Notes From Hairenik
July 19, 2010
I was thankfully able to see two more films that were competing at the Golden Apricot Film Festival during the weekend. Both of them were definitely worth seeing in my opinion. And if I forgot to mention in my previous post, as with virtually all the other films that I saw, impressively both English and Armenian subtitles were displayed, with no one tortuously reading a translation of a script at a deafening volume, as was the case two years ago when I saw Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Red Desert" (which is incidentally a highly overrated, annoyingly tedious film, but anyway...).

"White Material" (2009, dir. Claire Denis). This film tells the story of a woman named Maria, played by the veteran actress Isabelle Huppert, working on a coffee plantation in an unnamed country in Africa --probably a former colony of France since everyone is speaking French -- who obstinately refuses to leave her work behind and protect her family from the rebel threat ravaging the region. The rebel troops are composed of children and teenagers, pistols and machetes in hand, eagerly waiting to purge the countryside of whites who are seen as oppressive. Andre, Maria's husband played by Highlander Christopher Lambert, cannot convince her that they should leave immediately when arrangements are made for their escape to France. The entire film takes place over a span of two days, during which things fall apart rapidly. Their mentally fragile teenage son after being humiliated by two armed rebel boys who manage to enter the plantation grounds when everyone is oblivious, ends up assisting the rebel battalion to bring things to a boil, while Maria remains defiant to the end. This film was unfortunately screened from what seemed to be a rather low-quality DVD given the muted colors and lack of sharpness, although the resolution wasn't bad. This is the kind of compelling film that you ruminate over for a couple of days after you leave the theater. Highly recommended.

"Poetry (2010, dir. Lee Chang-don). "Poetry" is about an elderly woman named Mija (brilliantly portrayed by Yoon Jung-hee) who one day decides to take a month-long poetry writing class. On the same day she learns of a suicide of a young teenage girl, a classmate of her spoiled grandson who she is raising. After being called to a meeting of five men whose boys attend the same school as the girl, Mija learns that her grandson was part of a pack of six that was regularly raping her. They decide that the best way to handle the situation discretely is to offer a monetary payment to the girl's mother, with Mija being unable to pay her share. Meanwhile, Mija, who is annoyed by her recent forgetfulness of words, is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. But the real story behind this film is about finding one's place on earth, and how to balance upholding personal morales with prudent practicality, then best express that revelation in words. This is a beautiful, moving film, a true masterpiece of Asian cinema. Highly recommended.

To read the list of winners you can read the press release at the Golden Apricot web site. I noticed that the nihilistic film "My Joy" took second prize for reasons I will never comprehend. I guess some of the jurists get their kicks from sadistic, pointless movies. Although I didn't see the winning film, "Kosmos," I really believe that "Poetry" should have at least placed second. In terms of storyline and overall high quality of the acting, not to mention cinematography, the film deserved more respect from the jury.

Top photo: Everett Collection/Rex Features
Bottom photo: Lee Chang-don

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