The first full day for the festival took me on a trip around the world. That’s one of the values of film festivals, we get to see other lands and cultures without the expense and time of travel. (Not that I wouldn’t love being able to go to so many places.) We also get to see through different eyes. Four of the films for today were from women directors. Some have lived in more than one culture and so can compare and contrast. To see such films encourages us to see our own world and culture as others might.
From Spain comes Summer 1993 (New Auteurs section). Director Carla Simón tells a story based on her own childhood. After her mother’s AIDS-related death, young Frida moves into the Catalan countryside to live with her uncle and his family. She is surrounded by loving family members, but she has not yet come to grips with the enormity of the change in her life and discovered how to deal with the grief she holds inside. The beautiful, sunny countryside creates a contrast for the pain that Frida has. Summer 1993 is Spain’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
Joachim Trier’s Thelma (World Cinema) is a nicely creepy film coming out of Norway. Thelma has grown up in a religious family, but has now set off to university, where she finds new ideas and experiences life in new ways. She is strangely attracted to another student, Anja. But when she starts having unexplained seizures strange things begin to happen. There are secrets from her past that come to bear on her life and a chance for her to find happiness. Thelma is Norway’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film. It is slated to open in theaters on November 24.
Wajib (World Cinema) is a father/son story from director Annemarie Jacir. Shadi, an architect living in Rome, returns to Israel, to help his father Abu Shad hand-deliver wedding invitation for Shadi’s sister’s wedding. As the two men drive around Nazareth and visit friends and relatives, their differences create tensions. For Shadi, a Palestinian living an affluent life abroad, there is a culture clash in returning. The relationship between the two is very complex, at once loving and fractious. Has Shadi abandoned his family and people (as his mother did many years ago)? Has Abu Shadi compromised his principles to advance his career? As a father and a son, I found this a very universal reality of the difficulty in understanding a generational difference, yet being bonded by a lifetime of love. Wajib is the official Palestinian entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
In Iram Haq’s What Will People Say? (New Auteurs) a 1.5 generation Pakistani immigrant lives a dual life: the perfect Pakistani daughter at home, but a normal Norwegian teenager among her friends. But when Misha’s father discovers her with her boyfriend in her room late one night, everything changes. The story is a clash of important values. For the West, where Nisha has grown up, freedom is perhaps the highest value. But for her family, both in their new country and back in Pakistan, honor is paramount. It may seem that her parents are only concerned with how they are perceived, but at the same time it seems they are acting out of love for their daughter, trying to provide her with a life that fits their worldview. Of course, I watched this through western eyes, so some of the responses by her family seem extreme, but at the same time I could empathize with their desire to raise their daughter in what they considered a proper life. Mark this down as one of my favorites of the festival.
I traveled to South Africa with Jenna Bass’s High Fantasy (New Auteurs). Four friends (three women, one white, one colored, two black) go to an isolated farm for a camping trip. But when they wake up in the morning, they have somehow swapped bodies. This is more than Freaky Friday. As they struggle to understand what happened, they must also struggle with the difficulty of what it means to live in a “rainbow nation”. The racial and sexual differences are not something that can be covered up by just “walking a mile in another’s shoes”. The resentments of generations of apartheid and oppression are too deep. South Africa continues to be a country that struggles with racism—as does the U.S. This film is not about finding easy answers for how we live together in racist societies, but rather it raises some questions that need to be addressed if we are ever going to find ways to move forward.