With GFF 22 now in full swing, here’s another quick-fire round-up of some of the other films screening at the festival.
First up is the immaculately-constructed chamber piece The Girl and the Spider (Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher/ Switzerland/ 2021/ 99 mins). Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is moving into a new flat. Helping out is her old flatmate Maya (Henriette Confurius), Lisa’s mother Astrid (Ursina Lardi), and assorted handymen and new neighbours who end up pulled into the strange gravitational pull exhorted by Lisa and Maya. There seems to be much unspoken between the two. Things unresolved. Were they lovers? Yet Maya and Astrid also have an easy rapport between each other. What’s going on there? Astrid’s also eyeing up one of the handymen. His assistant seems to be doing the same to Maya. At the end of the day the action switches to the old flat and the various fluctuating, nebulous dynamics both young women have with their neighbours there.
With two enclosed locations packed with characters, the Zürcher’s twins long-gestating second feature (after 2013’s The Strange Little Cat) is a masterpiece of orchestration. Feeling like a comedy of manners made by architects, imagine the social anxiety of Shiva Baby shot through with the formal rigour of Wes Anderson. Every glance is freighted with unexplained meaning, every smile, every tiny micro-aggression and small moment of calculated cruelty. Our point of view is most pointedly through the startling, predatory blue eyes of Mara, around whom everything seems to orbit. Yet nothing is clarified beyond some visual motifs; spilled wine, broken crockery, a blue wig that adorns the head of pretty much every character at some point. Perhaps it signifies the disguises we all don and the performances we act out in our various relationships. Some will just see it as a parade of unfeasibly attractive people making come-to-bed eyes at each other. For many others, it may well be their favourite film of the festival. A delicious, balletic puzzle box of a film that leaves all the answers up to the viewer. Perhaps only the massive spider of the title knows what’s happening. If so, it’s not letting on. 4/5
Less oblique is the Turkish comedy-drama Time of Impatience (Aydin Orak/ Turkey/ 2021/ 94 mins) in which a swimming pool in a luxury gated community becomes a battleground of class warfare. Twin boys Mirza and Mirhat (Mirza and Mirhat Zarg) live in a poor area of their Kurdish city. Every day on their wat to school they pass the glistening water of the swimming pool and long to plunge into to escape the heat of the day. They’re thwarted at every turn by a gruff security guard. The boys don’t see why only the well-off get to cool themselves in the water. Subtly prodded by their very class-conscious father and with their boisterousness indulged by their kindly teacher (Pelin Batu), the budding revolutionaries decide that this means war.
Time of Impatience is a mildly diverting sliver of a film. A single idea that plays out like a live-action Top Cat or Yogi Bear, with the guard as the Officer Dibble/ Ranger Smith figure, with the two boys swiftly eroding the patience with their antics. Their fraternal chemistry is obvious, but actors they aren’t and writer/ director Aydin Orak doesn’t manage to coax natural performances from them. Too often their behaviour escalates into screaming matches and the repetitive interactions with the long-suffering guard becomes tedious, and once they break his windows it becomes that bit harder to root for them. There’s also a random subplot involving a gun that aims for dramatic tension in this otherwise helium-light confection, but it feels like like a distinctly artificial addition. It also suggests that Orak suspected he was stretching his idea to the point of its elasticity so felt he had to introduce other elements. Time of Impatience is not without a certain raggedy charm, and the boy’s environment of Diyarbakir is vividly captured. There is also some interesting editing by Murat Hasari that injects a jittery note into the otherwise languid proceedings, but the technical elements are consistently more interesting than the ostensible heroes. 2/5
A group of Moroccan youths find their voice in Casablanca Beats (Nabil Ayouch/ France, Morocco/ 2021/ 102 mins), a curious hybrid of documentary and fiction that has moments of charm and joy but is otherwise narratively slight. Anas (Anas Basbousi) is a former rapper who sets up the Positive School of Hip-Hop at a shantytown cultural centre. The real-life students of the school play dramatised versions of themselves, gaining confidence to address the issues that affect their lives through hip-hop and dance.
Casablanca Beats is really just a generic crowd-pleaser dressed up in the cultural specificity of Morocco. It’s part Dead Poets Society, part School of Rock, and part – thanks to the youth club milieu – PJ and Duncan-era Byker Grove. The use of real-life students adds some much need grit to the formula, and the group’s debates around religion, poverty, and society feel organic and unscripted in a way that only real-life experience could convey. However, the crux of the film itself, the performances, aren’t as inspiring as they could be. It could be the editing, or the way they’re framed, but there’s a general listlessness to the proceedings. It’s as if the filmmakers assumed that the enthusiasm of the audience for a crowd of lovable underdogs would be enough to carry it. There are some winning personalities among the group for sure, but Casablanca Beats lacks the genuine spark to make t a bona-fide crowd-pleaser. 2/5