Official Selection International Feature Film
Dir. Nora Fingscheidt
The Richter Scale says: Is there a place in our society for Benni (Helena Zengel)? Do we have a system that can accommodate a girl like her who is a problem for anyone who bumps into her? Benni is 9 years old, is impulsive, hyperactive and very aggressive when she doesn’t get what he wants in the moment she wants it. Therefore, she has jumped from foster home to foster home and from institution to institution where, no matter what they try with her, she winds up kicked out. She wants to go home to her mother Bianca (Lisa Hagmeister), but Bianca is afraid of her own daughter and fears that her two youngest children will end up as troublesome as she is. The agent assigned to her case, Ms. Bafané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide), has hired Micha (Albrecht Schuch), an anger management therapist to be her school companion to watch over her, which seems to work for a time. Benni connects with Micha’s more direct and aggressive way of working, but when Micha realizes that Benni is growing too attached to him and he with her, fearing the consequences of having lost his objectivity, he starts to keep his distance, something that shows the failures in this system that is supposedly taking care of this girl and many like her.
This one is not an easy sit. For anyone who has a low tolerance for children under normal circumstances (whether they are very loud in a park), Benni is going to be a huge challenge. Though she has her tender moments, Helena Zengel never softens how dangerous she is, nor how energetic and rude she is. She does things we are all taught not to do (such as throwing dishes from the table to climb on in and dance, or pissing in the door of a classroom), and does them in such a casual way, as if she doesn’t know she’s breaking a rule (or if she knows, she doesn’t care). The film’s structure is also a challenge, since, instead of following a character arch, it explores how different adults are making progress with Benni at different times, only for something to happen that undoes anything that was achieved and goes back to being the headache with which we’ve been spending this time. The most successful block is in the second act in which Micha decides to take Benni to a cabin without electricity for a few weeks to see how she endures being away from everything. This is where we see how the relationship between these two characters develops.
Director Nora Fingscheidt creates an explosion of energy and colors (dressing Benni up in colors that stand out so much that they feel aggressive, mostly in yellows) that shows us the point of view of this girl who constantly fights with all adults, and yet said adults feel like complex and well-intentioned characters who are frustrated most of the time for not being able to help Benni (particularly Mrs. Bafané, and Gabriela Maria Schmeide stands out in a scene that is one of the few moments we see that Benni, in spite of everything, has a good heart). It is a story that poses many questions about the system that deals with children like these and in the end does not offer an answer (and will even leave several in the audience afraid they’ll have a child like her, or even meet a child like her), but in a world where we are all supposed to take care of each other, they are issues that deserve to be explored.
When I Close my Eyes
Official Selection Documentary Mexico
Dir. Sergio Blanco and Michelle Ibaven
The Richter Scale says: There are movies that do something so important that it feels useless to critique them, since what they do goes beyond how they use film language and how they structure their story. Cinema can be used as a vehicle to bring an injustice to light and make it known to those of us who don’t belong to certain communities and social classes, even if we belong to the country where they happen. Spanish filmmaker Sergio Blanco and Mexican filmmaker Michelle Ibaven bring us a documentary in which they introduce us to Adela García and Marcelino Mejía, a man and a woman from different villages in Oaxaca with different backgrounds and who even speak different languages (she speaks Mazoteco, he speaks Mixtec), but have something in common that makes them the protagonists of this documentary. Both were falsely accused of manslaughter, both were sentenced, neither of them speaks Spanish and both were denied an interpreter during the trial process, which left them not knowing what was being said and what decisions were being made about their lives.
Despite telling the stories of these two people, having no images of the trial process that they can show, the filmmakers highlight this injustice in a very ingenious way. They show us images of the places where these two people come from, of everything that was taken from them when they were sentenced. Images of nature and the countryside where they worked, with very lively sounds and highlighting this beauty, while we hear the voices of Adela and Marcelino, each speaking their own language, and with the use of subtitles that allow the audience to understand what they are saying. In contrast to what we are seeing during the one-hour runtime of this documentary, what they are telling us is horrendous, particularly the torture described by Marcelino when government agents forced a confession out of him through torture, which he only gave because he could not stand the pain (and with the little Spanish he understood) and Adela talking about how her brother-in-law, whom she was accused of murdering, was harassing her in her own home. Thanks to that contrast between what we are seeing and what we are, in our case, reading, the injustice of these stories stands out.
80% of indigenous prisoners were denied an interpreter at their trial. Whatever the reason may have been for this, the right to understand the decisions a judge makes regarding your own life is fundamental. It is what gives you the possibility to defend yourself, to explain your side of the story and to fight against any injustices. Denying someone an interpreter leaves you completely defenseless and that makes the legal system abusive. We live in a country filled with natural wealth, places that everyone would like to visit, but it’s also a country governed by a corruption that tends to stain its reputation before the world, and even before those who live in it. This is only one of many problems in this country, and that is because this is only one of many documentaries that seek to point out a problem in our judicial system. Each of them is important, and they should be promoted and supported.