By Sascha Krieger
My Brother the Devil (Panorama / UK / Director: Sally El Hosaini)
Rachid and Mo are brothers of Egyptian descent living in London’s troubled Hackney district. Rachid is the gangster, Mo the good little brother who adores the older one. Of course, he tries to be a gangster, too, while Rachid, prompted by a tragic event, wants to get out. As if that wasn’t enough, director Sally El-Hosaini adds a few more twists to make sure there will be a violent escalation. The ending is, of course, optimistic, everyone has learned their lessons and, of course, crime doesn’t pay. Everything about this story is cliché, many dialogues copied straight from the textbook, some plot twists bordering on the ridiculous. Added to this is a well-tested style for films of this subject matter, complete with fast editing and swelling sound whenever something dramatic is about to happen. Inner turmoil is represented by fragmented images, hip hop music is never far (one of the brothers writes rap songs, of course). What keeps this thoroughly uninspired and conventional film a little interesting, at least for a while, are the two actors who lend their roles the credibility and plausibility their director largely denies her film.
Toata lumea din familia noastra (Forum / Romania, Netherlands / Director: Radu Jude)
„Are you going to Heaven when you die?“, a little girl asks her father. Yes, he says, adding: „Everyone in our family.“ When the film ends his conviction should at least be question. Toata lumea don familia noastra (Everyone in our family) is a brutally honest assessment of what can happen when a family falls apart. Marius is going to take his daughter from a divorced marriage on a long-planned holiday. After a short visit at his parents which already ends up in a fight, things escalate quickly when his ex-wife’s new partner refuses to let Marius‘ daughter leave with him. What happens next has the relentless logic of desperate man seeing his entire life collapse around him. The handheld camera follows Marius closely in a documentary-style fashion, the images have the coarse-grained and unpolished quality of a documentary. We see the family drama unfold as if in real-time. There are no forced outbursts, no overdone emotions, no cathartic moments or turning points. This is meant to be as close to the real thing as possible. Toata lumea din familia noastra just keeps looking, refusing to turn away – whether from the unbearably painful or the absurdly banal. If film is interpreted as an art form showing life as it is, this film does the job in the most uncompromising way. Realism is a word thrown around too often, director Radu Jude shows us what it can mean.
Csak a szél (Competition / Hungary, Germany, France / Director: Bence Fliegauf)
Hungarian director Bence Fliegauf’s Csak a szél is loosely based on a series of attacks on Roma in 2008 and 2009 in which six people died. In Csak a szél five Roma families have already been murdered when the film starts. We follow three members of one Roma family. In the long opening, they get up from bed, one after the other, leaving separately. Mother, daughter, son. The camera gets really close, focusing on parts of the face, hands, feet, moving along sleeping bodies. It will close in on them again and again, as the unseen and never openly acknowledged threat closes in. Everyone goes about their daily business, we accompany the mother to her various jobs, the daughter to school, the son as he roams around. Nothing happens, what we see are the most boring of day-to-day activities. Yet somewhere in all of this, constantly present, there is the sense of dread. Faces are closed, heads low, words few. These are people under siege, people who crave to be invisible. They have no allies, all the local cop complains about is that the murderers spoil their „message“ by killing „good“ Roma, too. With the nervous camera, the extreme close-ups, the reduced light, Fliegauf creates an oppressive, suffocating atmosphere, a growing density, a sense of paralysis taking over, an intensity that gets increasingly hard to bear and that leaves the viewer numb. They have to come in the end and they do. There will be shots in the house as we’re running away with the boy and the camera, there will be corpses getting dressed, there will be coffins in what is a chillingly matter-of-fact epilogue. Business as usual. The film ends with its first music, a lone voice singing, hardly audible as if from far away. A faint sign of life from the distance that says: We’re not dead yet. If only one film if the festival stays in mind, this might be it. And it should be.