Berlin International Film Festival — Day 8

68th Berlin International Film Festival — Day 8


14) Pig, or Khook (Iran, 2018)

In Mani Haghighi’s Pig, film­mak­ers in Iran are be­ing tar­get­ed one by one by a mys­te­ri­ous se­r­i­al killer who chops off their heads and uses a ra­zor to carve the word “Khook” (or “Pig,” in Per­sian) on their fore­heads. So, one may 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 work­ing now on a pes­ti­cide com­mer­cial. He is fu­ri­ous that the ac­tress and muse who he has 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. And, 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 or 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 like. Hasan is ba­si­cal­ly 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 refers to him mock­ing­ly as “her mas­ter,” and he is im­pul­sive enough to go around yelling that he will kill her only so that he will be­come a sus­pect lat­er (of course).

And while it is in­fu­ri­at­ing that Shi­va is so pas­sive and ac­cepts 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 been made into a bet­ter film. At some point, Has­san tells a di­rec­tor that 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.

15) The Tri­al, or O Proces­so (Brazil, 2018)

When I at­tend­ed a Berli­nale screen­ing of the doc­u­men­tary The Tri­al, the gen­er­al feel­ing among the Brazil­ians present there (most of the au­di­ence, I pre­sume) was that of col­lec­tive des­o­la­tion. The re­cep­tion to Maria Au­gus­ta Ramos’ 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 the par­lia­men­tary coup d’état (with full sup­port of a rot­ten me­dia) that im­peached Pres­i­dent Dil­ma Rouss­eff in 2016 and re­placed her with Vice Pres­i­dent Michel Temer (who was in turn 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 more 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 ac­tu­al­ly lead to fi­nan­cial loss.

In only a few ini­tial scenes, Ramos’ film ex­pos­es that 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 has 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 has the pow­er to reach what­ev­er con­clu­sion they want, and that the out­come of this tri­al has been de­cid­ed right from the start, whether there is just cause for im­peach­ment or not.

As the mo­tion is passed 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 just like in that book some­one is also con­vict­ed here for a crime that makes no sense and no one can ex­plain ex­act­ly what it is.

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’ 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 from 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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