Day eight and all is well. Today the daytime subscribers saw a rather good competition film, as well as a pair of documentaries and one film which is much harder to classify.
If I’m being honest, I have absolutely no idea what to make of THE PROJECT OF THE CENTURY. It’s a Cuban film, set in the never-completed Electro-Nuclear City. The city was a Soviet project, designed to house a huge numbers of workers for a nuclear power plant. When the Soviet Union broke apart, the city was incomplete, and it remains that way today. This film is presented partially as a black and white drama set in an apartment block in the ENC. Three generations of now-unmarried men live together, arguing constantly as the representation of three ages of Cuba’s timeline. These scenes Loosely connect, but do very little in the way of telling a story, and I found them incredibly tedious.
Surrounding the narrative, such as it is, are a collection of clips taken from the archives of the city’s television station TeleNuclear. These clips include celebrations of Cuba’s past successes, including Olympic gold medals and the life of a Cuban-born astronaut. The Olympic footage is shown of aging black and white televisions, barely even visible, before being contrasted with high-definition footage of the 2012 Opening Ceremony taken from American television. There’s a message here about the comparison between rich and poor countries, but I can’t point to almost any scene in this film and explicitly discern its purpose. I had an awful time watching it, but I suspect somebody more familiar with Cuban culture and history might not have the same trouble.
Today’s second film was the documentary SONG OF LAHORE, and it was embraced very warmly by the daytime audience. In 1977, Pakistan’s new Government introduced Sharia law, condemning all music and many other art forms as sinful. The blanket ban on music has since been relaxed, but this left the country with only a small number of avid musicians. who had to play in secret. This documentary follows one group of musicians, the Sachal Studios Orchestra, first as they play their music in their home country, and then as they are invited to New York to play a collaboration concert with a jazz band at the Lincoln Center.
The film is rich with stories, as we see musicians grow and adapt. One man loses his father unexpectedly, and goes on to be the group’s conductor. We see a little of what seem to be nearly impossible practice sessions, with the musical styles of the two countries clashing completely. The film is wise to sit back without commentary and let us watch three songs at the concert in full. The final result is remarkable. It’s a powerful story filled with wonderful music.
My favourite film of the day was the German competition contender VICTORIA, which is a great film as well as a technical marvel. This movie runs for 140 minutes, and was filmed in a single shot. Several films including last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner BIRDMAN have the appearance of being filmed in a single shot, but as far as I can tell, VICTORIA is the real deal. We follow the title character, a girl from Madrid played wonderfully by Laia Costa, as she heads home from the club and finds herself distracted by a group of young men. The film spends a long time with Victoria getting to know these men, and beginning to fall for one of them, before revealing its true intentions as a crime film.
The transition happens naturally in real-time, and we’re allowed to see Victoria’s decision-making process as she decides to get more and more involved with these men. Maybe we don’t agree with a number of her decisions, but we can see how she got there. Despite the one-shot format, the film finds time for many deliberately framed moments of beauty along the way. It boggles the mind to think of the choreography and planning involved. The camera follows a very, very complicated route through the city. It is telling that the camera-operator is listed before the director when the credits roll. The film weaves from romantic to thrilling to shocking without waiting for us to blink. Without the single-shot gimmick this would be still be a good film, but with it, VICTORIA is a miracle.
The final film of the day was the unfortunately muddled documentary SOME KIND OF LOVE. For the most part director Thomas Burstyn focuses his camera of two members of his extended family: an artist named Yolanda Sonnenbend and her older brother, a scientist named Joseph. Burstyn in wise to focus on these two, as they are great interview subjects taken individually, but truly wonderful when contrasted. The scientist and the artist live together, claim to have no fondness for each other whatsoever, and fight bitterly over their opposing worldviews. It’s a sitcom waiting to happen.
Frustratingly, Joseph is reluctant to be filmed for the documentary, and Burstyn never really changes his mind. A lot of the film is spent arguing over whether there’s any merit to creating it at all. Burstyn occasionally looks at members of his more immediate family, but this feels like footage dragged in from another film entirely. There’s no connective tissue, so it’s always jarring when he changes subject. The two main characters are interesting enough on their own to let me recommend the film, but the structure of the film really lets it down.
We’ll be seeing four more films tomorrow, including the competition entry TALES. The festival is starting to wind down now, with just three days remaining, but there are some major works coming up towards the end.
By Shaun Heenan