A list of films that will rekindle your dying fire, break your heart, linger in your mind but most importantly bring you closer to the emotions that are meant to be drowned in.
by Aisiri Amin
Films have the power to bring you closer to a different culture, a different battle and the human flaws. Cinema from all over the world gives you glimpse into the lives that we may never be a part of or probably never understand. But sometimes, you might end up relating more to a protagonist from the other side of the world than to your next door neighbour.
Here are five movies from last year which caught my eye at a recent film festival.
1. In Syria
Directed by Philippe Van Leeuw, In Syria gives us a glimpse into the daily life of people living in Damascus. The story takes place in a span of 24 hours in a house where we see a matriarch desperately trying to save her family. In between the chaos of bodies piling up, snipers shooting civilians and bombs dropping, the last family in one of the buildings stay put despite several threats.
What do you do when there is a quick death waiting for you outside and a slow, torturous death marinated in hope waiting for you inside? The claustrophobic setting fills you in with anticipation and you find yourself waiting for the worst to happen and also hoping it doesn’t, just like the characters.
This must-watch will bring you closer to understanding the fear that the Syrians constantly live in, a fear that has become a part of their life so much so that bombs don’t make babies cry anymore.
Zhenya and Boris are going through a nasty divorce and their 12-year-old son, Alexey is facing the brunt of it. The couple who ferociously hate each other are oblivious to the trauma that their constant fights are causing their son. What hits you hard is their fights about their son whose custody they are both trying to hand over to the other. Their disinterest in their only child’s life, the seemingly no trace of affection towards Alexey makes you dislike them in just ten minutes into the film.
In one particular scene as the parents fight about Alexey’s custody and the mother leaves the room, we see Alexey tortured face as the door shuts behind her. It’s his silent scream that stings your heart. After overhearing this ugly argument, Alexey disappears.
Alexey, as Zhenya reveals, was an unwanted child, who accelerated their relationship to marriage and now the not so well-thought decision has been suffocating them, leaving their son gasping for breath.
If you ever wondered how people without love look like, watch this. Because these two are truly loveless.
3. A Fantastic Woman
This beautiful heartbreak is a story about love, loss and oppression of a transwoman whose identity is attacked after the sudden death of her lover. The Chilean drama directed by Sebastián Lelio was a recent Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Picture.
After her long-time partner, Orlando dies of an aneurysm, Marina is stripped of her basic human dignities, quite literally. Instead of being empathic about her grief, the police investigates her involvement in his death, the family throws her out of the home she lived with, takes away her dog that Orlando had gifted her and the ex-wife labels her a ‘chimera’. All for just one very evident reason: Marina’s identity as a transwoman.
The police refuse to acknowledge her by her name and instead demand her official ID which refers to her as Daniel with a total disregard for her right to be what she wants to be. There is a glaring gap between lens through which the society sees her and how she wants to be seen. Her loneliness because of her gender identity speaks more than the words she doesn’t utter.
It’s a remarkable fight of a grieving woman blended with splashes of surrealism.
4. It’s the Law
A satire directed by Salvatore Ficarra & Valentino Picone makes you stop shouting from the rooftops for the need for a change in our socio-political space and question whether we, the people, are even ready for the big change we all want from our leaders.
Two brothers-in-law with seemingly different ideologies clash during the elections wherein one supports the traditional ruling party with conservative, corrupt leader or the “wave of change”, a college professor who is hoping to bring in democratic changes and actually implement the law, which is unheard of in this small town.
Thanks to a democratic election, the latter wins, and implements some the forgotten laws, appoints traffic police and forest rangers and introduces garbage fine and recycling. In the town where everyone did as they pleased while all the leader cared about was money, this law-abiding mayor comes as a shock.
Suddenly this change seems more like a burden for them and the brothers-in-law hatch a plan to get rid of him. It’s ironical that the change they were fighting for is the change that they now curse. Set in a small town in Italy, this film mocks the society we live in through satire. While we accuse the leaders of being corrupt, have we ever paused to see what we have become?
To keep her newborn baby alive, Leta needs to make sure a dying woman lives. Directed by Gentian Koçi, the Albanian drama, Daybreak, is a tug of war between life and death. As a single mother with no financial security and no roof over her head, Leta has to make sure her employer’s bedridden mother stays alive for the sake of her baby.
The intense silences, Leta’s stone face hiding the screaming desperation in her eyes keeps you glued to this slow-paced film. With no one to lean on, no money in her pocket, to what extent a mother goes to keep her baby safe is a heartbreak at every pause.
Aisiri Amin (she/her) is an independent journalist specializing in gender, culture, and social justice. She is a struggling optimist, trying to understand the world through cinema, books, and travel.