I went to work today and so am a day late telling you about yesterday. It was a day of mixed success as many films ran late and it meant that I missed the last film of the day Alms for a Blind Horse, a unique view of rural life in the Punjab – however, after Women with Cows I had perhaps had my fill of rural life for the day anyway, more of that later. I will start with the one film in the Experimenta section:
Future Markets: like many films in this section this was a surprise. It came in sections, three I think though there might have been four, since what appeared to be the first section wasn’t numbered. I believe there was an intentional theme to this which was that people throw things away, they are sold on sometimes and people buy things, especially property, to build dreams that end up being thrown away. If I have that completely wrong please direct your complaints to the director!
Like it or not, this film had moments of bizarre humour: an elderly man with a huge market stall rammed full of inextricable junk, when he was asked if he had this or that to sell his invariable reply was “yes, it is somewhere in the back, but it is too hot to get it out now”. There was also a huge expo of building projects for Spanish investment to be found all over the world: Dubai, Romania, Domenica you name it – offices, hotels, apartment blocks, gated communities – not one of which was actually built – but all for sale. There was also another expo of marketing courses – merchandising as dream fulfilment, and bizarre seats where the sitter could experience zero gravity?! And most bizarrely of all: a serried rank of concrete beach loungers with a loud speaker playing waves noises – right under a flight path? Dreams of a life?
Bizarre, banal, and in some places frankly boring. These films are never a waste of time but they are not high on my list of recommendations. The fault may well be mine.
The Nobel Thief: based on the true fact that the Nobel Medal of Rabindranath Tagore, poet/philosopher and revered Father of the Nation, was stolen and has never been recovered. This film is set in Bangalore and weaves a fantastical story of an illiterate farmer finding the stolen medal shortly after the theft and trying to return it to the State Minister.
Being illiterate, he doesn’t know what it is and he receives advice from the elders of the village. Mostly they counsel return, but one or two think it should be sold to help pay for improvements to the village. Bhanu (Mithun Chakraborty) takes the medal to Kolkata and makes an attempt to return it, with a letter from the village schoolmaster explaining the circumstances. But there wouldn’t be a story if this had gone according to plan.
During his adventures, which vary from trying to sell the medal to being held up at gunpoint by the original thieves, Bhanu comes to realise the true value of the medal – and there is a sublime scene when we see this dawning realisation, this epiphany. Mithun Charaborty captures this getting of wisdom exactly, but fate has other ideas – and so we are given the answer as to why the medal in still missing.
Like many another Indian film, I think this Festival has been your one and only chance to see this.
Now, I don’t know what your mental image of Sweden is, but mine is stainless steel; IKEA; landscapes of white snow and Midsummer Day parties; all policed by grumpy, dysfunctionally divorced detectives. My error!
Women with Cows is part of a project, a life project by the director Peter Gerdehag, to record the steadily retreating rural life of small holdings in Sweden. He was told to go and find these remarkable women, two sisters on a farm with cows. When the filming started Britt was 77 and her younger sister Inger not a lot younger, by the end Britt was 79.
This is part poetic celebration of a ravishing landscape; part salutation to courage; part requiem for a lost world. There were moments of mists and mellow fruitfulness, cowparsley silhouetted against an evening sun, trees dripping after rainfall, and the mysterious magic of deep snow and these were undoubtedly very beautiful, but this film was not all beauty and truth, for the truth was unflinchingly ugly.
Britt was old and bent double, quite literally her head hung below her knees, the result of an accident with a cow when she was younger. She clearly loved the cows and was devoted to them, but they were too much for her.
The cow byre was filthy, more filthy than it is possible to imagine. Cobwebs hung in swags from the ceiling, old straw rotted beneath the feet of the cows and right outside the pile of straw and cowpats steamed in the cold air and leached into the land. There were literally thousands of flies, everywhere. The milking was done by hand into buckets that were unsterilised and the even cows were filthy dirty too. Neither sister had the capacity to maintain standards, Britt for the reasons already outlined and Inger because she didn’t really wish to. Yet the milk lorry came to collect the milk?!
The two sisters had a pretty fraught relationship, bickering fairly cruelly about each other and at each other but when it came to it, Inger did help out until it was no longer possible for her to do so. Gratitude was not high on Britt’s list of virtues, it needs to be said.
And yet, and yet when the end came it was a shocking and miserable thing, utterly brutal though undoubtedly necessary. The authorities took away some of the cows, and sent out a lorry for ‘Fille’ the bull, and while Britt lay in helpless misery in the byre, ‘Fille’ was slaughtered right outside on the farm and loaded by crane into a dumpster truck. Fille’s son, ‘Little Fille’ gave a bellow of fright and rage from the adjoining field. While it was done humanely for the animal, Britt’s agony was of no consequence which was inhuman in the extreme.
I realise I have made this sound quite horrible but in a strange way it was tremendously moving. The cleanliness required of modern agriculture and the necessity for huge returns has made it impossible to farm in this small and more dignified way, dignified because the relationship between woman and animal was one of love and respect even though in the end it failed.
There have been three films now in which animals have to be sold or are taken away and I must confess, each time I find the tears rolling down my face, these animals matter to their owners in a way that we, in the developed industrial agricultural world, are fast forgetting. You only have to think of the film Our Daily Bread (an earlier Film Festival marvel) to know this is true. Eventually Our Daily Bread came to the UK, I hope Women with Cows will as well, if it does – go see.
Today I saw Eternity, a film from Thailand. Undoubtedly very romantic and beautiful it was to Asiatic for me, too slow and without the outline in the LFF listings would have been utterly unfathomable.