Leeds Film Festival - Day 6

Blind Loves (Slovakia) (cached site)

I'm still not sure now, but I believe this was a straight played film with actors, but done in a very convincing documentary format. Regardless, it gave a peek into the lives of four people who have to live with their blindness. Peter is a middle-aged pianist who is preparing his Rainbow choir - a group of blind and partially-sighted children - to put on a performance at the local church. As a hobby, he uses his synthesiser at home to give lyrical accompaniments to the stories he imagines in his head, to the eternal patience of his wife, who is also blind. Mori is a tanned blind man who is deeply in love with a partially sighted white woman. Her parents are not pleased, and things get more complicated when, after going on a camping trip 'as friends' she ends up pregnant. Elena is already partway through her term, and will shortly be giving birth. She spends her time worrying about how the child may be taken away from her and her blind husband, crossed with wondering how her likes and dislikes will be different from her child, who has every chance of having perfect eyesight. Lastly, Zuzana is a young blind student who listens to the classics in her bedroom and loses herself in the music. She is about to go to university with her sighted friend, and makes friends with a promising male student through a chat room. Her excitedness turns to dread when he asks to meet in real life - will she be spurned when he realises she is blind?

Quietly funny, a gentle observation of life with blindness; I was initially sceptic of the description of the film, citing an 'art-house' feel, but I am glad to say it was much better than the perceptions such a description can conjure. The last part of the film was the best, re-visiting each of the people in turn, seeing how their problems turned out. 8/10

Summer Book (Turkey) (site)

Ali is just about to break up for summer holidays. On his last day at school, his teacher passes round a Summer Book - full of puzzles and stories to read and play to ensure the kids minds are kept at least a bit active during those months. Unfortunately, Ali is a bit scrawny and has the book taken off him outside school.

Veysel is Ali's older brother. Himself out of miliatary education for the summer, he returns home and drops the bombshell his father didn't want to hear - he wants to leave the military and go to a civilian university instead, which apart from breaking his fathers heart, will cost money in compensation to the government to pull off.

Mustapha is angry; he can see in his son the same abandonment of things halfway through that his brother Hasan has done in the past with his education and his love life, and now Hasan is stuck working in a butchers shop in town barely getting by. Mustapha does the main job in the home despite his advancing years - he gets up at the crack of dawn and with the help of some of the women from the villiage, sees to the lemon picking in his groves.

These strands of story meander along at life pace, until Mustapha collapses on the way back from the groves, his truck abandoned, apparently with money inside. Hasan takes on the responsibility of getting the truck back but when he finds it, there is no money present. Inconsistencies begin to build up and the long held suspicions of Mustaphas' wife that he might have a bit on the side surface, so Hasan plays detective to try and work it all out.

Summer Book was alright, but it had three main problems with it. First, it spent far too little time on from what the title suggested was the main plot; that of Ali trying to get through his summer holidays bookless and bullied. Second, the story continued at not quite snails pace, but still very slowly. Third, it left the viewer with a good wodge of plot threads that led nowhere, such as the summer book disappearing from the plot and was never thought about again, and Hasan's investigations uncovering nothing of particular note about the events leading up to Mustaphas' collapse. I'm not saying Summer Book was particularly bad; some sections were done very nicely, especially the mirroring scenes near the end; it was just meanderingly average, it evoked no emotion either way, and in the end, a good film must do that in order to be good. 5.5/10

Colours of Memory (AKA Mina the Woman of Ban) (Iran/Germany/Canada) (review)

A young boy grows up in Bam, Iran. He lives with his housewife mother and military officer father in a well-off house, and makes friends with the local children. At fifteen, he is sent off to Germany to study as a surgeon, narrowly missing the earthquake that levelled his home town, killing his parents and some of his friends.

Not able to bring himself to return, Dr. Bahman Parsa loses himself in his work for the next few decades, continuing down the unerring and unemotional path until the breakup of his marriage makes the ground fall from under him. He decides, not quite understanding why, to take the opportunity to return to his native country and deal with a longstanding issue of inheritance of a palm grove. Whilst there, he meets one of his old friends, a taxi driver who has a nice line in illicit alcohol, and a friend of his father's, who has a closer bind with the doctor than he is letting on. During his visit which moves slowly from a clinical get-in get-out of the place that has changed so much from the Iran of old and obviously holds many difficult emotions, to finally visiting his now derilict family home and finally putting some ghosts to rest, we see him come out of his emotionless shell a little and heal some personal wounds.

The film did suffer from some meanderings and unresolved threads, though nowhere near as badly as Summer Book, and the ending was surprisingly emotional, though I would have preferred to see more focus on the backbone of the storyline, which needed a little bit more support to be truly entertaining. 6.5/10

Fire Under the Snow (US) (site)

Lastly, a documentary about Palden Gyatso, the Buddhist monk whose hunger strikes earlier this year nearly disrupted the Chinese Olympics. If you looked on with interest at the treatment of the monks earlier in the year by the Chinese for doing their peaceful demonstrations in Tibet, this film is the one to watch. It recalls how, during a peaceful demonstration about the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950's he was among a group that were arrested and sent to jail for 7 years. During that time he witnessed the destruction of his beliefs and the physical symbols that represented them in his home country, and the brutal torture and punishment meted out to them in the name of 're-education'. A few years into his term, by which time many of his comrades had been killed, he plotted his escape and nearly made the journey into nearby India, which still deals with a constant influx of Tibetan refugees to this day. Back in prison, they slapped more and more years of detention onto his term, often simply because he would not confess his sins and accept Tibet as part of China.

In 1992 after serving 33 years he was released, thanks to repeated pressure on the Chinese government from amnesty groups. He now lives exiled in India where he receives requests from all over the world to be the voice of Free Tibet. He regularly accepts and can be seen in the film on the Boston-New York march, and on hunger strike during the build-up to the Olympics.

This film was quite intense; I had not understood the level of the situation between China and Tibet until watching this film which makes a good primer to the subject (though there were hints of it in Daughters of Wisdom) and the dignity and calm of this elderly man is matched in scale only by the horrors that he went through, many of which are described vividly in the film. It's a documentary of the best kind, making a very important point and highlighting a great injustice of the world that continues today. I would recommend it to anyone as a companion piece to The End of Poverty. 8/10

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