Suleiman Mountain (2017)

Impression:  How many movies from Kyrgyzstan do you get to see in your lifetime? Not many, I decided. So I made it to the only film in Toronto I didn’t have to wait in a rush line for. It’s a road trip comedy with some interesting characters. Zhipara is a middle age shamanistic healer/swindler (up to you to decide!) who is on a mission to win back her estranged husband, Karabas – a long distance truck driver. She picks up a boy from an orphanage (who may or may not be her son, but has the same name) Uluk, and gets Karabas to half-way buy into her plans and take her and the boy aboard his truck. Since they’ve split up, he has taken on a young wife who travels with him, and she is not too keen on having the two new passengers along for a ride. Many adventures await them on the road, mostly in the form of clever ways of separating unsuspecting people they encounter from some cash. The film moves slowly, but I found it entertaining and an interesting look into a culture not often seen on film. There are some references to actual organized shamanistic rituals on Suleiman Mountain and Ziphara seems to actually believe in the power of its magic, even if she mostly seems to be faking it to make a quick buck.  But money comes and goes fairly easily for the travellers in the film, and they lose it as easily as they earn it.  One of the themes is the importance of things going well, regardless of the reasons. Ultimately, does it really matter if Uluk is really their son if they are happy and they all get along? Some strain between Karabas’ itinerant carefree lifestyle and his parents and extended family is hinted at, and during the Q&A, the director explained that there has been some political issues in real life Kyrgyzstan with the people adhering to traditional beliefs and living outside the mainstream on the mountain and the government. If the movie touched on this in any more depth, it surely went over my head. Scenes of nature are beautifully filmed, while the life in the truck and truck stop is portrayed as fairly grimey. All in all, glad I saw this one.
Facts: A road trip through Kyrgyzstan with a motley crew of swindlers.
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
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The Dance of Reality (2013)

Impression: I think I saw another Jodorowsky movie, possibly El Topo 7 or 8 years ago and all I can remember is that it was set in a desert and it was very strange.  This one is also very strange. It’s a surrealist version of the director’s childhood told through a series of vignettes with a backdrop of politics of 1930s Chile and mixed with some commentary on religion. It’s impossible to extract what real event may have inspired each short story from the fanciful tale that he spins around it, but maybe that’s not the point. The point is maybe how our imagination influences memory and distorts reality. In the film, his mother sings all her lines opera style, and has magical powers. She is able to summon his father back from a quest where he has gotten stuck and lost his memory, by tying a rock to balloons which then track him down in a town far away, drop on his tin roof and return his memories. Unlike his mother with her magic, his father is a stoic atheist, who worships Stalin in an almost religious way. The young Alejandro faces a series of struggles to do things to win approval of his mother and father, but it’s a balance, and usually winning one, means losing another. A number of other visually stunning sequences stand out as well. As a boy. Alejandro likes to throw rocks into the sea. He is told this will kill all the fish, and soon after, a giant tsunami-like wave spits out all the fish onto the beach, the seagulls start eating them, and he is torn between feeling responsible for bringing a demise to all the fish and feeling good about feeding all the birds. What an awesome metaphor for how any action has ambiguous consequences?!  People’s motivations are also laid bare. In my favorite sequence, a group of diseased people is quarantined on the beach and given no food or water, and his father wants to use the situation to be a hero. He  breaks through the quarantine with his donkey cart full of water, which he passes out. Once they’ve had enough water they turn on his donkeys and kill them for meat. He is flabbergasted and yells out “But how will I bring you more water  tomorrow if you kill the donkeys?” to which they reply “But we are hungry today!” It’s one of those movies whose visuals and stories stay with you for days.

Facts:  The director recalls through a surrealist lense what it was like growing up in a small town in Chile in the 1930s.