Thursday, August 08, 2013

Alone, Wadjda, and The Past

The next three MIFF sessions for me were beautiful stories about people in such different parts of the world, facing challenges. Reading subtitles whilst listening to conversations between characters in Mandarin, Arabic and French, these stories were so rich in place. I moved between the Forum and Greater Union for these at the end of last week.

Alone is the tale about three young girls essentially living on their own in a rural mountain village in the hillside of China. Their mother has left, and their father works in the city and returns when he can – otherwise the oldest, the ten year old, is essentially in charge, and also completes the chores such as cooking, and washing the clothes and bathing her siblings.

Their gruff aunt lives nearby, and the girls spend some of their day there completing chores, or working the fields and managing the livestock for this extended family. But essentially, they are on their own in this sparse village.

A simple look into their life, the camera rolls as they go through their days, as they play and play fight, and wait their father’s return from work on his rare visits.

I booked Wadjda after both Jenny and Jessie went to the first screening of it for the Festival, and raved! Touted as the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and also directed by a women, this story centres around a feisty, cheeky teenage girl who struggles with the restrictions of her culture and gender – and just wants to play, be a kid, and take on her friend in a bicycle race! Girls don’t ride bikes though, and Wadjda also struggles with the rules placed on her as a girl, and the need to remain out of sight of men and also with her clothing requirements.

Wadjda decides to find a way to buy her own bike so she can race her friend, and her manipulative bargaining with the adults in her life raise some funds. She then also hears about a school competition, with a monetary prize, for reciting the Qur’an and answering randomised questions based on it. Whilst not a studious pupil, usually told off for her lack of application and pronunciation, Wadjda sets her mind to this, doggedly.

It’s a heartfelt, beautiful story with an amazing lead in the role of Wadjda, and easily one of my picks from MIFF for this year of my 13.

A follow on from Oscar winner A Separation a few years ago, The Past brings a complicated, blended family in many levels of emotional turmoil to the screen. I am kicking myself for not seeing A Separation beforehand now, as this has given me the next chapter for the characters from that film, set some years forward and beginning with the need for Marie and Ahmed to finalise their divorce.

Ahmed’s presence within the home raise tensions and jealousies for Marie’s new relationship with Samir, and Ahmed’s father role to Marie’s two children picks up from where it left off when they were together. Add into the mix her new partner’s young son, and the pain he carries from the mysterious and unexplained absence of his own mother. So many elements, so well told and played out.

The layers of pain for each family member are unravelled as Ahmed’s stay goes on, with secrets and teenage guilt, and subsequent rash actions and their impact are pieced together. The shocking and emotional implications are then compounded by further details about Samir’s wife’s whereabouts and the sequence of events beforehand.

A film with many intricacies which left me thinking about it for days, this one also rates in my top 3 picks of the Festival.

Speaking of MIFF, I wrote a guest post talking about the Festival for the uninitiated - you can read it here over on The Aussie Word.

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