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Films That Are Different
by Becky Tan

The film festival always presents works of art that may never see the “light“ of a mainstream cinema. Still, directors do not shy away from doing things differently. Three films impressed me with originality.

The Tribe (Plemya)
Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine
Young Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) arrives at co-ed boarding school. He’s the new kid and slowly makes friends with a few other guys, who are nattily dressed in dress pants and jackets – no ties. The girls are nice, too. On the surface it’s just another school, except that strange activities develop in the night. The girls are transported via mini-bus to a truck-stop where their pimp knocks on the doors of the vehicles to present his “wares,” i.e., beautiful girls for a quickie. The boys spread out for neatly organized robberies and then all meet in the park to share the loot and buy drugs (which they also sell). Sergey must adjust to this, as well as a first love.

Yes, that makes the film different, but there is more: this is a school for the deaf and dumb and the film is completely in Ukrainian sign language. Still, we “understood” every “word.” No wonder half the audience in the Hamburg Metropolis cinema was also “speaking” in sign before and after (and possibly even during) the show. Naturally, they were especially interested in this unusual film, which won prizes at Cannes and Locarno festivals. Imagine Yana’s abortion in perfect silence, but still we feel the pain – great performance by Yana Novikova. Imagine a violent attack occurring which arouses not one sleeping student.

Director Slaboshpytskiy said that the school in the film was actually “built by German prisoners of war which is why is it still standing and in such good shape.” He said that across the street from his own school in the Ukraine was a school for the deaf and somehow he “always wanted to make a silent movie.”

Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy
Director: Nawapol Thamronigrattanarit, Thailand

Somewhere Director Thamronigrattanarit got 410 tweets from an unknown girl named Mary, who was listed under @marylony. He takes the mostly mundane commentary about sleeping late, getting ready for school, meeting up with friends, bad weather, forgetting homework, etc. and builds a plot around it. The tweets flash up on the screen about every 30 seconds in consecutive order and provide the basis for a fictional life of a fictional Thai girl named Mary and her friend Suri. They go to school, wear school uniforms, sit up against a school wall and talk about the future after graduation. They are the yearbook editors. They meet near a train track; a mysterious boyfriend appears. They walk around, go shopping,  celebrate senior sports day and cope with a nasty school principal. In spite of any reasonable expectations, the tweeted commentary propels them forward and life doesn’t turn out as expected. This film played also at the film festivals in San Francisco and Rotterdam. It could be an incentive for a teacher when suggesting projects. She could listen to kids during breaks and write down their commentary. She could print out the short sentences and then ask the students to write a story or draw a picture or make a video accordingly. It reminded me of the game where a student writes a sentence, folds it and sends it to the next person and in the end all sentences are read aloud.

Welcome to New York
Director: Abel Ferrara USA
French politician Devereaux is staying in a hotel in New York City. In the first 30 minutes he is quite actively involved in rather pornographic sex – so much so that it actually gets boring, as in: ho-hum, where is this film going? The next morning a black cleaning lady comes in with her bucket and dust rag. Devereaux, true to form, sexually attacks her. She runs away, never to be seen in this film again. We switch to Devereaux’s home town of Paris, where his wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset) learns that her husband has been arrested in New York City for sexual molestation. Her immediate reaction is, “My God, he has ruined everything”—“everything” being her hopes of becoming France’s First Lady, after he becomes President of France. She flies to Manhattan and organizes his defense, including paying a huge bail, which lets him stay with her in a rented apartment, rather than in Rikers Island prison. They are facing a huge court case, after all “It’s not fucking France.”

As you have guessed, this is a docu-drama of the true story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French politician who was arrested for this very crime in May 2011. The story hit the news with a vengeance; everyone loved it, and the hotel maid was also in the limelight. Here, though she literally has two minutes of fame and then it’s the Struass-Kahn couple dueling for control. The idea to fictionalize the true story is not totally new. There was a similar tale in Harper’s Magazine, April 2014, called “Nightmare at the Sofitel – Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s fictional Confession” by Ken Kalfus.  

So what makes this film so “different”?  Actor Gérard Depardieu, of course. Accompanied by much publicity, Depardieu moved to Belgium and gave up his French citizenship for a Russian passport in order to avoid the high taxes of his native France. He seems to find favor in this role of enfant terrible. Depardieu is on a roll to continue, and why not, at age 66 with more than 200 films in a long career, he can do whatever he likes. In the film he gives an interview before the film begins, and tells the audience that he “hates all politicians.” Depardieu lets it all hang out, figuratively in an exaggerated presentation of an immoral spoiled, stupid French politician named Devereaux and literally, in the form of a huge naked beer belly hanging over small extremities dangling between his legs. You can see him wickedly pointing the finger, as well as other appendages, at Strauss-Kahn and politicians in general.