Wednesday 13th June 2018
Of Fathers and Sons, 2017, dir. Talal Derki (Syria, Lebanon, Germany, Qatar)
This was a really confronting film in many ways. Filmmaker Talal Derki went in to this film essentially duping an extremist Abu Osama, father of eight living in a remote village in Syria, into believing that he sympathised with his cause and this is why he wanted to film him and his family. What he actually filmed however, is not a sympathetic film but rather one that confronts its audience with the reality of this family’s life – both its inherent and sometimes terrifying violence, as well the ways in which it is not so much different from the rest of us.
There are a lot of truly uncomfortable scenes in this film, unsurprisingly. There are sequences in which the father, Abu Osama attempts to justify extremist violence and near indiscriminate murder and threaten violence against the women in his family over and over. But what emerges as the film goes on is that it is not necessarily about the father but about his children, two of the sons in particular, Osama, named for Osama bin Laden, and Ayman. These boys are relentlessly trying to gain their father’s approval and, in the most devastating and confronting sequences of the film, go off to camp to receive military training, essentially learning to perform acts of fundamentalist violence under terrifying circumstances, before they are even teenagers. This is compounded by the many scenes in the film in which we see the boys just being boys. It hits home a touch to see them playing in the streets, messing around at school, getting in trouble and laughing amongst themselves, making a makeshift pool and diving in and out all afternoon long. These are things we have all done I’m sure as children and is a reminder that no matter what else is going on around these boys, these are regular children who have essentially been thrust into a life of violence (especially sad when Ayman decides he would be much more interested in carrying on at school and learning more than going further with military training like his brother Osama). That, more than anything is painful to watch, the way the cycle of violence rolls over, leaving the innocence of these young boys in its wake.
A confronting film that I think is still really worth the watch. If for nothing else than to help understand how young men are following these paths.
Wajib, 2017, dir. Annemarie Lacier (Palestine, France, Germany)
I really liked this film. It follows Palestinian father and son Abu Shadi and Shadi who must hand deliver the invites to the wedding of their daughter and sister respectively in modern day Nazareth. It is another really nice parent/child story of the two trying to find common ground with each other after the son has moved away to Europe and on with his life, and the father has stayed the same, against the politically challenged situation of Palestinians living in what is now Israel.
This is a really well done film. The actors that play Shadi and Abu Shadi, Saleh and Mohammad Bakri, are real life father and son. This gives their relationship on screen a really palpable feeling, especially in moments of particular joy or tension. The story is structured really nicely, taking place over the course of the one day of them delivering the invitations. Naturally not everything goes smoothly and the interactions with the people they’re delivering to are often hilarious, the film ending up about as funny as it is dramatic. The politics of the film are played really subtly but in no way are they undervalued. The tension between the father and son and their differing feelings steadily builds through off hand comments until the proverbial shit hits the fan when Abu Shadi wants Shadi to take him to deliver an invitation to a Jewish man that Shadi believes spied and reported on them. The ensuing argument explores really complex issues and gives voice to the experiences of Palestinians in Israel without hitting the audience over the head.
A really fun but heartfelt film with the fantastically well played relationship, both of the characters and actors, as father and son, at its core. Definitely a film to keep an eye out for.
The Taste of Rice Flower, 2017, dir. Pengfei Song (China)
Another parent/child story in which they have to find a way back to each other but this time in a vastly different context. This film, set in China, is about a single mother Ye Nan, who has left her daughter, Nan Hang, in her small village with her grandfather, whilst she goes and earns money in Shanghai, only to return to her village and to a daughter who she barely knows and who barely knows her. The film sees them trying to rebuild their relationship and whilst it is often sweet and genuine, it is also very slow.
Inherent to this film is the clash or at least the comparison of modern and rural China and it is hugely interesting which also makes the fact that it is underdeveloped incredibly frustrating. The relationship between the mother and daughter is played really beautifully at times but the development of it is doesn’t always feel very natural, meaning as well that its resolution feels a little It is however, a stunning film with a really beautiful setting that is shot in a way that really makes it shine. It also has little dashes of humour that are a welcome surprise.
Overall, its a beautiful film but not always the most compelling one. I don’t like to say this about films very much because so much work goes into each and every piece of filmmaking but if you can see this film, awesome, if you can’t, you’re not missing too much.