Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cinema *S* (for Sweden)

Outside my window a very energetic horn is blowing "Cielito Lindo" on this grey Berlin day in the immigrant district of Neuköln (where my current sublet is located). I'm in the middle of a great Berlinale, quickly blogging on film and happy as a clam, about to head out for two more this evening. I just went out my 4th floor balcony to shower the band with coins. Of course it has to be some sort of Roma/Eastern European folk song but to me it sounds just like "Canta no llores" line from the old Mexican standby. There are definitely things I love about this city!

But let's switch to cinema on immigrants. I'm happy to report the Berlinale is really on-target with this topic. To date I've seen a great documentary, La Frontera Infinita from a Mexican director, about the nearly invisible migrants from Central America to the U.S., who must cross not only the border into the U.S. but also the vast and dangerous expanse of Mexico. Then El Camino was a fictionalized account of Nicaraguan children heading the other direction, to Costa Rica, in search of their mother. Truly heartbreaking, touching equally on child abuse and the vulnerability of poor children.

But what I really had in mind when starting this post was another 2007 / 2008 Berlinale duo, this time from Sweden. It's hardly a country that comes to mind when I think of immigrants, which just goes to show how quickly all the old rules are changing. Last year's film was När Mörkret Faller (When Darkness Falls). It primarily starred immigrants and consisted of 3 vignettes, the first of which blew me away. It was a very psychologically complex portrayal about how a family of Turkish immigrants treat the lost "honor" of an independent-minded daughter.

Similarly, this year's offering, Leo, was also concerned with violence and its effects on victims' loved ones. A bit of research turned up that the writer/director, Josef Fares, a Lebanese immigrant, is only 30 years old. The film was violent and disturbing, but I always distinguish between gratuitous violence (which is worthless) and that which teaches us something. Leo, for me, definitely fell in the latter category, asking questions about young men struggling to find appropriate responses to violence, and at the same time define their manhood. In listening to the post-screening Q & A with Fares and co-star Shahab Salehi, I caught few glimpses of maturity and insight. But film's main character was played by professional actor Leonard Terfelt, and the process of filming clearly relied on a synergy between the three that added up to something greater than its individual parts. These three men may merit watching in the future, to see if further talent materializes.

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