ThePingOfPong

Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Tag: European film festival

DAY 14: AN ANIMATED END

An Epic love story for Adults

Now that’s how you end a film festival!

Give the audience something to applaud. A sense of witnessing something momentous, an idea of being part of an epic journey, characters to root for: Give them the dandy Chico; give them the beautiful and feisty Rita. Give the audience the sensuous, quasi-erotic animated feature, Chico and Rita. The final film at the European Film Festival, Spain’s Chico and Rita is a love story set in Cuba and America. The film follows the on and off relationship of a couple— the eponymous characters. Their love story is told from 1948 through to present day. Chico, a pianist, meets the beautiful singer, Rita; through the help of his friend, Ramon, he convinces her to enter for a music competition with him which they win. A romance blossoms, but between a rich businessman, Ron who intends to make Rita a solo star and Chico’s cantankerous ex-girlfriend, Juanita they are separated as Rita is taken away to America, while Chico stays back in Cuba, depressed. He finds a way to America and an unlikely second phase of the romance begins, and abruptly ends when he is deported. But Cuba has changed. The little matter of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution places an embargo on the public performance of jazz— branded as imperialistic. So an older Chico abandons music and spends his days shoe shining, which is the point at which we meet him, as the film proceeds to tell his story in flashbacks. Nominated at the 84th Academy Awards in the Best Animation category, the most arresting quality of Chico and Rita is its unselfconsciousness— an attribute it shares with eventual winner, Gore Verbinski’s Rango. The film handles its unconventional traits with confidence: animated feature length pictures, (probably due to its historical affiliation with children,) do not show material that can be interpreted as erotic but Chico and Rita not only shows the breasts, nipples­ and the pubic hair of a woman during and after sex, but handles it like these are just another detail on a prop.  The manner of the animation is similar to those drawings you find on Calypso drinks evoking the Caribbean, which is at first disconcerting to the eye used to conventional animation but it soon settles, giving the love story at its center attention. The music propels and is a side story- the history of jazz music, its growth, its Cuban music influences and its restriction by politics is a subplot and a beautiful soundtrack that can stand on its own. Jazz enthusiasts will find it a great pleasure. Political history also runs through it: racism in America and Hollywood— Rita is bristled when a woman mentions the risk in featuring a black Latino as lead in a Hollywood feature, her career comes to an end when she speaks about racism in public; Chico is easily deported on drug charges; Chico’s benefactor is shot in an American bar when a drug transaction goes awry. But all of these are glossed over, Chico and Rita is a love story first and most importantly. Chico and Rita recalls that other famous fictional romance— that between Ricky and Ilsa in 1942’s Casablanca and the song Rita/Lily is as pivotal to the former film as As Time Goes By was to the latter; and often the character Ramon has lines that suggest he is a stand-in for Rick’s friend, the pianist Sam. That is perhaps a coincidence and not a drawback. If there is any detraction, it will have to be that the concluding half of the film does live up to the earlier, heady moments of the film. And while, Chico and Rita was definitely not the best of the screened films at this year’s festival, it did have sufficient charm to induce applause at the last kiss, suggesting that as far as cinematic crowd-pleasers go, it sufficed.

PS: This entry concludes the ping’s review cum coverage of the fifth edition of the European Film Festival, held in Abuja from May 10th to 23rd. 
As previously stated, some of the reviews have been carried in the Guardian and Thisday newspapers.
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DAY 13: FOOTBALL AND OTHER ROMANCES

 

 

The second and final Serbian film at the European Film Festival, Montevideo: I Love You, chronicles the formation of the Serbian team sent to the 1930 World Cup.

Told from the point of view of a young disabled shoe shiner, the film’s central relationship is that between the the poor Tirnanic and the already famous Mosha. After some initial squabbles, they become friends when they both are selected to play for the national team. It is a friendship that is troubled by two women: new arrival Rosa and the enchantress Valeria. Nevertheless, the country is the lead character in this highly patriotic tale.

The actors are admirable football players, one can easily see the Hollywood version of this film featuring body doubles and computer generated images for the on-field scenes. Thankfully, we are spared brutish visual effects and given an often grey but beautiful picture in which the period details appear accurate.

There is just the little problem of the manner of recollections: how is it possible that the kid narrator will be privy to the bedroom encounters of the central characters?

Agreed, it is a technical problem that will not matter a jot when a lump of patriotism is caught in your like I assume will be the case of Serbians. Nigerians will enjoy the football, football politics and amusing dialogue. The patriotism? Not so much.

The film ends before the actual tournament, which might be a torment for some. But there is hope in sight: a sequel is in the works.

DAY 13: A CLASSROOM MELODRAMA

 

The song, We shall overcome in Nigeria indicates a cry for solidarity during protests against the establishment. In Drommen (We Shall Overcome), the second and final Denmark film at the European Film Festival, the establishment is a headmaster, Lindum-Svendsen, whose disciplinary methods borders on the sadistic, but who will probably fit right into the Nigerian system of corporal punishment. The year is 1969 and a law against such punishment is already in place but change is slow in coming. A student, Frits, lured to spy on the female bathroom is apprehended by Lindum-Svendsen and his ear twisted so hard he requires stitches. Buoyed by the speeches of Martin Luther King Jnr, Frits, and his parents decide to challenge the establishment as symbolized by the headmaster.

Frits (Janus Dissing Rathke), is a brooding type and appears to be too introspective for his age. A friend asks him, “Why are you so weird?” He becomes friendly with a young hippie quasi-teacher, who plans to rid the system of the old as represented by Lindum-Svendsen but also relies on the man’s approval to become a full teacher as he says: “If I don’t pass, I can’t change anything”

There is also the small matter of Frits’ father’s psychiatric history and his mother is the school nurse.

These details make Drommen is a heartwarming tale with elements of a coming-of-age story and an underdog tale. So it is an achievement that the film does not get stuck in the sentimentality that characterizes this particular subgenre. The only detail may be the simplistic view of Lindum-Svendsen as a caricature without redeeming qualities.

It is bound to make Nigerian teachers cringe. But students will jump for joy.

DAY 12: A HUNDRED GOOD INTENTIONS

Good intentions, questionable execution

 

The opening scene of Cento Chiodi (One Hundred Nails) is strongly reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. A library caretaker’s screams are heard as he calls the police. Inside the library, precious manuscripts have been nailed to the floor using nails not unlike those used for the Crucifixion. Investigations point to a young professor; who flees, fakes a suicide and comes to reside among the rural dwellers living by the River Po. His grouse appears to be mankind has neglected human relationships for the knowledge that comes from books, as he says: “There is more truth in a single caress than in the pages of all these books.”

That first scene is merely a clever decoy for a film that is unabashedly religious: this professor is said to look like Jesus— a  villager asks, “Who took Christ off the cross?”; he recites Biblical passages to the villagers and is eventually looked upon as a saviour when the government, in Fashola style, decides to bulldoze illegal structures.

Almost painfully slow, One Hundred Nails requires the frankly majestic cinematography to keep the audience interested and the script is obviously a little more than a vehicle to drive director Ermanno Olmi’s ideas. Several minutes pass without any action, without dialogue and sometimes even without a character onscreen. Consequently, the film drags but is rescued by the compelling presence of Raz Degan who plays the professor cum Christ-like figure. The rural dwellers are very competently played too and the relationship that develops between the bakery girl and the professor, though apparently platonic (in keeping with the Christian symbolism) is based on genuine chemistry.

The brief arguments are compelling but the overall message is fuzzy. Is Olmi saying Christ will vandalise books to prove a point? Somehow, I do not think so.

If this were a Nigerian film, despite the good intentions, it will not be unimaginable that this will have ‘Blasphemy’ as a label.

DAY 11: REIMAGINING SANTA CLAUS

 

There are a few things people from a different culture have to know about the Finnish idea of  Father Christmas, to get an understanding of Rare Exports, the Finnish film at the European Film Festival, one of these is, Santa Claus does not reside in the North Pole; he lives in the Korvanturi Mountains in the snowy regions of Finland.

The film opens with two children spying on some archaeological researchers digging into these mountains. The researchers come across a strange material and are then informed the mountain is really a tomb enclosing that most famous Christmas character, Santa Claus. Worried about his dad finding out his mischief, Pietari, reads up on Christmas tradition discovering that Santa is actually a demonic being, that comes bearing whips and cauldrons for misbehaving children. Frustrated by his antics, the ancient locals chased him out and entombed him in ice, which eventually became the Korvanturi Mountains. Yes, the real Santa harms naughty kids; if he fails to come to your doorstep or through your chimney be grateful. As a frightened Pietari later tells his unbelieving friend, “The Coca-Cola Santa is a hoax.”

Now, years later that burial, and barely days to the 25th of December, the real Santa is about to resurrect with help from his elves- old naked men with farming implements- who steal heat producing devices to help hasten the defrosting of Santa in time for his usual Christmas rendezvous. But the English speaking ‘researchers-’ in pure capitalist style- intend to make money off him by selling the original Santa to the public. Both plans clash and in a Macauley Culkin-as-Kevin in Home Alone manner, the kid will have to hatch and execute clever plans to save the day.

At once scary, intense and grimly funny, Rare Exports is a extremely original take on the Christmas horror subgenre. In putting a child at the centre of its plot and reinventing a popular myth, it readily brings to mind that other Scandinavian horror treat, Let the Right One In. Like that film the visual style is as stunning as to suggest a Hollywood blockbuster capturing the snowy landscape in its wide panning and grand sweeps of scenery.

Thematically, one may argue that the film is anti-capitalist and against the commercialization of Christmas. But by depicting Santa as evil, Jalmari Helander just might have added to the debate about the pagan origins of Christmas…

In its concluding act, the film deviates from its somber, dark tone perhaps to reassure families- the first half of the film can be unnerving for children; Rare Exports becomes half clever, selling its legitimate claim to being a greatly original thriller short, but luckily, still it retains enough power on the way to the final scene which holds the meaning of its weird title.

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