Film Scouts Diaries

2010 Festroia International Film Festival Diaries
Part 3: …And The (Unexpectedly) Beautiful

by Henri Béhar

SETUBAL, PORTUGAL, June 7, 2010 – Call it serendipity or the mysteries of festival scheduling. Almost back-to-back, two films were shown that focused on disabled people. One is a documentary, the other a fiction (or is it?). One hails from Slovakia, the other from Finland. Both take on the prevalent clichés that a) disabled people are totally dependent on family, social security, your taxes, and what have you; b) that they are asexual.

Divided in four segments, Juraj Lehotsky's documentary Blind Loves (Slovakia, Official Selection) focuses on the lives, emotions and dreams of four (real-life) blind individuals: a music teacher who longs to "see" the sea and grasps the world around him through sounds and touch – but whose vivid imagination can work wonders; a blind gypsy who falls in love with an almost blind white girl, but his family won't hear of it, for ethnic reasons; a blind pregnant woman and her blind husband who, underneath their joy, cannot help but wonder whether their child will be born blind… or "normal".

Throughout this sweet, uplifting but not-easy-to-watch movie, the director tries to establish a direct rapport between the viewer and the individuals on screen, making himself invisible in the process. He almost succeeds – and that, in a way, is a compliment.

Pekka Karjalainen's Gimme Some Respect (Finland, Man and His Environment) is a tad more didactic, but that is inherent to its being a work of fiction. It deals in part with 22-year-old Siiri who is about to move away from home and fulfill her goal of becoming independent. She also dreams about love. Two normal aspirations for a young woman her age, except for the fact that she is mentally disabled. Slightly, mind you, for she gets a job to support herself, and she falls in love with a young man who is not disabled (neither mentally nor physically; emotionally is another matter entirely).

The "didactic" part comes from the constant confrontation between two radically different approaches to dealing with the disabled in our society, therefore two conflicting types of educators and public health managers: the Old School which, "for their sake," would rather keep the disabled apart, and the New School, which champions just the opposite. No mystery as to which side the director is on: several members of the cast and crew are disabled people.
The "new manager" is played with enormous charisma, energy and humor by Kari-Pekka Toivonen, a fast-rising star in Finland who happens to be on the main jury this year, which is why this film, which comes out in Finland this week, is (almost) world-premiering in a non-competitive section.

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