By Preston Wilder
Other countries have arthouse cinemas; we have film societies, subsidised in part by the Ministry of Culture. I guess it comes to the same thing, in fact this might even be better. Cinema owners may get tired and decide to shut up shop, whereas the running of a film society merely gets passed on to different members. On the other hand, a cinema is a business whereas a film society is a more capricious thing, shaped by the tastes of what’s usually a very small nucleus of volunteers.
The Limassol film society, for instance (cinelesxilemesos.org), is very much its own thing, programming mostly old films for what I presume is an ageing membership. The one in Paphos ran for a while then folded, and hasn’t been heard from in years (there’s currently no public place to appreciate film culture in the European City of Culture). The one in Larnaca (facebook.com/larnakacinema) went through a rocky patch recently, showing lots of worthy documentaries, but seems to be rebounding this month. Then again, it’s a matter of taste. The biggest film society is the Friends of the Cinema in Nicosia (ofk.org.cy) which appears to be in robust health – but it does a lot of tributes and festivals, often in co-operation with this or that embassy, meaning it screens a lot of unknown movies which dilute its brand. Some might even be good films, but who has time to find out? Life’s too short.
Finally, there’s the language barrier. This is a very special week, because new releases at the multiplex are pretty dire while all three film societies are screening must-see movies – but unfortunately we’re an English-language paper, and all three of those must-see movies come in a language other than English. At least Court has some English dialogue, the old colonial tongue being something of a lingua franca in Indian courtrooms – and indeed that’s part of the point, India as a country of contrasts still struggling to become post-colonial.
Language is a central motif in this magisterial courtroom drama, simply one of the finest films of the past few years (amazingly, first-time director Chaitanya Tamhane is only 28). The judge in the trial speaks Hindi – his speech gets interrupted by a workman bringing in an electric fan, air-conditioning not being part of this rickety justice system – the witness Marathi, the Westernised young lawyer speaks English; and meanwhile Tamhane alternates the trial with their lives outside the courtroom, making the point that a justice system is also a collection of people. This is a wise, confident and consistently entertaining film. Catch it if you can.
Language could also be a barrier to enjoying Embrace of the Serpent, the only new film on the Limassol film society’s February roster (they’re also showing the kinetic Run Lola Run and not-quite-classic 60s comedy Marriage Italian Style, then taking a break for Green Monday). It’s also a barrier for the characters in the movie, this being an Oscar-nominated tale of two European scientists who explore the Amazon 40 years apart and bond with a local shaman – and the film is spectacular enough to appreciate even with a sketchy understanding of the Greek subtitles, vividly shot in a kind of otherworldly black-and-white. There are wild touches reminiscent of Werner Herzog – an interlude with a deranged ‘Messiah’, a turntable in the jungle to invoke Fitzcarraldo – and of course the inevitable eco-Message. “Respect the jungle”, indeed.
From an epic to the opposite of an epic: Chevalier, showing Monday at the Larnaca film society – and a deadpan comedy that seemingly goes out of its way to be low-key and undramatic. We open with guys in identical diving suits coming out of the sea, having just gone fishing, then dashing the octopuses they’ve caught against the rocks – a self-consciously violent opening that seems to presage violence to come, especially with this plot. On a yacht in the Aegean Sea, six men – high on testosterone and male bonding – decide to compete in absolutely everything, not just games but everything from health to good taste to personal accomplishment: low cholesterol, penis size, sleeping posture, the secret to frying calamari. The winner will be crowned ‘Chevalier’ – unless of course they kill each other first.
Spoiler: they don’t kill each other. In fact, it’s hard to know what director Athina Rachel Tsangari was going for here – because, despite the plot, the film remains talky, becalmed, non-aggressive, oddly elliptical. The point may be the pointlessness of judging when we all see things differently, or perhaps the way competition is inscribed in human nature; either way, audiences at Cyprus Film Days – drawn partly by the presence of Greek superstar Sakis Rouvas as one of the six – were left unsatisfied when the film played there last April. On the other hand, being in Greek, Chevalier is being shown tomorrow with English subtitles, meaning it can be enjoyed by all the readers of this paper – and so it should, because it’s droll and ingenious. For all its flaws, this is a must-see movie; they’re all must-see movies. Three terrific films, three cheers for film societies.
EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT ****
DIRECTED BY Ciro Guerra
STARRING Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar
In Spanish and Amazonian languages, with Greek subtitles.
Colombia 2015 124 mins
DIRECTED BY Athina Rachel Tsangari
STARRING Vangelis Mourikis, Sakis Rouvas, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos
In Greek, with English subtitles.
Greece 2015 105 mins
DIRECTED BY Chaitanya Tamhane
STARRING Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni
Mostly in Hindi, with Greek subtitles.
India 2014 116 mins