History of Fear (2014) — Image via reicine.com.ar

MSPIFF 2015 Short Takes, Part 2

This year’s edition of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival was probably the best in recent memory. The films selected were enormously diverse in their origins, themes, and techniques, but somehow they seemed to be more in dialogue with each other than in the past. And among the ones I saw, all had something valuable to contribute to that dialogue. Following up on my previous roundup and the full-length reviews we’ve been publishing during the festival, here are some quick thoughts on films seen over the past week and a half:

The Reaper (Zvonimir Jurić, 2014)

The Reaper (2014) — Image via kinorama.hrBy scheduling a film called The Reaper (Kosac) for a late-night slot, MSPIFF programmers may have fooled some people into thinking they would be seeing a horror movie. And Zvonimir Jurić’s film is horror of a sort, just not of the usual sort. The reaper in question is actually a combine harvester driven by Ivo (Ivo Gregurević), a quiet, sad-looking Croatian farm worker who, one night, offers to help out Mirjana (Mirjana Karanović), a stranger whose car has run out of gas outside his village. She accepts his help, but after learning from gas station attendant Josip (Igor Kovač) that Ivo was imprisoned for rape 20 years earlier, she is torn between her fear of him and her desire to return his kindness.

Interwoven into the story of Mirjana’s encounter with Ivo are the stories of two younger men: Josip, who feels an affinity with the older war veterans in his village and comes to regret stigmatizing their former comrade Ivo, and police officer Krešo (Nikola Ristanovski), who is called out to check on Ivo and whose home life is complicated by a sickly child and frustrated wife (Lana Barić). All of these stories are told in a slow, tense fashion, as if to make us feel the weight of the past on the goings-on in the village. There may not be monsters or serial killers in The Reaper, but there are plenty of skeletons in the closet.

A Borrowed Identity (Eran Riklis, 2014)

A Borrowed Identity — Image via strandreleasing.comIsraeli director Eran Riklis has made a name for himself with a series of films that bring the long-standing conflict between Arabs and Jews down to the level of the personal. A Borrowed Identity (Aravim rokdim) is no exception, doing an effective job of illustrating both the mutual prejudices and the decidedly one-sided power dynamics that talented West Bank Arab youth Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) must overcome to achieve his potential.

As the only Arab accepted to a prestigious Israeli boarding school, Eyad takes some time to fit in but eventually ends up with a Jewish girlfriend, Naomi (Danielle Kitzis), and best friend, Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), who has a progressive form of muscular dystrophy. Despite his apparently successful integration, Eyad’s Arab identity comes back to haunt him repeatedly until one day he uses Yonatan’s passport to get a job as a waiter. Yonatan’s mother Edna (Yaël Abecassis) eventually learns of this, but her reaction is not what you might expect.

A Borrowed Identity is well made, well acted, and thought-provoking. One does occasionally wonder, in the second half, whether Riklis is subtly reproducing the power dynamics he is otherwise critiquing by privileging Edna’s perspective — repeatedly she is pictured looking pensively out the window, wine glass in hand — over Eyad’s. That quibble aside, Riklis’s film is definitely worth seeing and pondering.

Nowhere in Moravia (Miroslav Krobot, 2014)

Nowhere in Moravia (2014) — Image via rwe.czBefore Wednesday’s screening of Miroslav Krobot’s Nowhere in Moravia (Díra u Hanusovic), a representative of the Czech and Slovak Cultural Center spoke briefly about the film, describing it as a comedy. I find that certain people, when told that they’re seeing a comedy, are inclined to laugh uproariously at virtually everything that happens that is remotely ironic, incongruent, or even just slightly out of the ordinary. And laugh they did. But as the film went on, the laughter got more subdued, because while Krobot’s film is certainly a comedy and does have some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, its humor is mostly on the bleak side.

30-something Maruna (Tatiana Vilhelmová) lives with her mother (Johana Tesarová) and sister Jaruna (Lenka Krobotová) in a tiny Czech village, where she runs the local pub. Maruna is more educated than most of the people in the village and fairly cynical about life there, but she has no apparent ambition to leave. In fact, she generally seems resigned to accept whatever comes her way, including the attentions of sad-sack mayor Jura (Ivan Trojan) and married roofer Kodl (Lukás Latinák). She draws the line, though, at handyman and village idiot Olin (Jaroslav Plesl), even though he may actually be the best of the lot.

As we watch Maruna respond to events including three deaths, a new love interest for Jaruna, and a surprise twist in her own life, it becomes easy to sympathize with her fatalism and to join her in laughing gently at everyone’s foolishness, including her own. The more things change in Nowhere in Moravia, the more they stay the same, but at least Vilhelmová and her fellow actors are likeable and entertaining tour guides.

Revivre (Im Kwon-taek, 2014)

Revivre (2014) — Image via mspfilmsociety.orgI will start by making the disclaimer that Im Kwon-taek’s Revivre (Hwajang) is almost unwatchable. This isn’t because it’s a poorly made film (it’s anything but) but rather because its subject matter — its protagonist’s reaction to the slow decline and death of his wife — is rendered in such excruciating and painful detail.

Told in a nonlinear fashion that creates some insightful but also disturbing juxtapositions, Revivre is the story of Oh Sang-moo (Ahn Sung-ki), the director of marketing at a cosmetics company, whose wife Jin-kyung (Kim Ho-jung) is dying of brain cancer. Sang-moo divides his time between caring for Jin-kyung, at home and later in the hospital, and carrying out his regular duties at work, where he becomes quietly infatuated with the young new marketing deputy, Choo Eun-joo (Kim Gyu-ri). Sang-moo’s attraction to Eun-joo causes him to feel some guilt, but it also becomes evident that his ability to construct an alternative reality at work is the only thing allowing him to hold himself together.

Revivre — the Korean title of which means both “makeup” and “cremation” — is Im’s 102nd film, and he is clearly a master of cinematic vocabulary. The film is recommended if you can bear it, but that’s a big if.

History of Fear (Benjamín Naishtat, 2014)

History of Fear (2014) — Image via reicine.com.arBenjamín Naishtat’s debut feature History of Fear (Historia del miedo) contains no story, no plot, and no character development to speak of. It is, on the other hand, a beautifully shot and atmospheric film that makes palpable the nonspecific unease felt by all of its characters at virtually all times.

Naishtat’s film takes place in and around a gated community outside Buenos Aires. Just beyond the gates is a shantytown that is in the process of being cleared out by the government. Seen through the eyes of their upper-class neighbors, the shantytown residents are like animals; they start fires, throw mud at people’s cars, and wander around naked. Meanwhile, among the residents of the gated community we see the liminal figures of their servants, including quietly observant gardener Pola (Jonathan Da Rosa) and his domestic helper girlfriend Tati (Tatiana Giménez), who are neither of their world nor of the world outside. And then there is aspiring filmmaker Camilo (Francisco Lumerman), who is staying in his uncle’s mansion and has a penchant for interrogating people and making them feel uncomfortable.

I should note that much of the above is interpretation and conjecture, as History of Fear does not yield its secrets willingly. Class tension is definitely one aspect of the fear that the film chronicles, but not the only aspect. This is one that probably requires multiple viewings to fully absorb. It seems unlikely to return to the big screen in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but hopefully it will become available on the small screen.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.