LIFF 2013 Part 4

Fifi Howls from Happiness (US/Iran/Fra) (review)

Iran is not the place you might normally associate with modern art.  But among those in the know, the paintings and sculptures made by Bahman Mohasses are highly values examples of art from the recent era.  Their value is set high because firstly, many of the hundreds of pieces were destroyed - many by the artist himself, and secondly because in 1979, as Iran entered it's revolutionary period, Mohasses disappeared.

Long after many thought he was dead, Mitra Farahani, a young filmmaker tracked him down to a hotel in Rome, where he has been living ever since.  Perhaps anticipating his end through worsening health, he agrees to an interview to discuss his legacy to the world.  Inbetween the rasping, smoky laughter, we see a man driven to self-isolation by wars and uprisings, and by a changing world that causes him discomfort.  'Scavengers', he rails - referring to those who have attempted to censor his work or have them for themselves, or who did him over with dodgy commissions.

Fifi lets the viewer in at a point where Mohasses' eagerness to make a final masterpiece is vying for what little life the man has left in him, and two very enthusiastic fans have managed to convince him that their commission should be his last great piece of art, as well as being one of many of his surviving exhibits he is willing to let go of.

As a nice touch, Mitra's film is constructed almost as you watch it, with Mohasses suggesting music and set pieces, songs and poems that appear at his command on the screen - it is his biography after all.  Though we hear little about the man himself, and the artwork may not be for everyone, the film stands up better as a treasured record of a likeable old man and the work long thought lost, and a privileged few moments spent in his company, getting a flavour of his life. 7/10

Leviathan (Fra/UK) (wiki)

A small fishing vessel on a dark and stormy sea.  From the helmet cam of a random fisherman, we  struggle to orient ourselves against the undulating waves and the lurching stern of the ship.  As the chains crank deafeningly in around us, the water fizzes and bubbles before transforming into a massive steel fishing cage that clangs against the sides of the ship as it lands, missing an animated raincoat - which we can only guess has a person somewhere inside it - by inches.  The trawlermen carry on their tasks with no reaction.

This is the life of a modern-day fisherman amidst the stormy seas.  Using a succession of long, brooding shots, which in any other film of this type would be static or barely moving, makes use of the swishing of the boat and the undulations of the waves to make the viewer disoriented and seasick.  If the motion doesn't turn the stomach, the exposure of the unpleasant night-to-night tasks may well.  Once the huge nets are emptied on board, the fish are gutted there and then to process and make way for the next dredging - a messy and macabre job if you are constantly bobbing up and down by ten feet or so and the sun is nowhere to be seen. 

Very little of the human aspect is showm in the film, in fact the men aboard the boat seem purposefully drowned out by the other noises, and are portrayed mostly as emotionless aliens come to massacre and return the spoils.  The waste is slooshed overboard - bucketfulls of fish blood, heads and fins, scallop shells in their thousands, and the bodies of fish caught up in the net that don't fit the catch.  An squadron of seagulls are ever present, grabbing what they can get as the camera follows them underwater to dive for scraps.

I would say Leviathan is an effective environmental film - if you can stick with it.  It paints a dark and uncomfortable picture of how the human species has solved the problem of getting a fish on the plates of millions all over the world, and it does this without comment or bias, just compiled footage from a few terrifying trips to sea. 

And even though it manages to convey the stomach-turning ickiness and environmental scarring very well, the film falls into the trap of long, long meditative shots and lots of progression.  The single take shot of undulating sea mixed with a flock of seagulls as the waves take the camera above and below water is impressive to start with, but not after five minutes of the same thing, and definitely not after the third such segment.  It just becomes too repetitive and annoying, and detracts from the power of the film. 5.5/10

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