You have gathered by now, that the categories are different. I have done Love twice: La Belle et La Bête and Fandry, and Dare with As I Lay Dying. Now I have two Journeys and two Dare: Siddharth, Lebanon Emotion on Friday and The Do Gooders and Camille Claudel 1915 today.
To start with Siddharth, a Canada/India film by Richie Mehta, based on a true story and showing the pain and shock experienced by a family when their little boy, Siddharth vanishes. There are so many messages in this tortured film that it is hard to know where to begin. Message One: poverty stricken families send their children to work in factories far away even though this is illegal, in this case it is not the rag trade that has called the boy away but metal reclamation; the factories need small children to go inside the lorries and canisters to undo nuts and bolts which adults cannot get to or reach; message two: the factory owners are often distantly related to people whose neighbours’ children are being exploited, and the factories are a long distance away so it is too far for the parents to check what is going on, and the procurers earn money for each child they send; message three: ‘losing’ a child reflects badly on the factory, so often accidents and disappearances do not come to light until is it time for the child to come home, by which time it is too late to do anything; message four: there are numerous vanishing children in India, being ‘exported’ possibly for prostitution, possibly slavery. This story is about one of them.
I followed this with an extraordinary film from South Korea, Lebanon Emotion. I still have no idea what the title means, the film was full of tremendously gratuitous violence. Set against a poetically beautiful wintry landscape this film delivers a viscerally unpleasant punch. A young man stays in his friend’s apartment after the death of his mother, he is depressed and unsuccessfully suicidal. His friend has a deer trap in the forest, which inevitably clamps an entirely different sort of prey: a young girl, recently out of prison. Heonwoo, the young man, falls innocently into the vortex of violence simply by dint of helping the girl, whose name and background he does not know. A debut film by the screenwriter/director Jung Youngheon, I read in the notes that he had recently lost his own mother, which explains a little about his portrayal of the anguish suffered by Heonwoo. Where the extreme violence comes from I hardly dare ask, and remain uncertain whether I want to know anyway. The notes also tell me that the title comes from a poem…but why? Lots of unanswered questions here.
The Do Gooders by Chloe Ruthven is a documentary, which means in my book that I am allowed to tell you everything, so this is a spoiler alert if you like.
Chloe’s grandparents about whom she heard a very great deal, and about whose heroism she was told all through her childhood were early humanitarian aid workers. One day they packed up their Land Rover and cattle truck and drove across Ireland to Palestine to help the Palestinian refugees after the Occupation. [Forgive me if I digress here, Occupation is the term used throughout the documentary, I do not myself, necessarily endorse this description of the State of Israel].
Chloe didn’t really take any interest in this piece of family history until she was about the age that her grandparents had been when they first set out, so on the basis of the book and notes her grandmother made, with contemporary film of the refugees and of her grandparents she set out to make a documentary film about humanitarian aid in the places where they had been active: Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah. But what she found there was not what she expected, she came back with a thesis-film which had no heart. So she returned and looked for a Palestinian, and found Lubna, who becomes her companion, fixer and driver and who introduces her to the lives behind the aid and who it turned out was fiercely critical of Western aid efforts. But it was the Q&A with Chloe and Lubna after the film which was the most revealing.
Firstly, Chloe admitted that at the beginning, Lubna was not partie pris to her role in the film, she did not know that her cooperation was there to give the documentary its ‘love interest’ [Chloe’s own words]; in the film she was often angry with Chloe, partly because Chloe constantly complained that they spoke Arabic amongst themselves and it made Chloe feel excluded, Lubna’s response was predictable and and what she said in Arabic was unprintable. The audience questions were largely positive about the film – brave, intelligent, moving, heart-breaking etc., etc. but what about the aid, what was the alternative and why was it wrong? Lubna’s answers were brutal and explicit: aid did nothing to end The Occupation, did not return farms to Arab owners, did not bring down The Wall and a great deal of the money anyway went back into the pockets of “white” [her term] aid workers, while at the same time the West is selling arms to the Occupiers. Chloe’s disappointment was more naïve, she didn’t find refugee camps. Ramallah is a thriving city of skyscrapers, residential blocks, the HQ of The Quartet (the countries that supply and manage the aid plus the UN) a huge multi-storey building headed up by Tony Blair, no-one had anything positive to say about him or his representative and busy streets – where were the tents?! What can I say? This is an important question – does aid merely create dependence? This film does not answer it.
Finally for this post: Camille Claudel, 1915 by the Director/Screenwriter Bruno Dumont with (among others) Juliette Binoche and Jean-Luc Vincent. Camille, if you have never heard of her was once the mistress of Rodin, and was in her own right a talented sculptor. When she parted from Rodin, she became something of a recluse and lived and worked alone in a Parisian studio. At some point, some years after the end of her affair with Rodin, her family have her committed to an asylum. In this film, twenty years later she is being cared for in a convent/asylum near Avignon. Her brother, the more famous Paul Claudel, visionary Catholic and mystic poet is about to visit her.
This film was created from letters between the two: brother and sister and from notes made by the clinician, the Director of the asylum. Filmed in the convent with real-life inmates from a mental hospital, this mesmerising portrayal of insanity and depression is at once tender and brutal. Consigned by the family, Camille had no way of escaping the asylum, which naturally caused her great sadness, bitterness and despair. Meanwhile, her ferociously religious brother, who appeared ten times more insane that his sister, makes no attempt to release her, even when advised to do so by the Director of the asylum, himself.
The technique of close head-shots and sparse dialogue is extraordinary, and Juliette Binoche puts in a magnificent performance considering that most of her story is told in her facial expressions. In my view, quite the best performance she has ever done. The convent, its quiet garden and cloister peopled by the nuns and the noisy inmates, and the dramatic limestone escarpment above the plains around Avignon where the group are taken for walks are a fitting backdrop to this beautiful and tragic portrait.