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Three memorable films at three international festivals in 2019

  • Published at 03:54 pm January 8th, 2020
The Lighthouse
A scene from The Lighthouse | IMDB

Director Robert Eggers had sent the jury a voice message to express his gratitude to the jury panel

The year 2019 has been more than rewarding in terms of great films screened at notable film festivals. I was lucky to travel to three countries as a juror at some of these remarkable festivals- Cannes Film Festival, International Film Festival of Kerala and Human Rights Film Festival in Nepal. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, we don’t get to experience these films for their sky-high screening fees. So, unless one is willing to make super expensive visits to such festivals, these film reviews will have to suffice for the time being.

Robert Eggers’ surreal anomaly The Lighthouse at Cannes

After his widely acclaimed first feature fiction The Witch (2015), director Eggers is back with another black and white period piece The Lighthouse (2019) that has a supernatural undertone. 

The film follows a worn-out seaman Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and his apprentice Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) in an isolated lighthouse in the 1890s. 

When Winslow arrives at a storm lashed lighthouse in Maine, his new chief, Wake, loads him up with menial work like swabbing the floors or stoking the boiler. Wake insists his taciturn apprentice to keep away from the beacon at the top of the tower. This breeds a resentment in Winslow towards his commander and eventually turns the lantern into a mystical entity in his imagination. 

The lighthouse itself feels like a third prominent character in this film. At one point, it seems as though the wise old lighthouse, in conjunction with the mysterious seagulls, are conspiring to push the seamen to the edge of sanity. 

While Wake is hardly ever fully awake, soaked in rum and melancholy recollections, Winslow initially rejects his offer to have a drink, hinting at his troubled history with substance abuse. After thirteen Christmases at sea, Wake can’t be bothered to dig deeper and like most other dark secrets in the pasts of these two, the Eggers brothers (co-writers Max and Robert Eggers) keep this one unresolved. The secrets weave a net around the stranded islet and the lighthouse keepers feel entombed, especially at the face of depleting rations. 

As Winslow’s hallucinations blurred the lines between reality, dream, and the supernatural, Pattinson delivered what many are calling his career-best performance. Speaking lengthy dialogues in that period dialect throughout the long sequences could not have been an easy job. But both the actors rose to the occasion all the while pulling off physically challenging roles in extremely uncomfortable conditions. 

The film draws inspiration from Moby Dick, The Tempest and German Expressionism among others. It has a movie-tone aspect ratio of classic Hollywood that aids its reliance on portraiture. 

Although The Lighthouse was one of the most talked about films in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival this year, it only took home the Fipresci award. 

Director Robert Eggers had sent the jury a voice message to express his gratitude to the jury panel. 

The director thanked us for this “esteemed honour” calling us “cinema’s heralds.”

“This award is unique,” he said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling to see that one’s work is being understood and recognized by this community of critics. It is your powerful words that helped usher films into the world that otherwise would not find audiences.”He also thanked his “passionate collaborators, from Pattinson and Dafoe to brother Max, the co-write and all the heads of departments that all challenged each other to do better work” than what they thought they were capable of.Amina, My Sister  was screened at Nepal Human Rights Film Festival | Courtesy Rohingya documentary Amina, My Sister at Nepal Human Rights Film Festival

Nepal Human Rights Film Festival focuses on a different theme each year. This year it was Safe, Orderly and Dignified Migration. Every year, a few films from Bangladesh get selected to screen and compete in this festival. But unfortunately, even with the world’s worst migration crisis happening in our back yard, there was no film from Bangladesh. This is not to say that the Rohingya crisis was ignored altogether. 

Amina, My Sister by British filmmaker Patrick Bodenham featured a personal story of a Rohingya family that fled Myanmar to avoid persecution. The film follows the family into the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.   

The director, who worked at BBC’s foreign desk for six years, covering conflicts in Gaza and Myanmar, told Dhaka Tribune Showtime that he recently heard from Amina and is glad to say that she and her family are alive and well and in Kutupalong. 

The director also spent a year in Myanmar during in 2012 when he “strongly felt that news coverage dehumanised Rohingya and distanced international audiences from the scale of the crisis.”

He said the situation inspired him to tell a purely personal story, showing the dignity and strength of Rohingya women and children - the most vulnerable of all in the crisis, deemed by UNHCR as EVI - extremely vulnerable individuals. 

For online release, the director also shot four other short stories of characters briefly seen in the film. Some of them feature testimony of survivors of the Tula Toli massacre. 

“I was profoundly affected by some of the things I saw during this shoot and feel a strong connection to this ongoing issue,” the director said.

A scene from All This Victory | IMDB

Lebanese minimalist war film All This Victory at IFFK

During a 24-hour ceasefire inthe Lebanon war of 2006, Marwan drives to a Southern village in search of his family.His plan was to pick his father up and leave before the ceasefire ends. But some of the neighbours leave with his car and he finds himself stranded at the epicentre of a ghastly war.

Things take a turn for the worse when a group of Israeli soldiers enter the first floor of the house Marwan and a group of strangers took refuge in. With depleting resources and ever-escalating odds, how long can they stay inside the house undiscovered? 

The 93-minutefilm shows the horrors of war from inside this one house. There’s an asthma patient, a woman having her period, a clogged toilet, no water or electricity. To top it off, a hole in the ceiling and the k-9 squad threaten to expose them any minute. The story is built so intricately around this tension line, that there is no dull moment in this feature length single location film. 

Director Ahmad Ghossein, who was present at the International Film Festival of Kerala,said he received no fund from the government, even though the story is about the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War, known in Lebanon as the July War. The director managed the financing by borrowing money and through several independent producers.He saidit was a miracle he could finish the film at all. 

Based on true events faced by some of the director’s relatives, the film was shot entirely on location in Lebanon with a micro budget. 

The film received a lot of praise at the Rotterdam and Venice Film Festivals. But it went empty handed from IFFK, as there were too many good films to choose from. However, its profound storyline and minimalist visualswas applauded equally by the audience and the critics.  

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