Jus Lyk Dat (Guyana, 2014); Bal Kan (Kosovo, 2016)

I’m back! Sadly, in the intervening time since my last post, the Uzbek short film The Dog has been taken down from YouTube, and I cannot find another way to access it. Because of that, this post will only be discussing two short films: Jus Lyk Dat and Bal Kan. Both of these films deal with the theme of betrayal.

Jus Lyk Dat

Directed by Errol Chan, Jus Lyk Dat is a relatively rare example of a locally-produced Guyanese film. (One person on YouTube left the comment: “Keep it coming we need more Guyanese production instead of those played out Nollywood and Bollywood movies,” which provoked the ire of at least one diehard Nollywood fan.) At the beginning of the movie, we’re introduced to Tyrone (Terrence Giddings), who is something of a card shark and a jackass. He steals money from his friend Asher (Stephon Wills), who in turn tells his partner Esther (Joyann Crandon): “This is the third time he thieve from me!” He recounts: “The other day, I left me money ‘pon the table and gone outside. Two thousand dollar missing.” However, “I refused to believe that he would do a thing like that. But I set a trap fi him. Two thousand dollar gone again. Now, just now, he thieve two thousand dollar.” Esther merely chuckles, unimpressed: “I guess only two thousand dollars he done fo thieve” (which, of course, isn’t strictly true, but nevertheless…).

Jemma (Marita Weatherspoon), Esther’s sister and Tyrone’s partner, owes Esther money. “Babes,” Esther pleads to Asher, “you know it’s two months now Jemma owe me money, and she won’t pay me back.” Instead, “all she does do, is give Tyrone fi gamble or she ga lets him dance.” As a result, Esther refuses to lend Jemma any more money. This sends Tyrone into a rage: “Hey Esther! Don’t come in here with your flapping mouth, girl!” Again, Esther is unmoved: “Or else what? You can’t do me nothing.”

Upon this, Asher enters, accusing Tyrone of thievery. “Is who you calling thief?” Tyrone replies incredulously. The argument comes to fisticuffs, before being broken up by Andy (Andy Henry), one of Tyrone’s gambling buddies. But this does not end the feud. Later, Tyrone chases Asher down the street, until—jus lyk dat—the argument takes a fatal turn. I’m not sure if the scene is supposed to be comic or not. It reads that way to me—the melodramatic orchestral stings, the “uh-oh Spaghettios” look on the killer’s face. And yet, the brief aftermath plays out in a serious tone. There are some apparent issues with continuity. At one point, Asher seems to refer to Esther as his sister, and Esther calls Jemma “Jenna” at least once. By most definitions, it’s not a “good” movie, but I think in some ways it is, not least of all because of its cultural significance: like the YouTube commenter said, it’s a locally-produced (albeit ultra-low budget) Guyanese alternative to foreign films.

Bal Kan

The title says it all—this is a film about the fractured and factious political climate of the Balkans. Directed by Kriks Dumo, it begins in Kosovo in 1988. Ilir and Emil, Albanian and Serbian respectively, are two boys who, despite their ethnic differences, are close friends.

Fast forward to 1999. Things have changed. Emil, now grown, spraypaints a Serbian cross on a building. The former friends are now on opposing sides of a bitter and violent ethnic conflict. When the Serbs murder several Albanian children, it seems they’ve finally taken things too far, prompting a bloody shootout between the town’s Serbian and Albanian factions, including Ilir and Emil. Soon, Ilir and Emil are the only two combatants left. Only when Ilir recognizes the marble that Emil is wearing on a necklace do they realize who each other is. They tearfully embrace, before reaching for their knives, bringing the film to its ending, which is somehow both foreseeable and shocking.

The video has approximately 40% thumbs-down reactions on YouTube—not because of the quality of the film, which is impressive, but presumably because of the content. Comments include: “KOSOVO IS SERBIA!!!”; “KOSOVO IS ALBANIA        MACEDONIA IS ALBANIA BIG ALBANIA IS COOMING [sic]”; what a lie and propaganda, everything in this movie is lie”; “Albania us [sic] the one that started conflict at at Kosovo Wikipedia”; “fuck analbania”; “will they show albanians selling organs?”; and “Kosovo? You mean that not independent province of Serbia?” However, some of the comments offer a more positive response: “im albanian and i love serbs”; “Why cant you Shqiptars and Cetniks just shut the fuck up about the ‘Propaganda’ and take e leason [sic] from this. They where [sic] playing togheter [sic] and then they killed each other. Seriously look at them in the end. Fuck politics and fuck religion. We are the same. And yes im Yugoslavian! Not Serb, Bosniak, Kroat, Sloven, Makedon, or Alb. Fuck religion and nationalism. B A L K A N / J U G O S L A V I J A”; “Kosovo is Kosovo! Serbia is Serbia! Albania is Albania!”; and “Oh Kosovo… A land where brotherhood died and was replaced by hatred. Kosovo isn’t Serbia, Kosovo isn’t Albania, Kosovo is Kosovo and it can only exist as such. Tito invited Albania to join Yugoslavia, if it did it wouldn’t be like this. We are all to blame, we killed brotherhood. Albanians and Serbs are brothers, not enemies. Long Live Yugoslavia!” Other comments are more ambiguous, including: “Guys i was looking koments……this is sad how people stupid are P.S. Russia please bomb whole balkan with 5 tsar bombas please…..” Admittedly, it’s probably a bit unusual when the content of a film is overshadowed by the comments section of YouTube, but nevertheless, the movie itself is pretty good.

Up Next…

In the next post, I’ll be discussing two short films that address sexual education, as well as a third educational film that promotes financial literacy:

The Story of Mariama (The Gambia, 2013)

Yu No Save Ronwei Lo Lav (Vanuatu, 2016)

Maudabak (East Timor, 2016)

Blood of the Condor (Bolivia, 1969)

First off, apologies to my faithful few for the long gap between entries! School has been busy lately…

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss Blood of the Condor. Directed by Jorge Sanjinés, it’s a primarily Quechua-language black-and-white film featuring the “peasants” of Kaata, a small Bolivian village. It depicts the deleterious effects of the neo-colonial presence of the “Progress Corps” (a thinly veiled stand-in for the Peace Corps) in 1960s Bolivia.

Cursed Womb

The film opens with the chilling juxtaposition of two passages, the first by Martin Bormann regarding the occupation of Ukraine: “We are the master race. Slaves must work for us. When no longer needed, they can die. They need no medical attention. Let them use contraceptive methods and abort as often as possible. Education is dangerous. An educated person is a potential enemy. Let them practise their religion only as a diversion. They should receive only enough food to keep them alive.” The second, an excerpt from a speech to CIT by the scientist James Donner, reads: “The developed world does not identify with the hungry of India or Brazil. We see them as a different species, and, in fact, they are. In the next 100 years we will find appropriate ways of dealing with them. … They are simply animals. They constitute a malignant disease. … Result: The rich and strong nations will devour the poor and weak.”

After this, we are introduced to Ignacio and Paulina, a couple whose three children have all recently died. “Now I’m alone,” Ignacio says, telling Paulina that she is unlucky and the cause of the deaths of their children. He’s quite intoxicated. The next day the pair treks to the top of the mountain to bury symbolic dolls and other objects; Paulina sports a nasty black eye.

Turns out, Ignacio is the leader of the community, and he has beef with the local police chief, who orders him to be shot. Paulina and Sixto, Ignacio’s brother, attempt to save him, taking him to the city for a life-saving blood transfusion. An eerie Bergmanesque score accompanies their arrival amidst the skyscrapers of La Paz. Unfortunately, their blood is not compatible with his, and they can’t afford the 350 pesos needed to purchase a transfusion. The doctors don’t speak Quechua, and they’re not exactly willing to help them, either, prompting Sixto to observe that “they’ve forgotten the gods in the city.”

Gringos Bring Disaster

A series of flashbacks, interlocking with scenes of Paulina and Sixto’s quest in the present, fills us in on how Ignacio came to be in this predicament. Their three children died during an epidemic, right around the time Ignacio was elected as village leader. Trying for another child, he and Paulina seek the advice of a soothsayer, who tells them that “something’s blocked inside her. It stops children.” Paulina and her friends and family then discuss why she might not be able to have children. A spell from an enemy? A lack of proper supplication to the gods? One of them suggests that “the evil was brought to our community by the gringos. Gringos bring disaster!”

The gringos referred to are the aforementioned Progress Corps, a group of bumbling, culturally illiterate young upper-middle-class white Americans with New York accents. (They’re names are Tom, Jim, and Kathy, incidentally.) They want to purchase the eggs that Paulina is taking to market, but she refuses to sell to them, much to their consternation. Ignacio asks around the village to see where some of the village women had their last children, and for many of them, that turns out to be “at the maternity centre run by the foreigners.” The police chief attempts to put his constituents at ease: “These gringo gentlemen have come to help your community, so please cooperate with them and listen to them. I’m asking you as the government representative in this community.” Furthermore, he says, “they want you and your wives to go to the centre for treatment.”

But the townspeople aren’t ready to welcome the Progress Corps with open arms. A religious leader from the town performs a ceremony dedicated Pachamama (the Earth Mother figure in traditional Andean religion) to ask for the continuation of their people and of the fertility of their women. When Ignacio investigates the maternity centre, the police chief tells him that he has to be more cooperative with the Progress Corps, but Ignacio refuses to have anything to do with them. Uh oh…

When one of the local women dies in the centre, the villagers realize that “something very evil is happening in that centre.” And indeed, neighboring villages are suffering the same lack of fertility as Kaata. The soothsayer divines that “the gringos are sowing death in the bellies of our women”—in other words, they’re performing forced sterilizations. Armed with the truth, the villagers collectively approach the maternity centre that night, seize the Progress corps members and tell them that they know what’s going on. “They seem to know everything”—Tom, Jim, and Kathy are terrified. “Tell them, we only sterilize women who have too many children!” Kathy exclaims. But now the shoe is on the other foot: “It’s because of you that our women don’t have children. We will do to you what you do to us.” The film ends with the image of several rifles pointed to the sky, heralding the beginning of a revolution.

Up Next…

The Forest (Central African Republic, 2003)

The Rose Seller (Colombia, 1998)

Here we have the first South American film on the list! Based on “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen, this film by Victor Gaviria depicts the street life of Colombian children.

Visions of Christmas Past

It’s Christmastime in Medellín. Thirteen-year-old Mónica makes a living selling roses on the street and in nightclubs; her less-than-faithful boyfriend Anderson sells drugs. Mónica meets a ten-year-old girl, Andrea, who has run away from her abusive mother. With Mónica’s coaching Andrea calls her mother on a payphone and tells her: “Tomorrow I’m gonna pick up my clothes and I’m gonna go and take a break from you and that other idiot. Get lost you motherfucker ass face! Goodbye bitch!” When Andrea briefly returns, her mother threatens to beat her again. A neighbor overhears and cautions Andrea’s mother to treat her daughter better, lest she leave for good and end up falling in with the wrong crowd on the streets: “She’s better off at home.”

Back on the streets, a police officer witnesses Anderson huffing glue and tells him: “Smoke all the grass you want, but lay off this shit. What the hell are you thinking?” He throws the bottle on the ground and lights the spillage on fire. “That’s what will happen to you.” Indeed, glue wreaks its havoc on Monica’s brain. She begins hallucinating, seeing her dead grandmother dressed as the Virgin Mary and pleads with the vision: “You came for me? You won’t leave again! Why did you leave, why didn’t you take me with you?” Monica returns home to discover that her house was almost torn down, and her grandmother’s room was demolished, though the contents are still there. She goes through her grandmother’s trunk with her sister Bibiana, who offers to let her stay there for Christmas. In the old photos, Monica looks so happy; it’s heartbreaking to compare that face to the one we see now. We witness a flashback to a clean, sober, and smiling Mónica drinking agua de panela with her grandmother.

Crafting Joy Amidst Hardship

Meanwhile, romance blossoms between two of Mónica’s friends, Cheeky and Claudia. Cheeky’s father shows up to take her home, but she refuses to go with him. After they have a private talk, she finally agrees—though it isn’t stated why. Claudia is devastated: “Just remember that if you’re gone too long I’ll give your spot to someone else.” Cheeky implores: “No, wait one week. If my dad beats me, I’ll come back here to you.”

Mónica buys 20 thousand worth of fireworks for Christmas Eve using the money she and Andrea have earned from selling roses and such. That evening, Mónica and a very stoned Claudia (“Where did all that blood come from?” she asks deliriously) light up the fireworks in an alley. However, Mónica saves a few sparklers; she returns to the remains of her grandmother’s home and huffs glue from a bag while she lights a sparkler. She imagines herself in the house as it used to be, on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her grandmother and extended family. Entranced by her visions, she loses sight of the terror and violence around her, with dreadful results.

The film emphasizes, with unflinching realism, how children grow up fast on the streets of Medellín. My advice for prospective viewers of this film: like Mónica and her fellow street children, cling onto every joyous moment in the film, because such moments are few and far between.

Up Next…

Beats of the Antonov (Sudan, 2014)