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Letters from IFFR #6: Final Thoughts

Dear Inge,

Since this was – as you said – my very first festival, I actually don’t have any screen fatigue. Normally when I watch films to review, I treat it like work and in my spare time often avoid challenging content because I get so worked up about it that I become unable to relax and recharge. Contrary to my expectations, however, the majority of the films I saw at IFFR did not sap my energy but rather invigorate me with newfound passion for the cinematic arts. My only regret, therefore, is that I could not find the time to watch more movies than I did.

I was excited to learn that Pebbles won the Tiger Competition. When I was browsing through trailers from the selection back in December, the film immediately piqued my interest. While this was mostly due to how little it showed, the actual film did not disappoint. Vinothraj P.S.’s directorial debut was, as members of the festival’s grand jury have pointed out, a masterclass in doing more with less. Although I firmly believe that no two films can be judged by the same standards, I also feel that a more ‘marketable’ movie like Riders of Justice – also centered on a parent-child dynamic – could have learned a thing or two from this humble award-winner.

Courtesy of IFFR Press

For this final letter, I also turned towards the shorts: a category that often gets the short end of the stick (no pun intended) but which can be just as well-made and groundbreaking as the features. Notebook editor-in-chief Daniel Kasman favorite film from IFFR was Daïchi Saïto’s experimental film Earthearthearth, a 30-minute-long fever dream created from shots of the Andes Mountains. Intrigued by its appearance atop Kasman’s list, I put it on my laptop only to turn it off again several minutes in.

Courtesy of IFFR Press

My decision had less to do with the quality of the film itself than the conditions I would have had to watch it in. Between my sister Skyping her boyfriend, her boyfriend working in a busy sushi restaurant and their puppy barking (it figured out how to do so a few days ago and hasn’t stopped since), I thought I couldn’t give Earthearthearth the attention it deserves. With dramas, I can handle some distraction. With experimental stuff, I’m afraid to admit I require the peace, quiet and darkness only my local indie theater can offer.

Anyhow, one of the non-experimental shorts I thoroughly enjoyed was Christelle Lheureux’s 80000 ans. In a way, it’s about a young female archeologist who returns to the hometown she once escaped to help out with an important dig. In another, it’s about searching for something that was lost long ago and which may never be regained again. The thing that set this film apart from the other entries is that it tells almost its entire story through a split screen.

Courtesy of IFFR Press

In the hands of a less-talented filmmaker, this would have instantaneously been reduced to a tiring gimmick, yet Lheureux not only knows how it relates to the film’s themes; she also manages to convey this link to the viewer. When the archeologist is asked poorly researched questions about her life’s work by an uninterested journalist-intern, the characters are boxed into their own separate screens. When she reconnects with an old school mate, those screens slowly start to align as she gets closer and closer to finding human connection. But it is not to last. In deep time – after all – nothing really does.

Forgive me for using two oxymorons in a single sentence, but it’s always such a pleasure to see abstract techniques used to communicate concrete emotions. It happens in 80000 ans, and it happens in Mayday – a film that you said you’d write about but didn’t, and which I said I wouldn’t write about but am now going to.

Courtesy of IFFR Press

Karen Cinorre’s latest film arrived late to the IFFR party after coming from Sundance, where it caused quite a stir. Both in story structure and color pallet (heroine in blue), Mayday pays homage to The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, two classic coming-of-age stories about girls who dream of something bigger, are inexplicably transported to an alternate reality, and return whence they came with newfound strength and confidence. Like Oz and Wonderland, the world that protagonist Ana gets sucked into is a twisted reflection of her own – one where men and women are locked in everlasting war and where, in order to survive, she not only has to learn how to defend herself, but fight back.

That about does it for me, Inge. Thank you for writing for me. Each of your letters contained a million interesting ideas, which you worded succinctly and gracefully. The pleasure was all mine, and I sincerely hope we might exchange words again in the future.

As they say in both our countries:

Tot snel,

Tim

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