More progressive cinema at Toronto film fest

les neiges du kilimandjaro

Last year it was Made In Dagenham. Probably the most worker-oriented film at this year's Toronto International Film Festival was the class-conscious Snows Of Kilimanjaro, the latest from Robert Guédiguian (Army Of Crime, Marius And Jeannette), France's prolific progressive filmmaker.

A beautifully drawn story that starts with a telling scene of dockworkers lined up as their foreman, Michel, reluctantly picks names from a box that will pronounce the end of their job. Not surprisingly the veteran foreman, who felt it only fair to put his name in the box, pulls his own out and is instantly retired. Friends and family come to the aid with moral support, a party to celebrate their years of union activism, and two tickets to Kilimanjaro as a consolation trip to help them cope with their new situation. Guédiguian's repertory cast of actors has appeared regularly in his films and has developed an incredible rapport seldom seen in movies.

Of course the movie isn't over until the director delves into the political ramifications and struggles that are well known to the working class of Marseille, where most of his films take place. In this case, the consolation is shattered when they're robbed by masked gunmen during a card game...taped up, knocked down, with credit cards and plane tickets taken. Their life savings are wiped out and the foreman's arm is broken in the process. To up the political intrigue, the foreman in his determination to help the police find the culprit, finds out the robber was one of his young fellow workers who lost his job on the dock the same day. In his desperation to raise his two younger brothers, the robber gets caught and now it's Michel's dilemma whether to raise charges and send his fellow worker to prison for 15 years, knowing the economic hardships the younger workers were enduring. And this is all in the first 20 minutes of the film!

Guédiguian's knowledge of unions and the class struggle informs the rest of the story with a probing study of the issues facing union workers complicated by the harsh economic times most of the world is facing. But more importantly, he infuses his storytelling with the most humanist understanding of personal relationships as Michel and his wife reflect on their political development and activism over the years. This is mandatory viewing, as are all of Guédiguian's works.

A rare free public and industry screening of This Is Not A Film was made available probably because the organizers realized that few would pay to see this "non-film," which consists of simply Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi talking into a friend's camera explaining every scene of his next movie (that he's not allowed to make), right down to the masking tape on the carpet outlining the set.

Little happens and the case made for an artist under "house arrest" was undermined by the luxurious apartment furnishings (pet iguana thrown in) and a certain inability to make a convincing appeal to the viewer. His offhanded remarks like "why make a film if all you have to do is tell it?" barely demands an answer. Despite a long one-way phone call to his lawyer, no explanation is made or details provided about charges against this world famous director. The continual outdoor explosions in the background implying protests on the streets of Tehran turned out to be fireworks celebration for the New Year. Although the curtailment of artistic freedom is a serious issue, the almost-film feels almost pretentious and disingenuous. The same for the next film.

Sarah Palin, You Betch by Nick Broomfield (Tracking Down Maggie: The Unofficial Biography Of Margaret Thatcher), no stranger to stalker films, was very reminiscent of Roger and Me, right down to the silly and pretentious mugging by Broomfield pretending to speak to an audience with a bullhorn as they leave a stadium where Palin just finished speaking. Palin never gives the expected interview, but the film is about the quest, of course. To Broomfield's credit, it should be noted that he was around almost 20 years before Moore, who began his amazing ride of award-winning documentaries starting in 1989. His tongue in cheek questioning, silly hunting gear and misrepresentation of real intent to prospective interviewees, diminishes whatever response this acclaimed director hoped for from a population already weary of Palin. Hopefully this is dated material. But it did reinforce the belief that Palin would be a dangerous person if she became our next president. And this film might become more relevant if she chose to run again.

Photo: Still from Snows of Kilimanjaro

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