Updated: Aug 15
I enjoyed my last 10/10/10 challenge so much that I thought I'd make a part 2 to start off 2021. Here are ten more films from ten more countries from ten more days.
Woman at War (2018)
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
As fierce as its title, this 2018 Icelandic film is bold, eccentric, and thoroughly engrossing. Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is Halla, a middle-aged choir conductor turned environmental vigilante who wreaks havoc on a pollutant aluminium company that threatens the natural beauty of the land. It’s a foreboding story of a woman warrior, forced to make a choice between her passion and her purpose, her loneliness serving as both her asset and her downfall. In a film where the environment is its own character, the on-location shooting and elegant cinematography play no small part in its feat as both a folkloric tale and a genuine warning. It’s not quite futuristic, and it’s not quite modern-day. Who’s to say that Iceland doesn’t have a bit of magic in its land that gives the movie its distinct aura?
The key quirk lies in the absurdist nature of the film- Halla has an identical and all-too-convenient twin sister (also played by Geirharðsdóttir), the sheer vivacity of a 40 something year old woman shooting a bow and arrow and tackling drones in the green hills inspires awe, and, perhaps my favorite element, a live band (composed of a drummer, a tubist, and an accordionist) appears at each time Halla has a very near or present danger, playing her off the scene as she approaches her uncertain fate.
In an interview between The Moveable Fest and the director-actress duo, Erlingsson addressed the live band as a “challenge to make the score before [filming].” Geirharðsdóttir, accustomed to the pit orchestra of live performances, said “...for me, it was great because in the theater, we often have the band offstage so I could work with the rhythm. And I really looked at the band like part of me being in the film. It’s like the band was part of the character," (Source 1).
It is strange and daring in the best possible way, an unorthodox apocalypse that seems both nigh and perfectly inconceivable.
But the crisis is real. In an interview with Lulu Garcia-Navarro at NPR, Geirharosodottir gave some insight to the environmental conflict at hand. “In Iceland, we have the biggest untouched highlands in Europe. So - and I think nature is as honorable as a child. So us, as adults, we have to protect nature just like we protect children because nature cannot defend itself… It is a big debate we have there because, of course, big industries and people that believe in the - making fast money, they don't agree. They say we have to use what we have and sell energy," (Source 2).
Regarding finding the humor in climate change, Geirharosdottir gave a very insightful explanation.
“What I love the way the director does it is - and what you don't realize as an American audience is that all authority in the film is played by comedian actors in Iceland. So the president is a comedian. The prime minister is a comedian. The policemen, both men and women, are comedians. So he really makes the authorities into clowns. So this is like an extra layer for Icelandic audience. But I really think as an actor - and I've done lot of comedy. And my strength has mostly been, like, comedy acting. If you do good comedy, you really open up the audience. And then you can send in the true message because when people are laughing, they actually open more up."
The superb Woman at War is on Hulu. Check it out and let me know what you think!
Dhalinyaro (Youth) (2018)
Director: Lulu Ali Ismail
This is Djibouti’s first feature film- and it was directed by a woman! As I learn more about the East African film scene, I have found a great appreciation for films from filmmakers who are building their industry from the ground up, and I think it’s very important to recognize what a huge feat this is.
Dhalinyaro is the story of three girls from different social backgrounds who navigate their academic and personal lives at the end of their senior year. Marking a lot of universal tropes but doing so with a fresh lens is the key to this film’s success, along with the earnestness of its endearing three leads. The standout, whom I believe to be Amina Mohamed Ali as Deka, is a true revelation of combined energy and wit. Her strong screen presence convinces me of her aptitude for even more exciting roles in the future. Further, her ultimate university decision at the end of the film is what seems to ground this movie, in a very admirable act of practicality and self-knowing.
In an interview with Ciku Kimeria at OkayAfrica, Ismail shared her inspiration for the film.
“I wanted to talk about youth. It's a theme that's been made into movies in many places round the world, but not in Djibouti. I wanted to explore both what they have in common with youth elsewhere, but what makes them unique… From the beginning, it was clear to me that Djibouti was going to the fourth character in the story. I wanted to show Djibouti in a natural way—focus on the day to day life. Djibouti isn't just a harbor, it's a country, it's a city, it's a place that is developing where the youth are connected to the youth around the world and are part of a shared humanity."
She cast her stars by traveling to high schools and seeing about 300 different girls before picking her three principal actresses. As for being the spark for the film industry in her country, she said this: “The country has a lot of young, talented youth including those studying film at the university and the future of this industry can be bright. Recently an institute was set up in the country to develop the movie industry and tap into these talented youth.”
Although Ismail has yet to make a movie since, her current title as “the first lady of the Djibouti cinema” is unlikely to be tarnished anytime soon. Her message is this: “I want this film to be seen all over the world. This is my dream for all films and particularly African films. I want to see our films getting distributed widely as films.”
This lovely and truthful film is available to stream on Amazon Prime. Do your part to support the rise of the Djibouti film industry and give it some love!
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017)
Director: Mouly Surya
TW: sexual violence
This film doesn’t exactly go down easy. In full transparency, I have always struggled with the western genre- especially those that are relentlessly savage. Now, that is by no means a demerit to the director, as a female lens did significantly calm my concerns about excessive brutality, but it should be noted that I had a tricky time making it through this one. Regardless, that should not dissuade you if you are A) a fan of spaghetti westerns, or B) the type to find comeuppance greatly satisfying, if you wish to watch this movie.
Thus, the story must be told: a widow (Marsha Timothy), after killing her rapist and his gang, heads off to find justice. Along the way, she comes across a nearly 10 month pregnant woman (Dea Panendra) seeking her husband. There is a lot to admire in the film’s style: it beautifully captures the desert heat of the island of Sumba, Panendra’s character offers an odd infusion of humor to the traditionally stale mood, and Marsha Timothy’s performance is stoic and valiant, reminiscent of a crane. The movie is arranged into four acts, the first and fourth of which are successfully severe, the second and third serving as the “journey between.” Danger is consistently met with apathy by authorities and bystanders, putting even more pressure onto Marlina herself as she serves as the sole protector and voice of good in a contained world of infinite enemies.
The film’s release happened to coincide with Hollywood’s MeToo movement, giving a feminist revenge flick its political context to soar. Director Surya thought that especially convenient given Indonesia’s own patriarchal society. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she noted,
“You probably notice in the film that women are always entering the house and exiting from the kitchen instead of from the front door. When you go to some traditional villages like this you would see that the women would gather at the back of the house; whereas, the men would gather at the front of the house...People in this village probably don’t know what feminism is.”
She emphasized, this time to TheWrap, “We are decades behind in terms of speaking up about this kind of crime..If you’re on this island, you have to keep a weapon somewhere. It’s the Wild Wild East.” When asked by Beatrice Verhoeven at TheWrap if she would like to have Clint Eastwood see her movie, in its various nods to the genre he played a great part in defining and the film’s new subcategory as “Satay Western, she said “I would love to be there to see that.”
As to her ultimate goal with the movie, she explained,
“Women helping each other and supporting each other, that’s what I really wanted to convey because women supporting each other is the most beautiful relationship you can have.”
It is in that comfort that one can come to appreciate Marlina the Murderer- and frankly, I do a great deal more after reading up on Souly’s approach. The film is available on Amazon Prime, and her other two earlier features, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love and Fiction. can be found for rent elsewhere.
Director: Annemarie Jacir<