Films from the South 2017

The 26th films from the South was held in Oslo between November 9-19. As usual we saw a wide spectrum of films from diverse settings and with contemporary global relevance. The genres were also wide ranging from love stories, drama, documentaries and short films

This year´s festival opened with the award winning film «A fantastic woman/Una Mujer Fantastica» by Argentian Chile-based director Sebastián Lelio. Director Lelio has made a series of films about heroic women who face their hardships head on. This film is about Marina who struggles against taboos and hate towards her sexuality. She is a bisexual transgender person living in a conservative catholic society. She works as a waitress and is also a professional Opera singer. When her elderly lover Orlando dies suddenly, she is confronted with mounting grief as well as enmity against her person. Orlando´s familiy is furous with Marina and want to deprive her of any chance of inheritance. Following her partner´s death a bitter fights ensues. However, Marina tries to claim back her past in a dignified way, and she therefore lays claim to the familiy dog she used to know so well. The film shows how problematic it can be for a marginalised person to maintain close relationships, even when losing a love one.

There were many films from Argentina and Chile this year. There were also special focus on Argentian directors Anahi Berneri and Diego Lerman who ahd several films on the screen. One film that stood out to this reviewer was «Neruda». The film about the famous poet Pablo Neruda who lived and worked in both South America and Europe. It is directed by Pablo Larrain who gained international renown and an Oscar nomination last year for his film «Jackie» about Jaqueline Kennedy´s life in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. This film about Pablo Neruda is set in Santiago in 1948. We follow the events and political unrest in Chile as the communist Neruda in Parlament denounces the dictatorial tendencies of the President Gabriel Videla. Neruda is met with charges of civil disobedience and has to go into hiding. He is chased by a shrewd police inspector who´s a principal character in the film. Although not seen in the film, Neruda was forced to seek political asylum in Europe after this witchhunt. There is much entertainment, romance, poetry, dreamy and burlesque scenes. In many ways it´s an art film. Though many of the episodes here about what Pablo Neruda said and did are fictitious, there is also undoubted historic value in this movie.

Asia was represented with a handful of films from Japan, China and India. «Free and Easy» from China was a thought provoking that shows how life in a small deindustrialised town contrasts with the official China of the Metropolis. We meet a hotch potch assembly of characters who all seem to pursue a meaningless yet self centred existence in a small, shabby town in the remote and snowy recesses of North East of China. People her seem both displaced and fixed, eccentric yet unremarkable. Everyone seems in competition with one another for petty, daily gains. Everyone are a bit crookish. It seems when the big Industry left this part of the country everyone were reduced to placid hustling and hankering. The town with its derelict houses is covered in snow seeming to underline the coldness of this small society at large. The film centers upon the arrival of a stranger who pretends to be a soap salesman. But then a murder takes place. The murder shakes people up, they are afraid and confused. Suddenly they start seeking each other´s help and friendship rather than pursuing a meaningless egotism and by-stander like connivance. With the help of comedy and absurd drama the film seems to underline major social challenges in the desolate and low economic activity areas of today´s China.

Among African films there were several good ones among others from Nigeria, Kenya and Gambia. Nigeria has become a major film producing country leading to the coined phrase «Nollywood». «Taxi driver: Oko Ashewo» is a main stream Nigerian action movie by debutant director Daniel Oriahi. The films is about a countryboy who moves to the bustlig capital Lagos after his fathers death. His father used to drive a taxi and the main character now seeks to take over this job. However, the contrast between the peaceful, simple country life and the big city could not have been greater. Just having started driving around Lagos, gets caught up with gangsters and crooks who seek him out as a chauffeur. He is more or less forced into the role as private driver for a high earning call girl. The film shows a rampant underworld and lawlessness in one the Africa´s most booming capitals.

A notable documentary this year was «An Insignificant Man» by writer and filmmaker Khusboo Ranka. The film is about corruption in present day India, and what can be done about it. The insignificant man is Arvind Kejriwal who started the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party (Common Man´s Party) in India in 2012. Kejriwal used to be a tax intendant but eventually had enough of the rampant corruption that festers in every nook and corner in Indian society. He first was part of the movement India against Corruption that had many large scale demonstrations in India in 2010/11. The movement´s surge led him to political action. Kejriwal embarked upon establishing the political party Aam Admi. His party made international headlines in 2015 when they won a sweeping 67 out of 70 seats in the New Delhi state election. Kejriwal became Chief minister of Delhi. The film follows Kejriwal in his daily fight to conslidate and win support for his anti-corruption policy locally in India.

Another interesting documentary «Insha´Allah Democracy» is about India´s arch rival Pakistan. The film questions how democratic Pakistan really is. The film´s director Mohammed Naqvi is a young man who is eligble for his first time vote in an election. He thereby sets out on a mission to find a responsible politician he can vote for. The film has been made over a four year period and the observations in it are extensive. He has gained access to and met with many high profile Pakistani politicians. However, the director´s search seems fruitless as his varoius talks with show them to have vested interests and shady records. In short, they all appear as untrustworthy. A special focus in the film is a scrutiny of and talks with former prime minister and general Pervez Musharraf. He was a leader who showed blatant disregard for democracy, even suspending it. The film makes the question arise whether a true democracy is possible in today´s Pakistan.

Other notable documentaries were «Last men in Aleppo». It shows how life goes on among devestation and death after the catastrofal siege in the ongoing Syria war. We follow three syrian youths who volunteer as human aid workers and work in the ruined city amid bomb attacks and building collapses. The film is directed by Syrian born Feras Fayyad who lives in Denmark currently. The film was awarded the Jury´s Award on this years Sundance festival for independent movies. «76 minutes and 15 seconds with Abbas Kiarostami» about the late and renowned director from Iran. Kiarostami passed away last year and was then given a special presentation on Films from the South with five of his films. The documentary gives an intimate portrait of Kiaorstami. The footage comes from director Seifollaf Samadian who was camera man on several of Kiarostami´s films.

- Lara Egedal