The (almost entirely) digital edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs through Oct. 31. See our FNC 2020 program highlights here.
A tender family drama, Moving On begins as a father and his two children pack up into a van. They’re moving into their grandfather’s home. He was recently hospitalized, and by the time he’s released, his family has already settled. Grandpa says little and doesn’t betray any feelings about the new arrangement.
Moving from a cramped apartment into a house gives the family’s eldest, the teenage Okju (Choi Jung-woon), new opportunities. She seizes her own room, at least temporarily, and makes progress with her crush. The new environment allows her to forge new paths and set up previously impossible boundaries. Her coming of age is slow, marked heavily by uncertainty rather than significant events. The entire film unfolds in these small interactions that might easily be overlooked in a more grandiose film, but represent the intersecting struggles of class and gender difference. The humiliations the family suffers are small but near-constant. As the father, a single dad searches for dignity; he must balance the weight of his own dad’s legacy and the expanding consumer dreams of his children.
While a relatively soft and tender slice-of-life film, it has its share of bitterness. The film does not shy away from its character’s flaws or failures. Often pressed by circumstance to make difficult decisions to guarantee a more comfortable future, the movie remains rooted in a reality where characters must sacrifice family and spiritual health to ensure survival. (Justine Smith)
The Dubrovka theatre hostage crisis has already, it seems, sort of fallen by the wayside in the West, trumped by hundreds of tragedies that have happened since. The gist of it is this: Chechen insurgents stormed the theatre to demand the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya, holding roughly 900 people hostage for four days. The siege finally came to an end when Russian authorities pumped the theatre full of gas, resulting in the death of all of the insurgents and nearly 200 hostages. It’s easy to imagine what the Americanized fictionalization of this might look like: a sparse tragedy in the 22 July mould or a cracking thriller in the Hotel Mumbai vein. Ivan I. Tverdovskiy’s Conference is none of those. Not a single gun is seen in the film and, in fact, not a single frame of it is dedicated to recreating the hostage crisis.
Instead, the film follows Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova), a nun who returns to Moscow with plans of commemorating the most recent anniversary of the tragedy. As it turns out, Natasha wasn’t always a nun — it’s a direct reaction to the horror of the events, which her daughter (now grown) and husband (now bed-ridden and practically catatonic) were also witness to. Natasha is hell-bent on making sure that no one forgets what happened that day. She invites survivors to a “conference” in the very theatre where it happened, an event with a rather paltry turnout that nevertheless turns into a long confessional in which the survivors painstakingly recall their memories from that night.
There’s something nakedly academic about the proceedings. It’s not just avoiding the unnecessary dramatization and “gamification,” so to speak, of an unspeakable tragedy, it’s straight-up turning it into a conference. The result is perhaps closer to a stark theatre piece bookended by more traditional storytelling elements. As someone who can often be put off by the more craven attempts at making films out of tragedies, I have to admit that this approach, while undeniably a sobering experience, is definitely a more interesting and formally daring experience than one is used to with a story like this. The bookends (which depend on a “twist” that’s easy to see coming from a mile away) feel a little melodramatic in comparison, but Conference is a gamble that mostly pays off. (Alex Rose)
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper’s brutal but poignant Out of the Blue was first released in 1980. The new restoration that came out in 2019 and is screening at FNC this year is the first significant opportunity since the film’s release for a wide audience to watch his angry masterpiece.
Out of the Blue begins with one of the darkest moments in film history — a father behind the wheel of his truck drinking, distracted by his prepubescent daughter. There’s a moment they kiss on the mouth, which gives pause but is quickly forgotten. Distracted and drunk, he hits a school bus. Later on, we learn that several children died.
The film centres on the perspective of Cebe (an incredible Linda Manz) navigating small-town life with an ex-convict father (Dennis Hopper) and a drug-addict mother (Sharon Farrell). Cebe finds solace in music, especially Elvis and punk. Left on her own, she skips school and wanders her hometown (which in this case is Vancouver). The film’s best moments come when Cebe is on her own, though one always senses she is on the precipice of danger. It’s a film that fails to romanticize the idea of the Latchkey kid. We quickly get the sense that Cebe yearns deeply for meaningful parenting and stricter boundaries, and her parent’s failure to provide that leave her stewing in rage.
Cebe stands out as one of the truly unique characters in American cinema, and Manz gives one of cinema’s great performances. The film hinges on her naturalism, which wavers between outward strength and internal fragility. As a portrait of American life, Hopper offers intense and excessive emotions while showcasing a generation of adults lost and broken, perpetuating their disillusionment and violence onto the next generation. With its Neil Young soundtrack and blue tones, the film has an atmosphere of great dread. A rare cinematic experience, not to be missed. (JS)
With Uppercase Print, Radu Jude adapts a documentary play by Gianina Cărbunariu. Events that unfolded in 1981 are brought to life through archival footage and Brechtian dialogues. Court transcripts inform the investigation and fall-out of uppercase slogans calling for freedom and improved conditions scrawled in chalk onto walls — a dense but compelling essay on state surveillance and oppression. Using irony, which elicits a dark and perverse sense of comedy, the film showcases how a teen inspired to scrawl graffiti sees his life cut short. He’s accused by his peers, forced into re-education, surveilled and eventually dies young (there are even insinuations that the police murder him). His fall from grace is mirrored by the kitsch, upbeat and propagandist imagery of Romanian pop culture, celebrating youth and vitality.
This stark contrast is illustrated through the film’s confrontational and purposefully monotonous addresses to the camera. On a film set stripped of all essential features except a backdrop, various characters and people recite written testimonies about the incident. The only people “gifted” with the freedom to diverge from the script are, of course, the police themselves. They are seated at the set’s craft table, staged to be overflowing like the Last Supper. A halo-like light is framed behind him, suggesting ironically his all-mighty powers, which he perpetually denies.
The film isn’t for all audiences. Still, it offers a rather damning portrait of how an oppressive regime maintains control through propaganda, fear and surveillance rather than more overt forms of violence. (JS)
For the complete FNC 2020 program, please visit the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma website.
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