As you may have guessed by this point, I’m putting this blog on hiatus for a bit to focus on my dissertation. Fear not, though, for by summer at the latest I’ll be posting again! I still have every intention of seeing this project through to the (hopefully not too bitter) end!
My dear friend Tyler Burdenski and his creative partner Chani Bockwinkel are making a film! Entitled Those Who Wait: A Film About the End of Time, they describe it as “a poetic retelling of a 19th century Christian doomsday movement through a queer feminist lens. A Project of Earth.” Set in Maine, the film tells the story of the Millerite movement as its members await the end of days, told through “historically-based tableaus to offer a look at this group of people who abandoned their abolitionist activism in exchange for a promise of a heavenly utopia.”
I’ve read the script and it’s incredible! Here’s the link to their Kickstarter. Please help as you are able! And at the very least, please check out the video included on their Kickstarter page and read through what Tyler and Chani have to say about the film and its significance for our own times. You’ll be doing them a favor, but you’ll also be doing yourself a favor, because this promises to be a unique and powerful piece of cinema.
Directed by Jan Svěrák, Kolya is, I believe, the first film on the list to have won an Academy Award, in this case for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also won the Golden Globe in the same category.
Making Ends Meet
Louka (played by the director’s father) is a cellist and inveterate womanizer living in Prague in 1988. He never plans on marriage, claiming it isn’t compatible with the life of a musician. Instead, he calls up each of his lovers one by one, telling them: “I suddenly felt lonely, so guess who I thought of? You, of course!”
Louka’s clearly struggling financially; he has holes in his socks, asks his fellow musicians to lend him money, and moonlights as a headstone restorer. So when his friend Broz tells him of a moneymaking venture to the tune of 40,000 crowns, you’d think he’d snatch it up right away. However, the plan would involve entering into a sham marriage with a Russian family friend named Nadezhda, and Louka is “against marriage in any shape or form”—not to mention the fact that he is staunchly opposed to anything Russian (which, incidentally, makes him vulnerable to political persecution—more on that later).
Nadezhda doesn’t speak a word of Czech, and to make matters worse, she has a young son named Kolya. Tamara, Kolya’s grandmother, tells Louka and Broz: “Do you have any idea what bribes cost in Russia?” indicating that she had to find some poor Czech rube to marry Nadezhda. Besides, Nadezhda is primarily trying to get to West Germany to stay with her boyfriend, which requires becoming a Czech citizen. (Russians couldn’t enter West Germany, but Czechs could.) So, shortly after their fictive marriage, Nadezhda absconds, leaving Kolya behind with Tamara.
Naturally, Broz is terrified that the cops will be suspicious of Nadezhda leaving so soon. But Louka has more pressing concerns: when Tamara has a stroke, he has to look after Kolya, much to his displeasure. Like his mother, Kolya speaks nary a word of Czech, making communication difficult between him and Louka. Kolya is understandably frightened and upset to be away from his mother and grandmother, and no doubt confused as well. But Broz is thrilled: “Looking after your wife’s child makes your marriage look genuine,” he gleefully tells Louka.
Slowly, Louka settles into life as a surrogate parent. Unfortunately, Tamara dies, meaning Kolya is stuck with Louka for the foreseeable future. We watch Louka and Kolya grow closer—the latter even calls Louka “dad.” But much to Louka’s mother’s horror, Kolya is Russian. “First you show no interest in children and then it’s a Russian,” she sighs. Uncharacteristically, given his political leanings, Louka defends his decision to look after the child. But a woman from social services tells him that the Soviets will probably take Kolya back to the USSR and put him in a home, so Louka and Kolya leave their Prague flat to stay with a friend of Louka’s named Houdek.
The end of the film witnesses the beginnings of the Velvet Revolution. Perhaps unwisely, Louka brings Kolya to the protests, inciting a chain reaction that quietly unravels over the final minutes of the film. Thanks to his time with Kolya, Louka is changed (presumably) indelibly. Kolya is an immensely enjoyable film, as its many accolades can attest to. While watching the film, the thought struck me: “Finally, a comedy!” (albeit one that essentially ends with the word “goodbye”). In reality the film straddles the line between comedy and drama, dealing with heavy topics in a witty and often touchingly lighthearted manner.
Things are going to be a little different in the next post. Instead of writing about one film, I’ll be discussing three short films—very short, actually, each under fifteen minutes—that deal with similar topics and follow similar storylines.
Wea Nao Mi? (Solomon Islands, 2012)
Looking for Nelao (Namibia, 2015)
Icimonwa (Zambia, 2016)
This isn’t my first time seeing this André Øvredal film, and anyone who’s seen it can understand why I had to watch it again: it’s just that good.
You’ll Believe It When You See It
Set up as a found-footage mockumentary in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project, the film follows a group of three intrepid film students from Volda College shooting a documentary on bear poaching. They focus on an elusive and enigmatic man named Hans who is rumored to be hunting bears illegally. We meet Kalle the cameraman, Johanna on sound, and the lead filmmaker Thomas.
As they travel from Volda to Sogn og Fjordane County in pursuit of Hans, he repeatedly tells them to back off: “It isn’t very smart to follow me.” When he reveals that he’s a trollhunter, the crew understandably doesn’t believe him, but he allows them to keep filming as long as they promise to do exactly as he says. “No one here believes in God or Jesus?” he asks them. They all affirm that they do not. (Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun if they were all telling the truth, would it?) Only when Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle see the trolls for themselves do they begin to grasp what they’ve gotten themselves into. However, once they make it through the first night, their fear turns to excitement as they realize that the bizarre world they’ve stumbled upon is a documentarian’s dream.
It turns out that Hans works for the TSS—Troll Security Service—a division of the Wildlife Board, who put him in charge of troll control. He’s the only trollhunter in Norway. He explains: “My job is to kill any troll that breaks out of its territory and comes near people.” This bureaucracy aspect lends a touch of humor to the film. Indeed, Trollhunter is a masterful blend of fantasy, comedy, and horror. (Otto Jespersen, the actor who plays Hans, is a noted—and controversial—Norwegian comedian.) “Fairy tales don’t usually match reality,” Hans tells the filmmakers, to which Thomas cheekily replies: “They seem to in this case.”
Science works alongside bureaucracy to cast a disenchanting mundaneness on the troll-laden fantasy in which Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle find themselves. A veterinarian named Hilde (who is hinted to be Hans’s love interest) informs us that “the trolls’ main problem is that they can’t convert Vitamin D, from the sunlight, into calcium. So when they are exposed to bright sunlight, their bodies overreact. Their stomachs expand. Gases are forced into their intestines and veins. This becomes unbearable.” Older ones, however, suffer a different fate: “Their veins are too constricted, so the expansion occurs in their bones. In a matter of seconds, everything calcifies and they turn to stone.”
We learn that there are an unusual amount of trolls moving around at this time. But why is Hans letting them watch what he does? “Because I’m tired of the shitty job. I have no rights whatsoever. I get no night bonus. No overtime. No nuisance compensation. Maybe it’s time for change in troll management. So if you could get this on TV…” We learn that there are an unusual amount of trolls moving around at this time. Conflict between mountain trolls and woodland trolls, as well as a rabies epidemic, have led to increasingly erratic troll behavior, possibly compounded by effects of global warming. Bigger trolls are breaking out of their territory and coming closer and closer to human settlements, making more work for Hans. The film’s ending is brilliant; the group’s final showdown with the enormous 200-foot-tall Jotnar troll is a nail-biter, even when you’ve seen the film before, but in the end, it turns out that it might not be the trolls that they have to worry about…
The Rose Seller (Colombia, 1998)
As I mentioned in my introductory post, this blog will be including some films from non-sovereign states in order to help me get from 197 up to a nice, round 200 films. And, since I’m missing films from six nations (Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Seychelles, Tuvalu, and of course Vatican City), it turns out I’ve had to fill in six extra gaps, for a total of nine.
So, to avoid confusion and cries of “Hey, that’s not a nation!” here’s a list of the non-sovereign states that will also be represented on my blog (chosen based on a combination of political status, cultural distinctiveness from its parent country, and the existence of a film industry, however small):
- Cook Islands
- Faroe Islands
- Hong Kong
- Puerto Rico
Considering the unlikelihood of finding a film from any of the six nations I’m missing, I imagine that this is how the list will remain. However, on the off chance that anyone does know a film from Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Seychelles, Tuvalu, or the Vatican City, please let me know!
Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve never done something like this before.
Okay, yeah, I’ve written some posts for blogs here and there, but I’ve never actually started my own. So I’ll admit it. I’m a little daunted.
If I’m being honest, I’m even more daunted by the project itself than by the blog. Watching 200 films, each one from a different nation or subnational region’s film industry?? AND working on a completely unrelated dissertation??? I know what you’re thinking: This guy is absurd! And, between you and me, you’re right.
So why start such a big project, at a stage in my life when spare time is already something of a precious commodity? Well, one of my biggest regrets in life is that I haven’t traveled more. Of course, that can (and, hopefully, will) change in the future, but PhD candidates are not exactly made of money. Then one day, while watching a short Haitian film on YouTube, I had the idea to compile a list of films, one from each country’s film industry, and chronicle my thoughts and experiences as I go through each film. I think this will function as a pretty neat (and cheap) substitute for actual travel, at least for now.
Here’s how it’s going to work: a couple of times a week (give or take), I’ll randomly select one film from the list and watch it, ideally in one sitting, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or family. Then, I’ll write up a post about the film, as well as my reactions to it, my thoughts about it, etc. As I watch more and more films, I’ll draw connections between them. Similarly, as I progress further and further into the project, I’ll discuss what it’s like to partake in this cinematic globetrotting adventure.
I hope you’ll join me! I’m sure many of you will have already seen at least one of the films on the list, wherever you may be from. Please add your own thoughts about the films! Maybe this blog will even inspire some of you to watch a few of these films?
I’m daunted, yes. But I’m excited.