Sunday, 17 May 2009


Featuring some of the most beautiful and inventive photography of the sixties, The Sun In A Net breaks away from the laboured socio-realism of many of its contemporaries, instead treasuring the richness of every image, a precedent set for the Czechoslovak New Wave of the second half of the decade. With a wonderfully progressive score by musique concrète artist Ilja Zeljenka, the film tells the story of Fajolo and Bela, a troubled young couple who independently use Fajolo’s time at a lakeside summer camp as an excuse to see other people. As lovers and locations interconnect, the couple learn something new about one another, indirectly bonding in a way they could never have asked for.

At the beginning of the film, everyone’s prime concern is to witness the eclipse. Even when the spectacle is over, the theme of limited scope is used and reused, whether it be the purblindness of Bela’s long-suffering mother, or the window frame on the fisherman’s outlook, a location which hosts some of the film’s most private moments. Glimmers of sunlight rebound off water and glass, as if a reminder of the spark of love that had once been. Although the main characters are not particularly likeable, the film sympathises with the restlessness of youth, with most of the adults keeping a tight-lipped vigil over their exploits, as if reluctant to interrupt them. With an excellent script and outstanding union of image and sound, director Štefan Uher has created a timeless but underrated work of art.


Stylistically equidistant from both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Koyaanisqatsi, Werner Herzog’s hypnotic visual poem about how the hunger for oil has changed the Kuwaiti landscape succeeds in freeing the locations of their political context, thus creating a new story from the fantastical images. With scant commentary, Herzog’s lens drives vigilantly over the urban and rural spaces hit worst by the Gulf War, transforming these deserted areas into extraterrestrial vistas. Sheet metal litters the ground, dust fills the sky, neon signs flicker like weakened flames. In this interpretation, an untranslated female interviewee’s inability to articulate her grief becomes a new language, the battered objects around her like ancient artefacts.

Essentially, the film is a battle of the primal elements – there appear to be almost no human combatants or casualties. We spend a good few minutes watching oil fires spin and billow with acrid smoke before we see even a drop of water, and even when it is there in abundance, it still struggles to tame the blaze. It is often terrifying to witness the mêlée, human beings just specks on the horizon. The romantic soundtrack, though sometimes seeming a little insensitive to the horror on screen, works in much the same way as the music in Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy, underlining the conflicts between culture and instinct, nature and technology, urban and rural. Simultaneously avoiding interpretation and addressing the fundamental driving forces of humankind, Herzog’s work is an undeniably powerful experience, but is perhaps hampered slightly by its sci-fi hermeneutics.


Samira Makhmalbaf’s At Five In The Afternoon, winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of Noqreh (Agheleh Rezaie), a tenacious young Afghan woman desperate to gain a proper education. As we follow her story, we also see the struggles of the women she meets and the consideration she affords them.

The film strives for a certain realism, but cannot help taking a political agenda with it. At the girls’ school, when a survey is taken to see which job everyone aspires to, almost everyone seems keen on being either an engineer or a doctor, but when a select few stand up for ‘president of Afghanistan’, Noqreh included, they are laughed back down. Later on, the girls strike up a debate independently which raises questions about Afghan identity and what it is to be a woman. The scene is surprisingly moving, its key disputants filled with precocious conviction.

Makhmalbaf does a great job of subtly uprooting the restraints on women, as in the scene where two girls, thrown from a carriage for lifting their veils, run freely into the distance. Despite the heavy-handed themes of the film, there are moments of relief, particularly in the recurring motif of decorative blue umbrellas. As in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Bamako, a similarly politically-minded film, it is sometimes hard to understand the intended effect of the lighter scenes, but it is impossible not to be charmed by Noqreh’s confident attempts to communicate with a NATO soldier she wrongly believes is American.


Algeria’s most recent Oscar nominee comes in the form of this action-packed look at the lives of the indigènes, the North African soldiers recruited to defend France from Nazi Germany. The film focuses specifically on four of these soldiers as they are sent to the front line. As in Saving Private Ryan, a film it is often drawn into comparison with, each of the men has their own personal goals which eventually get forgotten in the brutality of war, and the inherent racism of their fellow combatants.

At times, the image seems to suspend uncertainly, as if the soldiers aren’t sure where to take their lead from. Jamel Debbouze looks no less fresh-faced five years after his role as the naïve Lucien in Amélie. The film is no doubt important given the subject matter (after its release, the French government changed its policy to award indigènes the same pensions as French war veterans), but one can’t help thinking there is a better film to be made of it. Aside from the scene at the theatre, where the North African soldiers leave a ballet performance having not connected with it culturally, the film drains the image of all meaning, instead choosing to literally announce its anti-war stance. At several points, we hear the songs of the soldiers’ respective countries, as if that alone is meant to imbue us with guilt. Days of Glory is notable for its political impact, but the film itself is unlikely to be remembered in ten years.