Rotterdam Film Festival (IFFR) is known for its adventurous, innovative spirit. The VIPRO Tiger Awards competition, the central award of the festival has contenders that speak to the currents in which world cinema is moving. This is not the usual fare of storytelling with newer settings nor is this some adventure for the sake of boldness. The films in this category defy the general slate found at film festivals where films are potential box office hits or artistic wonders. It is an entirely different class by itself.
The films in this category are stylistically innovative narrative constructions, with genres blending and with newer film language explored to extend the frontiers of world cinema. The six films have watched so far in this category are memorable in the demands they make and the conventions they defy. Sophie Deraspe s Vital Signs (Les signes vitaux, Canada) explores the deep melancholy and the unflinching passion of a young woman who, despite her own physical disability cares for the terminal patients at a nursing home. The filmmaker explores what might motivate some to commit themselves so completely to the care of the strangers and even more importantly, the impossibility of communicating with them in their last moments of stay on this earth. This impossibility is philosophical and practical, a cognitive and emotional challenge to anyone but Simone who wants an emotional life outside of all of this but finds it difficult to straddle the world in which one side appears to her to be tone deaf, entirely incapable of coming to terms with the inevitabilities of life. In the meantime, we are drawn to the magnificent performance of Marie-Helene Bellavance who appears in front of the camera with the poise, dignity and depth that is rarely found in professionals.
Sophie Deraspe s film has a style of a documentary, never at the level of intrusiveness and Mexico s To the Sea (Alamar) Pedro Gonzales-Rubio adapts a similar style in documenting the lives of fisherman at the coral reef of Bancho Chinchorro as he weaves a story of a father and child who are visiting their grandfather. This is the young son s time with his father as his parents are divorced. The child experiences the primal beauty of nature where human beings are not the main inhabitants. It is a gentle but sharp narrative that documents and dramatizes simultaneously the purity of the nature we are living behind the urban jungles we are building that create laughably artificial substitutes.
Neither of these films have a high dramatic structure. They are tales of their own pace, bringing life as it happens to you, with little dramas we overlook but those are exactly the ones that pack meaning. Paz Fabrega s Cold Water of the Sea (Agua fria de mar , Costa Rica) brings together the lives of two women, a mis-understood young girl and wife in a young rich couple who are closer together as both families wait for the New Year on the Coast. Here, you have the almost-classical narrative of alienation in respective class positions only to be aggravated by their gender positions. Japan s Inoue Tsuki s Autumn Adagio (Fuwaku no Adagio) follows the awakening of sensual world in a nun who is attempting to serve a higher calling, both on spiritual level as well as level of human sensorium. She elevates the lives of others even as she sinks into troubles of her own torment. In keeping with the spirit of Rotterdam s search for innovation, Tsuki does not disappoint. The camera is as much brooding disposition as the nun herself.
Women film makers make a strong presence in this category of contenders for the VIPRO Tiger Award. Malaysia s My Daughter (Li fa dian de nu er), directed by Charlotte Lay Kuen Lim is a narrative of two spiraling lives, hopelessly trying to understand each other. The film maker keeps the viewer at the margins, challenging how their struggles are difficult to in the syntax of normal or cinematic relationships. The film paints a visual panorama of their lives by keeping the horror off the frame as we attempt to grasp the depth of their feelings in the midst of their splintering world. Again, another forceful statement for women s aesthetic reconfigured in world cinema, where brooding is taking a quality that invites to plumb the depths without offering you any cut-and-dry solutions.
Levan Koguashvili s Street Days (Quchis dgeebi, Georgia) is an unflinching, sensationally fast climb down the depressive state of the “Lost Generation of the former Soviet Union. Checkie is a druggie who hangs out with his equally loser friends in front of his child s school, annoying everyone, including the school principal. His addiction moves him deeper into misery with every move he makes. The film brings the grey and the grisly realities of an era that could not keep pace with the fast changing world. It is a failure that seems to have its own destiny, of complete despair. The film unfolds much like a crime and despair drug genre, at once enticing but leaves little as a challenge for the viewer.
There are nine more films to go before the awards are announced tomorrow night. Plus, film makers from India!