Los Angeles Film Festival, Entry 2

More from the Los Angeles Film Festival:


Copacabana

When Argentine filmmaker Martin Rejtman was asked by a television station to document a large community event, he settled on something he knew little about–a Bolivian music festival in Buenos Aires, and its surrounding immigrant culture. A filmmaker noted for his highly scripted fictional features, Rejtman approached the task with an entirely new conceit: look, listen, learn, record intuitively, and discover a form later.

The resulting film is a wide-eyed exploration of the Bolivian experience that seems like a traditional documentary turned inside out. Beginning with the Nuestra SeÒora de Copacabana festival, moving into its rehearsals, and finally recording the immigrants when they first enter the country, the structure is one of peeling back and digging inward, from the outward expression of a community to finding its initial beginnings. (In the Q&A after the film, Rejtman remarked that he wanted to begin with the festival performance, but then “get rid of it” as soon as possible, exploring beyond the cultural surface.)

Some early long, tracking shots of congested sidewalks, and much of the film’s unnarrated, static shots within the community reminded me strongly of Chantal Akerman‘s studies of transitionary people, and Rejtman maps much of the same territory for his city. In one of the early songs, lyrics merrily intone “You are worth only what you own,” a phrase that haunts the final section of the film, when Argentine border security ruffles through knapsacks, shoes, coffee cups, and articles of clothing carried by hand into the country. With little to say but much to impart, the film is a revealing investigation.


Ad Lib Night

Outside of the work of Hong Sang-soo, Korean cinema is so often predicated on melodrama, it’s highly refreshing to see Lee Yoon-ki’s latest–a quiet chamber piece revolving around a dying man and the squabbling family in his home, and a mysterious woman who agrees to impersonate his runaway daughter. (The man’s vision and consciousness is failing, after all.)

As a portrait of modern familial dysfunction (not unlike a Korean Secrets & Lies), I much prefer this to the shrill antics of, say, The Host; granted, the two films represent different genres, but Lee finds a great deal of nuance in his set-up, posing questions about identity, responsibility, separation, and connection in the context of the social chaos that surrounds death. The central parts of the film are striking in their tangential beauty: the impersonator, Myeong-eun, soon discovers she hasn’t much to do, and spends a lot of time alone in a guest room (the missing daughter’s, of course) contemplating her relationship to the situation, and going for a midnight stroll that ignites memories within another family member she meets.

Ostensibly serving as an emotional catalyst for others, it’s not until the final act that Myeong-eun begins to suggest her own needs and desires, and Lee concludes the film with a gentle recontextualization that underscores her perspective. Reportedly shot in ten days and–true to its title–incorporating improvisational acting, the film is a compelling and thoughtful reflection on modern family dynamics.


Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation

As exciting as it has been to observe the belated praise of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) this year, I wonder if that film’s revival might throw off receptions to Burnett’s latest film, a far remove from Sheep‘s documentary lyricism. Gorgeously lensed in widescreen and shot on location in Namibia with an elegant, sepia-toned palette, it’s a mainstream historical epic (financed by the Namibian government) that tries hard to cram 60 years of history in less than three hours. The central character is Sam Nujoma (Carl Lumbly), the leader of Namibia’s fight for independence from South Africa’s illegal apartheid occupation and the superpowers that perpetuated it.

Burnett obviously cares about the historical and political information he’s conveying–virtually every scene makes interesting points about black independence–but the film becomes so exposition heavy, with its bevy of dates, names, and places, that it begins to feel as though it might have been better suited as a miniseries for the History Channel; the film as a whole lacks the emotional momentum of similar African history films like Sankofa, Lumumba, or even Burnett’s own Nightjohn, choosing instead to emphasize United Nations meetings, underground activities, and a string of battles. There is much to appreciate here–commentary on UN negotiations, the occupation/terrorism dialectic, a portrait of history emphasizing widespread sacrifice as much as individual heroism–but significant pruning may have sharpened its bite.

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