Monday 16 August 2021

Melbourne International Film Festival (7) - Peter Hourigan reports from the couch not the foyer on MR BACHMAN AND HIS CLASS (Maria Speth, Germany) and THIS RAIN WILL NEVER STOP (Alina Gorlova, Ukraine)

Mr Bachman and His Class

A Film Festival streaming online during a lockdown is just not the same. No coffee and conversation in the foyer, excited discussion after a good film, no long queues in the cold to get into the cinema. But at least Melbourne has gone ahead, and there are ways to alleviate at least some of the loss. A small group have got together a protocol for sharing our comments on what we’ve seen each day, and that has been great for getting feedback, and being alerted to films you may have easily overlooked.  

At a little over half-way through our group started sharing our top picks so far. My top three are Mr Bachman and His Class, Notturno and  This Rain Will Never Stop.   Tom Ryan has already written in praise of Gianfranco Rosi’s Notturno Click here to read

I started my Festival with Mr. Bachman and His Class, from German documentary filmmaker Maria Speth. I think I started with this, because it would get the longest film on the schedule out of the way. But watching it felt like watching one of the shortest films. Of course, as a retired teacher this was a bit of a busman’s holiday for me. The film follows Mr Bachman for about a year, in what we eventually learn is to be his last year before retirement.

Some commentators compare it to Frederick Wiseman’s work, but I’m sure they are really only focusing  on the length. Wiseman generally interrogates an institution, rather than a particular person. A better comparison is Nicolas Philibert’s To Be and To Have (2002) where we watched a particular teacher with a particular class (Primary level) in a specific school in France over a period of time.

Mr. Bachman is teaching older secondary school pupils in a school in Germany’s industrial Ruhr region. Speth clearly has a rapport with her subject, just as he has a rapport with his students. Several times we get shots of the classroom, where mike booms are visible, suggesting this was a long term set up where teacher and students reached a point where the film crew became invisible.  And multiple camera viewpoints make it clear that this was not filmed by a single cameraman with a single camera.

But the result is a wonderful insight into how a good teacher operates, and the value for such a teacher having such a warm, and caring, and trusted relationship with his students.  There were times I found myself laughing out loud, others when I was, well, a little bit teary.

Available to view online till Sunday Click here to book 

This Rain Will Never Stop

THIS RAIN WILL NEVER STOP can also be called a documentary, for want of a more accurate word. Andriy,  young Syrian refugee in the Ukraine is the main protagonist in this film made by Alina Gorlova. He is working as a Red Cross volunteer helping other refugees. We also meet his family, particularly his father. But this much more than just one person’s story. In fact, we’re probably about twenty minutes into the film before we really see Andriy as a person of interest.

The screen is often filled with ravishingly beautiful black and white images of often appalling scenes. Long queues of refugees waiting for rations in a mud-soaked camp. Gaunt trees against a white sky. Building destroyed. We slowly meet other members of Andriy’s family, including an uncle who has made it to Germany. A happy wedding there seems such a contrast to Andriy’s life.

We are left to put these fragments together, and we feel part of this life where fate doesn’t really let you take control of your life. Filming clearly took place over a long enough period that the director could not have foreseen what would happen within the family. The restraint in the way these moments are handled adds to the pathos of the film.

Available to view online till Sunday Click here to Book

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