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44th Portland International Film Festival (PIFF44): Take 3

Portland International Film Festival, March 5–14, 2021

Faasla (Argentina, India | 2020)

dir. Priya Sen, Nicolás Grandi

(51 mins)

Program notes: "Faasla" (Distance) is a series of video letters composed between Nicolás Grandi in Buenos Aires and Priya Sen in New Delhi, artists and collaborators since 2011. Through the miasmas of uncertainty and the sudden reordering of their days brought on by the global pandemic of 2020, Nicolás and Priya "wrote" to each other of distances and intimacies they could no longer access, of the state of suspended freedoms, of memory, images and sensations. They recorded the present as well as spoke through their archives they had been haphazardly building over the years. The letters have been compiled into a single film - a way of looking at what was then and what is now; and the world still appears continuous despite the cracks of perception.

Faasla akes place from April to October 2020 against a backdrop of pandemic, natural disasters, cyclone, floods, and civil unrest in India.

The program notes will have to speak for this one. I did not find much in it beyond the occasional arresting image or scene, more often in the video of Priya Sen than of Nicolás Grandi. Lines of poetry, sayings of gurus and mystics, and snatches of song provide commentary of sorts.

The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs (India | 2020)

dir. Pushpendra Singh

(99 mins)

Trailer (alas, not a bona fide trailer but a youtube excerpt that is worth watching but does not convey much about the film; it was all I could find)

Program notes: The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs is part allegory, part ethnographic study, and part feminist fairy tale, using the narrative device of local folk songs - seven, to be exact - to describe the protagonist - Laila's inner and outer worlds.

The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs is set in a region of NW India. Laila is proud, fiery, beautiful. Tanvir takes her as his wife in accordance with the customs of their nomad tribe. The marriage is not Leila's choice, but it is the way of things in their world.

She catches the eye of Mushtaq the police officer and Mushtaq's boss, head of the local security forces. Mushtaq convinces his boss that he can arrange an assignation with Leila. In truth his schemes and intrigues are on his own behalf.

Leila messes with Musthtaq and in a way with Tanvir, a decent fellow who considers himself lucky to have a beautiful and faithful wife, but maybe not the brightest ornament on the tree. Mushtaq picks up on it after a time but continues to go along with Leila's proposals in hope that this time, maybe, she will give herself to him. Tanvir never catches on.

Leila asks herself why she is playing this dangerous game and receives no answer.

This one may be almost transcendent, with an ending that calls to mind Pawel Pawllikowki's wonderful Ida.

A Son (France, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia | 2019)

dir. Mehdi M. Barsaoui

(97 mins)


Program notes: A couple’s world collapses when their son is shot, and the father discovers he’s not the boy’s biological parent.

Fares and Meriem are a loving couple devoted to each other and to their eleven-year-old son Aziz. Fares is a business CEO. Meriem was recently promoted to regional HR director. The setting is Tunisia at the time of the Arab Spring. Khadafy's grip on power in neighboring Libya is precarious.

The film opens at a picnic in the countryside. Fares, Meriem, and their friends are obviously of secular inclination. A woman tells an irreverent joke and scoffs at the suggestion that the Islamists might win in the upcoming election. Another friend warns that recent polls show their support at 40 percent.

Fares takes Meriem and Aziz with him for a weekend getaway when he drives to the South to deal with a strike at one of his factories. On the way they are caught in a firefight between rebels and soldiers. Aziz is seriously wounded, his liver severely damaged. Tests done at the hospital to determine which parent would qualify as a donor reveal that Fares is not Aziz's biological parent.

Fares and Meriem are both thrown by the revelation. It seems that each had a brief, meaningless fling early in their relationship. Meriem no more suspected Fares was not the father than he did. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Meriem and her son are different blood types. The transplant would have to come from the biological father. Aziz is nineteen on the list for a liver from a donor. The doctor explains that organ donation is not part of Tunisian culture. Regulations are strict and there are few donors. An organ will not come in time.

Meriem makes frantic efforts to reach the biological father with whom she has had no contact for more than a decade. Fares is approached by a doctor who offers to procure a liver and have the transplant performed at his clinic for a fee. In desperation he agrees. The liver is to come from across the border in Libya. The plan is derailed by intense fighting in the last few days before Khadafy is toppled.

Meriem and Fares are sympathetic characters, not just decent but genuinely good people. Their lives and their relationship are shattered by a revelation that would be difficult under any circumstances, much less when they are already reeling from the possibility that they will lose the son they would do anything to save. What they will be able to do for each other and for themselves is uncertain.

A Son is wrenching and deeply moving. A strong, strong film.

Air Conditioner (Angola | 2020)

dir. Fradique, Nicolás Grandi

(73 mins)


Program notes: When the air-conditioners in the city of Luanda mysteriously began to fall, Matacedo (security guard) and Zezinha (maid) embark on a mission to retrieve the boss’s AC by the end of the day. This mission leads them to Kota Mino’s electrical supply store, which is secretly assembling a complex memory retrieval machine.

Newscasters report speculation that the falling air-conditioners are part of a plot to insert fans into the country, maybe something to do with an accord between Angola and China. There are calls for a new government as the death toll from heat and falling air-conditioners mounts. Mr. Mino's electrical supply store bears some resemblance to the Sanford and Son junk business.

Not sure what to make of this one. There may be social and political undertones I did not pick up fully because I am unfamiliar with conditions in Angola. Credit director Fradique for taking an absurd premise and running with it.

PIFF44: Take 1

PIFF44: Take 2

More anon.

Yr obdt cinephile

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