Cinéma du réel showed in competition 25 short, long and mid-length documentaries from 19 countries. The films from the international competition could be divided into two main ways of looking at the world. One segment of films focuses on a rough capturing of reality while the other uses strong cinematographic form to depict the issue they deal with. Both documentary categories had daring film creations on social themes with innovative filming approaches, and both categories also included up-and-coming documentary filmmakers.
Lots of films made in South-east Asia were shown this year, one of which was “Match Made” by Mirabelle Ang, Singapore. A film that starts as a fairy tale turns out to be a rather sad story. A young Vietnamese peasant is sent by someone from her village to a wedding agency in town. A man flies in from Singapore to find his mate-or his maid-that’s the question! The first thing he wants to know is her zodiac sign, and he quickly chooses a not too skinny but not too plump girl, either. He doesn’t open up her mouth to look at her teeth, but takes her to the hospital to make sure she has no diseases. These sequences are incredible. The camera stays quite far from the scene and never moves. We hardly know if someone is behind it-almost resembling security-camera footage. But perhaps this is the price to pay to get this feeling of being in an animal market. Finally everything seems to be great, our two characters are falling in love and get married right away, two days later. But we are at Cinéma du réel and not Hollywood… so we learn at the end of the documentary that the groom sent his wife back to Vietnam because she was too ‘lazy’ according to his mother…
From the same geographic area, “Worker’s Dream” by Phuong Thao Tran (Vietnam) won the ‘Bourse Perrault’ for young filmmakers. In this film the camera is also just here to register reality. The image is moving, the filming is not very professional, but the young Chinese workers are playing with the filmmaker explaining to her how she has to do the movie, and the way she kept this element in the final editing is really touching. “You don’t have to film me when I’m telling you my story. You can just register my voice and after that you will illustrate it with some symbolic view from my environment.” During this dialogue we feel the sympathy between the filmmaker and her characters. Their life is difficult, really difficult, but it’s not a big deal-they cope with it with beautiful smiles on their faces. And the effect of this is made even stronger by taking us back to our own little problems: missing the metro, waiting for the waiter to finally bring us our coffee, etc. This strong simple movie doesn’t show off.
“In Case of Emergency” by Knut Karger from Germany won the ‘Bourse Perrault’ for young filmmakers ex-aequo with “Worker’s Dream” adopting a completely different form. We are entering the secret world of the German civil defence through a commentary that only enumerates numbers: the number of soldiers in Germany during the Cold War, the number of bunkers, the number of millions of euros necessary to keep the bunkers in good condition, the number of military weapons in East Germany, the number of litres of oil stored underground, the number of kilos of provisions.The documentary is totally serious but also burlesque since this whole underground world absorbs a lot of money-for such a useless purpose as a Cold War that never exploded!
“Out of Time”by Harald Friedl shows us another disappearing world by filming small shops in Vienna for a few days. All of them are held by old people and most are old-fashioned: a fine leather goods dealer, a chemist, a haberdasher and a butcher. Almost no one ever enters their shops. We imagine that instead of coming here, people are probably shopping in some impersonal shopping centre. A man keeps verifying that everything is set up and ready; two ladies look through the window at the passers-by guessing if this one or that one might push open the door and enter the shop. They also have funny discussions: “This shop is a time spaceship, when you enter it you are out of time.” By focusing on these small shops, the director portrays a vanishing slice of anachronistic capitalism.
Joao Moreira Salles won the Grand Prix of Cinéma du réel with his beautiful, also nostalgic “Santiago.” A look at the rich people of Brazil through a portrait of his family’s butler. As a young filmmaker he tried to make a documentary about the butler. He went to interview the old fellow in his little apartment but Salles failed to finish his work. Fourteen years later, Salles looks back on the black-and-white footage he shot on 16 mm, and tries to understand why the documentary didn’t go very well. First of all the character of Santiago is so special, so odd, that it’s difficult not to caricature him. This lonely man spent his entire life writing the biographies of all the world’s nobilities-from the most well known such as the French, to the most unknown such as those of Paphlagonia or the antipopes. The character is moving and funny at the same time, and the young film director is only concentrating on his work, hardly ever listening to his subject. He just takes what he thinks is interesting for him, trying to illustrate his child memories, but he doesn’t see what is going on right here and now before his very eyes. In 2006, Salles does not accommodate his younger self any longer. When he edits the takes of one simple sentence by Santiago, he stresses very well that he is using him, that their relation continues the same as before: he is the master’s son and Santiago will forever be his parent’s butler.
Let’s finish with my favourite film, an incredible short one, “Hakanion” by Yonathan Ben Erat, Israel. Because of the wall separating Israelis from Palestinians, many illegal workers areforced to find a place to sleep inside Israel and go back to their family only few times eachmonth. The director chooses to film them at a supermarket building site.
The place is a muddy nightmare, crowded and risky above all. But at least it gives the workers somewhere to leave some personal belongings and return to every night. The documentary resembles a sci-fi movie about a world after a global nuclear war, reminiscent of “Blade Runner.” But no, this is definitely reality, even if the images are beautiful, dark with candlelight flickering on the walls and human shadows crossing the mall. The director is working on a feature length documentary “Six Floors to Hell” that will expand on “Hakanion”. I can hardly wait to see this new film, perhaps next year at Cinéma du réel or another international festival!
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).