Friday 12 November 2021

Sydney Film Festival - Rod Bishop recommends THE YEAR OF THE EVERLASTING STORM (Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, David Lowrey, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, USA, 2021)

The better Covid-19 films to have come our way include scriptwriter Jack Thorne’s care-home drama Help (with Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham) and the two documentaries: In the Same Breath(Nanfu Wang) and Totally Under Control (Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyun and Suzanne Hillinger).

The Year of the Everlasting Storm is an art-house contribution and its seven short films make for an enthralling couple of hours.

The opener is set in Tehran, in the apartment belonging to Jafar Panahi, the Iranian film director who was placed under house arrest in 2010. It opens with his huge pet iguana, Iggy, lusting after some pigeon eggs beyond the lizard’s reach on an outside balcony. When the intercom rings, Panahi and his wife Tahereh think it’s probably someone from the Covid Unit, but it’s his 90-year-old mother in full PPE, strolling in and spraying everything in sight with an antiseptic wipe (like a real-life South Park skit).

The family use mobile phone video to connect with their daughter in Paris while Iggy prowls the corridors, sometimes retreating into his safe haven under a cupboard and then finally watching - while being stroked and sung to by Panahi’s mother - as a hatchling emerges from one of the eggs. There’s a lightness of touch to Panahi’s short despite the constant elliptical references to disease and death. Beautifully and lovingly made. 

A further three shorts from Wuhan, Santiago and California are also family-based and share similar reactions to lockdown isolation. Like Panahi’s film, they all show different ways of transcending the horrors of pandemic life. 

In her short, Laura Poitras, who made the Edward Snowden doco Citizenfour, uses an international group of activist journalists who are terrified by the Pegasus software being used on mobile phones to surveil private citizens. Many of them have been targets themselves and give examples of its use (including the killing of Jamal Khashoggi). Chillingly, they warn of the marketing of Pegasus software for Covid contact tracing.

The David Lowery and Apichatpong Weerasethakul contributions don’t directly reference Covid at all. Lowery weaves a tale of exhumation, the body of a New Orleans boy who seems to have died of a past pandemic disease, or maybe during Hurricane Katrina. His body was buried in Texas and is reclaimed at night by an unknown woman. 

Weerasethakul has us looking at white sheets teeming with insects that have been attracted to a bed by a host of overhanging florescent lights. A gecko clings to the underside of one light, the heat causing it to constantly move its legs, rather than give up access to all these delicious insects. 

The Thai auteur, always enigmatic, cinematic and speculatively interpretive, lets us gaze into an apparently chaotic test-tube of the natural world where the behaviour of even the smallest of insects is beyond the control or understanding of humans.

One screening remains of this film at the SFF on Sunday 14 November at 8.30 pm, Event Cinemas George Street.



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