Saturday, May 4, 2019

Jason goes to SFFILM: Saturday, April 20

My third and longest day of the festival--a whole 4 movies! (My regular readers will know how weak that is for me.)

First up at the Roxie was THE LITTLE COMRADE, a funny Estonian film about the Soviet era resistance and a six year old girl who doesn't understand all of what her parents are into and instead is happy with the recognition she gets being a good little comrade and singing the anthem of the Young Pioneers. So when her mother is taken away to a prison camp (which her father covers by saying she's going off to be treated for a medical condition) she only understands her instructions to be a good little girl, and she thinks that means to be a good, respected comrade. It's a movie about authoritarianism, but through the lens of how confusing it can be for a child, when everyone is an authority to you. It might make one wonder about today, and how authoritarianism creeps into the minds of children--and those with childish minds.

Next up was DEBT, a Turkish slice-of-life about a dutiful husband, father, and upstanding community member Tufan. He works in a print shop, but they're struggling. When his elderly neighbor is sick, he takes her in. But as economic hardships set in, and his houseguest strains his marriage (and her daughter is no help at all) the strain starts to get to him. It's not just about monetary debts, it's about the debts we owe to each other as human beings--kindness, charity, respect, tolerance, forgiveness. Sometimes it feels like he's falling behind because he's the only one paying those kinds of debts, while everyone else is just out for themselves. In that regard, he certainly makes for an engaging and sympathetic hero.

And then it was time to HAIL SATAN? Penny Lane (NUTS!, Festival 2016) is one of my favorite filmmakers. She brings comedic insight into her documentaries and is never boring. And she has a ripe subject here. First you have to understand the difference between The Satanic Temple and The Church of Satan, Aleister Crowley's hedonistic cult from San Francisco. The Satanic Temple is the more publicly engaged, politically active, and comedically inclined church (yes, this happened after the movie was made, but they're now officially recognized as a church). Most of them don't literally believe in Satan, they're atheists or non-theists who believe in Satan as a useful (albeit loaded) metaphor for principled and reasoned opposition to an overbearing power. After all, the Bible calls upon us to serve God without question. Another word for servitude is slavery. So they're calling on people to reject slavery for themselves and others.

They're the ones who, for example, when a statue of the Ten Commandments went up in front of a courthouse in Oklahoma City, they sued to put a Baphomet statue next to it. (And when the Ten Commandments was taken down, they removed their Baphomet statue because it didn't work out of the context of religious plurality). The movie follows the leadership as they pick their battles, advance their strategy (working within the system), and deal with some of the growing pains of becoming a large, international organization. There's an interesting episode with their Detroit chapter, whose leader is way more radical than the rest of them. Eventually they do have to sort of...excommunicate her? I don't know what to call it. It's not that they object to her radicalism, even with the parts of her shows where she calls for assassinating the President. But it doesn't help their strategy if she's doing that in their name. So they can let her keep doing it (because unlike most religions they want to let people do their thing, even if it's following a different religion) and she gets to talk about how she's so radical she was kicked out of The Satanic Temple. The movie also gets into the more mundane activities--adopting a highway or beach clean-up. For many of them civic duty is a part of their faith, and that's a good thing. And I'd be remiss not to mention the Seven Tenets, none of which I can find objectionable. All in all, a very entertaining movie that might just open some eyes, but at least never bores you.

And finally, that wasn't weird enough so I ended the night with MONOS, a war movie unlike any other. With absolutely no context, we are introduced to young soldiers (nearly child soldiers) fighting for "The Organization." They have a hostage, "Doctora" whom they must keep alive and keep from escaping. And they have a cow, a gift from their higher-ups as thanks for their great work. And they train, and they goof around and fires their guns randomly. If it weren't for the occasional battle scenes, you might think it was a group of crazy kids in the wilderness playing war (which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of most wars.) This is another movie--sort of a hallmark of this festival--that I loved while watching it and then find incredibly difficult to describe afterward. It's surreal, hallucinatory, frightening, and hilarious. Events veer radically out of control, and I don't even remember how it ended, but I know I loved it.

Total Running Time: 388 minutes
My Total Minutes: 503,680


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