Eighth day coverage of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival with reviews of Iranian comedy Pig (Khook) and Brazilian documentary The Trial (O Processo)

Pig (Khook)

68th Berlin International Film Festival

In Mani Haghighi’s Pig, film­mak­ers in Iran are be­ing tar­get­ed one by one by a mys­te­ri­ous se­r­i­al killer who chops their heads off and uses a ra­zor to carve the word “Khook” (or “Pig,” in Per­sian) on their fore­heads. So, one might won­der, is this a po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary on Is­lam­ic cen­sor­ship in Iran dis­guised as a thriller? Well, no. In fact, this is a com­e­dy that has no oth­er pre­ten­sion than just be­ing fun­ny. Now, if it’s un­pre­ten­tious or sim­ply wit­less, that’s an­oth­er sto­ry.

The film is cen­tered on a black­list­ed di­rec­tor, Hasan (Hasan Ma­ju­ni), who hasn’t been al­lowed to shoot a film in years and is now work­ing on a pes­ti­cide com­mer­cial. He is fu­ri­ous that the ac­tress and muse he turned into a star, Shi­va (Leila Hata­mi), is bored of be­ing idle and wants to work with oth­er di­rec­tors. He is ob­sessed with her, and to make things worse, he and his wife have been drift­ing apart, his old moth­er is los­ing her mind, and there is a se­r­i­al killer at loose in Tehran. Hasan doesn’t un­der­stand why the killer is not tar­get­ing him, of all di­rec­tors. But, of course, it won’t take long for him to be­come the prime sus­pect.

With the kind of slap­stick hu­mor that in­vests in a lot of fast cuts and peo­ple scream­ing af­ter see­ing a dead body, Pig wants to make fun of its un­kempt pro­tag­o­nist but ends up mak­ing him too im­ma­ture and hard to care about. Hasan is a douchebag who treats Shi­va like a prop­er­ty, for­bid­ding her to work with oth­er film­mak­ers and al­ways blam­ing her for his emo­tion­al stress (“What have you done to me?” he asks her in one of his ma­cho fits). Some­one even mock­ing­ly refers to him as “her mas­ter,” and he is im­pul­sive enough to go around yelling that he will kill her only to be­come a sus­pect lat­er.

And while it’s in­fu­ri­at­ing that Shi­va is so pas­sive and com­plies with his pos­ses­sive de­mands (lead­ing to a pa­thet­ic mo­ment when Hasan sees fire­works be­cause she fi­nal­ly gave in), the film in­cludes baf­fling sit­u­a­tions that make no dif­fer­ence for the nar­ra­tive, like when he is stung by a bee or hal­lu­ci­nates that he is play­ing a neon ten­nis rack­et like a gui­tar, in a point­less, flashy and tir­ing mu­si­cal num­ber full of su­per­fast cuts. Be­sides, more stu­pid than the po­lice miss­ing the killer af­ter be­ing dis­tract­ed by Hasan’s “pro­nounced im­age” on a sur­veil­lance video is only his plan to catch the killer, which makes no sense and whose out­come we can see from miles away.

But what is frus­trat­ing is that there are el­e­ments here that could have led to a bet­ter film. At some point, Has­san tells a di­rec­tor they should stop mak­ing films to protest (“Think how His­to­ry will judge us”), but that doesn’t go any­where. Lat­er, the film talks about un­found­ed ac­cu­sa­tions that go vi­ral al­low­ing every­one to have “an opin­ion.” There is a nice crit­i­cism on our YouTube/Twitter/Instagram gen­er­a­tion lost in a harm­less film that can­not find any­thing rel­e­vant to say, not even when re­veal­ing the iden­ti­ty of the killer. So if Haghighi only want­ed to make a wit­less, va­pid com­e­dy, then mis­sion ac­com­plished.

The Trial (O Processo)

O Processo

While at­tend­ing a Berli­nale screen­ing of the doc­u­men­tary The Tri­al, the gen­er­al feel­ing among the Brazil­ians that were there (most of the au­di­ence, I pre­sume) was col­lec­tive des­o­la­tion. The re­cep­tion to Maria Au­gus­ta Ramos’s film was ex­treme­ly pos­i­tive, with lots of clap­ping and prais­ing from the au­di­ence dur­ing the Q&A, and there was a shared un­der­stand­ing in the air. Ever since a par­lia­men­tary coup (with full sup­port of a rot­ten me­dia) im­peached Pres­i­dent Dil­ma Rouss­eff in 2016 and re­placed her with Vice Pres­i­dent Michel Temer (who in turn was ac­cused of cor­rup­tion), Brazil is no longer a democ­ra­cy, and we know it.

Ramos told us she be­gan shoot­ing her film 10 days be­fore the ini­tial Con­gress vote, and while she didn’t gain ac­cess to the Cham­ber of Deputies where the im­peach­ment process be­gan (the im­ages we see from there are pub­lic ma­te­r­i­al), she was al­lowed to film at the Fed­er­al Sen­ate af­ter the Cham­ber vot­ed in fa­vor of the im­peach­ment and the mo­tion passed. In the end, she had an un­be­liev­able amount of 450 hours of ma­te­r­i­al which fi­nal­ly got edit­ed down to a con­cise 137 min­utes. Aim­ing at a whol­ly ob­ser­va­tion­al, fly-on-the-wall ap­proach, the re­sult is an au­then­tic court­room dra­ma pre­sent­ed with­out any nar­ra­tion or ex­clu­sive in­ter­views. With so much be­ing said on both sides of the tri­al, there is no need for com­men­tary.

The Tri­al de­tails each step of the im­peach­ment process, be­gin­ning with Rouss­eff ac­cused at the Cham­ber of Deputies of crim­i­nal ad­min­is­tra­tive mis­con­duct af­ter no ev­i­dence had been found im­pli­cat­ing her in a cor­rup­tion scan­dal at Brazil­ian na­tion­al oil com­pa­ny Petro­bras (of whose board of di­rec­tors she was pres­i­dent). The charges in­clud­ed “fis­cal ped­al­ing” — an ac­count­ing ma­neu­ver which had been used by pre­vi­ous Pres­i­dents and in­volves de­lay­ing re­pay­ment from the Trea­sury to state-owned banks used to pay gov­ern­ment oblig­a­tions — and the sign­ing of six bud­get de­crees to al­lo­cate funds to so­cial pro­grams with­out au­tho­riza­tion from Con­gress. That is, ba­si­cal­ly tech­ni­cal­i­ties, since these mea­sures didn’t lead to an ac­tu­al fi­nan­cial loss.

In only a few ini­tial scenes, Ramos’s film ex­pos­es how this tri­al was a cir­cus from the be­gin­ning, with the Cham­ber be­ing presided by a crim­i­nal, Ed­uar­do Cun­ha (who was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for cor­rup­tion) and ag­i­tat­ed deputies yelling in­san­i­ties about God, the po­lice and the mil­i­tary dur­ing their open vote — in­clud­ing a fas­cist deputy ex­alt­ing a tor­tur­er and a woman who had the nerve to jus­ti­fy her vote in fa­vor of the im­peach­ment as be­ing “for all those who fought against the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship.” We soon re­al­ize that the Cham­ber com­mit­tee had the pow­er to reach what­ev­er con­clu­sion they want­ed, and that the out­come of this tri­al had been de­cid­ed right from the start, whether there was just cause for im­peach­ment or not.

As the mo­tion pass­es to the Sen­ate, the film lets us par­tic­i­pate in the meet­ings and strate­gies of Rousseff’s de­fense team, whose care­ful­ly stud­ied ar­gu­ments are met with ab­surd de­ci­sions by the in­ves­tiga­tive com­mit­tee. And while pros­e­cu­tion lawyer Janaí­na Paschoal seems more like a bizarre lu­natic who claims in tears that she is in love with the Fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion, one sen­a­tor even ad­mits he doesn’t know if there was crime but in­sists that Rouss­eff lies any­way. The tri­al reach­es mo­ments of such ab­sur­di­ty that the film’s ti­tle (a ref­er­ence to Franz Kafka’s The Tri­al) couldn’t be more ap­pro­pri­ate, since some­one is also con­vict­ed here for a crime that makes no sense and no one can ex­act­ly ex­plain what it was.

But the rea­sons be­hind this pros­e­cu­tion can be found in a few re­veal­ing scenes, like when we see the well-off mid­dle class cel­e­brat­ing the im­peach­ment in the streets in con­trast with those from low­er class­es suf­fer­ing in si­lence for Rouss­eff. In oth­er words, Ramos’s film clear­ly ar­gues that this is a woman who dared to defy the in­ter­ests of a small group of pow­er­ful men and paid the price for it. Of course, there will be peo­ple “ac­cus­ing” it of be­ing one-sided, but it takes only one look at the fact that the Con­gress vot­ed not to put Temer on tri­al to re­al­ize that this was nev­er a fair process, but pure re­tal­i­a­tion and op­por­tunism.

Feb­ru­ary 26, 2018

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