Monday,22 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)
Monday,22 October, 2018
Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Doubts of the heart

The Panorama of European Film is in its 10th round this year. Soha Hesham shares some of the highlights

Set in a small coastal village in remotest Iceland, Guõmundur Arnar Guõmundsson’s debut Heartstone (part of the Emerging Directors programme) benefits from excellent cinematography of Sturla Brandth Grøvlen. Teenage best friends Thor and Kristján (Baldur Einarsson and Blær Hinriksson, respectively) are on a rampage, destroying vehicles, killing fish and otherwise desecrating the environment in shocking ways. As the action progresses it becomes clear that Thor and two older sisters who often bully him live with their mother (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir), a single parent, whose search for a partner the children strongly oppose. 

Heartstone is a film about growing up, it tackles sexual awakening and self-realisation in a direct way, breaking through cliches and restrictions. Thor, a shy teenager finding himself with the taller and manlier Kristján, with whom he can be aggressive, is seen kissing himself in the mirror and, impatient for his pubic hair to grow, picking hair out of the brush and placing it in his groin to look at. Once out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped round him, however, Thor is manhandled by his two sisters, who throw him out of the house naked. Thor is obsessed with one of the girls in his circle of friends, with whom he is constantly trying to use games to initiate some kind of romance. And, watching him do so, Kristján – who, for his part, suffers abuse from his alcoholic, homophobic father (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson) – must slowly acknowledge his own romantic love for his best friend. 

I Am Not Your Negro

One of Thor’s sisters is a painter and she asks Thor and Kristján to model for her. They wear a little makeup and sit next to each other, and from the two young actors’ brilliantly subtle performance Kristján’s interest and Thor’s confused response come through. Complications come to a head towards the end of the film as Kristján attempts suicide and his parents isolate him from Thor to prevent him from loving someone of the same sex. Aided by powerful acting and spot-on direction with very little dialogue, the film – which won the Queer Lion Award at Venice Film Festival, the Febiofest Gran Prix at the Prague International Film Festival as well as the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at Angers European First Film Festival  – makes a powerful and appropriately subtle statement the emotional cost of sexuality.



On the Main Narrative Features programme, based on Anne Wiazemsky’s memoir One Year Later, is the French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius’s seventh feature film, Redoubtable. Best known for The Artist (2011), Hazanavicius returns to the theme of film artists lives and loves, reimagining the love story between Wiazemsky and the celebrated auteur Jean-Luc Godard. He uses the New Wave icon’s second marriage to satirise his 1968 political pretensions – “communal cinema” and “radical filmmaking” – while exploring his mid-career crisis and wounded ego following bad reviews of La Chinoise (1967); during a protest a young woman asks Godard why he no longer makes films like Breathless (1960); a policeman tells him he and his wife loved Contempt (1963).


Louis Garrel gives a seemingly accurate impression of Godard with an expressionless face and glasses that keep breaking, while Stacy Martin in the role of Anne conveys the conflict between Wiazemsky’s genuine love for Godard and her feeling that he is holding her back professionally. The film also shows Godard’s unconditional admiration for the young, even those who mock him when at university he compares the Jews of Palestine to the Nazis. He reasons that, if the audience prefers his older movies, there must be something wrong with his newer ones; and so he begins to find himself a new artistic path. But in the course of this Godard is a jealous and rude husband, mistaking Wiazemsky’s professional dedication for infidelity, then attempting to win her back by pretending to kill himself. Redoubtable, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or and the Munich Film Festival Best International Film award, is a lighthearted film that encourages research into this period of history and art.



Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro – a highlight of the Documentary Rendez vous programme – is based on a 30-page unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, “Remember This House”, in which the great black writer, who died in 1987 at the height of his career before completing the project, begins to document the Civil Rights Movement through the experience of three of his friends: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr and Medgar Evers. With a narration by the late Oscar-winning actor Samuel L Jackson and archive footage of protests and counter-protests from the 1930s, the film is punctuated by the assassination of one black activist and friend of Baldwin’s after another – first Evans, then Malcom X and finally King – not one of whom had reached the age of 40. But Baldwin’s own archival presence in interviews, debates and lectures is arguably the strongest element in the film, which won the Panorama Audience Award and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury’s Special Mention Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

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