İstanbul Film Festival, 2003
On Tuesday evening, April 15, my spouse and I got a berth on the overnight train to İstanbul. On Wednesday, we saw four movies in the İstanbul Film Festival, then ten more on the following four days.
The movies were all showing in four cinemas in İstiklal Caddesi. This is the old thoroughfare of Pera, the “European” quarter of İstanbul. It was pedestrianized a few years ago, most successfully. A streetcar still runs along it, along with police cars, but the street is generally full of people, even in the cold and rain (which is what we had during our stay).
We stayed with a friend in Beşiktaş, which I believe was one email-friend's neighborhood when she lived in İstanbul; it's about a half-hour walk from the cinemas. I heard a church-bell there on Sunday morning; that's a first for Turkey, for me. (I assume it was a church-bell, since I had noticed a facility of the Greek Church nearby.)
I list the movies in the order we saw them, with comments.
- Estela Bravo I. This screening really consisted of two documentaries by an American-born Cuban director, whom I hadn't heard of. Miami-Havana (Cuba, 1992) is about Cuban families, some but not all of whose members have migrated to the US. Some of the émigrés regret leaving Cuba, saying the US is not like what they have been told. Some return to Cuba, even illegally. But some of the Miami Cubans say violence must be used to overthrow Castro. The Cuban Excludables (Cuba, 1995) concerns Cubans who came to the US in the Mariel Boatlift, did petty crimes, and were locked up and held beyond the expiration of their regular sentences. In short, the US was imprisoning people without charge before anybody had heard of Al Qaeda. The documentary did show the ultimate return of some of these people to Cuba, after ten years in US prison for stealing $45.
- Heat (Paul Morrissey, USA, 1972). Grown-up and washed-up child actor sleeps with his landlady for low rent, and sleeps with his former adult co-star for her Hollywood connections, but does not reject the advances of the actress's daughter; this daughter at first lives with a girlfriend who takes care of her baby but burns her with cigarettes; then the daughter decides that male sex organs are attractive and that she doesn't want to be a Lesbian anymore. Mother worries about keeping it all out of the gossip columns. To watch the depravity of Hollywood people was amusing for a while, but eventually tedious, as there was little to like about anybody in the movie. Morrissey's movies Flesh and Trash were also shown, but we didn't see them.
- All or Nothing (Mike Leigh, UK, 2002). The lives of middle-class English people can look dreadful. Or is it lower than middle-class to drive a taxi or be a supermarket cashier? You eat greasy food, chips or some frozen meat pies. You drink beer. Your children get impregnated or just lie on the couch and tell you to fuck off. But occasional hopeful events somehow make you carry on.
- Web of Passion (French: A Double Tour; Claude Chabrol, France, 1959). Jean-Paul Belmondo is a low-life but a free man, in contrast to the neurotic members of the wealthy family he gets involved with. At the end is revealed a thematic resemblance to one of Hitchcock's movies.
- Estela Bravo III, consisting of Mandela in Jamaica (Cuba, 1992) and After the Battle: Cuba--South Africa (Cuba, 1990). The first is explained by the title. The second consists mostly of interviews with South Africans and Cubans who either fought each other in Angola or had sons who did. The South Africans tended to doubt the righteousness of their country's battle; the Cubans were generally proud of their internationalism. Moving scenes of black and white South Africans together calling for the lifting of apartheid.
- Public Toilet (Fruit Chan, Hong Kong, 2002). Strange, not easily followed and therefore boring; many people walked out. The film was in the section of the festival called the Mined Zone. Scenes of several men in a concrete room, chatting, each squatting over a hole in the floor. This is in Hong Kong, but characters also travel to the Korean coast, to the shores of the Ganges, and to New York City. Some of them are looking for alternative health care.
- This Man Must Die (Claude Chabrol, France, 1969). Indeed he must, everybody wants it, there's nothing to like about him. Who will do the deed, the man whose son he killed in a hit-and-run, or his own son?
- Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1949). Instead of marrying, a young women wants to live with her widowed father, claiming he can't take care of himself. A divorced friend of hers says, Get married, and if the man is no good, leave him.
- Sacrifices (Ossama Mohammed, Syria, 2002). Also in the Mined Zone, hence tedious, unless one can understand the full import of the exchange in Arabic that is repeated throughout the movie and is translated “What?” “What ‘what’?” I don't understand it. The story, such as it is, centers on three young male cousins in some empty part of Syria. There are some lovely scenes of the countryside and the adobe-like family dwellings. There are also unpleasant scenes of birds stuck in jars and a cow about to be sacrificed (the cutting is not shown). A father/uncle comes back from doing military service and tries to make the boys drink petrol. It's to teach them a lesson, but the lesson is not clear: is the Arab world choking on oil? Is the movie obscure because Syria is a dictatorship, or because I am not Syrian or Muslim or Arab?
- Springtime in a Small Town (Tian Zhuangzhuang, China, 2002). Specifically, spring of 1946, in a Chinese village showing damage from Japanese bombs. Young couple live unhappily together, in the man's ancestral mansion, along with his 16-year-old sister. He has some unnamed illness that seems like tuberculosis. A schoolfriend, unseen for ten years, now a doctor, comes to visit; he also used to be in love with the man's wife. You can imagine the possibilities. The mysterious wooden interior of the house is quite fascinating though, as are some scenes of the green countryside.
- Dandy (La Bande du Drugstore; Francois Armanet, France, 2001). Rich French adolescents in the late sixties. Among the lower animals, where males are wont to put on colorful mating displays, do such males become obsessed with the display for its own sake? In this movie, boys are obsessed with cashmere sweaters and fine English shoes, as well as with fighting other boys in bars and with having sex with girls. One shy boy finds the beginnings of love with a girl, but can't seem to pursue it until he learns the crude and abusive sort of sex that his friends boast about. Meanwhile, an experienced female chum of his teaches him about the clitoris.
- City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Brazil, 2002). I think this was talked about on the email list. Now I want to know: is it really that bad in Rio? “Based on a true story” is vague. The most significant moment for me came when it was understood that guns might win power, but not love. One might have thought that a young man who had been killing since early childhood could break this rule too, but it wasn't to be. The movie is unnervingly easy to watch, like Baise-Moi, I would say.
- Angel on the Right (Djamshed Usmonov, Tajikistan, 2002). The people and the village could be in Turkey. Yet another tough young man, or not quite so young, since he's spent ten years in Moscow, dealing drugs and whatnot. He is called back to his village because his mother is said to be dying. She's not, but her house is worth just the amount of money that he owes to various villagers. In a surrealist move, since there is no other hope, the mother arranges to die before her time, taking the place of somebody else whose time has come.
- Open Hearts (Susanne Bier, Denmark, 2002). A Dogma movie, meaning, among other things, that a handheld camera is used. Two couples. The male member of one couple walks in front of the car driven by the female member of the other couple. He is paralysed. Driver's husband works in the hospital and is encouraged to console the fiancee. Guess what happens. I don't know that the movie has anything new to say about an old theme, but it is enjoyable to watch, though it is maddening to see how a married man with three children can behave towards his wife when he thinks he's in love with a 22-year-old.