Sunday, July 29, 2007

MIFF Day 5

While I think the inclusion of children's programming is a great innovation at MIFF, I find it disappointing that only four of the eleven films in the Next Gen strand are screening on weekends. It really limits what us cinephile parents can take our children to. Yes, today it was family day for the Melbourne Film Blogger, so we caught one children's film, and only one other (child-free).

Kidz in da Hood (Förortsungar, Ylva Gustavsson & Ylva Gustavsson, Sweden, 2006)
Kidz in da Hood screened as part of MIFF's Next Gen strand for children. MIFF notes recommended it for audiences aged 12+, though in the absence of much children's cinema, and with my 6 year old having had much access to adult world cinema, I had no hesitation in taking him. While the film has "mild sexual references and mild coarse language", it really shouldn't be an issue for anyone but the most prudish.

The film depicts an orphaned nine year old refugee facing deportation from Sweden and how she finds shelter in a run-down public housing block, staying with a punk rocker. For me, a good children's film should cater for all ages, including adults, which means not underestimating the intelligence of children. Kidz in da Hood doesn't quite meet this criteria, yet my son enjoyed it immensely, as did the group of several children in front of us aged 8 - 12.

While I found the ample use of music a little corny, it should be enjoyable for children. The film tackles issues of ethnicity, acceptance, crime and humanitarianism in a manner that is digestible for children, so is worth seeing for that alone. My son gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars. Kidz in da Hood screened as part of MIFF's Next Gen and has no further screenings.

Alexandra (Aleksandra, Alexander Sokourov, Russia/France, 2007)
This film makes a good accompaniment to Beaufort, which I saw the night before this. Both use similar visual techniques and both are war films with subtle anti-war messages. While Beaufort is more a psychological thriller where attack is all around, there is no action in Alexandra - it is all raw human drama, but in a war context.

Aleksandra is an elderly woman who visits her grandson, a Russian army officer, at his army camp inside Chechnya. The entirety of the film follows Aleksandra, including her lengthy journey on the train with other soldiers, her arrival and the interactions she has with various incidental characters. The film has sparse dialogue and uses washed out colours that sometimes border on monotone. It took a little while to adjust to this, and then it formed a natural part of the overall feel of the film.

The film is very observational, capturing the strength of character of this feisty woman who is intimidated by neither the macho Russian soldiers questioning her identity and what she is doing in this godforsaken place (in the middle of a scorching summer), nor by the hostile Chechnyans whose towns have been obliterated by the Russian army. Any critique of war is subtle and in passing. Even if this is the director's primary intent, he keeps the focus on the humanistic elements of the film. There is excellent character development, and the naturalistic depictions of camaraderie and bonding of unlikely friends is very moving. This is a well-written, original and quietly accomplished film.

Alexandra screened as part of MIFF's International Panorama. It screens again on Sunday 12 August at 3.10pm at the Regent Theatre.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

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