VIFF 2022 Review: Riverside Mukolitta (川っぺりムコリッタ)

Riverside Mukolitta is the story of an unlikely bond between a young man who just lost his father and a group of strangers he encounters along the way who end up helping him in the end.

If you get tired of all the intense dramas during the film festival, Riverside Mukolitta may be the drama-comedy that you’ll want to see. It touches on a touchy subject, but makes light of it.

A train arrives in the Hokuriku Region of Japan. A young man arrives into town. His name is Takeshi Yamada and it’s unclear why he’d be coming to a fishing village. Over time, he finds a job at a fishing plant where he cuts freshly-caught seafood for a processed dinner. The boss doesn’t expect him to last long; most people only last two days. Through the boss, he is given a place to live in an old run-down village nearby where he works called Mukolitta Heights. It’s a quiet run-down place full of people one normally wouldn’t hang around. Takeshi is comfortable being there, but he’s disinterested in making new friends.

Soon one of his neighbors, Kozo, meets him and wants to use his bath. The heat does not work where he lives. Takeshi doesn’t want to, but he reluctantly gives in. To thank him, Kozo gives him fresh vegetables from his own garden. This is very helpful as Takeshi is down to his last yen. Soon he learns of his other neighbors. One is a door-to-door headstone salesman who sells with his young son, and hardly gets a customer. Another is Shiori, the landlady, who lost her husband years ago and still mourns his death. Takeshi finds her a calming presence. Takeshi also learns from Kozo of a monk who is not hired to do anything. So he does his own religious ceremonies himself.

Soon, Takeshi gets a reminder of his dark past. He learns that his father had died. Takeshi never knew his father as he left his mother when Takeshi was a small child. He learns from a city official in a town close by that his father was found dead in an apartment and the official asks him to claim the ashes. When Takeshi arrives at the city hall, the official is insisting Takeshi take the ashes and the cellphone his father was found with. Takeshi is reluctant but soon accepts. Returning back to the village, he doesn’t know what to do with the ashes of a man he never really knew. On top of it, he notices his father’s last phone calls were to a single number. He’s tempted to toss them anywhere, but Shiori stops him.

Over time, Takeshi continues with the squid job. The boss is surprised that he’s willing to stay with it longer than usual. One day, an earthquake happens. The earthquake causes the ashes to fall off the top of a bookcase. Takeshi is distraught. That becomes his first real emotion towards his father. Over time, the salesman’s son makes friends with the young daughter of the landlady. They find themselves making music over by the village’s pile of refuse. We learn that Shiori still has a bone of her deceased husband to maintain some type of connection and to keep from feeling complete loss. We learn Kozo himself has experienced loss of some magnitude. In addition, the salesman makes a sale, his first in six months, to a rich woman who wants a headstone for her dog.

Eventually Takeshi warms up to his neighbors and they all have one big dinner together. Soon Takeshi goes near the river where he crushes his father’s cremains to make a powdery ash. Shiori sees him and the two have a conversation. Additionally over time, Takeshi learns more about his father of the way he lived and the way he was found dead. He also discovers that the last number his father tried to call continuously is a suicide hotline. Takeshi eventually admits truths about himself. That he was abandoned by his mother when he was 16. That he eventually turned to a life of crime. That before he came to the village, he was in jail for a lengthy term. It’s after coming to terms with his past and the father he never knew that he can finally have the ash-scattering ceremony near the river with the monk leading and his neighbors being part of the march.

At the beginning of the film, the audience is told that a Mukolitta is a unit of time in Buddhism equal to 1/30 of a day: 48 minutes to be exact. The film features a lot of themes of Buddhism. There’s the monk who can’t be hired for anything, but is still prayerful, even if he is the only participant in any of his ceremonies. There’s the brief prayer Takeshi and the others have before eating their dinner. Outside of religion, the biggest theme of the film is about death and loss. People have their own way of dealing with the losses of loved ones. There’s Shiori who still has a bone from her husband and does something bizarre with it. There’s Kozo who also has a bizarre way of dealing with death. And there’s the headstone salesman who may try to make death lucrative for him and his son, but his value would be evident over time. It could be assumed the message of the film is the common Buddhist message that all lives and deaths matter. Even the most humble and those of the estranged. That was something Takeshi would eventually learn over time.

The film is not just about death and loss, but also coming to term with one’s own failings. The film just starts with Takeshi coming to a fishing village, but it’s not clear what the purpose is. Time would eventually tell that Takeshi moved to the village to escape his hard childhood and criminal past. The news of the death of his estranged father and the ashes he reluctantly accepts are possibly seen to him as ugly reminders of the past he wants to leave behind. It’s over time as Takeshi meets other misfit people like the neglected monk, Kozo the eccentric self-described “minimalist,” the headstone salesman, and the widowed landlady that Takeshi comes to terms with his own failings. He’s ready to see his late father as a failure of a person, but he learns over time that his father was another troubled person. Just like him. Takeshi may be a misfit but over time, he learns there’s nothing wrong with it.

The film does touch on a lot of dark themes like loss, abandonment and personal failure. However the film succeeds in doing it in a light manner. It manages to tug at one’s heart without trying to pull it. It also adds humor along the way without it being insensitive. Over time, the film that could have gone the direction of being dark turns out to be a light-hearted and even enjoyable film about loss and failure. Takeshi may see himself as a misfit and may have moved to escape his misfit label, but a village of misfits are successful in helping Takeshi come to term with himself as well as his late father. At the end, Takeshi had his own way of honoring his late father and does it with the help of the misfit neighbors he befriends along the way. The scattering ceremony at the end appears more to be a happy ending than a sad ending.

This is an excellent work from director Naoko Ogigami. Born in Japan, she studied at USC and did work in American productions for a few years before returning to Japan. Since her return, she has written or directed one short film, three television series’, and eight other feature-length films. Her most renowned film is 2017’s “Close-Knit” of a close-knit family coming to terms with one of their members outing themselves as transgender.

In this film, which is based on a novel she wrote, she touches on a subject that’s less controversial, but still causes discomfort to many. The subject of death is still something people are nervous about touching on or talking about. Even personal failures are something one would not want to talk about, especially since we live in a society that stresses success. She succeeds in taking a touchy topic and turning it into a parable about dealing with ones failures and coming to terms with family who left them behind in the past. Even though the Mukolitta is a religious element, the film is a good parable of the Buddhist belief of valuing all lives without stressing the religious aspect of it too much. The film also has excellent acting from Kenichi Matsuyama. He does a good job of portraying a young misguided man with a past he wants to keep secret from all he meets, but comes to term with it thanks to the help of his neighbors. Also excellent are the supporting roles of the actors playing the supportive neighbors. Hitari Mitsushima, Tsuyoshi Muro and Naoto Ogata were all good at playing their characters and owning their moments.

Riverside Mukolitta is a surprising film. It touches on life’s hurts, sorrows, and failures, but it adds comical elements to it. It’s a film that does all the right moves in telling its deep story in a humorous way.

And there you have it! This is the last of my reviews of films I saw during the 2022 Vancouver International Film Festival. Wrap-up blog coming soon!

VIFF 2022 Review: Like A Fish On The Moon (زن، مرد، بچه)

An Iranian mother (played by Sepidar Tari) struggles with her suddenly-mute son (played by Ali Ahmadi) and a troubled marriage in Like A Fish On The Moon.

Sometimes at a film festival, films that don’t have a lot of buzz can surprise you with what they say and the story it tells. The Iranian film Like A Fish On The Moon is one story that impressed me with its story.

The film begins with a psychologist telling Ilya, a 4 1/2 year old Iranian boy, to draw a picture. The psychologist talks to his parents, Haleh and Amir, and explains the problem. Ilya was a normal boy but up until recently, he became a mute. The parents can’t understand the sudden change. The psychologist explains it may be about friction in the family and recommends they make some changes for Ilya. Like the two switch their common roles.

Over time, Amir reluctantly does more of the things with Ilya that Haleh normally does while trying to manage his career. Haleh also spends more time with Ilya but can’t help but be silent about the situation. Something is bothering her about this new arrangement. In the meantime, Ilya is still not talking. Ilya can communicate through body language but not through talking. He occasionally cries, but that’s it.

In the meantime, Amir and Haleh try and look for better treatments or better doctors for Ilya. They try one doctor who makes one recommendation and another that makes different recommendations. Another doctor recommends putting Ilya in a daycare for children with special needs. The parents are upset with the arrangement Ilya’s put in. As the parents make each attempt to help Ilya’s situation, it starts weighing down on them and causes friction in the marriage. It even includes moments where they’re silent to each other. Ilya is able to notice it all.

Then one day, the family decide to go to the beach. Amir plays with Ilya but Haleh can’t get herself involved. Amir warns Haleh that it’s too dangerous to get close to the fierce waves, but Haleh is quietly hurting. She walks closer into the waters much to the shock of Amir. As Amir rescues Haleh, Amir has had it. He’s ready to abandon Ilya if he doesn’t talk on the spot. All Ilya can do is cry. It’s after this shocking incident that it ends on a note of family unity and the couple again working to help Ilya.

This is a story of intrigue because this is a scenario one can identify with. If not directly, one can know of a couple going through this.A child has a problem or a disability and it affects both parents. A father may have to make adjustments in his career. The wife also would have to make adjustments in her life too. Through it all, it affects both of them emotionally. Sometime the parents think their child’s disability or condition is their failure. Sometimes it affects the marriage. I don’t think it would end up in such extremes as it did in the film’s ending climax, but it does affect them.

The unique thing about this film is that we so easily forget that this is a fictional situation and they’re all acting. In a lot of ways, the film tricks us into thinking this is like a docudrama where we’re watching a real situation unravel itself over time. A lot of things come into factor, like how low in tone the actors are acting, or the follow-around cameras. That has to be the film’s best quality. Taking a fictional situation and making it feel real, in addition to the quality of the story itself. Throughout most of the film, there are hidden feelings. We see the parents say and do one thing, but we can sense that’s something is hidden. You will notice it in the more silent moments of the film. Whatever is kept hidden, it is slowly but suddenly revealed in the ending climax. Seeing how it quietly builds and builds and then reveals itself in the end is another quality of this film.

This is a very good film by writer/director Dornaz Hajiha. She has done two short films in the past and this is her first feature-length film. Her film touches into the topic of family relations and roles of the members of the family as much as it is about the family itself. I supposed Hajiha is trying to make a statement about gender roles and how it conflicts with family unity. Especially in a country like Iran. Sepidar Tari does an excellent job in her performance as Haleh. She says more during her silent moments than when she’s talking. Even as she acts like she’s carrying on well, we get a sense that something’s wrong. Shahdiyar Shabika is also good as Amir. He comes across as the husband who tries to go along with the situation and make it work, only to explode in frustration at the end.

Like A Fish On The Moon is not just the story of a family in crisis. It’s a story of truths hidden and kept silent that eventually come out at one particular moment. However it almost seems like you’re watching a real-life situation before your eyes.

VIFF 2022: Music Pictures: New Orleans

Blues legend Little Freddie King one of four legendary New Orleans musical acts featured in the documentary Music Pictures: New Orleans

Sometimes if you’re tired of documentaries that try to push a one-sided political message, a musical documentary can fix that. The documentary Music Pictures: New Orleans is an insightful documentary of a town with a century of a music legacy.

The film begins with Irma Thomas. She has been dubbed the Soul Queen Of New Orleans. They show her as she’s finishing up a recording session. She had a Top 40 hit in 1964 with “Wish Someone Would Care.” She’s had many songs and albums on the R & B charts. However she’s often been overlooked by the likes of Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner. She tells of her career. She’s had a career since she was 19. She has had cases where she has been a victim of racism in music. Nevertheless she’s fought on and continues to record. She also tells of living in New Orleans, of her experience, of her loves, of raising a family.

The second part comes after the passing of one of Thomas’ band members. Leading the funeral parade is led by the Treme Brass Band. The vignette then focuses on Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones. The marching brass band is an important part of New Orleans. They’re the band that would perform during festivals, especially Mardi Gras, and funeral processions. Benny was born in a family of musicians and he always wanted to be a part of it. He even married a woman who had family in music. The film goes into how he founded his first brass band, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and then goes into his latest brass band, the Treme Brass Band.

The third vignette focuses on blues legend Little Freddie King. King was actually born in Mississippi and moved to New Orleans when he was 14. He recorded his first album in 1969. In 1976 he did a European Tour with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker. However his second album didn’t come until 1996. Since then, he has been more active and has release twelve albums since. King has performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since 1980 and is a charter member.

The fourth and final vignette is with Ellis Marsalis Jr. He himself is a renowned jazz musician who comes from a family of musicians and is widely regarded as the patriarch in the “First Family Of Jazz.” However in his latest venture, he finds himself working with his youngest son Jason and Jason’s daughter Marley Marsalis in recording his latest album For All We Know. Jason plays xylophone and Marley plays percussion and piano. Returning to a family project was the furthest thing from his mind before this project. Over time, it grew to be something he liked doing and he became happy returning to family roots. In the end we have an album of three generations of Marsalises. Also in the end, it would be Ellis’ last work. Ellis died in April 2020: one of the earliest fatalities of the COVID pandemic. The film also shows images of New Orleans’ legendary night clubs closed because of the pandemic.

For those who like music, New Orleans is a city that has some of the biggest music history. I mean what first comes to mind when you hear New Orleans? Most likely it would be things like Mardi Gras, Dixieland, brass bands. Those that know music will know that it’s the sounds of New Orleans that would be most influential in some of the biggest music of the 20th Century and sounds that are very influential today. The town gave birth to jazz before it took over all of the US. The brass bands of New Orleans are influential in the sound of jazz. New Orleans didn’t give birth to blues, but New Orleans did a lot of shaping of blues. New Orleans has done a lot of shaping of soul music, too.

This documentary is a good reminder of how New Orleans has been quite the shaper of music. It originated sounds and shaped a lot of sounds. This documentary gives good examples of New Orleans musicians and vocalists who have had an impact on these sounds. The film shows a soul legend who is often overlooked, a leader of a legendary brass band, a blues legend, and a jazz father. Through out the documentary, we learn of what led them to their sounds. Some may be for income, some to marry, some because they loved it, each one had their unique story. All of them did talk of the ups and downs. They talk of successes and setbacks. However as we hear each story and listen to the music, we get a good sense of it.

The final vignette of Ellis Marsalis and his family is especially poignant because it’s a reminder that New Orleans should not just be admired for the music of its past. New Orleans is also very much in the present of music and in the future. That is especially made aware in the vignette as he works with son Jason and granddaughter Marley. That was unique that such a vignette was done. The film could have been about Ellis, his life and the careers of his two famous sons Brantford and Wynton, but instead it focused on Ellis with his youngest son and granddaughter. Almost like a legend passing down sounds to the younger generations. And just before his death.

This is a very good work from writer/director Ben Chace. Chace is not known for doing documentary films. His previous films Wah Do Dem and Sin Alas are live-action fiction films and has only previously written and directed a single documentary short. This is his first attempt at a feature-length documentary and it’s impressive. It doesn’t offer any tricks and twists one would see in modern documentaries. Nevertheless it allows the musicians to tell the story. It allows the viewers to hear the music. It allows viewers also to witness other behind-the-scenes looks at making music and working with musicians. It’s a film one who is into music would take a lot of interest in. Especially those that would want to pursue music as a profession. Chace picks out the most signature sounds of New Orleans music, matches them up with New Orleans’ biggest living examples of the sounds, and shows off how they embody the sound of their genre and the sound of New Orleans.

Music Pictures: New Orleans is a great documentary showcasing musicians, both individuals and groups, and how their sound has an impact not only on the sounds of New Orleans but on musical genres as a whole. It’s as much about its past legacy as it is about its present and future.

VIFF 2022 Review: Klondike (Клондайк)

A young farming couple on the Ukrainian-Russian border struggle to keep their marriage together amidst political turmoil in the Ukrainian film Klondike.

The Ukrainian film Klondike has been the talk of the film festival circuit, and for good reason. It’s also a film that is, unfortunately, well-timed for what’s happening now.

Irka and Tolik are a young couple who live on a farm in Ukraine close to the Russian border in 2014. Irka is expecting a baby soon. Both Irka and Tolik plan on doing their farm work normally until a bomb explodes near their farm. They are caught in between the war between Russia and Ukraine. The explosion causes the wall to their living room to collapse. Despite this threat, Irka does not want to leave the house. She is going to stay here and have the baby here.

Things prove difficult. They try to continue on with their lives. Tolik has to do farmwork and tend to Irka, but the area sees an increase of Ukrainian nationalists and Russian separatists. Frequently he meets up with his friend Sanya. Sanya is a Russian and he’s able to help Tolik get items at a cost. This is definitely frustrating Irka. Especially as Tolik wants them both to leave the area. Then one day a shocking thing happens. An airplane caught in the war’s crossfire crashes down in an area close to the border and close to Irka and Tolik’s farm.

With the plane shot down being a commercial aircraft, this is something that will bring a lot of people down, like the news media, the UN, ambulances, firemen, and soldiers from both sides. This makes like very invasive for both Irka and Tolik. Tolik still wants to move but Irka is still insistent. Irka even has her brother Yurik, a soldier with the Ukrainian army, come to help out. Despite losing the wall, Irka wants the couch placed outdoors. Yurik and Tolik reluctantly take the couch out with Irka still on it. During the stay, Yurik notices something of Tolik’s. He has a Russian uniform. He is convinced that Tolik is a Russian separatist. That leads to conflict between the two which Irka tries to stop.

As time progresses on, more people come to the area, including more soldiers and religious leaders and their followers to pray over the deceased. This frustrates Tolik and he decides to take Irka and leave. Right in the middle of leaving, Irka walks out of the car. Tolik tries to get her back in but she resists forcefully. Tolik agree to continue to help Irka and stay in the house. Unknown to Irka is that Tolik has held Yurik captive in their basement bunker.

Then one day, the area has Chechen rebels in to get a piece of the action. They target the home of Yurik, Irka and Tolik. The Chechen rebels torture Yurik and Tolik and watch as Irka goes into labor. Most of the rebels take Tolik and Yurik outside to deal with them while two watch Irka and joke about what they’ll do with the baby. Outside the rebels get Tolik to execute Yurik. Yurik says to Tolik that he is not a separatist. Then they get Yurik to execute Tolik. Since neither man will, the terrorists execute them both. The terrorists then leave the house as Irka gives birth on the couch.

This film appears to be the right film at the right time. Right as Ukraine is still going through a brutal war against Russia, this film takes people back to the Russo-Ukrainian War. In addition, it adds a major news even from that period: the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Fight 17 by the Ukraine-Russia border. There’s no doubt that this film is bound to bring up a lot of talk. Especially since there are many areas of Ukraine that have a high Russian population. That has often happened in nations that were former Soviet Republics that Russians move in or peoples would be displaced over periods of time. It’s because of that Putin feels he can go in and take the territories. Even declare some nations like Ukraine as actually being part of Russia.

This film is a story that’s bound to provoke a lot of discussion. Irka and Tolik have their farm close to the Ukraine-Russia border. It’s right in the middle of the Russia-Ukraine border. The plane crash happens very close to their farm. Irka’s brother Yurik is a soldier in the Ukrainian Army. Tolik’s close friend and associate is a Russian. This is bound to get a lot of people thinking. It would not surprise me how many families with both Russians and Ukrainians would face clashes over this war. And to think this is a war where a passenger plane and over 100 of its passengers were unintended casualties. War is always ugly, but it is very intense. And to think this is a story of a pregnancy happening in the middle of it and a wife that refuses to leave her home despite the threat of danger. This is a story that will get one thinking.

Top acclaim should go to writer/director Maryna Er Gorbach. She did an excellent job of delivering a thought-provoking story of a complicated war happening as a pregnancy is happening. She did a very good job of placing the events with the story and not taking anything away or hiding anything from the tense topic. Also excellent is the acting from Oksana Cherkashyna. She does an excellent job as the wife caught in this conflict. She does a good job of portraying a woman confused, fearful, feeling neglected and still trying to maintain hope. Also excellent is the performance of Sergei Shadrin. Hard to believe he died shortly after shooting in June of 2021 at the age of 41. Sergei delivers an excellent performance of a man who is confused and tries to be supportive, but has something to hide. Oleg Shcherbina does an excellent job of being the brother caught in the middle of the friction. Also excellent is the cinematography of Svyatoslav Bulakovskiy. His inclusion of panoramic shots during certain scenes add to the film.

This film is Ukraine’s official entry for this year’s Oscar race in the Best International Feature Film category. At the Sundance Film Festival, the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for the World Cinema – Dramatic category. Er Gorbach won the Best Director Award for the genre category. The film has since received many accolades like winning the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, winning Best International Film at the Fribourg Film Festival, Grand Prix Winner at the Ghent Film Festival, Best International Film at the Heartland Film Festival, Winner of Best International Feature at the Santiago Film Fest and winner of Best Feature Film at the Seattle Film Festival.

Klondike is the right film at the right time. It says a lot of the differences of Ukraine and Russia. It also tells how political turmoil can threaten a family in even the most remote areas. It’s a message we need to hear right now.

VIFF 2022: The Word (Slovo)

The Word is the story of a Czech couple played by Gabriela Mikulkova (far left) and Marin Finger (far right) trying to keep their lives and family together after intense political change.

The first feature-length live-action film I saw during the VIFF was the Czech film The Word. This is a historical drama that tells of a story quite personal to the director.

Vaclav Vojir is a successful lawyer in Czechoslovakia in 1968. It’s not made clear where he works but he lives in a small town with his wife and two children. Vojir is good in his work and he deals with his clients in a humane way. One day in the summer of 1968, he meets with two men whom he didn’t have an appointment. They are men from the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. They dictate to him of how he is to do his profession. Ever since the Prague Spring earlier that year, the Communist Party has a heavier hand than before. They also noticed that Vojir was one person who signed a manifesto for more freedom that year. They threaten him with possible imprisonment in the future if he doesn’t sign an agreement with them.

Soon after, he meets with his wife Vera Vojirova and his children Ales and Emicka. He tells her of what happened and how he fears for the future. It comes at a tough time as summer is approaching. The family go on vacation at the beach, but Vaclav can’t forget what could happen to him. He tries to hide it from his children and wife and try to be a family man, but he can’t let it out of his head. Vera is in close contact with her sisters and tells them of all that’s happening. Word soon gets out over town.

Soon the pressures of being under the thumb of the Communist government bear down on Vaclav. He has a mental breakdown. His mental health has deteriorated so much, he has rendered himself bedridden. Soon Vaclav has to be institutionalized. The sisters feel it’s best off that Vera divorce him. They know she loves Vaclav, but the Communist government is a menacing force on the entire nation. Vera gets the nerve to visit Vaclav in the hospital. She has food for him and she reminds him that she still loves him and will do everything to keep the family unit intact.

As Spring 1969 approaches, Vaclav is now feeling better and he’s fit to be released from the hospital. He returns to a home that’s happy to see him again. However as he returns to his job, he is reminded that the pressures from the Communist government to do as he is told have not left him. He’s still under their thumb. Vaclav will stand by his word, but he knows he could face dire consequences. He could avoid them, but he can’t risk another relapse of his mental health. In the summer of 1969, Vaclav then makes the decision for him and his family to move. They’re going to leave the pressures of his job and the talk of the town behind to start a new life in another town. It’s unclear in terms of his career, but it’s known for the sake of his marriage and family.

This film is a reminder of the Cold War. Those 40 and over will remember it. It was the Communist world and the non-Communist world constantly threatening each other or trying to look menacing to each other. In the Communist world, the government were like a big brother to you and your daily life. For Czechoslovakia, things were definitely at their hardest after the Prague Spring of 1968. The government became harder on the people and those who were part of the movement for freedom faced threats of imprisonment. today, the Cold War and the Communist regimes are a thing of the past most Eastern Europeans. The nations did make the move to freedom starting in 1989. Some nations even dismantled themselves, like Czechoslovakia becoming Czechia and Slovakia. However ugly reminders still remain.

This is a story that happened just as the Soviet tanks had just come in and crushed Czechoslovakia’s move to freedom. People who participated in any activities leading to freedom were either punished or threatened. That especially meant people in their jobs like Vaclav Vojir. He was a lawyer who strongly believed in integrity and the power of staying to one’s word. However political pressure was menacing. It became a point where it affected his mental health. It was as much of a frustrating situation for his wife Vera. She too believed in the importance of staying married to Vaclav. She too was one who was willing to fight to keep the family unit together. Even if people advised her to divorce for the sake of the situation, she would not budge. I think the whole theme of the film is of how life under Communist rule really put people’s values to the test. Even though the Vojir family is miles away from the biggest hostility of the Prague Spring, it doesn’t mean they won’t feel it.

The story does a good job of telling of how the Communist government caused a lot of friction in people’s lives, especially in many family units. What’s unique about it is it does a good job of showing it over a one-year period. It starts in the summer of 1968 and it moves over time progressing as it goes from season to season. Each scene is an average of ten-minutes long and takes place in a single location or single area. Holidays are also important as they show the time change and also the occasions where families got together. The vacations and family time are also important as they showcase the relation between the Vojir’s and how much the family means to them. It’s a case where the surroundings are as important at telling the story as the actual dialogue and events. Also the additional element as the end of each scene of showing three photographs of the people involved, especially since no camera is shown, adds to the uniqueness of the storytelling.

This film is an excellent work from Czech filmmaker Beata Parkanova. Parkanova is relatively unknown outside of Europe. She wrote her first feature-length screenplay in 2015 and directed her first film Chvilky in 2018. This film is a different story for her as it is a retelling of a situation that happened in her grandparents’ family. She doesn’t go for big action in this story. The biggest most brutal action of the revolt happened around this time. Instead it’s a story low on action and more intense on the situation. Parkanova helps us keep our intrigue with the story and watch as the time progresses.

Actor Martin Finger does an excellent job of acting as he portrays Vaclav Vojir. He’s one of Czechia’s more renowned actors in recent years. Here he does a very good job in his portrayal of a man who will try to stay strong, but is prone to being under pressure. Also excellent is the acting of Gabriela Mikulkova. Her portrayal of the wife and the one who will most do whatever it takes to keep the family together is worthy of admiration. One could argue it’s her who best carries the film. The additional characters in the film like the Vojir children and Vera’s sisters add to the element of storytelling. At the Karlovy Very Film festival, the film was a nominee for the Crystal Globe for Best Film and Parkanova won the Best Director Ward and Finger Best Actor. The film continues to do the film festival circuit and was a nominee for Best Debut Film at the Haifa Film Festival.

The Word is an impressive melodrama that sends a message of how political change can impact individuals and families. The story isn’t told in intense fashion, but its story does give a lot of impact.

VIFF 2022 Review: Love Will Come Later

Samir El Hajjy is a young Moroccan man dreaming of love and a better life in Europe in the documentary Love Will Come Later.

DISCLAIMER: I know VIFF ended on October 9th. I’m still posting my film reviews as they can either be streamed or will be released at a later date.

It’s not that often I go to see a documentary, never mind see one during the VIFF. The first film I saw at the VIFF was a documentary entitled Love Will Come Later. It’s an eye-opener of a story as it focuses on a topic that is quite common, but not too many people are aware of.

The film begins with Samir El Hajjy, a Moroccan male in his early 20’s, having a text conversation with a woman. The woman lives somewhere in Europe. The conversation is intimate. Soon we hear from Samir himself. He tells of his dreams and ambitions. He dreams of marrying a European woman, particularly one in France, and dreams of a better life for himself. This may be difficult as he has an arranged fiance.

As the documentary continues, we learn more about Samir and his family. We learn that Samir has attempted to apply to European Universities without success. We learn that he has an older brother whom has married a European woman and is starting a family. We learn that he has sisters who are very religious and very tradition-minded, especially when it comes to the subject of love and marriage.

The subject of love and marriage is one that comes very much in conversation. We hear frequently from Samir’s friends of what they have to say about it. We hear from Samir’s barber of how he married. We heard from other men telling their stories of how they married. Sure, they were arranged, but love came over time. We hear from Samir’s sisters and how they have a negative opinion of marrying a European woman. We even see a scene when Samir’s brother flies into Marrakech with his family. It becomes evident this is the life Samir aspires to have. We also see how Samir faces the pressure to marry a woman he’s arranged to marry.

The film also focuses on Samir’s daily life and the city he lives in. We see Samir as he’s having fun with friends. We see Samir as he’s getting his hair cut. We see Samir ride his motorcycle slowly across the narrowest of streets of old Marrakech. We see Samir as he is in his prayers to Allah. We see frequent celebrations in Marrakech. Some celebrations are national. Some are more local, like weddings or neighborhood festivals.

The film doesn’t stray away from his marriage goals. Many times, we get a focus on the conversations he has with the European women. Some are through messenger, some are text message, some are Zoom meeting where by Islamic morals she is not to have her face shown. We see one case of an actual phone conversation with one of the women Samir is pursuing. During the time, Samir reveals his beliefs. In one of his conversations, he talks with the woman of his beliefs of the roles of the man and the woman. He reveals he’s not as tradition minded and doesn’t side with the man dominating. He believes in 50/50. That becomes increasingly apparent as he gets into a religious discussion with someone and even points out that in the Koran there’s no mention a woman should wear a burka.

Eventually the frustrations weigh down on Samir and he feels he should forget his dream, ‘grow up,’ and marry the woman he’s arranged to. The film ends with Samir in his latest pursuit. She’s a woman from France. In the final scene, of Samir in a bus, he tells of his dreams of love and marriage. This appears to be the love pursuit he is committed on making work. As for love itself, he feels it’s something that will come and grow over time.

The story of Samir pursuing love in Europe is a common thing in African countries. French-language countries like France and Belgium have a high number of immigrants from Congo, Cameroon, Morocco and Algeria. Even one documentary I saw at the VIFF years ago showed how in many African countries the belief is to pursue Europe or die trying. It seems to be a common belief of the young in Africa that they have a future, but they can’t see it happening in their own countries. They feel their future is in Europe. It would not be uncommon to see cases where they will want to marry into Europe. Samir is possibly thousands of young men in African countries who want to do just that.

However the film is not just about a Moroccan trying to pursue love in Europe. The story is about Samir. They story paints an intimate portrayal of Samir El Hajjy himself. He wants to marry, but he doesn’t devalue marriage. He knows marriage is as much about love as it is an institution. As the cameras follow him, his life and make his conversations visible, we get a good sense of his life and his desires. We get a sense why he is not too interested in the woman he’s arranged to marry, or any woman in Marrakech. We get a sense of daily Moroccan life for families like killing a lamb for dinner and daily prayers to Allah.

On the subject of marriage and tradition, we get a sense of his family situation. We see how his brother who married in France is quite comfortable, but the sisters are disapproving. They feel it’s against Islamic traditions and they have a negative attitude towards European women. We get a sense of Samir’s loyal faith and we also see Samir’s own beliefs about the role of women and how it correlates with Islamic faith. Samir is not naïve in his Islamic faith and his beliefs. We see how many people view his goals of marrying in Europe to be a sign of immaturity. We also see how the pressure does come down on him. There are scenes near the end where he’s tempted to give it all up and marry his arranged fiancé. Tradition and the modern world frequently clash in the film. It’s not the type of clash that’s heavy on action but heavy on emotion.

Top respect to Swiss director Julia Furer for putting this documentary together. Her film allows Samir to tell his own story and allow the cameras follow him along in his story telling. With a topic like this, it’s best to let the subject tell the story than the director to send their message. Julia also shows a lot of shots that first appear to be irrelevant to the film, but eventually do add to the story when you look back. Shots of Samir on his motor bike show what living in Marrakech is like with its homes and bazaars. Shots of festivals show of the common traditions and celebrations in Morocco. Julia focuses on the good and the bad of life in Marrakech. One thing she shows as she showcases Samir’s story is that there are two different Marrakeches: the Marrakech tourists see and the Marrakech of daily life that only residents know. Shots of airplanes flying off may first appear to just add time in the film, but as the story progresses, each plane taking off from the airport appears to be another missed dream for Samir. Furer does a very good job of making this as much of a story of Morocco as it is the story of Samir.

Love Will Come Later is an intriguing story that first comes off as a story of a Moroccan man searching for love. If you look closer, it says a lot more. Not just about him, but of his family, his town, his faith, his country, and even about what being a young man in Morocco is all about.