Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Just cinema

From factory to hospital, Soha Hesham reviews some of the highlights of the 39th Cairo International Film Festival


A staggering documentary filmed inside the corridors of a textile factory in Gujarat, India, Indian filmmaker Rahul Jain’s Machines is the story of the nameless workers’ 12-hour shifts, which earn them barely enough to live on. It has neither narration nor music, and the dialogue remains brief with the machines doing most of the talking. The viewer is immersed in the atmosphere of the factory and all its problems.

Much of the allure of the film results from Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva’s cinematography, which sustains the viewer’s attention for 71 minutes as it traces the complicated process of creating the colours, printing the fabrics, cutting the sheets and curtains.

The inner philosophy which the film demonstrates is the difference between the power of the mind and the power of the hand. Every person has their own gift and this factory, not being exactly cutting-edge, requires as much muscle as mental power. Once development occurs, however, the same could be achieved by the push of a button, as one of the workers explains at the beginning.

The scenes progress smoothly, gripping and eye-catching. They show the hazards facing the workers, who include children: exposure to toxic chemicals, for example. “Poverty is harassment, there is no cure.” This is one of the most explicit and eloquent sentences uttered in the film — by one of the workers, who explains he has no other option now that he has obtained a loan which he must repay while financing his tobacco chewing habit. In a scene long enough to transfer the exhaustion to the viewer, Jain captures one exhausted child nodding off in front of the machine.

The film won the Golden Eye Award at the Zurich Film Festival. It won the Cinematography Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. And it won the FIPRESCI Prize and the Human Values Award at Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival as well as the Silver Gateway Award at Mumbai Film Festival.


Sea Sorrow

A documentary about the refugee crisis, Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow opens with individual encounters with refugees from Afghanistan, Guinea and many other countries telling their stories. They speak of how they reached Italy and why they left their countries, of boats designed for 40-50 people carrying 80, and of the miracle of arriving safely while others drown.

As the documentary progresses, it begins to look like a campaign video including interviews with Redgrave who offers the viewer information and introduces relevant footage such as Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Redgrave also recounts refugee history in Europe especially during World War II, when Britain accepted refugee children who were endangered and later when Europe welcomed a huge number of refugees after the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

In another sequence, through a TV news report based on an interview with Redgrave, she manages to connect the issue to her own personal experience. This is followed by footage of a march to welcome refugees in London and interviews with the participants. But it is the child refugees at Calais camps and the struggle to let more of them into the UK — this brings up more horror stories with commentary by Martin Serman — that are the focus of the film.

The film was nominated for the Golden Camera Award and the Golden Eye Award at the Cannes Film Festival.


Sweat Rain

In Hakim Belabbes’ Sweat Rain, Ayoub (Ayoub Khalfaoui), a mentally disabled teenager and an only child, lives with his father Mbarek (Amine Ennaji), his mother Aida (Fatima-Ezzahra Bennaceur) and his senile grandfather (Hamid Najah) in a poor stretch of the Moroccan countryside. Mbarek, who calls Ayoub “the creature” no matter how many times Aida reminds him he is his son, is an illiterate farmer who raises sheep and chicken and digs uselessly for water.

Written and directed by Moroccan filmmaker Belabbes, the film exploits every natural scene and nearly every kind of animal in the setting, making a work of art of every frame thanks to cinematographer Amine Messadi.

The event of the film is when he receives an ultimatum from the bank, making it harder than ever not to sell his modest plot of land and emigrate to the city. Eventually Mbarek sets out to visit a relative of his to ask for a loan, but on the way he meets a neighbour named Laarabi, to whom he expresses his willingness to cut off his own flesh to preserve the land; Mbarek ends up in the city selling one of his organs.

Ayoub for his part has prophetic gifts; he tells his mother the foetus inside her is dead, for example, which turns out to be true when she miscarries. While Mbarek is away having an operation, Ayoub manages to find water and starts planting crops. When Mbarek returns looking pale and sickly he is kinder to Ayoub, but as he starts working again he dies soon afterwards.

Belabbes’ debut feature was A Shepherd and a Rifle (1998), followed by Threads (2003) and Boiling Dreams (2011), which won the Muhr Arab Award for Best Scriptwriter and Best Cinematographer by Raphael Bauche and was also nominated for Best Film Award at Dubai International Film Festival.



In Czech director Juraj Lehotsky’s Nina, the heroine (Bibiana Nováková) is a 12-year-old champion swimmer caught up between her divorced parents.

The only child, she lives with her mother Matka (Petra Fornayova), a former dancer who works at a petrol station across the border in Austria, while her father Otec (Robert Roth) is a crane operator not too pleased about Matka seeing another man, Peter (Joseph Kleindienst).

Co-written by Lehotsky and Marek Lescak, the screenplay becomes somewhat predictable as the viewer unveils Nina’s inner struggle and the frustration behind her innocent face. As a little girl, imagination and dreams become her refuge. She dreams of her father’s work site, where she is looking for caterpillars (which she keeps in a jar at home, waiting for them to turn into butterflies); she constructs her own scaled-down world in a glass room in the garden. More interested in swimming than schoolwork, Nina’s rebellious attitude is more and more visible, borne of her parents’ prolonged tension. While each parent blames the other, Nina is more and more depressed and aggressive.

Lehotsky traces the emotional consequences of divorce for the child: having to move between two houses, wondering which of her parents will pay for her swimming class, her mother’s mood swings and control hysteria. After her father has an accident while she is in the car with him, Nina’s mother forbids her to see him and eventually stops her from taking swimming classes too.

The 82-minute drama doesn’t stop here, however. The climax comes when Nina finally decides to run away, leaving her mother in the car and running. Predictable as the film remains, however, cinematographer Tobias Potocny’s work on the outdoor scenes is remarkable, so is the acting of Nováková in her first role.

Nominated for the East of West Award at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Nina is the third film by Lehotsky, whose debut was the documentary Blind Loves (2008), followed by Miracle (2013).


Fault Condition

Romanian filmmaker Catalin Saizescu’s Fault Condition is the third feature by Romanian filmmaker Catalin Saizescu, the 41-year-old son of the famous Romanian director Geo Saizescu. It is based on a real event that took place in 2010: the fire at the intensive neonatology care unit of the Giulesti Maternity Hospital in Bucharest.

The film opens with an interrogation of the electricity supervisor of the hospital, through which the messy situation in which corruption and negligence make everyone innocent and guilty at the same time begins to show.

The fire is an occasion to tell the story of a teenage couple, Emi and Melania, who at 15 is pregnant with Emi’s baby. Emi and Melania’s mothers — who both work at the girl’s school, with Emi’s mother being Melania’s mother’s boss — agree not to tell Emi about the baby and give it up for adoption as soon as it is born. Eventually Emi’s mother decides to sell the baby, keeping Melania’s mother quiet by threatening to fire her. Here as in the hospital fire, the poverty and nastiness of an oppressive, bureaucracy-ridden society are shocking.

The editing brilliantly serves the drama, with the interrogations intercutting the action as we move from Melania’s story to the predicament of the nurse who becomes the scapegoat. Emi finally finds out about Melaina’s pregnancy while she is giving birth at that hospital, and so discovers his mother’s lies. In an explicit scene, a little too obvious to be effective, is the interrogation of the hospital’s general manager, who gives a speech about Romania’s problems — the whole system — in which no individual should really be blamed.

Saizescu, an actor and producer as well as a director, made two films before Fault Condition, which received the Golden Goblet Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement at Shanghai International Film Festival: Secretul reginal Cleaopatra (2002) and Millionari de weekend (2004).


Croatian filmmaker Hana Jusic’s Quit Staring at My Plate tells the story of a 24-year-old girl, Marijana (Mia Petricevic), who lives with her controlling, patriarchal father Lazo (Zlatko Buric), her mother Vjera (Arijana Culina) and her mentally impaired brother Zoran (Niksa Butijer). Already arguably dysfunctional, the family has gone on a downward spiral since Lazo had a stroke.

Marijana, while working in a medical lab, looks after her father, changing his diapers and feeding him. She is the only breadwinner, while the mother, who is freed by her husband’s stroke, is cold and selfish, and the brother does nothing but eat. The film relies on the collective meal scenes to demonstrate tension: Lazo hitting Marijana with a towel, or family members eating each other’s food.

Her privacy invaded by her mother who has started to sleep next to her since Lazo’s stroke and her brother who sleeps in the same room in his underwear due to the heat wave, Marijana is nonetheless on a journey of self-discovery. Taking an extra job cleaning houses, she meets new people and starts wild sexual affairs with strangers. Vjera, for her part, enjoys her time on the beach.

Despite the unbearable situation in the house and contrary to expectations Marijana does not leave, however. Even when her mother kicks her out after she catches her having sex with strangers, she returns to collect her things and leave them money.

Quit Staring at My Plate is the second feature by Jusic, whose debut was Transmania (2016). The film received Best Actress Award at the Bratislava International Film Festival, the Best Director Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, a Special Mention at the Sofia International Film Festival, the Festival Award at the Nordic International Film Festival as well as the Prize of the International Critics’ Jury at the Palic Film Festival.



English director Rebekah Fortune’s sophomore feature after Deadly Intent (2016), Just Charlie — another collaboration with screenwriter Peter Machen — is based on her short film Something Blue (2011).

Charlie (Harry Gilby) is a young teenager with a promising football career ahead of him, and he has the enthusiastic support of his father Paul Lyndsay (Scott Williams), who doesn’t want him to end up with a dead-end factory job like himself. When he’s offered a profitable contract, therefore, Paul can’t understand why Charlie is not excited.

Charlie develops a strange attitude, wearing clothes belonging to his sister (Elinor Machen-Fortune), and what has been denied for years slowly makes itself felt: Charlie is a transgender woman in the making. The drama peaks when Charlie is taken to the emergency room after trying to remove his genitals. It is then that supported by her mother Susan (Patricia Potter) and her sister, Charlie starts to face the world as a girl, planning to join the girls football team and dressing as a girl in public.

The first day is the hardest. People give Charlie looks and her former best friend makes fun of her as she tests the community’s capacity for tolerance. Her own father cannot accept Charlie as a girl, and the tension is such Susan asks him to leave. Charlie’s grandmother too writes, saying she never wants to see Charlie again.

The young boy Gilby’s acting is phenomenal. He brilliantly conveys the feelings of a young and confused girl trapped in a boy’s body. The film won the Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Golden Slipper Award at Zlin Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Best British Independent Film Award.

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