Welcome to AFIFest Presented by Audi. As with everything in the world of COVID-19, it’s a bit different than most years. I’m not driving up to Hollywood for a day of working my schedule around when to get in line and when I can fit in something for dinner. Instead I have my feet up in my recliner and watch the offerings of the day. The downside is I don’t get to see the films on big screens. But it is still a world of excellent films. You can still take part in the festival by going to https://fest.afi.com/ for tickets and watch them in your recliner.
Day one, film one: Should the Wind Drop (Si le Vent Tombe). This is in the New Auteur section. Directed by Nora Matirosyan, the film is set in Nagorno-Karabakh, a small quasi-country in the Caucasus. The country exists as a part of a ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Alain is sent from France to do an audit of the airport to see if it can be opened to air traffic. Everything seems good, except that it is only a few miles from the ceasefire border and Azerbaijan military could shoot down planes entering their airspace. Through Alain we meet some of the people whose lives are impacted by his decisions. Key among them is a young boy who makes his living by carrying water to provide drinks to people. Each day he walks through the airport runways as a shortcut.
The film is really a way of making visible this not-quite-a-country. Most of the world has no idea of the conflict that has been on hold for twenty years. However, just three weeks ago, the conflict flared up again. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh have been shaped by living in the midst of war for so long. As one of them puts it, it is like living on a volcano, waiting for it to wake up. They have hopes for happiness and prosperity that have been put on hold indefinitely.
Another film in the New Auteur section is Nine Days, from Edson Oda. Will (Winston Duke) selects new souls to have “the amazing opportunity of life”. At first we watch him watching a bank of TVs where he sees daily life through the eyes of all the souls he has chosen. But when one of them (perhaps his favorite of them all) suddenly dies, he must choose a new soul to be born. He has a series of interviews with various new souls with a range of personalities. One of the reasons he is a selector is that he has had the experience of living. His assistant Kyo (Benedict Wong) has never lived. Kyo serves as a goad for Will to consider different aspects. He is a bit of a Jiminy Cricket conscience. Will is hampered in the process by his grief over the loss of the young woman who died. He also struggles with what he perceives as his own failure in life (a side of him that only emerges slowly).
One of the candidates he is interviewing, Emma (Zazie Beetz) doesn’t really follow the rules, yet something about her gets under Will’s skin. Because only one of the candidates will be chosen, this becomes a film about what it means to live. What qualities make for a good life? What strengths or weaknesses will determine of life is fulfilling or a disaster? I was attracted to this film because it seemed to be a mirror image of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life (one of my all time favorites). Like that film, it is a moving celebration of both the moments that make up life and the totality of the sum of those moments.