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Fourteen Countries, Eight Winters and Some Sunshine
by Jenny Mather

One interesting aspect of watching movies at film festivals is that they are often about ordinary people living their lives in places far away from tourist traps. Who would visit Ramallah, for example, unless through the eyes of a film maker? Offbeat and often low-budget movies can provide a glimpse of lives so different from our own and put a human face on such problems as poverty or intolerance and perhaps alter our perceptions of them.

Wintry weather was a backdrop for many of this year’s movies. Bella Vista took place in Montana, USA where the bleak landscape echoed the past and future prospects of its heroine. She, like the movie, was going nowhere.

In Felix and Meiran a love affair blossomed in a snowy Montreal. This movie provided an insight into the world of Sephardic Judaism and Meira was breaking with a tradition which has lasted for two thousand years when she threw in her lot with Felix. Would their initial happiness succeed in the long run? It seemed unlikely.

Villa Touma was set in Ramallah in Palestine and this gem of a movie showed the audience an unknown world where the dwindling group of Christians cling to their beliefs and genteel ways in a country ravaged by a never ending war. Snow covers the geranium pots in the villa’s garden but the flowers continue to bloom and battle against the elements, just as the occupants do.

The weather looked cold and grey in White God which was set in Hungary. Why the title? Perhaps because Hagen, Lili’s dog was given white pills by the unscrupulous thief who turned the dog into a killer.This gem of a movie was quite a feat for the director Kormel Mondruczo who trained two hundred and fifty dogs to do his bidding.

Does it ever stop snowing in Quebec? Miron was set there but this documentary was about three times longer than it needed to be. Gaston Miron, a poet and folk singer, may be a national treasure in Canada but this movie did little to show us why.

It wasn’t snowing, thank goodness in Voice Over which was set in Chile. The heroine Sofia was having a mid-life crisis and abandoned her mobile phone, her television and her husband for a year. She and her sister had to decide what to do about their father, when he, in turn, decided to leave their mother. It wasn’t clear why Sophie behaved as she did and the ending was rather unsatisfactory.

Miss Julie was another unsatisfactory movie because Strindberg’s play doesn’t transfer well to today’s audiences. It was set in a country house in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century but despite taking place in summer time the atmosphere was chilly and claustrophobic.
Tales was set in modern day Iran and this movie cleverly interwove the lives of six people connected with a woman’s shelter in Tehran. Drug abuse and violence against women seem to be as prevalent there as everywhere else and director Rakhshan Banietemad is to be applauded for portraying her country, which is closed to the West, in a presumably truthful way.

The movie Turist couldn’t have been made without snow as its theme. A happy family consisting of a young mum, dad, daughter and son are on holiday in a Swedish holiday resort. On their second day they eat lunch on a restaurant balcony on the ski slopes. While they are eating an avalanche begins. Mum grabs the children but dad grabs his camera and runs away. The avalanche stops, nobody is hurt but how can the family cope with dad’s behavior? This is a clever movie with a witty dialogue but it is spoiled by the trite ending.

How to keep extreme wintry weather at bay is one of the problems grappled with in Slums: Cities of Tomorrow, where Quebec features once again. Self-help organisations and well intentioned people there are helping to improve inadequate homes with the help of the people who live in them. Similar organisations are taking the same approach in India, Morocco, France and New Jersey. This worthy and interesting documentary suggests that bringing electricity and running water to slums will help to alleviate some of the problems of housing the world’s increasing population. It took too long, however, to describe the ways in which it is being tackled.

  Sardinia and cold weather don’t go together in the average tourist’s eyes and the country usually associated with sunshine shows a different side in the movie Perfidia. Angelo isn’t a smiling waiter in a beach hotel, he’s an aimless young man with a penchant for violence whose father has all but given up on him. When the pair of them go fishing by the sea there are no happy tourists playing in the water. This is a violent Sardinia, full of petty criminals and far removed from fancy hotels and glittering beaches.

Sunshine and heat are backdrops in The Gold Bug and Titli. The Gold Bug is set in Argentina and is an incomprehensible movie which began promisingly and soon descended into chaos. Titli, on the other hand, was one of the best movies I saw and has been compared with Slum Dog Millionaire. Like that movie, this one features a young man living in an Indian slum, this time in Delhi. Titli was born into a family of petty criminals and tries hard to escape from the lot which life has dealt him. His father and brothers arrange a marriage for him but his reluctant bride has a secret life which she isn’t prepared to give up. This movie ends on an optimistic note, which was a nice way to end this year’s Filmfest.
So, I visited fourteen countries, some of them more than once and sat through eight winters in Filmfest 2014. Once again I saw countries and the people who live in them through the eyes of discerning filmmakers and learned something new and interesting about them. Thank you to everyone who made this year’s Filmfest so enjoyable.