[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Nervous Translation
Official Selection – International Fiction Feature
Dir. Shireen Seno
The Richter Scale says: If we go by what we see in more commercial films, we would think of childhood as a magical time of life in which everything seems possible, in which we are carefree, and we ignore the harshness of life. This is how adults tend to romanticize the idea of being a “child”, mostly because what we learn as adults is overwhelming. One tends to forget how lonely and confusing it is it to be a child, especially when you’re someone who doesn’t like to talk a lot, who spends most of your time at home trying to understand what’s going around you, in part because you want to know what the parental authorities are up to and in part because you have nothing better to do. This is exactly what Philippine filmmaker Shireen Seno explores in her second feature film. She had already explored the difficulties of growing up in her first film, Big Boy, in which a boy from a Philippine family in the 1950’s is trained to be the perfect model of a man for the family business (thus exploring childhood through the expectations of masculinity). For Nervous Translation, Seno takes us to the second half of the 1980’s, when the Philippines had just come out two decades of dictatorship and entered capitalism, which is why the whole country is as nervous and confused as our lead child.
This lead child is Yael (Jana Agoncillo), an eight-year-old girl who is extremely introverted, so much so that when her family organizes a talent spectacle, she refuses to participate. She lives alone with her mother Val (Angge Santos) who works in a Factory and demands 30 minutes of peace and silence every time she comes home before Yael can interact with her. Yael spends her days looking for ways to entertain herself, treating everything in a cold and calculated way, talking to a friend to help her decipher messages from her father (who lives and Works in Saudi Arabia) that arrive in cassette tapes (messages for Val, but Yael listens to them to hear her father’s voice). This is a film that portrays routines and doesn’t have a plot to speak of (the closest thing to a plot is Yael seeing an ad for a pen that she thinks will help her express herself better, but even that occupies such a small space in the story). The film fills its time observing Yael and her relationship with the few people she interacts with through details such as the fact that Val pays Yael to pluck every grey hair she finds on her head.
The film is a triumph of atmosphere, populating this house with objects that clearly place it at the end of the 1980’s (like tape recorders, video-cassette players, news reports that mention that Ronald Reagan is the current President of the United States), with brown walls that make everything feel mundane, and there are even moments of magic realism that place us inside the mind of this little girl who feels she has maintain a certain order in a life that could crumble without it (we see this in a final sequence that leaves a lot to interpret). Shireen Seno’s interest in exploring childhood seems to be linked to the idea that what we feel when we are children can resurface at any point, and by setting this story at a time in which the country is going through that same uncertainty, populating it with characters that are figuring out what to do with this new “freedom” that comes now that the control from the dictatorship is no longer there (Yael has a musician uncle who has to leave his wild life to create something more comfortable, for example), this film appears to be telling us that we’re never done understanding what we do in life and why. Knowing that can be frightening or liberating.
7-23-2018 – Cinemex Plaza de la Luciérnaga Sala 1 – 16:00 hrs
7-25-2018 – UG Auditorium – 14:00 hrs[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Oblivion Verses
Official Selection – International Fiction Feature
Dir. Alireza Khatami
The Richter Scale says: Oblivion Verse is a story that could be set anywhere. The Best-Foreign-Language-Film winning Hungarian Film Son of Saul touches on a similar topic set in the Holocaust, but this film is shooting for something more abstract and less specific. Set in an unspecified Latin American country (though it was set in Chile, that offers a few clues), the director is Iranian, the main actor is from Spain and the film was made with money from The Netherlands, Germany and France. This is not specifically what makes the story universal, but it does tell us that the universality of this story has a purpose. The story talks about how, when dealing with politics and the machinery that i sour society, what makes us human is usually cast aside and this is where director Alireza Khatami (making his feature film debut) tells us about a man seeks to recover his humanity through an act that will give dignity back to a corpse that wasn’t getting a proper burial.
Spanish actor Juan Margallo plays the caretaker of a morgue whom the director did not give a name. He spends his days at the cemetery and the morgue, receiving the corpses that come in a hearse and guiding the few visitors that come to see tombstones. During an encounter with a man who has come to see a grave, we realize this caretaker has a good memory for everything except names. He tells this man that they were once in the same jail cell and that he had once asked him to write a letter to his wife. We don’t know how much of this story is true, only that the caretaker winds up being called a liar. The government is going to close the morgue to wash its hands of all the people that have been killed illegally and, by chance, there is one body left in the morgue. The body of a young man who was killed in a protest and now, the caretaker will do everything in his power to make sure she gets a proper burial. His attempts to do it legally are a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions, which is why he enlists his Friends, a hearse driver (Manuel Morón) and a gravedigger (Tomás del Estal), to bury the body during a wedding that will keep the bureaucracy busy.
Despite all that plot, the film is slow and meditative, one that’s more interested in exploring the headspace of our main character. The first take is of him sharing his grapes with the gravedigger as the camera moves closer and closer to his face, establishing this as a more personal story (which is ironic, since the caretaker winds up an enigma despite everything we see of him). Adding to the unknowns in the man and the place, we have the enigma of the time, seeing how many of the artifacts used in this bureaucracy (typewriters, mechanical elevators) place this story somewhere in an unspecified past. On top of all that, it touches upon magical realism that is so prevalent in Latin America through dreamlike images, particularly a final image of some whales jumping in the sea, one of them over our protagonist, and the way the bureaucracy is handled in an absurdist tone. It’s something we can all recognize in some way and it becomes a story for anyone who is looking for their humanity in the face of so much that dehumanizes.
7-23-2018 – Cinemex Plaza de la Luciérnaga Sala 1 – 20:00 hrs
7-27-2018 – Juárez Theater – 14:00 hrs[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]