So, you want to know what my top films were? Of course you could just look at my 5 and 4.5 starred reviews but I’ll save you the bother and list them here:
Three I loved
In the Crosswind – Exquisite Estonian drama about the forced removal of half a million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians from their homelands by Stalin, to be ‘resettled’ in Siberia and prison and forced labour camps. The only dialogue in the film is the reading out of the actual letters and diary entries of an Estonian woman, Erna, to her husband Heldur. What is remarkable about this film, is that it is nearly all tableaux vivants, where a three-dimensional photograph is created with people and background and the camera moves slowly through the scene. It is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen.
Magical Girl – This Spanish slow burn thriller seems to be the story of a man wanting to make his dying 12 year old daughter happy by buying her a very expensive designer anime dress. We see a woman living an affluent life who is struggling with the vestiges of a troubled past and a third character, Damian, ageing, afraid, recently released from jail. I love a film like this, little exposition, a story that slowly pieces together without being deliberately obscured, characters that absorb you, a trajectory that you can’t predict and an ending that feels authentic and changes some small part of how you understand the world.
Gayby Baby – A perfectly crafted Australian documentary. Engaging subjects who feel safe enough to be real on camera, a story and a message that slowly unfolds, that we observe and understand without the need for exposition, and no sign of the film maker, we are totally absorbed into the world of the subjects. It follows four families with two mums or dads over the course of a year or more, filming their everyday lives. What comes across most strongly is that each of these families is just like every other family. They love their children, they do their best, they sacrifice to give their children opportunities, they wonder whether they are doing it right. I walked into this film thinking it was about same-sex parenting, really it’s about families.
Five I really liked
Mustang – This Turkish film began gently. Five sisters ranging in age perhaps from 11 to 16, play a game on the beach with friends, both girls and boys, on the way home from school. It is an image of exuberance and youth, so normal. But the word of a neighbour sets off a chain of events that swiftly and inexorably changes the world of the girls. Ostensibly because of convention, but really because of fear, their uncle and grandmother shut off the outside world and try to force them into the acceptable role of wife. The girls are luminous and although I felt impending doom, there was hope and the ending was unexpectedly moving.
The Ground We Won – This observational black and white New Zealand documentary immerses you in the lives of the Reporoa rugby team. The team has not been doing so well and is made up of a mixed bunch of young blokes, farmers, veteran players who unite twice a week to train and play. Often we, and the camera, are right there in the huddle with them. We follow three men at different stages of their lives and what we are seeing is a loving and non-judgemental exploration of masculinity, the ‘hard man’ culture of New Zealand.
The Chosen Ones – Set in Tijuana in Mexico, we see Ulises and 14 year old Sofia. They sleep together, talk, ride bikes, do all the things that teenagers in love do. He takes her home to meet his family but what we don’t know, is that Ulises is part of a family that entices young women with romance, separates them from their family, and then imprisons them in brothels, forcing them into slavery. Sofia is Ulises’s first. There were some powerful scenes in this film. The depiction of Sofia’s first day working is exquisitely done, showing nothing but telling you everything. We feel the isolation of everyone but these formidable men.
The Maid – This Chilean drama is based on the experience of director Sebastian Silva’s family. We meet Raquel, the maid of the title, who is in her early 40s and has looked after the family of Pilar and Mundo and their four children for 25 years. Raquel is not completely well and Pilar’s solution is to employ a succession of other maids to help her with her workload. This is where the story gets interesting as Raquel does what she can to sabotage this. The story unfolds quite slowly and we feel like we are flies on the wall in someone’s home, watching the small interactions of the everyday, the loneliness we can all carry when we cut ourselves off from others. The ending is beautiful, understated, wordless but it says so much.
Being 14 – I really enjoyed this French drama that follows three 14 year old girls, Sarah, Louise and Jade, through a year where they fall in and out of friendship, fight with parents and teachers and try to find their way. All three girls are fascinating to watch and although they have their differences, they seem oblivious to their commonalities. We watch as Sarah and Jade shift from friendship to hostility, through simple moments of misunderstanding that escalate into viciousness. There is hope in this film amidst the parental angst it provoked in me. The girls who seem adrift on a sea that pulls them away and pushes them together, ultimately hang on to each other. This point is not laboured, just a coda that allowed me, at least, to breathe a sigh of relief.
And two more worth a look
Speed Sisters – This Palestinian documentary follows five young, Palestinian women who compete in the male-dominated car racing scene. We meet Marah, Betty, Marsoon, Noor and Mona as they compete in a series of races to be the fastest women champion and also the chance to compete in Jordan. Although all five are competitive, it is Marah and Betty who are the key protagonists. They are the fastest two and winning the championship, we can see, means more than being in a team together. There is joy in this film and the film maker has done well to bring forward the voice of each woman. The real delight is in the incidental scenes that fill in our understanding of their world. A lovely, inspiring and thought-provoking film.
Wonderful World End – A kooky and delightful Japanese film about a 17-year-old Gothic-Lolita cosplaying model, Shiori, who twitcasts for her fans. Followers and comments are an important commodity and you can see her drive to be liked. She has a boyfriend who is a bit of a dill and her agent is interested in her only as something to sell. Then in to her life comes adoring fan Ami and the wheels fall off the apple cart. You are never quite sure where this film is going. The film becomes quite surreal toward the end but in a delightful, pop video, kawaii kind of way and just about the whole cinema joined in the laughter, happy to be taken along for the ride.