Wednesday 19 March 2014

A Festival Diary - Thursday 13 March 2014

Thursday 13 March 2014
The Passing of the Year / Winter Nomads / Ilo Ilo

Abbbots Bromley hobby horse ©Simon Garbutt
Another free event: Barrie Gavin presents a documentary (The Passing of the Year) he made for Omnibus in 1973. Working with folklorist A. L. Lloyd (or Bert as he knew him) Gavin made six films for the BBC, recording British folk traditions and World Music before it was categorised thus. It was a fascinating and touching forty-five minutes. Most of these traditions continue but they have been relabelled as quaint, co-opted by the tourist trade or, in the case of the trade union movement’s May Day marches, ignored by today’s chroniclers. It’s usual to mourn for lost times at this point. It is not the haircuts or clothing that have changed. It’s the effort people used to put in: an hour practising madly complicated dances every week every year.

Winter Nomads
Winter Nomads is a soothing documentary about two shepherds leading 800 sheep, four donkeys and three dogs across Switzerland. It’s not the first film about shepherds that Borderlines has shown. Its tone – people who are happy in their work because it’s tough – reminded me of Être et Avoir, another award-winner. The subject of that documentary did not like the end result. I wonder what Miss Pastoral Chic and the Philosopher King made of this. It’s as unbelievable as Man of Arran – I can’t believe the worst a sheep suffered was a nip from their dog. Animals wandering in the wrong direction always raised a chuckle. Forgot the sudden, random appearances of snipers and suicides, in terms of audience reaction, the moment the donkey slipped over registered the highest level of concern during the whole festival. There are plenty of films with donkeys in them.

My back was feeling the pace during Ilo Ilo. This is why film critics are crotchety. Alfred Hitchcock said that a film’s length is related to the size of the human bladder. When a critic reappraises a film it means he had trapped wind the first time he saw it. Ilo Ilo is notable for having two unappealing characters. The boy is a brat and his mother distrusts most of the people around her. To her, one ‘rightly’ justifies a thousand slights. The story provides a snapshot of Singapore during its late-1990s economic crash. A family and their Filipino maid adapt to changing circumstances. A family of three hire a maid; it becomes a family of four that can’t afford one. The boy’s behaviour is troubled: self-mutilation in the expectation of framing a teacher is not normal. (The lack of pupil care in Singapore schools was not good.) The maid is the only person with the time to work with him but has to deal with his received prejudice first. Racism is another strand through this festival’s line-up: horrific in 12 Years a Slave and The Golden Dream.

Ilo Ilo
The boy is incapable of expressing his fears with words but shows his displeasure through actions. Unfortunately, his parents have problems enough. His mother puts her faith in a motivational speaker. His slogan is 'Hope is Within Yourself' and he picks her, a pregnant woman, out from the crowd. He’s a professional. The father is not the kind of person who can exploit a recession. It ends: the maid returns home to her son; the parents have a new child to raise; the boy, at least, has had feelings for someone other than himself. Some films feel like the director needed to put something on the record.

Ten films from eight countries. I look forward to next year, by which time the organisers will have sifted through a few thousand more titles. We get to watch the best ones.

Robin Clarke (Festival Volunteer)

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