A bunch of great 2017 films are currently receiving love everywhere. But here at Frameland we turn to those films that we loved, that haven’t gotten the same amount of praise, but really should. Perhaps not coincidentally we cast our eyes mostly at international cinema and the rich themes found there. From concerns of death and dying in France, to political upheaval in Iran and China, to the downright fantastic from India. This year has perhaps proved that despite their lack of representation in mainstream cinema, the international film community is continuing to create thought-provoking films that remain with you long after the credits started rolling.
Released nowhere but France, from what I can tell, the latest from Viet-French poet Tran Anh Hung is his Tree of Life (2011) or The New World (2005), an emotionally wrenching tale of what feels like the first lives lived, and thus beset by misery and imperfection. Audrey Tatou, in maybe her first good performance, plays the matriarch of a family doomed by mortality. She watches as her children grow (one of them into Melanie Laurent), and then drifts slowly from view. For that’s the flow of existence. Our families matter the most because we see them every day, then we’re simply small parts in their stories. One instrument in an orchestra playing the symphony of a foreign consciousness. His camera drifts for about twenty seconds at a time through vignettes of happiness, birth, death, melancholy, all bathed in brilliant man-made orange light, the light that attempts to supplant both god and the random vicissitudes of fate by proving of what man’s hands and his mind are capable. But still the deaths come, and still, they sting. Music drapes his events and his characters like an old family blanket, but they don’t stop the tears, nor the flow of time. It’s only that we hope our decisions matter, that our art lives on, that these films will mean as much as the classical music that has endured centuries.
What often strikes me in deathbed scenes, is the loss of identity that sickness causes. This year maybe most painfully so in 120 BPM (2017), in a film that is very much about identity. But the most impressive example to me was the deconstruction of the most powerful man of France, in La Mort de Louis XIV. In the dark and quiet rooms of Versailles, the king has to face what every human being eventually has to face, making him in a way more like us. As sickness progresses, he is reigned over by doctors and assistants, ultimately losing control over even his own mind and body. Jean-Pierre Léaud as the French king benefits from decades of screen presence. Recollections of the young Antoine Doinel inevitable come to mind, adding the weight of an entire lifetime to his portrayal of a dying man.
– Rik Niks
Several Iranian films rank among the most impressive I saw this year, not least Mohammad Rasoulof’s wrenching A Man Of Integrity. But Parviz Shahbazi’s Malaria wasn’t and/or won’t be as widely shown, so it deserves a place in this feature.
It’s about two young lovers who have eloped from their rural village to Tehran. Their efforts to make it through the days and nights in the big city are often funny (they meet an ultra-easygoing musician with problems of his own), but gradually become more dramatic (the boy has second thoughts) and alarming (the girl’s father and brothers are after them). Carefully signposting major recent events in Iran while keeping the main focus on these volatile individuals, Malaria offers an engrossing street-level view of contemporary Tehran. The film is ultimately a tough, literal-minded indictment of the chokehold Islamic conservatism has on Iranian society, but it has great spontaneity and liveliness. It’s also bookended by way of a keenly cinematic idea: it starts with the discovery of found smartphone camera footage, the contents of which are not disclosed until the film’s very last scene.
The fact that it’s currently impossible to buy, rent or stream any of Shahbazi’s previous five features doesn’t bode well for the future availability of this one, and shows that we still have a very long way to go towards adequate accessibility of world cinema.
I’m not a fan of fantasy films, however, the Indian film Baahubali 2: The Conclusion by S.S. Rajamouli is my favorite of 2017. Although it is a blockbuster, it didn’t achieve the attention it deserves (in the West).
It is the continuation of Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) and unravels both what happened in the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati (especially between the beloved king Baahubali and his jealous cousin Bhallaladeva) and the heritage of Baahubali’s son Shiva.
Baahubali 1 left the audience with an unfinished puzzle; Baahubali 2 completes it piece by piece via flashbacks. This creates suspense until the showdown, which is a beautiful ‘a-ha’ moment.
Visually, Baahubali 2 is epic. The landscapes/battlefields are beautiful, the shots of the symmetrically arranged soldiers are perfect. The action scenes are creative and terrifically choreographed. Especially the moment when soldiers make a flying ball with their iron shields is my favorite.
Baahubali 2 contains bombastic musical scenes, which make the film even more legendary and Baahubali even more heroic. And of course, there is also room for some romance.
Everything in Baahubali 2 is over the top, including Baahubali’s cheesy smile. It’s a spectacle about a kind of superhero Marvel superheroes would like to be. Baahubali is human. In fact, he is just a person with strong arms. Although he seems almighty, he makes mistakes too. However, he has a good heart and with that gift, he’ll win every war.
Ann Hui’s Our Time Will Come follows a cell of Chinese resistance to the occupying Japanese in Hong Kong during World War II. Eddie Peng plays a dashing guerrilla leader, first shepherding leftist intellectuals out of the city and into the countryside, then the recipient of information smuggled out from an informant within Japanese headquarters (Wallace Huo) through a series of intermediaries, all of whom happen to be women. Zhou Xun plays the main conduit, a school teacher who joins the resistance, along with Jessie Li as a young girl working as a secretary for the Japanese and Deanie Ip, as Zhou’s mother, who provides warm meals for passing agents and eventually takes on a mission herself. More traditionally a World War II movie than her last film, The Golden Era (2014), which filtered the upheavals of the time through the life of a novelist (played by Tang Wei), told out of sequence and with multiple Reds-style talking heads, but Our Time Will Come nonetheless has some modernist touches. It too is narrated, in modern-day interviews with a former soldier played by Tony Leung Ka-fai, and we only gradually learn how all the characters fit together in their chain of espionage, Hui trusting us to follow the logic of her editing rather than simply spelling everything out in the script. But the film is primarily one of suspense and war-time heroism, an old-fashioned thriller by one of the great directors of our time.
Back to the nineties in Spain! The typical thriller-plot with twists and turns is still alive as proven by The Invisible Guest (2016) from Oriol Paulo, who earlier directed The Body (2012). I don’t regard this film to be amongst the best of last year, but it deserves some positive attention. Somewhere in the nineties, Hollywood overwhelmed us with films where multiple twists and turns were the norm. Some films in this ‘genre’ like The Sixth Sense (1999) or Fight Club (1999), are considered classics these days.
Slowly the twist-hype ended in Hollywood. To see a film from Spain in 2017 that confidently embraces this type of plot feels very refreshing. The story starts with a very successful businessman, Adrian, being accused of murdering his mistress. He was found in a hotel room with her death claiming to have been punched unconscious. In a flashback narrative, he tells us what happened, or how he remembers or wants his attorney to know. What makes this film worthwhile are both the pacing and the way the story is told. Adrian serves as our narrator, but may very well be unreliable which keeps you guessing basically all the way through the film. Secondly, the plot moves at a fast pace, making it very enjoyable.
Arguably the unraveling of the whole plot feels somewhat improbable and forced. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this film very much and I am looking forward to more films from Oriol Paulo. Not a masterpiece, but an enjoyable and suspenseful film, directed in a very confident manner.
Does what we do really echo in eternity? Do our lives matter? To us they do, of course. To our nearest and dearest, we hope. And presumably to a wider circle of people and things around us. But outside of that? And if so, to whom? Ausra Revutaite dedicated 30 years of her life to the lonesome study of the Tuyuksu glacier in the Tian Shan mountains in Kazakhstan. The glacier is everything to the woman. But is she anything at all to the glacier? Does the glacier care about her work and dedication? Does her presence even register?
These questions and many more arise from watching The Woman and the Glacier, Lithuanian director Audrius Stonys’ latest film. A documentary that stood out at the International Documentary Competition at the 57th Krakow Film Festival, not only for the philosophical questions it raises, but most of all for the visual way in which it did so. Philosophy and quiet contemplation, without the need for words, of which very little are spoken throughout the film, not even via narration. Even though The Woman and the Glacier is ostensibly a nature documentary, it’s a far cry from the popular Planet Earth series or from Werner Herzog’s personal explorations of natural phenomena. There’s no need to express in words that humans are insignificant next to the majestic glacier, just showing it in all its glory without a narrative attached to it, says it all.