Wednesday, November 23, 2016

AFI FEST 2016 - 2 - Crosscurrent (orig. Chang jiang tu) [2016] / Godless (orig. Bezbog) [2016] / Layla M. [2016]

Among the films that played recently at the  2016 AFI Fest here in Hollywood, I was able to see the following:

Crosscurrent (orig. Chang jiang tu ) [2016] [IMDb] [AW] (written and directed by Yang Chao [IMDb] [AW]) is a visually beautiful, heavily Buddhism inspired reflection on timelessness and change as it follows the captain of a smallish-to-midsized family owned freighter taking a somewhat questionable cargo (a load of some kind of "illegal fish") up the Yangtze River from Shanghai to destination(s) ... _somewhere_ "West."

As he's about to start The Journey, he both spots / takes-note-of a beautiful if seemingly random Young Woman on a neighboring vessel in Port and comes across a Book of Poetry (imagine that) left by someone who had made that Journey, up the Yangtze River, some time before.

He then repeatedly runs into the Young Woman on his Journey and she always seems a step or two ahead of him.  And with regards to the Book, perhaps its most interesting characteristic would be that though written by someone who took this Journey Upriver as well, it was NOT ancient, but rather simply written by a random Sailor who made the Journey "in 1985."  But this would be classic Buddhism: What's 10, 20 or even a 1,000 years if one's talking of taking a Timeless Journey (if ever carried on the CHANGING Current of Time) ;-).  And indeed even since 1985, there were some fairly MASSIVE changes in the Geography of this Journey -- the Three Gorges Dam had since been built and some of the cities (!) referred to by the anonymous sailor were either inundated completely or moved.  And yet, there was the Eternal Yangtze River, changed "somewhat" but also Flowing as ever before.

Dear Readers, this is _not_ a "fast moving film."  Indeed, some of the critics have complained about its (to them) "lack of direction."  But as both a Travelogue -- the Buddhist shrines at Digang (Digangzhen) and Pengze, Zhang Fei Temple by Yunyang (moved recently as a result of the Three Gorges Dam), and  Fengdu are highlighted -- and as a Reflection on the Flow of Time, the film's really quite Excellent ;-) -- 4 Stars

Godless (orig. Bezbog) [2016] [IMDb] [CEu] (written and directed by [CEu]) is a small, contemporary BULGARIAN film about the very traditional (orthodox) Christian themes of Conversion / Repentance and Redemption.  A young visiting "home care" nurse named Gana (Hanna, played by Irena Ivanova [IMDb] [CEu]) is introduced to Viewers as an already thoroughly "hardened by life" / cynical sort of person -- we see her "supplementing her income" by STEALING the I.D. cards of the elderly persons that she visits.  She gives the stolen I.D. cards to her boyfriend who in turn sells them to the Mob under the protection of 30-years-on corrupt local police official (hence he's "been in the trough" since BEFORE the fall of Communism) who then use the I.D. for all kinds of Identity Theft type crimes (draining bank accounts, taking out ridiculous loans in the old people's names, etc).  

Well, one of the new "old people" she's asked to start taking care of is an old, formerly jailed by the Communists, Choir Director of a small nearby Orthodox Church.  He invites her to hear his Choir, and it's THE FIRST TIME in a VERY LONG TIME that she's experienced ANYTHING so Innocent / Beautiful.  And so, yes, she starts to have a Crisis of Conscience.  Can she continue to rip-off her Elderly charges as she had so cynically / matter-of-factly done before?  And yet, she's ALSO "tied up with the mob" and so it's NOT EASY to "walk away."  Excellent, and naturally very sad film -- 3 1/2 Stars 

Layla M. [2016] [IMDb] [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Mijke de Jong [IMDb] [CEu] along with Jan Eilander [IMDb] [CEu]) is an excellent DUTCH "scared straight" style film about a young darker-skinned teenager named Layla (played with SPOT-ON teenage arrogance / naivité by Nora El Koussour [IMDb] [CEu]), the daughter of Moroccan immigrants but growing-up in Amsterdam, who despite being at least partially RIGHT about the racially inspired injustices that she and her friends / family experience, MAKES SOME TERRIBLY TRAGIC CHOICES: 

She runs off with her cute, slightly older, "knows a koranic verse or two" (but at HIS YOUNG AGE, ONLY "one or two...") / "just starting to grow a beard..." similarly young, coffee-and-milk-complected Arab-growing-up-in-Amsterdam boyfriend, who she "met online" hence UNDER THE RADAR of her already quite worried parents (They're NOT dumb, but short of locking her up, one simply _can't_ watch a kid _all the time_).  She marries him and, well, essentially _joins_ I.S.I.S. (!!) with him ... -- CHOICES that, of course, COME TO HAVE INCREDIBLY SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES.  

The genius of the film is that it PLAYS IT STRAIGHT _all the way_ through.  Viewers completely understand this young girl ... AND YET by the end of the film NO ONE, not even the young potential real-life Laylas out there would miss the film's message: Layla made some REALLY, REALLY BAD CHOICES that for which she was going to pay: There's simply no future for the wife of a probable suicide bomber.  None, except PERHAPS blowing oneself us as well, and THAT by definition ENDS one's future right then and there.  So no growing-up, no kids, no life like your parents or other family.  And if one doesn't do that ... just a REALLY LONG TIME IN JAIL (or returning to become a rest-of-one's-life burden to one's family).  Excellent film -- 4+ Stars

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