MFF 2012 DAY SEVEN: 5 Broken Cameras – Goodbye – High Tech, Low Life

COMPLETE MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 COVERAGE

DAY ONE: Starbuck – Opening Night Party
DAY TWO: Ethel – Come As You Are – Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – V/H/S
DAY THREE: Sans Soleil – Dead Weight – Andrew Bird: Fever Year
DAY FOUR: Inland Empire – Bad Brains: A Band in DC
DAY FIVE: Pink Ribbons, Inc. – 11 Flowers – How to Survive a Plague
DAY SIX: Romancing in Thin Air – Elena – The Imposter
DAY SEVEN: 5 Broken Cameras – Goodbye – High Tech, Low Life
DAY EIGHT: Big Boys Gone Bananas!* – Off White Lies – The Milwaukee Show
DAY NINE: Las Acacias – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
DAY TEN: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Policeman
DAY ELEVEN: Quartet – No God No Master
DAY TWELVE: Mourning – As Goes Janesville – Blackmail – The Ambassador
DAY THIRTEEN: The Invisible War – Klown
DAY FOURTEEN: Old Dog – Little Red – Five Star Existence
DAY FIFTEEN: The Sessions – Detropia

10-3 W
07/15

Drizzly overcast morning. Lots of traffic, some 18 year old male driver flicks me off. Lovely. Today’s cuisine will be entirely Eastern, beginning with 5 Broken Cameras, an Israeli/Palestinian/French co-production, another broadcasted DVD (I uncomplainingly note for the record), and Winner of World Cinema Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. I must immediately disclaim that I am regionally more knowledgeable about Iran than Israel, so there. A thousand pardons.

5 Broken Cameras was shot over five years (winter 2005 to spring 2010) by Emad Burnat and completed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi and it documents the nonviolent protests and village life within the West Bank village of Bil’in against incoming Israeli settlements. Burnat is a Palestinian falah (peasant) who documents everything relevant happening in Bil’in with whatever camera he can get his hands on – five required since each one he acquires is inexorably destroyed (gas grenade, random violent bystander, shield for shrapnel, car crash, military ‘intervention’). Let me tell you, if unpaved roads were currency this would be the richest region in the world. It’s like a website whose ‘Under Construction’ banner is now years old. In fact, after about 15 minutes I found myself musing that the area appears to be completely out of control – for instance, the first words of Burnat’s new child Gibreel are “wall” and “cartridge.” That’s what Burnat documents when he isn’t following his dissident chums, and by Gibreel’s fifth birthday Burnat can see, in his eyes, that the child’s innocence has been lost. Over the recorded period Burnat witnesses the arrests and injuries of multiple friends, and of course has his own related episodes. I was struck by how quickly and swiftly an agitated demonstration could become violent and then almost necessarily fatal (these are not people who should have guns, but we’re miles past the looking glass there). By the end of five years the enormous reinforced fence which surrounds Bil’in has been torn down – for better or worse? – and already, construction has begun on a bigger, badder, thicker wall. I sensed that “walls” were a very prominent theme in this region and story, it’s as if all life revolves around them, an obsession (just ask Gibreel).

5 Broken Cameras is somewhat difficult film to follow if you are unfamiliar with the Israel-Palestine conflict (for which you have no excuse) – or, hell, even if you are. Is it the Israeli military which is burning down those millenia-old olive trees to get the respective goats of the demonstrating citizens of Bil’in? (no, not those goats) How does religion factor into the Bil’in protests? I only realized after the screening that religion had never entered the narrative in any way. Like anybody would, Burnat attempts to find the meaning of his predicament, see beyond it (an impossibility). “But when I’m hurt over and over again, I forget the wounds. Forgotten wounds can’t be healed. So I film to heal.” Such topical issues may be beyond the reach the voyeuristic concerned citizens who view the film, so I see 5 Broken Cameras as a future time capsule. Media presence may not be able to solve every problem which merits a docu, but they can try. See it if you want to educate yourself about the life of your average concerned Palestinian.

“A Foreigner in Her Own Country”

Since the previous film won the Best Director honors at Sundance in 2011, it’s only fitting that the film which would win the same honor at 2011’s Cannes Film Festival would be a stronger, more defined work of art, and so it is: Mohammad Rasoulof’s Goodbye (Bé omid é didar), filmed clandestinely before Rasoulof would be imprisoned by the Iranian government to serve a six year sentence for “assembly, collusion, and propagandizing against the regime” (such foul language employed by so many insecure men) along with the notorious Jafar Panahi. Both Goodbye and Panahi’s This Is Not a Film were celebrated at Cannes 2011 and Rasoulof’s surreal allegory The White Meadows was presented at last year’s MFF.

Back to somewhat familiar stomping ground, the bleak and oppressive (if the liberal cinematic opinion counts for anything) supercity of Tehran where we will follow the misadventures of female lawyer Noura (the crushing Leyla Zareh) as she attempts to escape the country. Noura (and everybody else in this universe of Rasoulof’s) is only visible to us through the lens, the shroud, of Iran. The sensitive soul is oppressed just by existing there and the film overtly enforces this alienation – an alienation I now realize is not just similar to the tone in Michael Haneke’s films, but is identical. Most spaces are vacuums and dialogue is kept to a functional minimum; this is a very quiet film, even funereal. Static shots linger, at times treading into extremely long takes (the elevator, the ambulance, the police search, the husband meeting – all excellent scenes) and there is almost no cutting on emotion. Think about this for a moment and the effect it has on you. Cutting on emotion is a humanist strategy, making dramatic and thus taking seriously, respecting, the emotional minutiae of our lives and placing central importance on the individual; whereas Rasoulof/Haneke’s method places the individual at the mercy of the world/the composition, leaving them with nothing to do but bounce back and forth in the frame which exists quite beyond their control. Such a method is felt subconsciously. I found this to be a tremendously ‘feeling’ film, really, despite its starkness and morbidity; Noura’s perpetual torpor is never interrupted (I don’t think she smiles once) and as I watched Zareh’s face, shot after shot, I began to understand: this is the face. This is the face of Iran. I can’t say that Zareh and Rasoulof speak for 75 million people, but clearly this oppression is felt.

It was important to state these opinions before actually speaking about the film’s content, which really comes in 2nd place to Rasoulof the allegorist. Noura is very much on her own as she tries to obtain a visa, now pregnant after advisement that this would assist her escape. When she learns the fetus has Down Syndrome (another soul crippled by Iran) she must choose between saddling herself for the rest of her life for the price of escape, or illegally aborting the child (along with her chances of escape). Noura recently faced disbarment due to cryptically mentioned activist involvement, activity which also forced her husband to flee to southern Iran – she is quite alone, with the tiny exception of her tiny turtle. But even this story does not end particularly well, not in Iran, where no soul is safe. There are a few tense, pretty and extended scenes with Noura when some sinister, methodical plainclothes police officers (who are far too familiar with her affairs) intimidate her and search her apartment. I won’t spoil how the film ends except to say that this is one damned pessimistic tract. Hope you enjoyed that non-spoiler.

Goodbye was the best new film I saw this year at MFF, Sans Soleil, Discreet Charm and Inland Empire still plainly exceptional and not so newsworthy. And only partly because of the film’s topical relevance! And one postscript: I think this Zareh actress strongly resembles Kate Winslet – maybe just because for this entire film she bears an expression which immediately brought Winslet to mind… the Winslet Reverie of Unhappiness, with a dash of intense concentration.

Governmental abuses, anyone? That’s been my whole day. Allow MFF’s Passport program to sweep you away to Second World China! The sights! The sounds! The censoring of any activity which embarrasses an insecure leadership! Not quite at the forefront but the fringe of the media revolution are Zola, the bright 26 year old street kid, hungry for celebrity, and Tiger Temple, charming 50s harmonicist activist. They function as citizen journalists in a country so censorious of its media that one cannot have a conversation about blogging without also addressing “The Great Firewall,” a term coined by citizens regarding the iron cloak laid over the media by the government of the People’s Republic (one example showed a police officer sooner silencing Zola than the tending to Zola’s subject, a bloodied, failing body on the asphalt). Zola’s Chinese text is typed onto the black screen: “We’ve all been brainwashed,” channeling the cryptic text of Morpheus as he first exposes Neo to the unholy conspiracy of The Matrix (said the internet writer, wryly). Armed with his camera phone and web access, Zola helps ordinary citizens report injustice and gains enough momentum that he is eventually summoned as an expert speaker to the World Blogging Forum in Bucharest, in 2009. Tiger Temple spends most of his time exposing civic fraud in a rural area recently flooded by illegal waste dumping, his only companion a Cutest (fucking) Cat Ever named Mongolia. By the end of the film Zola is achieving much success and begins to train a burgeoning armada of self-empowered citizen journalists. Tiger’s star, however, may be falling – the pronounced imperial efforts to censor his work lead to police invading his apartment and escorting him out of Beijing during a party conference, and Tiger is eventually disspirited enough to quit his decade-long residence of Beijing. High Tech, Low Life is a film which likely could only have been made by a non-citizen. While what we witness is certainly relevant, it’s a film which doesn’t really go anywhere and is more of an exposé about these two men than a documentary on media censorship in modern China.

“Being selfish is the first step in conquering the communist mindset,” types Zola. Admittedly Zola’s narcissism is his catalyst, but it feels almost innocent, like he knows no other way to express himself. In America it can sometimes be revolting to see the extent that modern technology’s omniscience has made ordinary citizens unjustifiably vain, every individual now functioning as his own business, his own media machine – but it’s possible that this is precisely what a country like China needs: ubiquitous potential to promote the individual.

written by David Ashley

Seen so far:
Starbuck
Ethel
Come As You Are
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
V/H/S
Sans Soleil
Dead Weight
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Inland Empire
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
11 Flowers
How to Survive a Plague
Romancing in Thin Air
Elena
The Imposter
5 Broken Cameras
Goodbye
High Tech, Low Life

Ranked:
Sans Soleil
Inland Empire
Goodbye
Elena
5 Broken Cameras
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
11 Flowers
Ethel
How to Survive a Plague
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
High Tech, Low Life
Come As You Are
V/H/S
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
The Imposter
Starbuck
Romancing in Thin Air
Dead Weight

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