Crime, punishment and redemption: Glimpses from IFFAM 2018

The line-up at this year’s International Film Festival and Awards Macao were in the realm of a larger all-encompassing tone

Sometimes, barely two days of concentrated viewing of films can set up a wide theme and an encompassing tone for a small film festival. Individual movies collectively create a larger, meaningful montage. In its third year, the recently concluded International Film Festival and Awards Macao (IFFAM) had a clutch of significant films on view that could all have been filed under a single folder: crime, punishment and redemption.

Cleansing and healing

Like South Korean writer-director Kwon Man-ki’s debut Clean Up, that went on to win the Best Film award. It is all about an offender accidentally coming face to face with the one at the receiving end of a crime she committed many years ago. There is a strange interconnectedness to their disparate lives, bound by their own private losses and tragedies that they haven’t been able to reconcile with. “I wanted to take a deep look at the nature of guilt,” says the director. But it is as much a study in grief as in guilt. The turn of events follows a desperate abduction, its life-altering consequences and the havoc wreaked on an innocent life at the cost of saving another. While fleshing it out on screen Kwon Man-ki goes back and forth in time, building a bigger picture through little flashes of fleeting memories emanating from not just the hazy sights and sounds but even smell and taste. He asks several questions: Does guilt ever go? Does a criminal have a second chance at all? Can a self-imposed penance lead to some kind of forgiveness and catharsis? Then there is the overarching imagery – of dead bodies at the scenes of crime, the cleaning up of the pools of blood and disgusting maggots – all a larger metaphor for the cleansing and healing that two damaged souls are themselves in urgent need of.

Hold the phone

Crime, punishment and redemption: Glimpses from IFFAM 2018

An abduction, battered and broken down individuals and the theme of guilt bind Clean Up with an otherwise widely different Danish film, The Guilty, which got Gustav Möller the Best Director award at IFFAM; the film has also been shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film nominations. The Guilty’s script rests on three elements alone; a single setting – the emergency phone centre of the police, a single individual – the officer Holm, and his phone conversations with a kidnapped woman, her child back at home and her ruthless husband. Möller confines the camera to one room, maintains the inherent tension in the seemingly static situation through tight close-ups of his one and only actor (Jakob Cedergren who fittingly won the Best Actor award at IFFAM) and his talk with people we don’t ever see but whose voices on the other side amplify the stress. The scene of crime is never shown but well mapped out in the audience’s head and imagined by them collectively in all detail through what they hear. It’s about the audience creating mental pictures of its own; it’s more about what you don’t see than what you do. We, along with the cop, get involved in the fate of family members; feel frustrated in not being able to help them and find the world around us collapsing as the final revelation hits home like a bolt from the blue. Simultaneously, Holm’s own guilt and demons from the past are let loose with full force. Möller keeps things minimal and on a tight leash, whether it’s emotion or narration – that only go on to magnify the impact of the story.

All our children

Yet another abduction, done with a noble intent, plays out in Liu Jie’s Baby from Mainland China. The film’s young heroine spots a baby suffering from a similar congenital defect as her own. However, instead of addressing the medical issue, the parents are bent on letting the child’s life slip away. She resorts to kidnapping it in desperation: to ensure proper treatment and care. The film spotlights people riddled with imperfections, how they deal with it positively to be able to live to the fullest. It also makes an emotional appeal for foster care both when it comes to bringing up abandoned children and looking after aging parents –a thread that would work well in a family-oriented society like India.

Asian offering: (clockwise from below) stills from All Good; Clean Up; Empire Hotel; Jesus; and Baby

Asian offering: (clockwise from below) stills from All Good; Clean Up; Empire Hotel; Jesus; and Baby  

In the times of #MeToo Eva Trobisch’s German film, All Good, portrays a man’s entitled act of violation and the woman’s silence in ways that resonate with meanings. A supposedly well educated man can overstep boundaries in the power play between a man and a woman. And a woman can be left groping to understand the situation than immediately confronting the man for his crime. How a rape can get “normalised” as though men are inherently programmed to do it, how it can tear apart relationships, break a woman down and yet help her build her life anew is what All Good delves into in an unfussy, matter-of-fact and unsentimental way, backed with a strong performance from Aenne Schwarz that won her the acting honours.

In the midst of the stories of crimes and misdemeanours Hiroshi Okayama’s Jesus kicks off like a call back to faith. A young boy relocates from Tokyo to a small town. From his cosmopolitan stance on religion he is thrown into to the world of Christianity. Jesus enters his life as a play thing and a companion. But do faith and prayers really help? Does God come to our help and rescue when we need him the most? Who to depend on – God or yourself? Dedicated to a “friend who passed away too young” Jesus is about how the young confront loss and find an inner strength to bear it beyond the call of religion. It’s a heartbreaking tale, more so because of the deafening quietude with which it unfolds on screen.

Now and then

Back in 2016, in the first year of IFFAM, I had seen a film by Macao’s own Tracy Choi called Sisterhood. It is about two friends who bring up a baby together and find themselves getting split up, as does Macao, on the eve of its handover in 1999 from Portugal to China. You see both the historic old as well as the shiny new Macao and an inevitable change setting in with the march of time.

Crime, punishment and redemption: Glimpses from IFFAM 2018

This year I caught up with Ivo M. Ferreira’s Empire Hotel. Though set in the present-day Macao, it also shows the remnants of an old worldly charm and mix of cultures slowly slipping away. It’s interesting to see the camera go beyond the synthetic, artificially created landscape one typically associates Macao with – the world of imposing casinos that come with hotels and malls attached. It shows the shabbier than the shiny side of Macao even in the way it frames the cityscape. Here the business outside of casinos is not going all that great; there are the huge gambling dens as well as the bustling, busy neighbourhoods with their tiny streets, gorgeous ancient buildings being claimed by real estate sharks to make way for what else but casinos. And in the midst of it what are also getting sacrificed and severed are the human relationships and friendships, things you don't quite see when you go for a weekend to Macao for your fix of the slot machines.

The writer was in Macao at the invitation of IFFAM

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 6:11:46 PM |

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