What is now almost two weeks ago was also the week of the the Natfilm festival here in Copenhagen. And I managed to catch no less than five films in six days. I’ll give each of them a brief mention here.
The best of the bunch was Half-Nelson. A touching, somber yet curiously hopeful film wrestling with some of the big themes of how change works in our lives. Interestingly enough the title does not refer to the wrestling hold but rather to the song of same name written by Miles Davis apparently referring to the hardships involved in fighting a drug addiction which is in part what the film revolves around.
The film is a debut from the young screenwriting/producing/directing duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, and it shows that they have spent almost 4 years working on this. The film has so much depth of detail and forethought that you leave the cinema wondering how all those other films could get away with offering you so little. A fuller review can be found here.
Another good film was German film Vier Minuten which tells the story of a young girl with an amazing talent for playing piano who has been imprisoned for multiple counts of violence and a murder, and how she meets the all-women’s prison’s old piano teacher and a shaky friendship evolves. It is quite powerful and full of evocative piano music.
Ten Canoes is the first film to be made with an all Australian Indigenous cast speaking their own language. It has a strange glow of fairy-tale about it of that swimmingly foreign concept of one-upon-a-time. It is built around a simple black-and-white frame story which then allows for the full-colour telling of an ancient aboriginal myth. Filmically, it is not astounding, but the content is so foreign that you cannot avoid being drawn in.
The Balanda and the Bark Canoes
Immediately following Ten Canoes, I saw the “behind-the-camera” documentary about the filming. The title refers to the white men (called Balanda by the Australian indigenous peoples) and the bark canoes which inspired the director Rolf de Heer to make the film. He had seen an old photo of ten aboriginals in bark canoes traversing the Arafura swamp taken by Australian anthropologist Donald Thomson in 1936. It was quite astounding to see the squalid conditions under which the aboriginals live today and follow the (white man burdened) efforts of de Heer to get a film underway with the help of the locals.
The local Yolngu-speakers had forgotten so much of their history and traditions and spend a lot of effort making the ten canoes and javelins necessary for the filming. And amazingly enough, de Heer corrected their designs by referring them to Thomson’s photos which suddenly had become the authoritative source on the culture of which they had lost so much (or rather, which had changed so much with them).
Not only did the documentary set the Ten Canoes feature into perspective, partly explaining and partly excusing. I didn’t like the excusing part, and I really didn’t like how incapable these aboriginals appear, since it only enforces de Heer’s role as the burdened Balanda. But it is well-worth watching, and the two films together will probably soon become a staple in anthropological film clubs for apt discussion about the role of anthropology and the famed good-bye to the Tristes Tropiques.
The Honor of Knights
This “film” was bigged up in the festival programme but turned out to be utter shite. It continues the long tradition that Don Quixote cannot be made into a decent or complete film.