Leeds Film Festival - Day 4

Daughters of Wisdom (US/Tibet) (review)

During and after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Buddhism was outlawed and many of its temples were destroyed or put off limits. In the years that followed the reinstatement of the faith as a recognised, legal form of religious worship from the 1980's onwards, the culture has reclaimed most of the lost ground. One of the effects of this new start is a difference in thinking about the notion of female Buddhist nuns, a rarely seen minority.

Traditionally such a level of religious following was only open to the men, who withdrew from an early age from any form of material life to live as a monk in solitude in the hope of doing their bit during that lifetime to ensure the path of enlightenment somewhere down the ages. This documentary film has rare privilege to briefly enter into the
Kala Rongo temple and the lives of a group of female nuns who live there, high up in the Tibetan mountains, and follow as rigorous regime as their male counterparts elsewhere.

Occasionally visited by the regional Lama who bestows advice and a little money for the nuns, three generations of which have been responsible for actually creating the buildings themselves from scratch. We see them working with the main resource of the area - Yaks - which provides milk, cheese, meat and butter which they can use to sell to purchase the items they require.

This quiet, reflective film shows both the virtues and the great sacrifices that a material-free existence demands, encouraging the viewer to ask questions about their own lives and happiness. Not only that, but it's one of the few places to see the nuns on motorbikes, crossing chasms with a rope slide like they were on the Krypton Factor, and acting as builders for their next project, a replacement Retreat where the core teachings can be taught in complete isolation - three years living in the building with no outside contact! 7/10

Gugara (Pol) (trailer)

In Siberia, a way of life is about to die out. The Evenky were a community of people who would make a living completely around their Reindeer herds, which thanks to the rising numbers of their natural predator, the wolf, have been slaughtered mercilessly. The last family of herders to exist had just lost most of their livestock to yet another attack. They find themselves with little choice; follow with the rest of their community away from their forest dwellings and into the nearby Russian towns, and attempt to integrate.

This film shows the events just as the last candle is about to be snuffed out, showing the already assimilated and often absent son, and his elderly parents look on as their culture is sidelined and boxed into well-meaning but farcical 'Indiginous peoples days' and a tourists' curiosity that their Russian neighbours have little or no interest in. 6/10

Drifter (Bra) (trailer)

Director Cao Guimares goes out on the roads of Brazil's beautiful rural landscapes and on his travels encounters three vagrants; a barely coherant babbler who has been on the roads 25 years and in that time has formed his own variant on Christianity, a frail old man who pours water everywhere and talks to the invisible guy stood next to him, and a man who spends his life pushing a trailer full of his worldly posessions along the long, hot highways, seemingly not heading anywhere in particular.

Guimares' experience is grounded in photography not film, and this shows. Though many of the scenes are beautiful, his use of single, unmoving shots verges on the ludicrous, his worst crime being a protracted roadside view in the middle of the night which lasted for a good five minutes or more, the only visible items being two small street lights at either side of the screen occasionally joined by those of a passing car. It may have been meant as an insight into the loneliness of a night alone on the roads, but it just looked like a lazy filler. There were several other scenes in the same vein throughout, and a steady trickle of cinemagoers quite understandably left partway through.

The only redeeming part of this film was the capture of some moments where the drifters - the babbler in particular - get to aire their views as the camera sits there taking it in. Unfortunately, that takes up about 20 minutes of the film, the rest was static arty shots which could have been jettisoned and the whole thing made into a half-hour TV documentary. 3/10

She Unfolds by Day (US) (interview)

Before this film began the presenter gave a short synopsis of the film, provided by the director to read out at his request. When a film requires such a preamble, its a warning sign for sure that they didn't manage to convey what they wanted to using celluloid alone. The film was actually submitted to Leeds for consideration some years ago - and rejected, and this one, which has been through two editing sessions was finally accepted into the festival and shown.

A middle-aged son becomes increasingly frustrated with his aging mother, who in the first stages of Alzheimer's desease, is forgetful, crabby and constantly wandering out of her supervised flat and out into the world, usually ending up in the middle of a wood, studying the wildlife around her. This basic story repeats and barely moves on at all, and is interspersed with other elements; the nurse who looks after his mother and several times tramps the streets looking for her, Jaques, his hyperactive dog (who is easily the star of the show), who appears in a set of home-movie style segments, and a succession of overly edited lumps of film that are repeating scenes of sun through leaves, grasshopper on lawn, general wildlife through poorly focused and drunkenly-held handicam. These scenes are again protracted and truly awful, some scenes repeat several times throughout the movie, others have been clearly edited so they are running in reverse, and they just made me want the movie to end. The only structured section to the films was the repeating cycle of the mother and son exchanging terse remarks about the situation, her wandering off, and him going out in his car looking for her.

The ending came almost as a relief; the nurse suddenly wanted to go out with the son, despite his medical condition that made him 'produce excessive mucus', and after the latest round of her wandering off he decides to just let her walk under a truck as he gets his end away, neither him nor the nurse seeming to care at all about what happens to her.

The original plot of the film was fictional, but became autobiographical when the actress who played the mother (in real life the mother of the director) degenerated quickly with Alzheimer's shortly after filming. This was one of the major catalysts for re-editing, but it resulted in a tatty, over worn film with frayed edges.

It was really, really bad. In the way that you can come out of a film feeling not so much apathy as malice towards the film for taking away hours of your life that you cannot replace. The only watchable segments are of the dog, and due to the repetitive editing, that quickly becomes tiresome too.
Do not see this film if you have anything better to do at all. 2/10, and i'm being generous.

One Minute to Nine (US) (site)

A remote American township is home to Wendy Maldonaldo and her four children. The reason she is about to be sent to prison is not fully disclosed at the beginning of the film, but is slowly and shockingly revealed in it's first half. First we are told that she murdered her husband, and then after seeing old home video footage of the doting father as he cooes over his then-pregnant girlfriend, we learn that he is a deeply violent man with psychotic tendancies. In the week before her ten-year jail sentence begins, we learn about the family of four children, her mother and friends and neighbours, some of which were threatened by her husband as well, and the abusive, sadistic torture meted out onto them on a daily basis. The first revalations of the late father turn the stomach, especially as they sneak up on the viewer like they do.

Powerful and shocking throughout, it highlights the ineptness of the police who were repeatedly called to the property and of the clinical sentencing that ensured that the family would not be whole again for another decade and that justice may never be done. 7.5/10

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