The 6th Annual Milwaukee Film Fest concluded last Thursday, leaving me in a beautifully debilitated state of amazement. For two weeks I lived the life of a nocturnal king, sitting upon a throne of popcorn and ruminating in some of the finest dark crevices this country has to offer. After coming to terms with the fact that I had to listen to Duane Dudek before each screening and that popcorn passes are non-existent (seriously this needs to be a thing, and one that is named in my honor) I found my expectations consistently shattered in the best of ways. For the sake of brevity I will not detail my opinion on every film I saw, rather the two that remained with me from the competition category. So without further adieu I present a very abridged Field Report of the 6th Annual Milwaukee Film Fest.
The Tribe (Ukraine) Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
– Admittedly it took a bit of self-convincing to leave my home to watch a 2 hour-plus, un-subtitled Ukrainian film, in which every actor communicates exclusively with sign-language. Ultimately its a choice I hope everyone makes as well. The film follows a teenage orphan into a decrepit, under-supervised boarding school, of sorts, for deaf children somewhere in Ukraine. Slaboshpytskiy, from the jump, employs long shots that either track his subject or remain in place, waiting for his subjects to interact with their surroundings. This tactic initially comes across as a way for Slaboshpytskiy to force his audience into the silent reality of his characters, but ultimately evolves into a clever cinematic representation of the immutable immorality of these forgotten children. The Tribe is an incredibly difficult and important film because of the way it challenges the viewer to witness starkly realistic renditions of poverty, prostitution, rape, a back-alley abortion and murder with only one's own sense of morality and justice to clutch to. There is no silver-lining and there is no character or voice to fulfill the viewer's prayers for a suitable resolution. In The Tribe, like much of the world we live in, there is no sufficient rational for the awful things that we do to one another, but unlike in our day-to-day experiences where the media, the government and our peers assure us and appease our need for peace of mind, The Tribe doesn't bother to tell us what to do or think and it definitely doesn't assure us that everything will be alright.
Don't Leave Me (Belgium) Directed by Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden
– After a recommendation from festival director Jonathan Jackson and a quick glance at the film's premise, I was sold. A philosophical comedy rooted in the (sometimes painfully) real lives of Bob and Marcel, two rural alcoholics, who's musings are as likely to make one laugh as they are to cry. Blurring the line between documentary and fiction, Don't Leave Me magically captures all of life's ups-and-downs with the precise, yet intuitively contradictory, alchemy of detachment and sympathy, that is often mis-guided in other films of similar ilk. In one comedic, yet tragically poignant juxtaposition, the viewer witnesses a drunken, emotionally battered Marcel curled in the corner of his newly emptied cottage listening to Roxette's “Listen To Your Heart” in a sorrowful and self-loathing stupor. Then as the film ends the song plays again as we watch, a now further intoxicated Marcel, sloppily navigate his moped up a freshly snow covered incline in the dead of night. In this moment of profound existential articulation, the directors manage to serve up the frustrating and sometimes awful futility of life as if merely an aberration in what is otherwise a twisted, but wonderful world. At it's heart, Don't Leave Me suggests that, much like Bob, we must overcome ourselves and take our lives with a grain of salt. That is all it is after all; isn't it?
Look out for more coverage from me from the 6th Annual Milwaukee Film Festival in the coming days.