Hard Hitting Message Movies at European Film Festival at SK Cinema Nouveau in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town

Les Miserables Still 1
A shot from the opening scenes of Les Miserables setting the scene of young protesters.

The European Film Festival is strongly issue-driven this year which takes us into the eye of the storm of what people are struggling with around the world: from immigration to homelessness, the scourge of survival at any cost and even ageing with the baby boomers all hitting their final stride. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

While we’re complaining about the heat, a film like Rosie reminds you about lives battling with real problems.

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Short solace in the back of a car in Rosie

This Irish family of six, Rosie, her husband John Paul and four kids, three of them still only tots, are out house hunting. The thing is, they’re only searching for the night, every night, and because it’s such a struggle to find one room a night before the kids go back to school, there’s no time to look for anything more permanent.

While her husband is at work at a restaurant, a tough slog, the kids are dropped off at school and Rosie can get to phoning the hotels for a family room for the night – with one toddler in tow. “I never knew there were so many hotels in Dublin,” she tells her brother-in-law who is trying to tell her that they can’t look after the family dog any longer, one of the few emotional lifts they have left with which to give the kids a bit of joy.

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Capturing a moment of happiness in the sorrow of Rosie.

It’s heart wrenching as the family is left destitute and yet there’s a warmth amongst the adult couple as they try holding it together for the children who are struggling with these dire circumstances. Life is tough enough without any of these circumstances added to the daily burdens. Keep that in mind as you think of the unemployment numbers in this country and the people who are represented by those numbers.

It’s brilliantly made, and even if bleak, it’s a story of our time and has to be told. And we have to pay attention.

If you’re thinking Les Misérables the musical, think again. It reminded of a recent television interview by a young Limpopo student leader who was speaking in protest at a fellow student’s murder, which included rape and 52 stabbings with a knife. Her anger was palpable as she told of students reporting rape to their local police station only to be told, it was their boyfriend.

With a similar disregard for young lives, the police, who claim to have worked this particular banlieue for 10 years, are looking for a lion cub that was stolen from the circus. One kid in particular is targeted and in a scuffle with the youngsters who are becoming quite menacing, one of the policemen fires his gun and harms this particular boy.

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Five young lads from Les Miserables

The rest of the film is about trying to destroy the footage shot of this incident but also trying to keep the young wounded warrior from actually dying and bringing the incident to light in a way the police don’t want it spotlighted.

This is a time when the voiceless in different areas of life are starting to speak up and they’re doing it loudly. The one gives the other courage perhaps, but even more likely is the disgust experienced by different groupings in society at the complete disregard for their lives. They have finally hit urgency levels which needs addressing.

It’s gritty, hard-hitting but these stories need to be told and taken seriously. What makes this one so incisive is the fact that this debut director, Ladj Ly, and many of the cast are telling the story of their suburb. They know these streets and these people. It is their lives.

It deservedly won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, received the Best International Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival in July, and has been selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Film for the 2020 Oscars. It will be distributed locally by Videovision next year.

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Delivering the innocents in Vice of Hope.

In similar fashion, the aptly named Vice of Hope hones in on the women, both heroes and villains, who live on the edges of the towns surrounding Naples.

It deals with poverty, African immigration, human trafficking and the surrogacy business that follows as a result. It’s almost impossible to escape this nightmarish life as the young girls have babies who are then sold on the market before the cycle repeats itself again and again.

Those not making babies are pulled in to keep the others in line and, life being what it is on the edge of these waters, it doesn’t take long for them to fall into the same trap.

Like so many of the other films, it’s a bleak picture of what it takes to survive but it also shows the strength of those who are determined to survive and hold the hands of others to drag them out of these dastardly circumstances.

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Protagonist Maria with her only faithful friend.

Life deals different cards to different communities, which is why phrases like first world problems are much darker than they may seem. Most of the time, survival means choosing between life and death, with neither choice being an easy one.

We live in a world where the problems seem insurmountable and we think we would do better to simply turn away. But in today’s world, that’s not an option any longer as filmmakers not only stories of fantasy, but also show us the real world in all its horror.

We need to know.

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Antonio Almodovar as Salvador in Pain and Glory

Who can resist a Pedro Almodóvar movie and with his latest Pain and Glory, described by many as his finest in many years, it’s a rare treat. The ageing director hitting his 70s is in a reflective mood as he casts a wary eye towards the future while looking back with lingering love at especially life with his mother, always a force in his films.

With two of his favourite actors, Antonio Banderas as Salvador, the weary director who is more at ease doing nothing and obsessing about his ailing body and mind, and the exquisite Penelope Cruz playing his adored mother, a time he reflects on when he was still a young boy, this is Almodóvar baring his soul – even if it isn’t, strictly speaking, all his life.

Penelope Cruz in Pain and Glory
Penelope Cruz in Pain and Glory.

There’s enough to tempt you into thinking so, which adds to the oft melodramatic meanderings of a director who feels he still has enough to say and yet, has neither the energy nor the spirit to do so.

But even as he seems to step out of his life, he finds a way to make his own mindful meanderings cinematic in a blast of colour that all those passionate about Pedro’s artistic bent will appreciate.

It’s like poetry as he walks you through the different moods with people of his past and present, all of them impacted by his artistic talent and the way he told his stories and lived his life. Even when someone’s life looks like something to be desired, that’s never true. We are all trying to navigate the best we can, with all our neuroses and passions, the best life we can possibly live.

This one predictably has been earmarked as Spain’s 2020 Oscar nomination and watch out for a few general nominations as well.

See http://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ for detailed synopses, trailers and links to the screening schedule and ticket bookings.

 

 

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