All of us have probably spent more time at home in the past year than we would have liked. And maybe that’s caused some of us to think about what “home” actually means to us. Is it simply the place where we’re living now, or is there more to it than that? What role do other people play in creating a feeling of being at home? And what about those people who aren’t able to choose where they live or who are even pushed into homelessness?
Home is where Marvin winds up after the end of his long prison sentence in Franka Potente’s directorial debut, HOME. He wants to start a new life and finally leave the demons of the past behind. Yet painful memories lurk on every street corner of his California hometown, and not even the local people, who are scarred by the past, will allow for a fresh new beginning. Marvin must face his past — including his heritage — in order to find peace.
RESIDUE, a very personal, semi-autobiographical cinematic portrait by Merawi Gerima, is also about returning to a place that someone once called home. After a number of years spent in another city, an African-American filmmaker returns to his hometown of Washington, DC, to write a screenplay about his old neighborhood, which has succumbed to gentrification and structural racism against the black community. What does it do to people’s individual and collective identities when their neighborhood is slowly but surely destroyed? And can a film counter this loss with an effective remedy?
Ethnicity and racism are issues that black people in Germany also have to deal with, whether they want to or not. This is the subject of PRECIOUS IVIE by director Sarah Blasskiewitz. An Afro-German named Ivie unexpectedly learns from her half-sister Naomi of the death of their father and his upcoming funeral in Senegal. As the disparate siblings slowly grow closer, Ivie also questions her culture and self-image.
Meanwhile, in Joe Odagiri’s visually stunning film THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME, an elderly Japanese ferryman named Toichi leads an idyllic, if ascetic, life in harmony with nature. The stoic protagonist and the place where he lives are, in a sense, one. But the apparent harmony is threatened by the construction of a bridge that could well make his ferry obsolete. So how should he face the change and “progress” that modernity brings? Should Toichi really start over elsewhere? Or are his roots far too deep for that?
THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME
Q&A with director Joe Odagiri.
Fleeing and arriving
While some people voluntarily return to their homeland or deliberately turn their backs on it, others are violently displaced and are forced to seek refuge elsewhere. This is the case with Nikki and her five-year-old daughter Little, who live with other outsiders in abandoned subway tunnels beneath the streets of New York. Together, they form a precarious but tight-knit parallel society. But when city officials raid their encampment one night, mother and daughter are forced to flee to the surface. Their dramatic odyssey is told in TOPSIDE, whose sensitive, almost affectionate, camera work gives the characters dignity and a sense of security.
Meanwhile, British filmmaker Ben Sharrock takes a humorous yet melancholic look at our times in his directorial debut, LIMBO. The film tells the story of four asylum-seekers on a fictitious Scottish island who are waiting for their case to be processed. Using wonderfully staged tableaux, the theme of finding one’s way in a new homeland is dealt with in a surreal and humorous way.
Being in a state of limbo is also the theme of Iuli Gerbase’s THE PINK CLOUD. In this film, a deadly pink cloud prevents people from leaving their apartments. Now Giovana is stuck in her upscale attic apartment with Yago, with whom she’s had a one-night stand. While Yago is determined to see the positive side of things, Giovana just feels trapped. Using this feminist experimental cinematic set-up, the young director tells of how a woman is hemmed in by socially entrenched role models. THE PINK CLOUD is a lockdown film avant la lettre that reality suddenly overtook during post-production.
And in the thriller LA LLORONA, being unable to leave one’s (affluent) home also has social and political implications. At the villa of an aging general, a crowd demonstrates loudly around the clock, while inside the house, nerves gradually fray in the face of the prison-like situation and some mysterious occurrences.
Issues of home, belonging, homelessness, transitory places, neighborhoods, and communities thus pervade the different sections of this year’s film festival in various ways. The films deal with these issues at times very subtly and at others quite offensively — and in some cases, the narratives even seem almost prophetic.