Tuesday 20 June 2017

Journeys through Time and Cultures (a film review)

Three film recommendations for Edinburgh International Film Festival today and all of them involve travel through time and cultures.

First is Zer, the story of Jan (Nik Xhelilaj) a young man studying music in New York who becomes close to his Turkish grandmother, Zarife (Güler Ökten), in her dying days and is fascinated by a Kurdish song she sings (the Zer of the title).

A wonderfully touching relationship develops between the young man and his grandmother and they become close, bonded at least in part by their shared love of music. Jan however is very innocent of the history of Kurdistan as his parents have hidden what they see as a shameful part of their family history. Jan becomes intrigued by the history that lies in his grandmother's memories and the story behind the song Zer. Following her funeral in Turkey he decides to find out the origins of this song, a quest that takes him further and further into remote regions of Kurdistan.

This is a fascinating journey geographically, historically and culturally, revealing buried memories and the existence of a whole multiplicity of songs called Zer, all of which relate to an original story about a pair of ill starred lovers. The film blurs the present and past, memories, dreams and reality in a way that is beautiful and yet not confusing. This is really enhanced by the stunning cinematography - New York has never looked more beautiful on the big screen and the mountains of Kurdistan are stunning.

This is a beautiful, haunting film that explores a painful part of history without ever feeling like a history lesson.

Also delving into painful history is Sami Blood, the story of Ella Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrock) a young Sami woman, a pupil at a brutal boarding school in Sweden, where all attempts to speak Sami are punished and Ella herself the brightest student in the class is told she can't continue her studies as Sami are known to have small brains. Ella has ambitions and desperately wants to escape the school, her life of reindeer herding (which see feels is backward) and the simmering prejudice that is found all around. She meets a young Swedish soldier at a party and decides to visit him at his home in Uppsala, hoping that she can then continue her education and make a life for herself in that city. But even here, the cards are stacked against her for her Sami heritage. We also meet Ella Marja (or Christina as she later calls herself) as an old woman returning for her sister's funeral and this made me curious to know what happened for her between her young adulthood and her old age.

The landscape is stunning and the story, though quite documentary in style is very affecting in its portrayal of the brutal prejudice shown against the Sami people in Sweden.

Ella Marja as an old woman is looking back on her life, but in Donkeyote, the elderly protaganist (Manolo) is planning a final great adventure, despite his failing health. He has always enjoyed walking and riding in the Spanish countryside near where he lives but now has an eccentric and ambitious plans to travel from Spain to the USA to walk along the Trail of Tears (the enforced migration route for many thousands of native Americans in the 1830s) accompanied only by his donkey Gorrion and his dog Zafrana.

His daughter supports his ideas, but is concerned for his health and well being. Manolo becomes concerned about the amount of planning the whole project will take, how he will get Gorrion to the USA being one of the most frustrating aspects. He also has to help Gorrion to overcome his fear of water, a not inconsiderable task, given that Gorrion, normally a good natured animal becomes very stubborn when near water. So will the trio surmount their problems and explore the USA?

Edited to add: in retrospect I realise Donkeyote has lots to do with Don Quixote, but apart from the scene with the windmills I don't know Don Quixote well enough to analyse the connection! 

These films are showing  at the Edinburgh International Film Festival:

Zer is screening at 2050, Thursday 22 June and 2030 Saturday 24 June both at Filmhouse.
Sami Blood is screening at 1800 Thursday 22 June and 1520 Saturday 24 June both at Cineworld.
Donkeyote is screening at 1800, Thursday 22 June at Odeon and 2040 Saturday 24 June at Cineworld.

Disclaimer - I have a press pass for the festival and attended press screenings for these films.


Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

How interesting to be able to attend such a festival. Do you judge the films? We have an art house movie theater within walking distance of our Oregon apartment, but it is hard to spend down time in a movie theater when Netflix and Amazon are so handy without leaving home.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Sallie, I don't judge the films, though there are awards as part of the festival, with panels of judges.