2 Tunisian films debut this week.

FILM REVIEWS:

 

BADLAND HUNTERS (South Korea 2023) ***

Directed by Heo Myung-haeng

 

Before dismissing BADLAND HUNTERS as a forgettable Korean dystopian futuristic thriller, one should not that this Netflix original film is a sequel to CONCRETE UTOPIA.  In CONCRETE UTOPIA, Seoul is devastated overnight by a major earthquake. Everything has collapsed, but only one place remains intact: Imperial Palace Apartments. Residents begin to feel threatened as external survivors who heard the rumours flock to the apartments. They unite for survival, and with the new resident leader Yeong-tak (Lee Byung-hun) at the centre, they create new rules only for residents while thoroughly blocking the entry of outsiders. Thanks to this, unlike the hellish world outside, the utopian apartments are extremely safe and peaceful for the residents. In an endless crisis for survival, however, an unexpected conflict begins among them.  The film was South Korea’s entry for Best International Feature for the upcoming Academy Awards but it did not make the shortlist.  It was not very good and the Orwellian society created is not credible and a poor man’s version of ANIMAL FARM.

BADLANF HUNTERS takes up the story post-earthquake transformation of Seoul into an apocalyptic wasteland, where everything from law and order to civilization has collapsed.  Though touted as a sequel, this film has nothing similar to CONCRETE UTOPIA, except maybe the stunning special effects.  The premise still has the same earthquake that turns Seoul into a lawless badland.   Nam San, a fearless huntsman, goes on to rescue a teenager from Yang Gi-su, a mad doctor, who held the teenager captive in a camp full of dangerous cultists.  When the film begins, the mad doctor was resurrecting his dying daughter, FRANKENSTEIN STYLE when the earthquake occurs.  This film is more of an action flick than a drama, another difference between the two films.

The film is directed by martial arts director Heo Myung-haeng in his debut directorial feature and produced by Climax Studios, Big Punch Pictures and Nova film .  As a low-expectation action flick, it succeeds as a different sequel to CONCRETE UTOPIA.  The main actor, An Ji-hye, who plays a special forces sergeant Eun-ho, performed 99% of her action scenes in the film. 

The film opens in theatres in South Korea on January 26th and is available for streaming here on Netflix. 

Trailer: 

BEHIND THE HAYSTACKS (Greece 2022) ****Directed by Vladimir Anastasov

 

BEHIND THE HAYSTACKS is a powerful and timely drama, Greece’s submission for Best International Film at this year’s Oscars that swept the 2023 Hellenic Film Awards capturing Best Film and Best Director among its 10 category wins.  The film did not meet the Oscar Best International Feature shortlist but the film is still impressive and a pretty worthy watch.

BEHIND THE HAYSTACKS is set in 2015 when several European countries had closed their borders, resulting in hundreds of refugees and immigrants being trapped near the northern borders of Greece.

The film begins at a picnic party by the lake, Lake Dorian.  Three kids playing by the shore discover two dead bodies - the incident which is laughed upon and dismissed by the adults.  What does this introduction have to do with the rest of the movie?  The reason does not become apparent until at least a third through.

Doiran Lake is a lake with an area of 43.1 km² shared between North Macedonia and Greece. To the west is the city of Nov Dojran, to the east the village of Mouries, to the north the mountain Belasica/Beles, and to the south the Greek town of Doiranh the film.  The two dead are likely refugees trying to cross the lake for a better life.

The subject of the film is Stergios, a middle-aged fisherman living on the border of Greece with North Macedonia near Doiran Lake who finds himself in deep debt. He begins trafficking immigrants* across the border, in exchange for a large sum. His wife, a housewife and devout parishioner, seeks truth, while her daughter attempts to define her own life in an oppressive environment. Then a tragic incident hits the family, pushing the three heroes to confront their own impasses and personal weaknesses, while having to consider, for the first time in their lives, the price to pay for their actions.

The story of the film unfolds in three chapters, titled Stergios, Maria and Anastasia.  The technique has been done beef in other films sorry, I cannot recall the titles) but it is an intriguing technique only done a few times in films.  The same identical story within the same timeline is told from different points of view.  In this story, there are similar incidents.  These include Anastasia going to a birthday nightclub dance against her father’s wishes and knowledge and thus not returning home after a fight with her dad after she is found out; a  tragic incident involving the droning of refugees trying to cross the Lake using Stergios’ fishing boat; Maria's brother’s Stergiostroublesome meddling that gets the family into trouble with the law; the coop and farming;  family tensions; Maria’s work at the church and the family financial problems.

Stergios is not the perfect father but he tries.  The same can be said about Maria but this is a decent family who strives to survive amidst circumstances out of their control and often against them.  In Greece's entry for this year's Best International Feature Oscar, Director Anastasov has crafted a delicate and powerful film about a family trying to survive in a harsh and cruel world.

The film opens on January 26th on SVOD (Streaming VOD)

Trailer: 

 

 

(Please see below on how to view this film.   The film can be seen on the newly launched channel on Prime Video called

FILM MOVEMENT PLUS.  FILM MOVEMENT PLUS (www.filmmovementplus.com) opens up a world of provocative, compelling, and award-winning films. Priced at $5.99 per month with a free 7-day trial, the SVOD subscription service is currently available as a Prime Video Channel and on  Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Android TV, mobile (iOS and Android), Chromecast, and most Samsung Smart TV.)

 

FOUR DAUGHTERS (France, Tunisia, Germany, Saudi Arabia 2023) ***½

Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania

 

 

FOUR DAUGHTERS is a film about the four daughters of Olga, a Tunisian, the film’s French title being LES FILLES D’OLFA.    This is hardly the subject of a film that might sound interesting to a male audience but this prize winner for Best Documentary at this year’s Cannes Festival is a powerful piece of filmmaking that both genders should watch.  At Cannes 2023, FOUR DAUGHTERS won the L’Oeil d’or for best documentary.  Using actors to fill in the gaps, the film documents the story of Olfa, a Tunisian mother of four daughters, with her two eldest disappearing as teenagers.  The two have been taken away by a wolf, Olfa says of the two older daughters on camera while the two youngest daughters Eya and Tayssir (as themselves) are still living with her.   The missing ones are Ghofrane (Ichraq Matar) and Rahma (Nour Karoui).  Olfa plays herself, with actor Hend Sabri also standing in.  Majd Mastoura plays all the disappointing men – Olfra’s husband, her lover whom the kids initially see as a step-dad and a Tunisian officer who refuses to help.  Olga gets too emotionally involved, which is the reason she got an actor to play herself.  The doc examines the problem Olfa and her daughters have with their bodies - a problem that exists and continues to pose problems.  They argue if a woman’s body should belong only to her husband or only to the woman alone and no one else.  Director Tania also shows that the problem is partly due to Olfa besides the chauvinistic men.

One can appreciate the hardship faced by a family made up only of women.  According to Olga, the family would be attacked by men, sometimes breaking down the door of their house.  The eldest daughter confesses that she would dress like a man, and take up Martial Arts so as to beat up the attackers to protect the family.  The audience gets to see a different society - in Tunisia, where the male dominates.  The girls also claim that swearing is very common among any Tunisian family.

Director Hanai brings pathos and gets her audience emotionally involved with the five women.  She leaves the mystery of the reason the two older sisters disappear.  Will they reunite with the family?  That is the question director Tania leaves for the audience to guess for the rest of the film.

FOUR DAUGHTERS is an unforgettable and compelling documentary about female abuse with a strong statement that the female gender is just as strong as the male and will do anything to prove themselves and to survive.  The audience is also given a revealing and educational tour of a society that is mired in male dominance.

FOUR DAUGHTERS premiered at Cannes winning the Best Documentary Prize and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and is opening this week in theatres.  A remarkable film that should be seen to be believed!  The film is also nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar.

Trailer: 

RU (Canada 2023) ***

Directed by Charles-Olivier Michaud

 

Based on the Governor General’s Award–winning novel by Kim Thúy who also serves as producer of the film, RU is the story of the arduous journey of a wealthy family fleeing from Vietnam in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, then spending time at a refugee camp in Malaysia, before landing in Quebec.   The story is told from the point of view of the daughter of the family, Nguyen An Tinh.  The mother is also called An Tiny but in Vietnamese, the names have different meanings for different types of ‘peace’ from the different characters used that sound the same in English or French.  There is not much story in the film, the story is replaced by experiences of what the family goes through from the time the soldiers break into the house in Vietnam to their selling in winter Montreal.  The art direction is nothing short of superb, down to the very detail of the ‘stubby’ beer bottles used during the time.  The Canadians are shown their best, thanks to Canadian director Michaud, where hospitality and kindness are shown to strangers looking for sympathy and a new home.

Trailer: 

 

TOTEM (Mexico/Denmark/France 2023) ***

Directed by Lila Aviles

 

In 1996, French director. Jacques Dillon broke new ground with his gut-wrenching film of how a 4-year-old coped with her mother’s sudden death in PONETTE. This January, two films feature young girls coping with death  One is MOJA & VESNA and the other reviewed here is Mexico’s entry for the Oscars, TOTEM, already shortlisted.

Sol, a seven-year-old girl, goes to her grandfather's home, where her aunts Nuri and Alejandra are throwing a surprise birthday party for her father, Tony who is suffering from cancer but refusing to do chemo,  It is probably his last, so in a sense it is also a farewell ceremony.  With the onset of dusk, an unfamiliar and unrestrained atmosphere takes over, breaking the family bonds.  For Sol, the world is about to change as she learns the essence of letting go and feels the breath of life.

Director Aviles does not restrict the film only on Sol.  Though the film shows her point of view, the film also shows the fractured relationships among the family members.

.  The sisters end up with a heated argument in the kitchen while the grandfather, who needs aid in speaking, is unhappy with the situation at hand.

Though mostly dead serious in nature director Aviles opens up her film in a comical segment where a sister hires the services of a medium to ward off the bad sprites in the house- a procedure that the grandfather dismisses as Satanic activity and another family member as just plain crazy stuff.  The sister is at the end of the procedure convinced by the medium to pay 3,000 pesos unread of 2,000 because the medium says it is much harder work and she had expected and that she has to rest the following three days,

Though Aviles’ film is engrossing for the most part, it does lose steam and it gets distracted when the focus of the film moves away from Sol.  Also with the inclusion of Sol’s young cousin, there is an additional point of view.  But Naíma Sentíes plays the young Sol with charm and innocence.

At best the film succeeds in looking at a child’s musings of death and time, trying to make sense of what is happening, and not so effective are the problems and skeletons brought out of the closet during the party by the there clan members.  What also deserves mention is Tona’s reaction to his surprise party - his mood swings from depressing to joyous especially seeing all his clan members donning masks made upon his face.  And director Aviles stays away from sentimentality and sappiness.

TOTEM was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival, where it had its world premiere on 20 February 2023. It is a co-production between Mexico, Denmark and France.  It also received critical acclaim and was named one of the top five international films of 2023 by the National Board of Review.  TOTEM opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on January 25th. 

Trailer: 

UNDER THE FIG TREES (Tunisia 2021) ***

Directed by Erie Sehiri

 

UNDER THE FIG TREES takes place over the course of a warm summer day at a Tunisian fig orchard. As a group of workers collect the summer’s harvest, the cover of fig branches creates a space for flirting, drama, and deep connections.  The film begins with a truck carrying a group of workers – mainly teenagers, as well as some seasoned older women – arriving at a fig orchard in rural Tunisia, and the workday begins. Some of the workers flirt, and others pick fights. Some neglect their work, while others report to the boss, and the oldest of the group teaches the teens the art of fig harvesting. Although the work is hard and repetitive, the orchard becomes a kind of sanctuary for some of the workers, an opportunity to escape the gaze of society, speak freely and share secrets with each other.
Despite what sounds like a slow film with not much going on, director Sehiri works out some dramatic moments that reveal the orchard’s working environment.  A young worker is sent home without pay by the supervisor because he has broken a branch, though by accident, twice.  Breaking a branch of a fig tree is like breaking an arm, the audience learns.  The young worker begs of another chance to no avail. The audience notices the boy as he picks up the figs from a bucket turned over.  Such is the hard life and life lessons to be learnt.  

As for romance, there is a young girl and boy who meet in the orchard after some years of separation.  They share their feelings.

If one thinks the film concerns dated issues, modern social media and Twitter, Tik Tok and others are talked about during a break when the workers sit down UNDER THE FIG TREES to share their meals and chat, and yes flirt.  The girls also know how to talk dirty while remaining respectable at the same time.  Jealous and fights also break out with the girls arguing about flirting with their men.

Current social issues are brought up as well as how the Tunisians drove out the French, with male and female contributions brought to light

Though fiction, the film could also play as a documentary.   The film is an easy watch, no concentration is needed, and no stress is required either, just observation of the Tunisian workers.

The audience is given a lesson on the local way of life, both the differences as well as the similarities with North America.    What makes us question then is whether human beings are really any different from one another.

Director Erige Sehiri allows the film’s focus to flow elegantly from one character to the next, and their dreams, prospects, and predicaments. In many cases, their situations represent larger political issues, casting the group of harvesters as a microcosm of the society they belong to.  But Under the Fig Trees is first and foremost a warm and compassionate ensemble drama, and watching it feels like spending a satisfying and eventful day in the sun.

UNDER THE FIG TREES was last year’s (2023) Tunisia’s submission for the Best International Feature Academy Award (this year - Tunisia’s documentary entry  FOUR DAUGHTERS made the shortlist.  The film premieres via Digital and VOD on January 26th, 2024.

Trailer: 

Comments powered by CComment

Looking for a job? Upload your CV and get noticed by employers