Mar 3, 2010

Rotterdam comes to BAM

I didn't get the chance to cross the pond last month for the 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam. Damn recession. This irked me to no end, in large part because I regard the festival as the world's most intricately programmed cinematic event, one that invites both traditional crowd pleasers (Slumdog Millionaire screened among the hundreds of titles at last year's affair) and works that stretch the boundaries of cinematic representation in bold and innovative ways (I missed Lav Diaz's 8 hour Melancholia last year, but from those who forged their way through it, I hear it's a trip). The IFFR is an indepensible event of the cinematic calandar and I look forward to making my way to that surprisingly inviting Dutch port city in the future.

Lucky for me and Brooklyn cinephiles in general, BAMCinematek has forged a new partnership with the indelible Dutch film festival of record to screen its Tiger Award competition features as part of an annual program to take place each March. As one of last year's IFFR Young Film Critic Trainees, I had the opportunity and obligation to see all last year's competition films, a group that contained some pleasant surprises, but no real revelations. Still, it was an honor and a privilege to sit on the FIPRESCI jury (even as a junior member with only a partial vote). We ultimately settled on awarding our prize to Edwin's outlandish and subversive Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, a choice which as time passes I'm even more satisfied with than a year ago.

I'm happy to report that Rotterdam@BAM, which begins tonight with a screening of Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio's much lauded Mexican feature Alamar, includes a group very impressive competition films. Although I haven't had the chance to see all of them as I did last year, several among the works I have had a chance to see stick out as the work of incredibly promising new filmmakers.

Set along the beaches of Costa Rican resorts, Paz Fabrega's Cold Water of the Sea shared the Tiger Award with Alamar and Anocha Suwichakornpong's methodical and illusive Mundane History. It is a ravishing and quietly moving little story of the unlikely encounters between a local family that is supported by the tourist economy and a young couple who are staying at the resort within which the family makes a living. Centering on the wayward seven year old daughter of one of the maids and a young, malaise filled woman who wets her bed and fears diabetes, it is a film that contains not a single uninteresting image. Fabrega withholds just enough to keep us off kilter and searching within her frames for clues to these people's lives. While she evokes the stylings of Michaelangelo Antonioni and Lucretia Martel, her unlikely milieu and careful mise en scene lack any sort of familiar derivation. This could have easily devolved into a simple tale of the bored bourgeoise and the watchful underclass, but the picture transcends these expectations and leaves one quietly refreshed and delighted.

Insidiously disturbing and yet almost never less than great fun, Georgian filmmaker Levan Koguashvili's Street Days centers on a middle aged Heroin addict named Checkie (an absolutely brilliant Zura Begalishvili), who spends most of his time trying to score with a small pack of equally ravaged older men in a small Georgian hamlet where everyone knows everyone else's business. A peppier, less formally austere take on the themes of Police, Adjective, Koguashvili's film shows great empathy for this broke and and unskilled junkie and his cohort while reveling in the corruption which grips the town from head to toe. Busted by the cops, Checkie is forced to score heroin for the son of a prominent minister (and his former childhood classmate) in order for the police to shake down the goverment official. The moral conundrum which ensues is handled with great delicacy and much humor, but their is no escaping the sense that this is a diseased place, haunted by the fall of the Soviet Union and the introduction of street capitalism.

Perhaps the most formally challenging film in the competition, Chicago based filmmaker Ben Russell's Let Each One Go Where He May is made up of thirteen shots that each run ten or so minutes. Shot in Suriname, its quiet investigation of the places upon which the international slave trade was formed is built for maximum glide. It's a moving postcard of both the modern and indigenous aspects of that country, a film that asks you to truly take a journey into the past with it in ways that the most ornate historical biopics can only flail at. Make sure to watch it on a full stomach. I'll be on hand for the 2pm Sunday screening to discuss it with director Russell.