Sundance 2021: Luzzu, beehive, fire in the mountains, one for the road

Closing our coverage of the Global Drama Competition program brings us to four films, two from small European countries with thriving national cinemas and two from East Asia. Three of them deal with traditions, the struggle to maintain or change them, and all of them are affected by masculinity – its fragility and evolution.

While you’ve seen the magnificent coastal views of Malta on the big screen that Hollywood exploits as dazzling places, you’ve probably never watched a movie about the people who live there. Made with humanistic grace, “Luzzu” the debut feature film by American-Maltese writer-director Alex Camilleri, helps fill this void. The only other Island Nation production this reviewer had seen before was Rebecca Cremona’s “Simshar,” when she was entered in the Oscar race in 2014.

Coming from a line of fishermen, Jesmark (first actor Jesmark Scicluna) goes out to sea every day on his luzzu, the traditional and colorful boats that give this story its name. Her ship has been in her family for generations, with countless repairs over the years, and features details that set her apart: a pair of eager sculpted eyes and Jesmark’s baby imprint. But the waters are not the same and neither are the laws, which means there are fewer fish to catch and more regulations to follow. Tied to water like salt himself, he can’t imagine the idea of ​​doing anything else, but he’s a dad and his partner Denise (Michela Farrugia) demands that he consider moving on. With the pressure increasing, selling illicit catch for a pivot is the only thing keeping him financially afloat.

Understood in a way that would make the gods of neorealism proud, the film is rooted in the alluring and underlying rage of Scicluna’s lived performance. Jesmark’s aged face, piercing gaze and a few words denote the pride he feels in his dying profession shrouded in frustration at not being able to earn a living. Faced with the devastating ways of the modern word, he must choose. Is he still a fisherman without his luzzu? Does he tarnish the inheritance of his father and his father’s father if he renounces it? Camilleri’s writing imbues each scene with a great intentionality that feels organic to what the protagonist goes through internally, while the cinematographer Leo Lefèvre completed by modest and spontaneous camera work. It doesn’t hurt that the place is inherently teeming with old world beauty. A delightful portrait of tradition in transition, “Luzzu” puts Malta in the foreground.

Driving for her life, the woman at the center of Blerta Basholli’s auspicious story on female resilience “Hive” is also grappling with the functioning of customs rooted in the 21st century. Set in Kosovo in the early 2000s, the film is based on a true story. Amidst the struggle for the autonomy of the characters, the director also tackles the open wounds of a murderous episode in the history of the young Balkan country.

Economic adversity has prompted Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) to look for ways to supplement the little income she earns from selling honey. She is the mother of two children whose husbands – like those of many other women in this small town – disappeared years ago in the hands of Serbs. His stepfather, Haxhi (Cun Lajci), is the de facto head of the family, but his limited mobility prevents him from being a supplier. This is a problem for the family, because in this extremely patriarchal society, the mere suggestion of a woman working outside the home or learning to drive a car is taboo and equated with immorality. So when Fahrije decides to get behind the wheel and start a business selling ajvar, a red pepper spread, in a supermarket, the men in town turn on her and whoever helps her.

Despite its predictable history, common in inspiring tales of people coming together and overcoming obstacles for mutual benefit, “Hive” is another work that thrives on its lead. Gashi’s strong features and purposeful demeanor convince at every turn that she won’t let others intimidate her. At every step, there is a purpose, not only to support her children, but also to encourage others to question the status quo. By creating her own women’s beehive to make smoked dough, Fahrije is making a statement. Basholli’s first feature film is reminiscent of the documentary “Honeyland“Or even the most recent Irish drama”SeBut its specific cultural context makes it especially fascinating. You saw that, but certainly not from a Kosovo point of view.

Keep in theme, provocative Indian drama “Fire in the mountains” also a confident woman who stands up against the inflexibility of ingrained superstition. Director Ajitpal Singh, who is making his feature debut in his mid-forties, places his narrative in a remote mountain village near the Himalayas, where tourism is the backbone of people’s livelihoods.

Through the perspective of the resourceful Chandra (Vinamrata Rai), we step into a reality caught between the promised future and the revered past. With her husband Dharam (Chandan Bisht), she runs a small hotel off the beaten track. Whatever money comes in, Chandra is saving to build a road that would make it easier to get into their business. His diligence, however, arouses a sense of emasculation in Dharam. The recent death of his sister’s husband, the fact that he cannot cultivate anything on their land and that their son Prakash (Mayank Singh Jaira) has not been able to walk for several months, lead him to believe that they are cursed. . He thinks the only way out of their misfortune is to pay for a ritual, a solution that goes against Chandra’s plans for their money.

Breathtaking views of lush green hills, waterfalls and snow-capped peaks – courtesy of DP Dominique colin– contrasts with the high-stakes conflict that the ensemble carefully interprets. Since each character is hiding a secret, their interactions are tied to a passive aggressiveness that can turn into full-blown violence. Aside from what we see in the foreground, the director cleverly uses the radio broadcasts we hear in passing to denounce the disconnect between the misleading claims that politicians preach about the Indian and the reality for people like Chandra and her. family. While those in power celebrate historic events for a country on the verge of becoming a superpower, citizens lack access to basic services. With a scorching last act, Singh questions the ignorance that leads some to overlook common sense and give in to irrational fear that leads to dangerous practices. In the end, he refrains from drawing any conclusions, but what he presents is a strong indictment.

Finally, there is the broad and mostly worded Buddies dramatic comedy, “One for the road.” The latest effort from Thai director Baz Poonpiriya, whose 2017 film “Bad Genius” gained international recognition, delivers a sickening tale that could be described as the less sophisticated child of “Y Tu Mamá También” and “50/50. Acclaimed author Wong Kar-Wai serves as one of the producers.

The cocktail-obsessed boss (Thanapob Leeratanakajorn) runs his own bar in New York City, an operation he largely uses to meet women. This celibate fantasy is interrupted when his best friend Aood (Ice Natara) reveals he has leukemia. Boss returns to his native Thailand to help him with one last wish: to visit all of his girlfriends to say goodbye to him without revealing that he is dying of cancer. The couple embark on a road trip that is heavily interspersed with flashbacks to their glory days. As one of the film’s most important subplots, Aood also faces the loss of his father, a famous radio DJ. As expected, at each stop there is a lesson to be learned or a twist that strengthens or challenges the fraternal bond between the Co-Directors. At the end of the journey, a montage detailing Boss’s most meaningful romantic relationship stands out as the segment that most reflects Wong Kar-Wai’s work in his use of moody neon lighting for romantic interactions.

Poonpiriya makes films that boast great production value and this one is no exception. Perhaps there is also a large musical budget if the director plans to keep the many famous pop songs that explosively mark the action (ex Elton john“Tiny Dancer”). The artificial aesthetic, the editing choices for a saccharine emotional effect, and the comedic tone indicate a title similar to what a large American studio would release to a large audience. As such, subtlety is not the priority here. That’s not to say that some of the moments aren’t humorous or even moving, but for a plot about men deepening their friendship in the face of hardship, it’s harmless but uninteresting.

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