I had a pretty mixed experience yesterday at the Bangkok International Film Festival. I only saw two movies, one shitty and one great, but mostly kept wishing I could re-watch I Killed My Mother. Tonight is my final film, Mammoth, which will probably play to a very packed house. It’s been really fun to attend a major film festival, and a cheap one at that (ended up being ~$2.60 per film).
Director: Ratna Sarumpaet
Length: 97 mins
Synopsis: “Jamila is a prostitute serving a life sentence behind bars. She surrenders herself to the authorities after admitting she killed a high-ranking minister, and refuses to be represented by any lawyer or request a plea to ease her sentence. The controversy spreads all over the nation, followed by a reaction from a militant group forcing the government to give the death penalty to Jamila. The prison slowly reveals JamilaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s story: she is a victim of child trafficking, a crime that has become a custom in many places. Jamila represents millions of children who has been sold in the name of poverty and the lack of education.”
Weighty, important subject matter does not necessarily mean a weighty, important film. Jamila and the President is overwrought, daytime soap opera material. Good production values can’t hide the fact that there’s nothing at its core except a poor script overacted by melodramatic people. Sarumpaet adapted the screenplay from her own theater play and this is very obvious in a few key scenes that don’t translate well to film at all. Most characters act illogically and unrealistically, and by the end I cared little about or for any of them. My bad experience with this movie was not helped by subtitles that were poorly translated and written in large, Comic Sans font.
Everyone Else / Alle Anderen (trailer)
Director: Maren Ade
Length: 119 mins
Synopsis: “A loving couple is struggling through a holiday in secluded togetherness: Chris and Gitti enjoy themselves in their secret rituals, silly habit, unfulfilled desires and power struggles. But the encounter with another couple is changing their bourgeois complacency and sending ripples through the dynamics of their relationship.”
As that brief synopsis might suggest, absolutely nothing happens in Everyone Else. We mostly see Chris and Gitti at Chris’ vacation villa in Sardinia where they do little other than lounge around and eat. As Kraig joked about P.T. Anderson’s last film: this should be called There Will Be Talking. Yet the 2 hours are vastly more engrossing than anything in the shorter Jamila or Across the River.
The BIFF guide was right to reference “power struggles,” since the film is scarily accurate in depicting the subtle ways two people can attempt to manipulate and control each other even (especially) while genuinely loving each other. There are several scenes that are almost painful to watch in their authentic glimpse of a couple at war without saying a word. During these glimpses of tiny humiliations and subtle pains, it’s hard not to feel like an illicit voyeur peeking into very private, emotional moments. The pervasive undercurrent of class warfare only heightens the quiet cold war taking place between Chris & Gitti as each adjusts and re-adjusts to the vagaries of both love and hate.
Furthermore, don’t think I didn’t catch the irony of watching two self-important aesthetes self-congratulate themselves on their great taste while at an art festival largely composed of aesthetes who probably also derive much of their self-worth from having superior taste in movies, books, and music than the culture at large.
I’m a big fan of this kind of zeroed-in dissection of two people at a particular time & place, and the film could’ve been really excellent — except for the ending. I don’t need my movies, especially character studies, to have tidy conclusions with neat resolutions and obvious lessons (I Killed My Mother didn’t, for example). Yet there needs to be something, whereas Everyone Else leaves us on a very unrewarding note. I think the rest of the audience felt the same way: everyone seemed to love it, but the ending came so abruptly that the expected round of applause turned out to be just a couple scattered claps as everyone seemed to exit saying, “Really? You’re going to make us leave them right there, right then?” Still, a really interesting movie with a potent combination of a great location, script, and actors, and a film that deserves the praise being lavished on it.