Yesterday was another day of globetrotting at AFIFest Presented by Audi for me. One of the joys of film festivals is the chance to see the similarities and differences of cultures. That sometimes applies to the subcultures of American life we see as well. But it is especially true in foreign films. It is often very clear that in spite of the differences, we can very easily identify with the stories because the similarities are so strong.
From Denmark comes a World War II film, Land of Mine. Actually the film is set just after the war. During the German occupation, Germany placed over two million mines along the Danish coast. The Danish army, now back in control, are forcing German POWs to clear the beaches of mines. It is a very dangerous job. (And one that I expect is outside what is permitted by the Geneva Convention.) The film follows about a dozen of these young soldiers who are placed under a Danish sergeant who has no love or compassion for them. As one Danish soldier says of the young soldiers, “If they’re old enough to fight, they’re old enough to clean up the mess.” Certainly the Danes believe that these Germans are expendable and don’t care a bit if they survive or not. But for the sergeant, there is a discovery of the humanity that he shares with the young Germans. Land of Mine opens in theaters in December and is Denmark’s official Oscar entry.
Canada may not seem like globetrotting, but it is often a bit interesting to see films from Quebec that remind us that even in North America there are places that seem so like us, yet don’t even share our language. The Demons is the story of a ten year old boy growing up in suburban Montreal. Felix is very typical and the film is for the most part a slice of life look at typical preadolescent neuroses—worried about his parent’s marriage, his sexuality, his place in the school pecking order. About two thirds of the way through the film, there is a shift in tone that reminds us that some of the fears that children have may be very real and dangerous.
Spain’s official Oscar entry is Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta. When we first see Julieta, she is happy. She’s preparing to leave Madrid with her boyfriend and move to Portugal. But a chance meeting on the street brings back memories of her earlier life—a marriage to a fisherman named Xoan, their daughter Antia, and the tragedy that changed her life. Now estranged from her daughter for over a decade, she begins to write a letter to her outlining her story. From the very beginning and the moody music that plays over the opening credits we are assured that this will be a dark and tense story. There is a sense in which Almodovar could be said to be channeling Hitchcock with this film. (And to me that is a very high compliment.) Like a Hitchcock movie, Julieta follows a path of descent in which a character borders on madness. Julieta opens in theaters near Christmas.
Photos provided by AFIFest