Friday, 25 February 2011


Having made the big move to Prague, a young woman named Tonka becomes a prostitute in order to earn her keep, and quickly becomes integrated into the ways of brothel life. She returns to her countryside home with expensive gifts for her mother, but is evasive about how she acquired the money for them. She also rejoins her lover Jan who proposes marriage, an offer which has clearly been hanging over their relationship for a while. Tonka struggles to deal with her duplicitous lifestyle, and when she agrees to spend the night with a murderer who is condemned to be hanged, she is rejected even by her fellow prostitutes.

From the first moment we see Tonka, she is already a tainted woman, her reputation scuppered by her brothel connections, and as such it is difficult to know which part of her story we are to learn from. If anything, the film appears to tell us, as in Mikio Naruse’s later Morning’s Tree-Lined Street, that the bright lights of the city are a misleading augury. The scenes with Tonka in the countryside are beautiful, pleasant, summery – when the story returns to the city however, we are greeted by nocturnal shadows and noxious smoke. Slovenian actress Ita Rina, best known for her role in Erotikon, does a great job of portraying the protagonist trapped in the evil shadows of Prague. Director Karl Anton employs tropes of German Expressionism and French Impressionism in his visual arsenal, creating a melodrama with surprising emotional reach.


Partly autobiographical, this peculiar independent film from the Philippines reflects on the American influence during the occupation, suggesting where it has benefited his town and where the illusion of goodness is soon to give way. Director Kidlat Tahimik plays a version of himself, a young jeepney driver obsessed with his transistor radio. An avid follower of the Voice of America broadcasting service, Kidlat is heavily seduced by this voice of an apparent higher power, and occupies himself with the dream of being part of the developed world. When he is offered the opportunity to move to Paris, he accepts almost instantly, and soon learns that the Western world operates on more than the icons he had grown up with.

Unapologetically experimental in his storytelling, Tahimik works without any strong semblance of rhythm or pace – pieces of music begin and then are abruptly stopped before the next scene. Dubbing is similarly amateurish, with Tahimik’s character providing a partly diegetic commentary which brings to mind underground filmmakers. This is not to simplify Tahimik’s intellectual goal – if anything, the uneven shooting style and use of bricolage clarify his point, implying that his cinematic voice is an imbalanced compromise as a result of colonialism. Tahimik makes frequent use of visual and verbal puns – the motif of chewing gum plays a metaphorical role, painting the American influence as a fleeting fancy. Perfumed Nightmare lacks the rigour of other post-colonial films such as Soleil Ô, but the personal angle makes this film all the more charming.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Set in post-genocide Rwanda, A Love Letter To My Country follows the burgeoning romance between a Tutsi girl and Hutu man, whose lives have undergone vastly different changes as a result of the senseless mass murder. After a particularly impassioned performance in the local choir, Martha is singled out by choirmaster Rukundo, who hopes to get to know her better through a series of dates. When the couple finally get a chance to talk intimately, each reveals their background. Martha has lost almost all of her family to the genocide, while Rukundo was a conscientious objector to his family’s participation in the murders. The relationship endures tribulations as the pair’s families revive old prejudices.

The strength in the film is in not revealing the differences between Martha and Rukundo immediately – on face value, the two are able to get along without issue. Themes of unity prevail throughout the film, although often these are presented as illusions, and the open ending serves only to suggest that there are still repercussions of discrimination. The film is utterly absorbing at moments – some great acting in the scene where Rukundo’s family express their distrust of Tutsi makes for compelling viewing – but there are several flaws which keep the film from achieving its goal fully. Martha and Rukundo’s relationship happens quicker than the audience can fathom, and the film suffers from a few distracting technical shortcomings. Nonetheless, A Love Letter To My Country has great intentions and hopefully augurs well for the Rwandan film industry.