A window into different cultures: GAIFF Critics Workshop

English Daily #3
Dear Joshua,

Had we not traveled to Yerevan, we would have probably never understood why pomegranates are everywhere in Sergei Parajanov's films. Before coming here, I only knew three things about the city: the director’s museum; the city’s famous cognac, and the iconic heavy metal band System of a Down, whose frontman is of Armenian descent.

By the time you read this, I will be back home in Tbilisi, savoring all the memories from my time here — all the places, faces, and films I saw at the Golden Apricot Film Festival over the last five days.

For its 20th anniversary, GAIFF certainly did not stint on interesting guests and films. This year, the audience was offered a comprehensive retrospective of two giants of socially conscious cinema, the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Among the many perks of attending the festival was the chance to casually bump into some of its most distinguished guests; time and again, jury president and Filipino master of slow cinema Lav Diaz was seen walking and chatting with local spectators in between screenings.

Sometimes, films are our only window into different cultures and faraway places. For those who love Aki Kaurismiaki's cinema (like me), Finland will always look like the surreal land immortalized in the director’s films. As I browsed through the GAIFF program on my bus ride from Tbilisi, I thought a lot about his latest, Fallen Leaves, which screened to a full Moscow Cinema Hall just a few days back. What was perhaps most amazing about the film was to see how faithful the director still is to the style he’s been refining for the past forty years. Fallen Leaves displays some of Kaurismaki’s quintessential features: his aesthetic minimalism, deadpan humor, and a register that toggles between irony and melancholy.

For all the hopelessness we glean from the news these days, Kaurismiaki's films always show us a glimmer of light. A Chaplin-inspired fairytale about two working-class drifters who begin a tentative romance in present-day Helsinki, Fallen Leaves is doused in kindness, solidarity, and mercy.

Where Kaurismaki treats Helsinki as a site of fertile research, for French documentarian Claire Simon, that’d be the female body, a space the director sees as intimately associated with pain.

Set in an ob-gyn unit in a Parisian hospital, Simon’s Our Body unfurls as a series of doctor-patient encounters, a female-centered examination of the French healthcare system which, like Fallen Leaves, radiates a widespread sense of empathy. The bodies portrayed by Claire Simon brought me back to those of Lucian Freud's paintings, where suffering and pain are always tangible.

I hope to see you and Forrest soon again.

Until then,