Monday, November 02, 2015

London Film Festival

Ixcanul (Volcano)
I was in rehearsals though October (more of which in another blog post), so I saw rather less at this year's London Film Festival than usual - but there was still a lot of excitement!  Our old friend Adil Hussain, who was in the first version of Orientations, and was central to its devising workshop, appeared in several films this year, particularly Sunrise and the rather strange Kothanodi.  It was also great to meet up with Atom Egoyan again, at the screening of his new film with Christopher Plummer, Remember.

Of the mainstream films, the one that most excited me was The Daughter - the film version of Simon Stone's Wild Duck for Belvoir, which was one of my theatre highlights of last year. Simon had already made Ibsen more filmic, and this seemed like a logical development of the piece.  It wasn't perhaps quite so emotionally intense as the play - and I think this was partly because the social realism, the physical landscape necessary for film dissipated some of the concentration of energy given by the enclosed glass box set of the theatre production.  It also, perhaps, pointed up the lack of social concern in Stone's treatment of the characters - his approach is more psychological than Ibsen's, and so actually not the sort of drama I usually warm to.  Certainly the film version made the character of Christian (played by Paul Schneider) seem more directly to blame for the tragedy, and his malevolence seemed rooted in his own psychological problems, his jealousy.  I always worry about the sort of psychologically-driven naturalism that makes it seem as if people with problems are somehow to blame for them - as if there were no underlying social, economic, political issues that lead to our psychological malfunctions.  Perhaps it's good that the film made this more apparent - but I missed the play's extraordinary intensity.

I was also, as always, on the lookout for films from indigenous cultures, with an eye to the next Origins.  There were two that particularly excited me this year.  Ixcanul (Volcano) is a film set among the Maya of Guatemala, and reminded me of the wonderful Grupo Sotz'il, whom we hosted in this year's festival.  The film delves under the surface of the culture with great integrity - and in its closing minutes becomes genuinely shocking and incredibly powerful in relation to how that culture is being maltreated by the West.

The real revelation, however, was Tanna, a film from the island of the same name, in Vanuatu.  Like Rolf de Heer's Ten Canoes, which the filmmaker Bentley Dean showed the people of Tanna as the project began, this is a piece of and about an indigenous culture, made in deep partnership with the people of the land and based on their own histories and customs.  It is based on real events in the 1980s, when a young woman was offered in marriage to another tribe, in order to bring peace between them.  She and her boyfriend ran away, and finally took their own lives, rather than be lost to one another.  The island community's acceptance of love as a reason for marriage dates to these events - although the film itself is actually the first public statement of this fact, and so, quite literally, makes history.  What is quite wonderful about the film is its total authenticity and integrity, made manifest in both how immediate and real the performances of the community members feel, and in the strangeness of their world to Western eyes.

Of course, this is something that cuts both ways.  Bentley was at the screening, together with the film's cultural consultant, the only man on the island who speaks English.  During the Q&A, he was asked what he thought of London.  His reply was largely complimentary and polite - but then he said how very surprised he had been to see so many homeless people on the city's streets.  This is a rich country, he said - but there are people who have nothing.  Tanna is not a rich country, but there are no poor people, because there is no money and everything is held in common.  In Tanna, nobody would be left out in the cold in this way.  It was one of those extraordinary wake-up calls that indigenous cultures sound from time to time.  The cinema applauded him, with a deep sense of "What have we done?"

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