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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Sydney Film Festival (16) - Barrie Pattison segues from SEASON OF THE DEVIL (Lav Diaz, Philippines) to TRANSIT (Christian Petzold, Germany)

Before screening his Ang panahon ng halimaw/Season of the Devil at the Sydney Film Festival, the delegates assured us “You don’t watch a Lav Diaz movie, you experience it” 

Lav Dia
I can see where they’re coming from after four hours (one of its maker’s shorter ventures) of Filipino wide angle old format black and white minimally edited static shots, where the characters stand about and sing or recite poetry in Tagalog while wearing masks. Slight disturbances like overturning a bowl of food or cutting to the heavy’s harangue acquire shock effect. In this somnolent atmosphere, the result is not so much boring as tranquilising. If there wasn’t the nagging feeling that this is time that could be better spent, it could be quite absorbing. The lalala melody embeds itself in the mind.

In Ang panahon ng halimaw the concerned city types applaud politically aware poet Piolo Pascual but he opposes his medico wife Shaina Magdayao going off to rural Bario Ginto - not unreasonably. We’ve already seen a walking man clubbed down by motor bike riding goons who leave a “Ako’y rebelde huwag tularan” sign (“I’m a rebel. Don’t imitate me”) on the body.

When she sets up her clinic, Magdayao suffers all the humiliations of the singing soldiers and the Janus faced overseer, complete with intimidation, rape and dope addiction, while the shunned, yam-gathering woman victim and the ineffectual village head add a few choruses. 

Director Diaz is being taken to their heart by the film festivals community who bracket him with Bela Tarr and Bruno Dumont. I have that familiar reservation that, though the Philippines have a bustling traditional film industry, we never get to see those but Brecht in the Barrios has its way made smooth. 

Poor old Sydney Film Festival gets stick both for films that are obscure like this and for films that are too commercial, like The Blood of Wolves (Kazuya Hiraishi, Japan) but that’s their problem.

This one is shot in Malaysia presumably because it conflates it’s 1979 setting with the Duterte regime and back references to movie star leaders, Marcos and Martial Law. 

Christian Petzold
We get more of this fuzzy logic with Christian Petzold’s Transit. Going from one film to the other makes a striking contrast. Petzold has levered himself into prominence with the sub-titles set with a succession of accomplished German movies featuring the statuesque (for want of a better word) Nina Hoss. He has acquired remarkable assurance. 

In the new film, angles are expertly chosen and the performers are choreographed around the shots impeccably. His work holds attention in a way that Diaz can't approach and would probably shun if he could.

Transit departs from what we are used to seeing, from the opening, where the dedication to the late director Harun Farocki comes up first thing rather than being tucked away in the end roller. Fraulein Hoss is nowhere to be seen.  This one focusses on Franz Rogowski (Haneke's Happy End) who is trying to get out of Paris as the Germans advance. References are made to the Velodrome undeterred by the fact that the traffic in the street is 2018 vehicles and we get line patterned security video. An errand delivering the mail to a fugitive writer finds the man represented by the blood stained mop at his hotel. 

Franz Rogowski (front), Transit
Smuggled to Marseilles in a house on a rail car (The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet anyone?) escaping the patrols and presenting himself at the American Embassy to hand in the writer’s MSS and papers, Rogowski is welcomed as the man himself by officials who have never seen him. This conveniently provides him with a berth on a ship with transit to Mexico. He keeps on bumping into Paula Beer, who mistakes him for her missing husband, and he also meets young black soccer fan Lilien Batman and his mother Maryam Zaree waiting for the boy’s now dead father. 

He calls doctor Godehard Giese (glimpsed in The Book Thief) to treat the boy. Other members of the fleeing Jewish community include dog minder lady Barbara Auer (Nikolaikirche and still looking good) who has a nice scene being forced to beg a meal from Rogowski. The narrator is revealed as sympathetic bar man Matthias Brandt. 

This lot mill around until the plot reduces itself to a Casablanca rip-off and the Twenty First Century Cruise Liner pulls out of Marseilles harbour. Every time we are getting involved with the characters, another anachronism breaks the flow - modern US marine sentries, Dawn of the Dead,reference to the C.I.A. This is presumably meant to give the piece a wider resonance. It doesn’t, which is a pity because Transit is the most involving movie the festival has had to offer - so far.

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