Through accident of scheduling, the first three films I've screened here--"Bread and Roses," "Nurse Betty" and "Things I Can Tell By Looking at Her"--although poles apart in treatment and visual style, all happened to take place in Los Angeles. Ken Loach's political drama about the Justice for Janitors protest, Neil La Bute's soap opera satire and Rodrigo Garcia's series of interconnected vignettes starring Glenn Close, Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter and Calista Flockhart were also men's films about women.
Not so the Proust-inspired "La Captive", Chantal Akerman's meditation on love and freedom that's somehow both light and tragic.
The next three, 20-year-old Iranian Samira Mahkmalbaff's "The Blackboard", Jiang Wen's military tragicomedy set during the Japanese occupation of China, "Devils on the Doorstep", and Danish Kristian Levring's "The King is Alive", were all remarkable for showing characters under extreme physical duress in the harshest of landscapes--steep rocky terrain on the Iraq-Iran border; a barren Northern China mountain village; the blistering desert dunes in which "The King's" passengers are stranded afer their bus breaks down.
More authentically (the result of economic realities rather than directorial fiat) the bus breakdown theme reappeared in the Cuban co-production Juan Carlos Tobia's delightful "Lista de Espera" (Waiting List). Tabio is well-known as the late Tomas Gutierrez Alea's collaborator on "Guantanamera". In a fascinating parallel of what might be called functionalist esthetic or survivalist set design, the bus timetable came off the station wall and did double duty as a dinner table for the beleaguered Cubans in the bus station. Who could have imagined? In a virtuoso tour de force of multifunctionality, the blackboard strapped to the back of the itinerant Kurdish schoolteachers seeking students in mine-strewn landscapes becomes in turn a shelter from gunfire or cascading avalanches, a dowry for a marriage, a splint for a broken leg, a stretcher for a sick old man.
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