Mermaid (Rus) (imdb)
Down to earth but at the same time sprinkled with a little magic. Mermaid is the pet name of the main character Alisa, whom we meet at the beginning of the film (after a saucy sea-based revelation of how she came to be) living in a shack on the beach, 8 years old with her wayward mother and elderly gran. Convinced that her seaman father will return home one day, she is shocked and disgusted when she sees her mother getting humpy with another sailor. Angry enough to set light to the place.
Everyone makes it out alive, and they move to Moscow, where the natural seaside life is replaced by inner city sprawl, pervasive advertising slogans everywhere and a sense of permanent rush hour. Naturally struggling to fit in, the now 18-year old eventually falls for a hard-partying, bottle-hitting businessman who takes her in as a cleaner to sort out the mess from his nightly parties.
Mermaid is not conventional; it did go off in unexpected and unpredictable (but enjoyable) directions, and the little sparks of magic placed by the director do not jar with the mood or feel of the film (it is implied that Alisa gains the power to grant hers and other peoples' wishes) and acts as a small aside to the main propulsion of the film, Alisa finding her place. It all jumps along quite speedily, just obscure enough to keep you thinking about what you were watching. It was very entertaining, fresh and different, with a very 'Russian fable' feeling to the story. 7.5/10
The End of Poverty? (US) (site)
Created in partnership with Oxfam, this film deals with the question of why, when there is so much wealth in some parts of the world, there is destitute poverty in so many others. The film works from the time of the Spanish Conquistadores, who were the first western (labelled 'northern' in the film) power to start carving up the African and Asian land to invade, colonise and take over. Of course, Britan, alongside Holland, Portugal, France, Germany, Japan and many others followed and became owners of the lands that were not the property of anyone, and the indigenous peoples became part of the deal also. The capitalist engine thrived upon this influx of cheap slave labour and a culture of individualism (rather than a community sharing its resources) and forced Christianity reaped all it could from the soil and the rock of these countries, leaving the natives with barely anything they could call theirs.
As time passed and slavery was abolished, the western hunger could not stop there, and so in a number of repackaging exercises, slavery was reinvented time and time again, each one requiring a little less work by the owners and more by the slaves themselves. The slavery continues in various forms today, often because the country is mired in heavy debt it can never repay and so is at the mercy of the world bank and the multinationals who have set up industry, extracting raw materials and shipping the result back to the 'mother land'. It is this that leads to the statistic that far more money flows from poor to rich countries than the other way around.
It is a film packed with insights into how we have ended up in the situation we are in now, with some countries enjoying prosperity whilst others cannot seem to progress. It covers such a massive subject very well, almost like a super-documentary to which all others on the subject handle but a subset of the problem, and I would recommend it to anyone remotely curious as to why and how we in the west manage to live so well. 8/10
The Juche Idea (Kor) (review)
In the early stages of this film, I found myself unsure what I was watching; a western-looking bald man in a loud orange shirt was speaking slow clumsy English to a Korean man in what seemed to be an 'English for beginners' programme from the Korean equivalent of an OU course. This was followed by a poor quality subtitled Korean soap opera that had in its bright red frame a series of philosophical propaganda messages. It was all very odd.
After a while and some other not-so-subliminal messages later, it was revealed; these were parts of a film put together by a South Korean film-maker in North Korea who had gathered together various examples of Socialist and Marxist propaganda that was fed through the TV's all over the country, extolling the virtues of a socialist regime and especially the hugely inflated personality of Koreas' current dictator, Kim Jong Il and his dad, Kim Il-sung. The Juche Idea is the ideology of the North Korean state.
After that realisation, it was easier to settle down and enjoy some of the best unintentional comedy I had seen; the 'English as a Capitalist Language' segments were brilliant, evoking some memories of classic Vic and Bob, and the 'say along with me' childrens show was shockingly lacking in subtlety. It was a light-hearted satirical dig at the very disturbing and serious subject of brainwashing by blanket propaganda, and though some of it was dull, I could have watched a full hour of 'clumsy orange man' because he was the funniest thing I've seen all year. 7/10
Carts of Darkness (Can) (directors' site)
A short documentary about 'bottle pickers', those people who have chosen to make a meagre but enjoyable living by rifling through peoples' bins and recycling and taking what they find to the recycling plant, where they pick up about 5 cents per plastic bottle. Typically they can make about $20 a week which apparently they can live on quite comfortably. Many bottle pickers use shopping trolleys (or carts) to gather their booty, and they have turned their vehicles into a form of sport - racing shopping carts down hills. Murray Siple, the director, is wheelchair bound after a snowboarding accident and looks on in quiet envy as the protagonists head down giant hills, sometimes getting up to speeds of 70kph if they can get enough rocks to place at the front of the trolleys. It's a lively, positive, good natured film that put a smile on my face. 7/10
Don't try this at Home (Ger)
Another documentary, this one concentrating on the use of handheld Digital Video cameras for creating films, as opposed to using the accepted film-making standard 35mm format since 1895. Three directors (two Germans, one British) talk about their works, (mostly quite obscure films, with the exception of 28 Days Later) which used DV at least partially to give a feel to their films. Back in the mid 90's when such cameras were first made available, the film backers and critics were quick to close ranks on such heretic use of another format that such films were discouraged from entry to various festival events, usually by those who were of the linear thinking that sharper images and more pixels and more details automatically means a better film.
I wanted to like this film more, but it was very stodgy to work through, not least because there were many many captions placed along the bottom of the screen to give information about what was being said at the time. Unfortunately what was being said was often subtitled which was over the top of the caption, and the subtitling (due to the talking) was very fast and not proof-read, ensuring that trying to interpret through the bad grammar whilst still keeping up was always going to be a struggle. Over and above that, I think that people with a fascination for the machinery behind the lens would enjoy this much more than a general audience. 4/10