Tough Protagonists Are Up Against the World in International Cinema
by Justin James, Miami Future Cinema Critic
As the Miami International Film Festival celebrated its thirtieth year of independent and international movie-making, Oscar-nominated Chilean film No completely sold out it’s screening at the Olympia Theatre at the Gusman Center. No director Pablo Larraín focuses on the political campaign that would end a dictatorship. The film’s protagonist René Saavedra, played admirably by Gael García Bernal, is an artist and father who must fight for his optimistic vision toinspire the people of Chile to vote for a democracy. After the campaign, symbolized by a rainbow, Bernal’s character holds his son close and walks silently among a crowd of shouting people who see freedom on the horizon. Borrowing from the documentarian aspect of the archival footage, the movie is shot on grainy, old U-matic film stock. As a visual theme, the technical shortcomings of the camera suppress certain color tones in the spectrum in a similar way the government suppressed the people. The film brings home the point that no one in the free world should ever take liberty for granted.
Beijing Flickers, from Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yuan, effectively tells the story of four individuals struggling with finding themselves in a city that is not what it ought to be. After the woman he loves leaves him for a rich man, San Bao (Duan Bowen) eats aglass in a fit of depression, rendering himself speechless, physically and emotionally. His best friend (Lu Yulai) valets expensive cars and ends up stealing money for a better life. A loyal and aspiring songstress (Li Xinyun) is abandoned by her greedy band mates, and by the end, sings a capella to continue working. Finally, the androgynous male dancer (Xiao Shi) must cross-dress in order to pay his bills and struggles in search of an identity. As the title suggests, the symbolic flickering of fluorescent lights and the use of low frame rates during certain moments emphasizes the harsh reality and vulnerability of these characters, but also the resilience of their stories. Beautifully shot with poetic taste, an interesting dynamic of relationships makes Beijing Flickers a statement on the social power of money.
In the post-modern landscape of The Future (Il Futuro), a struggling young woman Bianca (Manuela Martelli) shares her thoughts on the reality of a world she has been forced to live in (depicted by footage shot in three different countries and edited to remain indistinguishable). After her parents die in a car crash, she resorts to sleeping with a much older man, Machiste (Rutger Hauer) to support herself and her younger brother. After realizing that this blind man does not love her, Bianca must find Machiste’s safe box, put an end to their unusual relationship, and leave behind her childish emotions. Despite baring many characteristics of Italian Neorealism, the film combines the use of fantasy (such as the protagonist’s daydream sequences in which harsh white light appears) to escape from the themes of poverty, oppression, and desperation. Unfortunately, the film’s obscure narrative does not give any real justice to its characters.
These international independent features explore the ideas of money, society and the individual with their own unique style. Although shot in different countries, these filmmakers focus on individuals resistant tochange, but ultimately embody ideals of the greater good and remain unafraid to stand up for themselves or what they believe in.
Very special thanks to the Miami Future Cinema Critics team.