ROTTERDAM 2021: AGATE MOUSSE, PEBBLES, MADALENA AND A CORSICAN SUMMER

ROTTERDAM 2021: AGATE MOUSSE, PEBBLES, MADALENA AND A CORSICAN SUMMER

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By Mónica Delgado

After the highlights of the first days of the festival journey, the first slumps appeared. Here is a review of four feature films from Brazil, India, Lebanon and France seen in the online edition of the Rotterdam Festival.

I

When a fiction places as its last frame a black screen of some official statistic depicting some injustice in white letters, therefore affirming a social problem that enhances the value of what we have just seen; that’s not only because it looks to justify why a film is made as a denounce, (the classic “is a necessary film”, as if it were an ONG documentary), but rather reveals the need to describe something too specific, which ruins the poetics achieved by the filmmaker.

This happened to me with the Brazilian debut feature Madalena by Madiano Marchetti, which is in the competition for this year’s Tiger Award, and which deals with the disappearance of a trans woman in a rural town in Mato Grosso, utilizing a stylized thriller rhetoric. From its first minutes, the young filmmaker chooses the ellipsis and a staging of surreal edges to show three characters in relation to the disappearance of a mutual friend. The mechanism that Marchetti uses is to approach each character in relation to the type of interest that emanates from the possible crime of this trans woman. On one hand, a heterosexual woman, who works a nightclub, and only limits herself to look around the house and then turning away in her absence. On the other hand, a group of trans women who start a search, which dissipates anyway, since the condition of being trans and to disappear seems to be naturalized. In addition, between these two types of characters, there is the figure of a gay man who faces parental power, and that little by clarifies his functionality before the two types of characters mentioned.

The proposal to narrate Madalena (the name of the disappeared woman) from devices of the reverie, appealing to suspended times or ellipsis that show the future and normality, allow us to sense the filmmaker’s gaze, which escapes some conventions. It is not an investigative film, but rather an exploration of the physiognomy of a reality that makes trans women even more invisible. However, the final message of “we are the country with the highest murder rate of trans people in the world” gives it an unnecessary solemnity, after a notable improvement and better approach of the characters (the community of trans friends walking and playing in the field). It is like forcing a message that was no longer relevant: the design of the indifferent world was already clear, where Madalena is murdered two, three or ten times. An eternal ghost.

I Comete – A Corsican Summer, the first film by French actor Pascal Tagnati, takes you into a town in summer time. A series of characters are approached without finding a single protagonist. Everyone: men, women, elderly folks, young people, grandmothers, girls, adolescents, they all mix and share atypical registers of daily life. Fixed shots where the distance between these characters is appreciated, observing them in different settings, in a story of a choral nature, to detect the sensitivities that emerge about politics, old age, loneliness, motherhood or sexual attraction.

In this debut, Tagnati chooses the tonic of cartoons or sketches, which function independently of any totalizing argument, since in this proposal the figure of the great actor,  Corsica, the island that shelters summer inhabitants, prevails. In view of this, actions of all kinds take place, from conversations between friends in bars or breakfasts, intimate encounters via webcam, dances in discotheques, appointments at the door of the church, soccer training or hunting preparations.

In I Comete – A Corsican Summer, panoramic or general shots prevail, to show the interactions between actors and actresses (many of them with their backs to the camera), even if to perceive the participation on stage of the real inhabitants of the island, who go on and off frame. Thus, Tagnati achieves a hybrid component between documentary and fiction, where his actors seem to improvise some scenes while waiting for a fortuitous element. It is an enjoyable film; however, the series of vignettes at some point in the footage become endless, achieving a whimsical dimension.

Agate Mousse, by the Lebanese director Selim Mourad, is sketched as a film diary and a thesis on the deterioration of the body. That filmmakers address their own deterioration in the face of a disease is not new, perhaps we could mention works like E Agora? Lembra-Me by Joaquim Pinto or Everything began with the end by Luis Ospina. However, as some kind of statement, here you never see this physical, performative, visceral aspect and you opt for a somewhat accomplished range of formal resources to express the irremediability in a situation like this.

Mourad, who had already worked on personal and intimate aspects in two previous short films, develops various layers, starting from various scenes that make up a diptych (with the arrival of another character that functions as a counterpart) that is merging. The same filmmaker appears in a plastic surgery office where a tumor is discovered in a testicle: this situation triggers a supposed tour de force, between the absurd, the emotional and the self-referential.

Agate Mousse’s problem is its urgency to place in the almost seventy minutes of duration a parade of tools and resources, from anamorphic lenses, use of iris shot, a transition from Arabic to French, the inclusion of meta-textual scenes from shootings, photographs, as a sort of too heterogeneous collage that does not match, in the end, with the purpose of the film.

The coup de grace of this day came with the Indian Pebbles, by the filmmaker Vinothraj P.S., who tells a family story based on some topics of a (realistic) tradition of cinema set in the rural areas of her country. A violent father, accompanied by his eight-year-old son, goes in search of his wife who has gone to live in a nearby village to escape the mistreatment experienced. The macho and blinding fury of the father merges with the drought and high temperatures in the southern part of the country, and alternates with small parallel stories that expose, the exclusion and second-class citizenship of women.

In the world that Vinothraj P.S. devises, women eat rats that are cooked on campfires in the middle of the desert, collecting water in deep and semi-dry wells, and, above all, escaping from husbands who threaten to kill them. And from the opening minutes, with the scenes of the overcrowded school, of the streets full of old women condemned to enslaving housework, and small impoverished houses, the filmmaker makes it clear that there is an intention to exploit poverty in a pornographic and exotified logic.

In Pebbles, the need to denounce appears, to make it clear that the daily experience of women is torment, due to the foundations of an ultra-patriarchal society. However, showing them as absolute victims, in a hostile, humiliating and impoverished context, turns into a look under a magnifying glass of a gaze that objectifies them, for the purposes of drama and festival yearning.

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