aspects as those of centuries of her predecessors, to her nouveau bourgeois daughters and drop-out son, and onto her grandson, who is characterized by early 21st century ennui and alienation.
I honestly don’t know what to say about the British film Hunger. On the one hand, it is hard to credit that this is director Steve McQueen’s first film, so sure is his directorial touch. On the other, to describe it as unremittingly bleak would make it seem more optimistic than it actually was. I’m not great with on- or off-screen violence and I have to confess that after about 45 minutes of constant battering I left the theatre. Fortunately, Frayed coaxed me back by texting me with a prediction that the worst of the violence was over, so I returned for the last half hour, which, although incredibly depressing, at least did not involve fecal smearing or vicious beatings up.
I was living in Britain in 1981 and I can clearly remember the ghoulish way that the extended suicides of Bobby Sands and the other nine hunger strikers were covered on the evening news. “Has he died yet?” was often the first question people would ask as they returned from work. Hunger is an extremely well-made film about an important subject and I can understand why it won the prize for best film at Cinemanila. Still, I can’t say I took anything positive away from it, not even a deeper understanding of a sad and demeaning period of British history.