June 6, 2017

“The Way to Paradise” block of the Fiction & Documentary competition, screened on June 4, dealt with two families, a village and a band of girls looking for their own versions of paradise.

The opening film of the block had its world premiere at VIS. Livorno 32 by Israeli filmmaker Miki Polonski is a story about a son, torn between mundane life with his mother and a slightly criminal existence that his father is dragging him into. The rigorously constructed film starts with the sight of an apartment building, shot in a way that allows us to peek into the lives of the tenants. After that, the film allows itself the liberty to only three more shots and one camera movement, but this suffices to reveal an ultimately autobiographical experience. As the director explained after the screening, the actors are his real parents and the house is really where he used to live, he just slightly changed what had happened.

A rare African film in the programme, a co-production between Mozambique and Portugal, transcends the boundaries between forms and hence might confuse audiences. Nyo Vweta Nafta is shot like a fiction film but provides a documentary portrait of the life in the Mozambican province Inhambane, which earned director Ico Costa the best short film award at this year´s Cinéma du Réel. In a 16mm coverage, we receive a cross section of the thoughts and desires that inhabit the city: relationships and fantasies about a mutual future, bragging among male peers and attempts to prove it with the opposite sex, discussions about Portugal’s role in its former colony, as well as working conditions at home and abroad. Everybody wants a better life, like the rapper recording verses of his struggles. But most likely nothing will change and they will continue to climb the local tree to pick coconuts instead of working in a skyscraper.

The French production Dreaming of Baltimore moves the focus to another hopeless neighbourhood, a banlieue somewhere in France. Lola Quivoron builds the story around Akro, who finds consolation only in riding dirt bikes with his friends. When he has to return home to repair his bike, he encounters his younger brother, helpless in the company of the drunken father. So Akro proves once again the proverbial gentle heart beneath a chitinous shell and takes over the responsibilities of a father. A tender film without many surprises, except in its very calm, uneventful storytelling, it deals with life on the edge of the modern European society and the small joys one has to have to survive such a harsh reality.

In comparison to that, the last film of this selection could hardly be less conventional. Japanese director Nagahisa Makoto’s And so We put Goldfish in the Pool is on a sweeping run on the festival circuit and already won accolades in Sundance, Clermont-Ferrand and Tampere. Divided into chapters, it follows a group of schoolgirls longing for love and fun, eager to make their lives in a boring small town more colourful.  The director manages to produce an impressively vibrant, vivid film by constantly changing the pace and the tone, applying a variety of bold camera angles, using fast cutting techniques, enhancing the narrative with video aesthetics and similar interventions. We are constantly entertained by a plethora of ludicrous ideas, up to the point where we do not mind that the main plot point is revealed already in the title. In its core, it is pure cinema and could even be considered as study material to show people what is nowadays possible to achieve with the medium.

Although it ended on a somewhat frivolous note, the four films turned out to be a bleak playlist. Of course we can’t compare the social circumstances in Israeli and French suburbs or Mozambican and Japanese small towns. And yet, all the protagonists know that, realistically, there is no brighter future for them on the horizon.

Miha Veinger