Visions du réel in Nyon focuses less on films from the English speaking world and more on French, German and Swiss films and films with a philosophic approach. The festival insists on focusing on artistic approaches rather than issue-borne films. This includes both traditional observational films, like Frederick Wiseman’s 3½-hour “State Legislature”, and films with a more experimental approach, like the 46-minute “Scènes de chasse au sanglier” by Claudio Pazienza.

Of the various sections, Regard Neuf was particularly brimming with pleasant surprises. It often happens that the ‘director’s first film’ section at a festival shows films of uneven quality, but the VdR team had made a good effort to find first films of high cinematic quality with coherent style and idea, featuring new filmmakers with a talent for storytelling. Here are a few examples.

Squeegee Bandit

Sándor Lau from New Zealand has committed an innovatively styled portrait of Kevin, a Maori living a nomadic life, earning money by washing car windows, and living in temporary abodes. He used to be the father of a family with two kids, but doesn’t see them anymore. He is manic, a speedy talker and always on the move. He is aggressive but at the same time moving and charming. The style is refreshing, adopting a street-life feeling and Kevin’s personality in its cinematic mode. It is filmed in black and white, occasionally colouring single objects in the picture, as when Kevin stretches his hand towards the camera showing the money he has earned, which is coloured in gold.

When the camera follows Kevin at his ‘work’ and driving cars, it moves hectically with him, the editing is fast and passages with rap music are inserted. This alternates with calmer passages where Kevin reveals his life story as a boy in the Maori community, raised by a bullying foster mother. A few other people are interviewed like someone telling about the social problems for the Maori population, and a family he stays with for a while talks about Kevin’s good points. Also intercut are archive films, racist propagandistic films produced by the government. Music is quite dominant throughout, altering between rap music and sad lonesome guitar music during the parts about his past.

The film raises the issue of how the Maori population has been treated by colonists. Kevin goes to the library and finds history books showing pictures of wild Maoris slaughtering defenceless whites. He hates the colonists, the way they destroyed Maori lives for their own benefit. The filmmaker handles his many artistic elements in a masterly way and creates a great viewing experience and moving film.

The Operating Theatre

On the one hand, this Swiss/French film is highly voyeuristic in the sense that it films people under anaesthesia on the operating table, entering their stomachs and exposing their intestines. Yet on the other, the film-which was obviously made with the subjects’ consent and is ethically in order -does not look into their lives in any other sense. The explicit operating scenes and the voyeuristic feeling imposed on the viewer are discomforting, as is the feeling of peering into something holy, taboo-the operating theatre itself. But it helps to be guided by the filmmaker, Benoît Rossel, who reveals in a voiceover that he made this film to confront his fear of operations, to demystify the mysterious operating theatre, to humanize the surgeons and their qualifications.

Part of the film follows a young doctor pursuing a career as surgeon, as the filmmakers tries to understand the motivation of why someone would want to become a surgeon. Another part is an interview with an experienced surgeon, who on the one hand demystifies the craft by telling that everyone can learn it, as it is a craft. On the other, he reveals that he has never been on the table himself and doesn’t want to because he knows the risks and knows there are bad surgeons.

During the several operations we witnesses, some focus on the surgical technique as the director is obviously fascinated with the process and how the surgeons regard our insides. Some scenes focus on the hierarchical interrelations of surgeons, nurses and assistant nurses, and he records their discussions about what to do (right in the middle of the operation, sometimes amid great disagreement!), and the jokes they tell. It’s interesting to be confronted with one’s fears and taboos in a well-crafted film with highly unusual imagery.

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