Two more movies last Monday, and my first night at the Pacific Film Archives.
First up was Atom Egoyan's ADORATION. And I have to start with a confession. Atom Egoyan is a director I've always heard of, but I've never actually seen any of his films. In the introduction, we were told that his last few movies were sub-par, but this is something of a return to his earlier form. I can't judge that, but I can say I enjoyed it, and am curious to see more of his (good) earlier movies. ADORATION is an elliptical story of Simon and his French teacher Sabine. One day he tells his class a story of how before he was born his father, a Palestinian terrorist, put his pregnant mother on a plane to Israel and snuck a bomb into her luggage. The bomb didn't explode, and was found by security officers after landing in Tel Aviv. This was all in the news at the time, and we learn that the news story was a translation exercise in French class the week before. The story takes off on the Internet chat rooms, and grows beyond control before we learn (if we haven't guessed before) that it wasn't true, and that his French teacher is also a drama teacher and encouraged him to tell the story as a drama exercise (even though he isn't in the class). In an evolving story, layers of meaning are added, stripped away, replaced with new truths, and then added back in to the mix. Simon's parents really are dead, and there's a reason he automatically associated himself with the story. As the rumor grows beyond control (inviting a wider discussion of terrorism that brings in Holocaust survivors and skinheads on the Internet), more people know him and speak to him online, but he becomes more and more isolated, until he has to leave for a solo journey of resolution. One twist with the French teacher's past was a little too much for me, but other than that it was engaging, funny, cleverly constructed, and an all-around great movie.
Then we took a very different turn to the tribal regions of Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border, for SON OF A LION, and the combination of the making-of story and the end product itself might just make this the greatest achievement in the whole festival. First a quick note about the making of: Benjamin Gilmour is/was an Australian ambulance paramedic who had travelled to the Pashtun region of Pakistan before, and had an appreciation for how their lives are so different than how they're depicted on TV (i.e., as terrorist extremists). Without speaking a word of Pashto, and in disguise (although he grew his own beard), he let the Pashtuns write their own story and shot it with an often hidden camera (which makes the clear, evocative shots he got all the more amazing). He put himself in danger a lot of the time, although that's more about not knowing the local customs (i.e., twirling your mustache is a challenge to a duel) or not having permission from the authorities. His book of the ordeal, Warrior Poets, is available on Amazon.co.uk and is looking for a US publisher.
Now as for the story. Niaz and his father live in a remote village, where the local economy is based on the manufacture of firearms. His father teaches Niaz about firearms, and assumes he'll continue the family business. Niaz would rather listen to music. Niaz's uncle lives in Peshawar, and when Niaz goes to visit and sees the children going to school, he knows that's what he wants. But his father forbids him, forcing him to stay home and work. The uncle works at convincing the father, but in the meantime Niaz strikes out on his own. It's a simple story which evokes a poorly understood but tragically important part of the world. One of the most striking elements is how gunfire constantly rings out. It's not because they're fighting battles, they're just testing the weapons they manufacture. In fact, the only firearm injury is an accident with a bullet shot in the air (dropping and hitting someone). That, and the casual conversations about Bin Laden and the Americans make it clear that this is a part of the world that we've never looked at with objective eyes (in an oversimplified nutshell, they don't agree with Bin Laden, but consider hospitality and the protection of a guest to be vitally important. That's true whether the guest is a terrorist mastermind or an Australian first-time filmmaker).