Monday, 16 October 2017

LFF 2017 | #2

“I’ve seen ages come and go.” In Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, men live forever and grudges do too. Children avenge their parents. Brothers avenge their sisters. And men take revenge on the grandchildren of those who wronged their grandparents. An unending cycle of violence that reverberates through generations. Rin, a young girl whose parents are killed by a marauding clan of violent swordsmen, searches for a supposedly immortal warrior, Manji, to help her in her quest to avenge them. Eternal life is a curse. He can only dwell on his endless history: the murder of his sister and the hundred men he killed to avenge her. He’s the past, the present, and the future; an undying symbol of a stagnant age of eye-for-an-eye violence, the damage of which can only be viewed in retrospect and is doomed to ceaselessly repeat itself. And so it does. These swordsmen, attempting to overwrite all traditional values in Japan with their modern philosophies and destroy anyone who stands in their way, believe in fighting one on one, presenting a succession of tiring and tiresome enemies for Manji to overcome, his immortality rendering them all meaningless. There are no consequences for him. There’s no mortality. No winning, no losing. Just the gruelling and endless trudge of battle as a vessel for a young girl’s revenge, and a longing for a death that can never come. And when an opportunity for revenge arises, she’s not the only one seeking it — so then what? Ages come and go. Nothing changes. The only conclusion for a society governed by a code of vengeance is total annihilation. A pile of bodies. A river of blood.

In Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minute, the Seine is blood-red and flows endlessly through Paris. The AIDS epidemic is at its peak, and activist group ACT UP are fighting for greater societal, political and medical understanding and investment in the disease, its causes, and the urgent need for treatment. Campillo, a self-proclaimed “ACT UP militant” in the 1990s, takes us to the heart of the organisation, showing us everything. The weekly meetings held in a nondescript lecture hall, in which any orders of business relating to the group, be it the media reaction to past acts, the planning of future ones, developing slogans to best communicate their messages, or testimonials to members who have died, are discussed, heard, debated and analysed in detail. The actions themselves, like storming the offices of a pharmaceutical company to cover the walls in fake blood, performing at pride festivals, and handing out condoms and safe-sex leaflets in schools. And people’s lives: living, loving, being in love, and the devastating impact of this disease on these lives and on all the lives we don’t see. People are dying from this epidemic and nobody with the power to do anything about it seems to care. “Our friends are dying. We don’t want to die too.” An urgent and vital fight for life. It’s too late for some but they fight anyway. Life is worth fighting for. “Parade my body through the streets.” A man dies and his ashes are wielded as a political weapon. Make them notice. Make them care. Be visible. Fight for life and the river will run blue again. We’re dancing. We’re alive.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

LFF 2017 | #1

Us against the world. In Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time, two white guys, Connie and his brother Nick, dress up as black men to rob a bank. Connie is in charge while Nick, who is mentally handicapped and reliant on his brother, is there for support. “Do you think I could have done that without you next to me, being strong?” For better and worse, Connie is the single loving presence in Nick’s life. But he makes mistakes. He asserts dominance without ever having control of a situation. If he covers nine angles, he’s missed the tenth. A bank worker leaves the room to fill a bag with cash, as instructed, during which time Connie loses sight of her and has no idea what she’s doing. He takes the money without question and his world falls apart. Connie has to raise $10,000 to bail his vulnerable brother out of Rikers Island — “he could get killed in there”. There’s no time to think. All he can do is act: desperately, cunningly, sickeningly; and out of love. An elderly black woman caring for her ill husband and 16 year old granddaughter, his fragile girlfriend with access to her mother’s credit cards, a guy on parole with a hidden stash of LSD that’ll pay the bail if they can find it and sell it, a black security guard working nights at an amusement park. All of whom he manipulates, be it emotionally or physically, into helping him. He traps them and forces them to become part of his scheme, before abandoning them when they’ve served their purpose. Collateral damage, no regrets. Victims of a system rigged against them from the start, and a system Connie never has to think about. A damned man, he has the luxury of being able to act without consequence. He’s the king of an ugly world, if only for a moment, and everyone beneath him is expected to fall in line without question.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Season in France views a similarly ugly system from the other side, as Abbas, an ex-schoolteacher from the war-torn Central African Republic, seeks asylum in France with both his brother Etienne and his two young children. Abbas sells fruit and veg at a market stall while Etienne, a philosophy lecturer at home, works as a minimarket doorman and lives in a shack under a bridge. Left in limbo by the bureaucracy of the asylum process and unable to make use of their skills, their lives are in a constant state of flux, left to wait for some kind of permanence that that never seems to come. As Abbas and a large crowd gather to learn if their asylum applications have been granted, a white Government official strides through the waiting room to place two sheets of paper on a noticeboard before leaving through a back door. Guards control the desperate crowd, only letting a few people in at a time to learn whether they’ll be forced to leave the country or not. It’s a brutally impersonal way of delivering life changing information necessitated by the sheer volume of people to deal with. But by focusing solely on one family, Haroun makes it personal. This is one of a million stories, and these are all human lives. There’s no end to this. There’s no solution. There’s only endurance and that’s not enough. Not even death is permanent. A cemetery filled with temporary graves, housing the dead for up to five years. Unless a new grave is found, these bodies will be dug up and cremated to make room for new bodies. “We don’t burn the dead at home”. A final insult from a country that doesn’t want them. Us against the world.