Life is a long, calm river, you might think — and so it is at the beginning of Japanese director Joe Odagiri’s first feature-length film. In beautifully composed shots of the natural environment (cinematography by Christopher Doyle), Odagiri looks at the life of an old boatman who takes people from one shore to the other, day in and day out. The old man stoically tolerates occasional insults from his passengers, yet is easily disturbed by the noise from a construction site across the water. A bridge is being built, and his services could soon become obsolete. Life is not a long, calm river after all. THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME is the title of Odagiri’s film. Everything changes, eventually. Nothing lasts forever.
It is indeed remarkable that Odagiri, who was born in 1976 and who also wrote the screenplay for this, his first feature film, empathizes with an old man whose sense of purpose threatens to float away late in life. The intrusion of urban modernity into idyllic surroundings is, however, a subject for all ages. The CineVision competition features first or second feature films by directors who are more or less young and who, particularly this year, are observing a constantly changing world, showing empathy toward their characters and the individual communities in which they live and providing an impetus to question society.
Solidarity in the face of modernity
Some of the filmmakers draw inspiration from their own lives. In his semi-autobiographical first feature film, RESIDUE, Merawi Gerima, son of black cinema icon Haile Gerima and himself celebrated as a new and exciting voice in African-American cinema, tells the story of a film director named Jay who returns to his home in Washington, DC, after years spent away from it. He finds that his old neighborhood is not at all as he remembers it. White residents welcome him to “their” neighborhood, the result of heavy gentrification. Jay feels a calling to give the oppressed black community a platform and wants to make a film. However, he soon finds out that may people perceive such a project as pretentious. Is he perhaps the only one who’s changed?
THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME
Directors Logan George and Celine Held tell the story of a different and very unusual community in their feature-film debut, TOPSIDE. In abandoned New York subway tunnels, homeless people have created a kind of home for themselves, which they’ve lovingly furnished, filling it with lights and beautiful knickknacks. A young mother (played by Celine Held herself) and her little daughter are part of this tight-knit community of outsiders, but are forced to flee to the surface by a police raid. After starting off in a subterranean darkness, the film and the two protagonists arrive in the glare of the big city and must survive a cold winter’s night in a New York that all too often turns a cold shoulder to the underprivileged.
Surviving a single, dramatic night is also the subject of NIGHT OF THE KINGS, Philippe Lacôte’s second feature film. In Maca, a prison in Côte d’Ivoire, the inmates have taken over and made their own rules. They hold the art of storytelling supreme. A new inmate, a young man, must prove that he’s worthy of the storytelling crown. Like Scheherazade in “1001 Nights”, he spins one story thread after another in order not to be killed. Philippe Lacôte, who himself grew up in Côte d’Ivoire, takes us to a strange and mystical world.
GHOSTS, the feature-film debut of director Azra Deniz Okyay, also focuses on one place in a short time frame. During a tumultuous day and an equally tumultuous night, the paths of the residents of a poor neighborhood in Istanbul cross again and again. Here, too, gentrification is on the rise: old buildings are being torn down and built up again overnight, while young and old alike desperately try to keep their heads above water and perhaps give their lives a new twist. Born in Istanbul herself, Azra Deniz Okyay has already received several awards for this exciting, fragmented narrative.
NIGHT OF THE KINGS
“Eerily indeterminate” describes the state of a group of asylum-seekers awaiting their residence permits on a Scottish island in Ben Sharrock’s debut film, LIMBO. One of the protagonists, Omar, offers an example of how to withstand all the tragicomic things one experiences as an outsider seeking acceptance from another community. Sharrock, who is from Britain, offers an empathetic and humorous take on impressions he once gathered as an NGO worker at a refugee shelter in Algeria and during a stay in Damascus.
Palermo, the hometown of director Emma Dante, is the setting of her first feature-length film, THE MACALUSO SISTERS. Dante’s story spans a wide arc, from an idyllic childhood to an adult life that is in turn heavily influenced by the past. Five orphaned sisters from modest circumstances remain in contact over the years, though early on a tragic accident shatters their lives and eerily overshadows them. The family as the root of all happiness and all evil is a theme in Emma Dante’s work as a whole; THE MACALUSO SISTERS is the adaptation of her own second stage play.
Breaking out of this reality, or another one
THE INNOCENCE, the cinematic debut of Lucía Alemany, who herself grew up in a village in the Valencia region, takes us into the narrow, intimate cosmos of a provincial town in Catalonia. She tells the story of a group of girls who are exuberant about their young lives, even though their parents fiercely try to limit their behavior. The main character, teenage Lis, dreams of training to become a circus performer in Barcelona, but finds herself in serious trouble when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Can she escape from the confining atmosphere of the countryside?
In MAYDAY, twentysomething Ana finds a way out of the confining atmosphere of patriarchy, where lewd remarks and male condescension are the order of the day. Through a stovepipe, she enters a parallel universe where women have turned the tables on men. In view of some violent guerrilla tactics, however, Ana begins to wonder whether this feminist utopia doesn’t have too many dystopian features. Can she even go home, though? New York writer-director Karen Cinorre presents a witty but dark fairy tale in her first feature-length film.
The vision that Brazilian director Iuli Gerbase lays out in her first full-length motion picture, THE PINK CLOUD, is no less than terrifying. One day, a pink cloud appears in the sky, heralding the apocalypse: anyone who goes outside dies within ten seconds. Everyone in the world sits inside, as if in prison. Giovana is already a prisoner of expectations: Shouldn’t a woman, after all, find a partner at all costs, have children with him, and then stay at home? This scenario inches ever closer as Giovana is forced to spend the lockdown in her apartment with Yago, with whom she had a one-night stand. But perhaps she will manage to break free after all. Iuli Gerbase began working on the script for this film back in 2017, eerily foreseeing the real pandemic. Life is a strange river, and in this film there are currents that sometimes flow directly into the future.