Friends Day at LFF, 20th October

Had a very social day at the Film Festival.  Julien persuaded me to attend Wanda, a film from the archives remastered; both Julien and Julian came to an Israeli film called Policeman and finally James came to There Never was a Better Brother.  So friends, food, films and fun!  What more could one ask?

Wanda was directed by Barbara Loden in 1970.  The film was introduced by Ross Lipman who has been responsible for the saving of this and many other films through the preservation work by UCLA, funded by The Film Foundation and Gucci!  The film was inspired by Bonnie and Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.  Barbara Loden had been in line for the Faye Dunaway part, but she turned it down and decided to make Wanda as a more realistic roadie/crime movie because she felt uncomfortable with the glamorous portrayal of Bonnie and Clyde, who in real life caused hurt and damage a lot of people.  Wanda was also inspired by a newspaper article that reported a trial in which the woman involved in a failed bank robbery actually thanked the judge for a 20 year sentence.

Wanda is a slim, blonde – divorced, directionless and a bit fey.  She is late for her divorce proceedings and seems indifferent to leaving her own two children with her husband and his new girlfriend.  During the film she gets hooked up with various men, on one-night stands, who either dump her or from whom she runs away.  One of them turns out to be a bank robber, but the heist goes wrong.  The film ends quite suddenly with her drinking with complete strangers (again) and one is left imagining her progressing through a seamless string of more desperately unsatisfactory nights.

The marvellous introduction filled in a lot of the background to this film, but was also part of a more technical description of the difference between types of film and varied millimetres.  The technical stuff was interesting, especially about the quality of colour in the various types of film.  I am afraid I cannot go into detail because it was a bit over my head.  But the personal background to Barbara Loden’s intentions and influences were helpful and lent a great deal to my appreciation of the film.

Policeman was a completely different sort of film.  The opening credits show a troupe of policemen training on a bike ride and admiring at the top of the mountain their beautiful country – Israel.  Later we see Yaron, one of the troupe, with his heavily pregnant wife.  We see the troupe socialising, we learn more about their professional backgrounds.

We then meet a different group of young people: young Jewish idealists who want to wake up their fellow citizens to the shocking and widening gap between the extremely rich and extremely poor in Israel.  A violent confrontation between the two groups makes Yaron reassess his values and convictions.

We are so familiar with conflict in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians that it comes as something of a surprise to find that there is dissension within the Jewish community, since the country is so often presented in cinema as cohesive against the external enemy: the Arabs.  In fact in the Q&A afterwards the director, Nadav Lapid, said that when he presented the film at the Jerusalem Film Festival,  this portrayal was received with dismay and denial internally, but that since the film came out there have been increasingly frequent demonstrations against the dichotomy between the rich and the poor.

After gritty realism we move on to a more magic-realism type of film.  By modern standards a very short and compact film from Azerbaijan lasting only 93 minutes.

There Never was a Better Brother begins in a steamy women’s bathhouse in Baku.  A very young boy walks through the steamy warmth with his heavily pregnant mother, talking to the baby, whom he is prepared to love even in the womb.

As an adult the older brother, Jalil, is clearly a pillar of the community:  a bee-keeping Post Office official.  His brother, who is ‘cooling off’ in the far north after an incident in his home town, is completely different and clearly principally interested in making a fast buck.  When we first meet Simurg, he is driving a truck in the deep snow and living (apparently) with a pretty blonde.  One day Simurg becomes stuck in the snow with his truck and is only saved after he has burnt all the tyres in an attempt (?) to summon help.  He then lies down in the snow but miraculously does not die although the temperature is below -42 degrees?!

This near-fatal disaster is enough for Simurg, he returns home with only a backward glance and a wave, sadly just in time for his mother’s funeral and immediately falls for the daughter of his brother’s neighbour, a femme fatale.  From Simurg’s return home to the end of the film the fraternal conflict between the two grows to a climatic ending.

Sergei Puskepalis, who plays Jalil, gives a beautifully nuanced portrayal of a man of probity who gradually loses his ability to manage his environment and his emotions.  His features and whole body-language change gradually with the unfolding of this wonderful, yet tragic, story.

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