Freedom Fields

Freedom Fields is a documentary following the women of the Libyan national football team. Kinda like Permission, this movie is about female athletes being thrown under the bus, but this time in real life.

On the eve of the team’s journey abroad for their first international tournament match, the football federation cancels their flight and withdraws them from the match. They cite security reasons. Now, is security in Libya an absolute shitshow? Yes. Are they receiving death threats because it has been deemed un-Islamic and immodest for women to play football? Yes. Is their safety the reason the federation is cancelling it? Fuck no. Because you know if there was one red cent to be made off playing this match, they’d have them out there. But if socially speaking, you look like you’re never going to bring in sponsorships or ticket sales – because who would want to be associated with or support immodest girls? – then they will dump you as fast as they can.

The film follows them in the aftermath to see if they can keep their dream of playing as a team alive.

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Alone at my Wedding

Alone At My Wedding is about a young Roma woman who tries to get into being a mail order bride. She’s not very good at it, coz she’s lazy, messy and can’t cook. But you’re routing for her. Why should tidy bitches get all the breaks?

The main character manages to be sympathic despite in many ways not being that likeable. Her secret is that she’s sending money back home for her infant daughter, who she got knocked up with way too young. It’s pretty irreconcilable with her new life.

A surprisingly funny look at power differentials between two people using each other to fulfil a fantasy.

Arctic

Arctic is a tense, gruelling survival film. Mads Mikkelsen has to trek across the Arctic tundra with an injured friend, facing down polar bears and all sorts.

The visuals on this are just amazing. Even the scale. It goes to wide shots and you’re like, “Which black dot is Mads?” Even though it’s shot in colour, it feels very monochromatic, with figures just silhouettes against the white snow.

By the end, Mads is looking totally wrekt. 

Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai is a nail-bitingly tense dramatisation of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Now, my main concern about this movie was this that it was going to be a It Shouldn’t Happen To A White Guy movie. This is when a movie is made about an event that affected the lives of hundreds of people of colour, but the movie follows the one white guy who lives through it. Luckily this was not the case. A handful of white people have lines and only two could be said to be major characters. The main character is Arjun, the hero of the piece, a sikh waiter who stays behind to save the guests of the hotel, at risk to his own life.

This is something that I hadn’t really grasped at the time in 2008. The hotel staff were initially able to escape as the attackers at first were not aware of the staff stairways, exits and entrances. Many staff in fact stayed behind voluntarily in order to clear the guests out the hotel. Many of them paid for this with their life. Over half the casualties inside the hotel were staff members.

This film is brutal and intense. I had to decompress for a bit after seeing it. But it isn’t a film that comes off as exploitative or gratuitous, but a film that genuinely attempts to pay tribute to the bravery and heroism of the Taj Hotel staff. 

Dead Good

Dead Good is a really interesting documentary about the movement in the UK away from traditional funeral directors and services towards more tailored and open ways of working with the bereaved.

For most of us I think, after a loved one dies, a doctor comes to pronounce the death, followed by a funeral director. The deceased is then spirited away, not to be seen again until their funeral, or perhaps the wake the night before. In closed casket funerals, you may never see them again at all.

The documentary follows Arka funeral service in Brighton and their choice work in a more open and engaged way with the bereaved. Relatives are able to come down to view the body, wash their loved one, dress them themselves. In every way, they are allowed to take part in the preparation of their loved one for burial. One woman even attends the workshop where her mother’s coffin is being made and helps make part of it.

The women who run Arka want to empower relatives more, make people aware they have both the option and the right to be in control of this process.

The film itself is neither sad nor judgmental, simply an attempt to open up dialogue on the subject. In places I found the camera work and music choices a bit clumsy, but that’s a small criticism of a director’s first full-length feature. Everything involving the relatives and the deceased themselves is tastefully, respectfully and sensitively done.

I just came away from this with so much I wanted to talk about.

Chained For Life

Chained For Life is a movie about an able-bodied actress playing a blind woman opposite a disabled and deformed man in a schlock horror film. The film is obviously about disability, representation and cripface casting. You’d think with such an explicit message as its main thrust, it would be heavy-handed and obvious. Instead, it’s actually hilarious.

I’d actually say this is more a meta-horror. To me it was more reminiscent of something like Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace or Attack of the Bat Monsters from last year’s Frightfest. It’s more a deconstruction of a horror trope.

Disability and deformity has stood for inner evil or movement away from complete humanity since the earliest days of horror film. Disabled actors have been exploited as horrifying freak show spectacles to be used for shock value and jump scares.

As the able-bodied actors shoot their scenes, they don’t give much thought to the content. Yet when the disabled actors show up, that changes. At least, it does for the able-bodied actress playing the lead female role as Mabel. She gets to know her opposite, Rosenthal, played by Adam Pearson. Soon all the lines about him being hideous and how grateful he is expected to be for her kindness all sit less comfortably.

While I thought this was going to be an ‘issue’ film, I’d say it’s actually more a genuinely funny take down of one of the staple tropes of the horror genre.

Yuli

A biopic of dancer and choreographer Carlos Acosta. Such a beautiful film. It tells his life and journey alongside the actual Carlos Acosta dancing and directing his own pieces based on each period in his life. I just loved this mode of storytelling because with each struggle, you are seeing the actual outcome that they’re fighting for. Dance is not an abstract, it’s there for you to see what he achieved.

A big theme in this film is dislocation. Geographically, because he grew up in Cuba but had to travel the world to get his education. Socially, because his family struggle by in poverty but he ends up in a relatively privileged position living in London. And also within the family bonds, as the son struggles with the life that his father has chosen for him, a path he would not have picked but which has had undeniable benefits.

Race is also a big theme throughout the movie. His father pushes him so hard because he wants to see Carlos break down barriers, which he does. He becomes the first black dancer to play lead in a number of roles, including Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. If that doesn’t sound like much, Carlos himself is biracial, and one incident in the film shows his mother’s family emigrating to America and offering to take her and her light-skinned daughter, but not her 2 children that have inherited their father’s dark skin. So for Carlos to play Romeo and kiss a white woman on stage and have everyone applaud is kind of a big deal.

Having just seen White Crow last night, it was a refreshing change in Yuli to see a dancer who was not driven, not ambitious, not consumed with a need to dance. As a child he shirks and bunks off and rebels. It is the decisions and sacrafices of others who put him in dance school and it is only once he is there, alone without family or friends, that dance becomes all he has.

After Yuli, Girl and White Crow, one thing I’ve learned about ballet is that to be good at it, it must destroy the rest of your life. Everyone in ballet needs to chill.

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