Film Scouts Diaries

2010 Festroia International Film Festival Diaries
Part 4: Families

by Henri Béhar

SETUBAL, PORTUGAL, JUNE 9, 2010 -- Melodrama is sometimes a convenient genre to explore socio-political problems through emotional ones. Two cases in point: an Israeli-French-German co-production (Keren Hedaya's Jaffa), presented in the Official Selection, and a German film (Su Turhan's Ayla), shown in the First Works section.

To put it broadly, the former is a sort of Romeo-and-Juliet tale set in and around a garage in Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv, run by the old Jewish owner, his son and his daughter, and by an old Palestinian and his son. Of course, Mali and Tawfik have been in love for years, they plan to marry secretly, but fate, volatile tempers and ethnic prejudices will lead to tragedy. No, Romeo-Tawfik doesn't die, he goes to jail. Juliet doesn't die; she, unbeknownst to Tawfik, gives birth to his child, refusing to reveal the father's identity to her parents. Eight years later, Tawfik comes out of prison. Now what?

Ayla examines the cultural and generational clashes that occur when people of one culture emigrate to a country with different mores and traditions. Ayla is a young German girl of Turkish descent who has been completely assimilated in German culture and customs, much to her father's dismay (he has disowned her and will no longer acknowledge her existence). The Turkish-German photographer she meets and falls in love with, Ayhan, has an even greater problem: he has been ordered by his conservative father and brother to carry out an "honor killing" of his sister, who dared leave her husband in Turkey and return to Germany to live "a free life". Now what?

What we end up with are two films that are competently made (Ayla is a bit more florid), often interestingly acted, but rather predictable.

What was not predictable – CAUTION: SPOILER – is one specific scene near the end of Pernille Fischer Christensen's A Family (Denmark, Official Selection). The family in question is the latest incarnation of a dynasty of bakers, the Rhinewalds, who, from generation to generation, have become master bakers and purveyors to Denmark's royal court. We take our bread seriously here, it is a matter of personal and national pride, and the charismatic but imperious father is eager to pass the baton to his daughter Ditte.

She, on the other hand, owns a gallery, but having accepted a job offered by New York's prestigious Gagosian Gallery, she plans to move with her live-in boyfriend to the Big Apple where their child will be born.

Rhinewald père is then diagnosed with terminal cancer. Conflict, tension within the couple, and within the family. The father dies.

Instead of pulling out of the room, director Christensen actually stays and unflinching watches the women in the family (all except one) undress, wash, then dress up the deceased. The audience gasped – both at the scene and at the length of it – but stayed.

Afterwards, some were vehemently for it, others vociferously against it. Wherever one stands on that point and whether one likes the film or not (shown at the Berlin Festival in February 2010, it will also be screened this month at the Los Angeles International Film Festival), kudos to the writer-director for having had the balls to write, direct and not edit that scene out. Kudos, also, to the actors who play it through with the kind of brutal honesty one tends more and more to associate with Scandinavian cinema.

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