Friday, December 27, 2013

AIFF 2013: Two Fine Films: De Nieuwe Wereld (The New World) and Hank and Asha

This is a continuation of this post on "What Makes A Good Film?"

My 1's (movies that had me walking out of the theater going 'wow!'):

7 Cajas (7 Boxes)

Die Nieuwe Wereld (The New World)

Hank and Asha

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (明天記得愛上我)

All four of these movies pulled me in so completely that I wasn't watching the movie making - all the technical stuff worked to tell the story, not distracted from the story (either because it was bad or so spectacular that it distracted.)

All four, I left the theater with the feeling of having seen a really good film.

Of the four,  I probably was the least swept away at the moment by The New World.  But it wouldn't let go of me.  Scenes kept coming back to me.  When I saw Hank and Asha I walked out pumped.  What a great film.  But then, I wondered was there enough depth?  Was this just a well made, but light romantic comedy?  The New World seemed more important, but I didn't walk out with the same elation.  Was I just being shallow?

At this point, I think they are both very fine movies.  The New World told a complicated story deceptively simply.  It quietly took us on a tour of two people's broken hearts.  We slowly learn about Mirte and Luc and their similar losses that allowed her to reach out to help him. At the same time helping herself.  On the surface though, it almost seems like a documentary about life at the airport's detention area for asylum seekers waiting for the decision whether they can enter Holland or not.  It's so understated.  Even the colors are muted.  One audience member told me his initial reaction was negative because there was no humor.  But the humor was there.  It was just so quiet.  Like a little dab of yellow in a grey-brown world.  For example - people are coming in the door at the end of the hallway where she's just mopped the floor.  She waves her hands at them to stay on the side - these are immigrants who probably don't speak Dutch.  She makes 'chhhhhh...chhhhhh" sounds at them.  An African stares at her as he walks down the hall.  She again goes, "chhhhhhh. . .chhhhhhhhhh."  He smiles and goes, "chhhhhhh. . .chhhhhhhhhh" back to her as though he were learning to say 'hello' in her language.   It's such intimate cross cultural communications that make this movie so powerful.  Two low level people in a political no-man's land at the airport, but not technically in Holland. In another scene, she catches him staring at her and she waves him off and tells him not to look at her.  He comes up to her and in complete innocence says, "I've never seen a white cleaning woman before."

This is a movie where you have to look closely or you'll think nothing is happening, but it's just happening at a lower volume and slower pace than we're used to in US film.  Slight gestures fill the screen with meaning if you're attuned to them.  When they get to the scene where she's washing the glass wall and he dances on the other side along with her motions it's like an explosion in another movie.

We get glimpses behind the scene in this asylum center - the workers making bets on who's lying, the attorneys trying to find ways to mesh the clients' stories with the specifics of the law, the impossible responsibility of determining if someone is telling the truth.  We see the healing relationship between the mother and her young son.     There's the motor bicycle she rides everywhere.  There's so much.  I was only able to see this film once and I know that a second and third viewing would reveal so much more I didn't see.

Actors Bianca Krijgsman and Issaka Sawadogo were superb.   This was, for me, one of the gems of the festival.

And then I saw Hank and Asha.  This is a feel good movie.  It's a video romance between two strangers, played by actors (Mahira Kakkar and Andrew Pastides) loaded with charm.  It's all told in the videos they - two budding film makers - send back and forth to each other between New York and Prague.  There's no nudity, no sex, no violence, just two well adjusted 20 somethings falling into an unexpected friendship that gets to the edge of something more.  Everything worked for me as they shared their lives with each other via video.  There's nothing heavy here, no imminent deportations, though there is appropriate cultural and parental conflict.  The epistolary film, that uses an exchange of videos rather than letters, is itself a comment on what we have lost as we've moved to instant global communication.   Everything worked for me.  The story, the characters (I never thought of the actors as actors it was so real), the way it was all put together seemed so natural.  We were simply eavesdropping as two people opened their video mail from their new found friend across the Atlantic.

The film makers - James Duff and Julia Morrison - were at the festival and I was able to learn more about the film.  You can see my video with them in Anchorage discussing the film here.  Most surprising was that the two actors only met after the filming was done. In fact Mahira did all her video in ten days in Prague before any of Andrew's video was made.  This speaks well to the scripting, the acting, and the editing.

James and Julia said Hank and Asha will be available on Netflix in April and people should put it on their lists now.  This is the kind of film I feel pretty comfortable recommending - it's hard not to like.  We did see this one twice and it held up nicely the second time.  I saw lots of things I'd missed the first time.

Next, two films that were not in competition because they were special selections - invited films, not submissions.  

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