Tilai confirms promise of Ouedraogo's Yaaba
FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS:
THE 15th ANNUAL TORONTO
INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
By MANAVENDRA K. THAKUR
THE FOLLOWING ARE reviews of films shown at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo.
Burkina Faso, 1990.
Confirming the promise of his previous film Yaaba, which played in last year's Toronto Film Festival and was shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art here in Boston for a few days this summer, African director Idrissa Ouedraogo returns with Tila"i, a film that is best understood in the context of picking up where Yaaba left off.
Yaaba is a charming film that celebrates the values, wisdom, and simplicity of village life in Ouedraogo's native Burkina Faso (a West African country formerly known as Upper Volta). Moving forward at an unhurried pace that mirrors the relaxed pace of village life, Yaaba envelopes itself within the comforting support structures found in traditional village life. At the same time, Ouedraogo gently and humorously portrays the villagers' discomfort as new ideas and ways of doing things enter into their lives. Most importantly, the authenticity of Ouedraogo's portrayal of village life in his native land, especially compared to the self-serving touristy pap made by most Western directors shooting films in Africa, transformed Yaaba into a refreshing and enlightening film.
However, the one significant criticism that can be aimed at Yaaba is that the village seems to exist in a bubble by itself, unencumbered by any serious problems or divisive issues. This is the error of omission that Tila"i (The Law) rectifies. The law, to which the title of Ouedraogo's newest film refers, is the law of honor and tradition in which village life is thoroughly steeped, and the film explores what happens when an individual's personal beliefs directly contradict what society's law dictates he must do.
Ouedraogo explores this difficult issue in Tila"i with sensitivity and sympathy for his characters. He has taken the broad theme of conflict between individual and society, and translated it into achingly simple terms. By doing so he has infused his film with a deeply moving humanity, and because he addresses his universal themes through a specifically native African context, he has imbued his film with a palpable authenticity that makes the poignancy of the story all the more effective. The act of violence that ends the film points out that the danger of individual alienation is all too real even in societies as cohesive and supportive as the families in this village.
In many ways, this is an important film for Ouedraogo to have made after completing Yaaba because the clarity and honesty of his portrayal demonstrates considerable professional, artistic, and philosophic growth. Ouedraogo's technical ability to realize his concerns cinematically is also improved in Tila"i, and with his new film he has demonstrated beyond any doubt that a major new talent from Africa has arrived.
[THE MATCH FACTORY GIRL]
Directed by Aki Kaurism"aki.
Director Aki Kaurism"aki of Finland has already made a name for himself with his short, compact films combining varying degrees of humor, existential pathos, and American cinematic influences. One of his newest films, Tulitikkutehtaan Tytt"o (The Match Factory Girl), carries his reputation for tightly-edited, ironic filmmaking to new heights.
The film tells the story of a homely young woman named Iris (Kati Outinen), who has a numbingly repetitive job at the local match factory. Her mother and step-father virtually ignore her except when she brings home her pay, and there is little for Iris to do to amuse herself. Whenever she goes to social events she usually ends up sitting alone on the sidelines, without a dancing partner. This is the only life that she seems to have ever known.
Finally, she reserves a little money from her salary to buy herself a beautiful red dress and, despite the objection of her parents, she keeps it and wears it to a dance. Much to her delight, she meets a handsome tall man there, but finds after they sleep together that he has no interest in a long term relationship and, to make matters worse, he has made her pregnant. This nearly drives her to desperation, but Iris manages to avoid slipping into despair. She instead conquers her plight by growing into a confident woman who decides to take control of her life. The film ends as she methodically plans and executes her feminist revenge on those who made her life so miserable.
While similar stories have been told in other films, few have been imbued with the grim humor of Kaurism"aki's film, and certainly none of them have achieved so much with so little: Kaurism"aki tells the entire story of Iris' troubles and revenge in only 70 minutes and with hardly any dialogue. By stretching the limits of acting, facial expressions, sets, makeup, camera shots and angles, and music, Kaurism"aki has created a masterwork of tightly-edited filmmaking. The narrative would have suffered greatly if the film were any longer or any shorter, and it is Kaurism"aki's genius to know how to shoot and construct his film with such precision. The result is an immensely satisfying film that points out the need to revise many commonly held assumptions about narrative filmmaking.
Directed by Gy"orgy Feh'er.
In one of the most phenomenal directorial debuts in years, director Gy"orgy Feh'er has created an elegiac study in psychological obsession as well as cinematic expression. Filmed in sharply defined black-and-white, with extremely long takes, an alternately static and mobile camera, and high-contrast lighting, Sz"urk"ulet (Twilight) evocatively creates an ominous, foreboding mood as it probes ever deeper into the mind of a detective determined to find a killer who has been murdering young girls.
The film goes well beyond conventional detective-thriller moviemaking by constructing a central metaphor around the concept of twilight as a hazy, undefinable moment in time that somehow marks the boundary between night and day, or light and dark. The film transforms this boundary into a vehicle for exploring the nether world surrounding the mysterious links between inner motivations and external actions. Similarly, the film pushes and stretches the boundary between narrative content and cinematic form, invoking each independent of the other.
The high level of suspense in Feh'er's film, for example, comes almost entirely from the atmosphere created by the camerawork, lighting, music, and the setting in which the film takes place. Feh'er also eliminates all but the most essential dialogue, and he shoots characters in silhouette to explore psychological motivations via cinematic moods. This is very different from the films of Alfred Hitchcock, whose cinematic manipulations were always subjugated to narrative developments in order to force audiences to identify with individual characters caught up in unusual circumstances. In contrast, in Feh'er's film narrative development is equated to psychological exploration, which is almost entirely achieved through cinematic manipulations.
Because of this approach, some viewers might dismiss Sz"urk"ulet as an exercise in style. Few, however, can deny that it is an indisputably brilliant example of unconventional filmmaking that engages the viewer in ways that are markedly different and original. For Feh'er to accomplish so much thematically, cinematically, and psychologically -- and to do so in his debut film -- is simply astounding. Sz"urk"ulet is a fascinating introduction to this new director, and his future works will be awaited with much anticipation.
(Editor's note: The last of Manavendra's reviews of films at the Toronto International Film Festival will appear in Friday's edition of The Tech.)