#LFF2016: Ma’ Rosa, Pyromaniac, All This Panic
Quick takes from the 60th London Film Festival, with public screenings from October 5th-16th, 2016.
From acclaimed Filipino director Brillante Mendoza comes an electrifying tale of enterprising Rosa (Jaclyn Jose), whose shanty of a shop in the slums of Manila resells candy from the supermarket and crystal meth from the local dealer, and the night her store is raided by police looking for their piece of the drug business. And so, from a back room at a police station, Rosa — who has been arrested along with her husband, Nestor (Julio Diaz), who’s a bit useless — negotiates with the cops over giving up her “ice” contact while her three eldest children (in their teens and early 20s) hustle around friends and family trying to raise the “bail” — ie, bribe — money that will secure their parents’ release. Shot like a documentary, handheld cameras and long, uncut takes lend an air that Ma’ Rosa’s story is being uncovered, not created: we are witness to what a city looks like when civil society has broken down, with the cops utterly corrupt and the likes of Rosa a respected and respectable fixture of her neighborhood. Right and wrong have long since been upended, and yet Rosa still has a living to scratch out for her family. (There are hints that at least one of her children may eventually escape to a better life.) Jose won Best Actress at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for her performance here, which creates a deeply sympathetic portrait of a woman navigating the rules of her unfair world as best she can; gruff kindness and casual cheating spring from her with a spirit that, we see, seems widespread in her world. The Philippines’ submission to next year’s Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Ma’ Rosa is a wonder.
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Nineteen-year-old Dag (Trond Nilssen) is aloof, listless, and directionless. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in taking over as fire chief in his remote Norwegian town — the current chief, his father (Per Frisch), is getting too old for such demanding physical work — but he doesn’t seem to care much either for the job at the post office he just got. Dag doesn’t seem to care much about anything… except setting fires. We are forced, however, to presume he enjoys setting fires only because we see him continue to do so: the elegant but dull Pyromaniac (Pyromanen) doesn’t actually clue us in to any particular excitement or pleasure Dag may be receiving from his hobby. We’re never even sure he’s having fun taunting the local cop investigating the clearly suspicious fires springing up in the woods or in abandoned houses, or whether he gets any sort of kick out of helping put them out, as a member of his father’s firefighting squad. Like Norwegian filmmaker Erik Skjoldbjærg’s previous film, the oil-exploration drama Pioneer, this one moves so slowly that it challenges our engagement, and it never delves into anything beyond the very obvious: Dag as a character doesn’t evolve beyond the weird loner kid he starts out as. There’s a pleasing simplicity to how Skjoldbjærg evokes the profound isolation of Dag’s world — this is set in, seemingly, the late 1970s or early 1980s, so no Internet or satellite TV or mobile phones — but even the hints that Dag’s crimes are rattling the quiet and security of the small community are so muted and so infrequent that they barely rise above the level of background noise.
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All This Panic
In a remarkable feature debut, documentary filmmaker Jenny Gage follows a band of seven teenage girls — an interconnected group of sisters and friends — in Brooklyn over the course of three years, during that precarious transition from childhood to adulthood at the end of high school and into college, or not into college… which, as the girls here come to realize, is the much tougher path to take. More abstract and philosophical than a traditional documentary, wafting along on the dreams and fears and hopes of the girls, this could almost be mistaken for a fictional narrative that drifts with its subjects’ almost paradoxical mix of uncertainty and determination: to figure out what they want from life, what they want from romance, what it means to take those first steps out from under the shadow and protection of (or, in some cases, lack thereof) their parents. This is a lovely, careful, compassionate slow-reveal of the psyches of adolescent girls the likes of which we only very rarely see onscreen, and it is an extraordinary experience. It’s also enormously heartening for anyone who worries about how the world today seems to push kids to grow up too quickly. The way these girls talk about their experiences with and attitudes about alcohol, drugs, and sex is reassuring: they worry about growing up too fast too, and they’re navigating dangerous waters just fine.
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