More reviews from Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinéma 46th edition:
Ni juge, ni soumise (Jean Libon, Yves Hinant, Belgium-France): Move over Judge Judy. This film, featuring Brussels real life “examining magistrate” Anne Gruwez, is an up-close look at a judge meting out justice. This magistrate conducts business in her cluttered file-strewn office, with a couple of assistants, while lawyers and the accused, or witnesses, sit before her. Gruwez is matter of fact and no nonsense, nothing in the long litany of some pretty sordid cases seems to phase her. The film is a behind the scenes look at the criminal justice system by its participants, and nothing seems made up for the camera. Gruwez admonishes lawyers when they speak out of turn, cracks a joke if a defendant says something silly or insincere, warns one defendant it’s her head, not his, that will be on the block, if she frees him and he screws up. It’s all part of the day for the eccentric judge, who drives an old-fashioned Citroen, has a pet rat that tries to interfere with her typing, and quips with a police officer about how motorists must get out of their way when their have the police car siren on. As she and a group of detectives go over a 20-year-old cold case, they laugh about whether a witness has dentures. They disinter a body from a grave and Gruwez says they should chip more bone off “to go with drinks.” But this individual is hardly belittling justice; instead she’s the personification of it. Crime, like life in general, is full of absurdities and Gruwez simply pays vocal heed to them. But life can be horrible too. The most disturbing case is an Islamic woman who has no guilt about strangling her baby because the child - "Satan" - was the offspring of a rape. Just when she thinks she has heard it all, the magistrate finds new surprises, like when a prostitute tells of what some of her johns want. “It’s funny, we learn stuff,” Gruwez says. “The thing with the pins.” Ni juge, ni soumise is a tour de force of utterly candid observation, a film that deserves wide circulation.
Inflame (Ceylan Ozgun Ozcelik, Turkey): This directorial debut which has had release at many film festivals including Berlin and SXSW has immediate resonance with what is going on in the increasingly authoritarian country of Turkey under President Racep Tayyip Erdoğan. It’s a metaphor for his slam down on civil liberties (170 journalists currently imprisoned, thousands of other professionals arrested and fired in mass sweeps after last year’s attempted coup) so it’s surprising the film actually got made. Ozcelik answered that questioned in a Q & A after the screening, saying that she received – surprisingly – state funding (along with crowdsourcing) in 2015, before the coup took place. The film – no surprise - currently can’t be shown in the country. In any Inflame (the Turkish title is Anxiety) is not about current events but an event that few in the West have likely heard of: the 1993 massacre of artists and intellectuals by Islamist terrorists in a hotel in the central Anatolian city of Sivas. It depicts a young TV news station editor (a fill-in for Ozcelik herself, who worked many years in television). Hasret (Algi Eke) increasingly finds herself subject to official dictates over how to edit film. Her news director says orders come from the state and are not to be questioned. She’s demoted from working on investigative documentaries to editing government minister speeches – to make them sound better, of course. These dictates so enrage and alienate Hasret she leaves her job and holes up in an abandoned apartment. This is where the “horror” part of the film, as Ozcelik described it, kicks in. Hasret imagines she’s in a burning building and the walls are getting hotter. She turns away an old friend who comes to check on her. She pulls panels off a wall which reveal a crude mural of people dying in a burning building. To her credit, Ozcelik’s message is right on and her use of surrealism is highly appropriate. But the movie falters by too much focus on Hasret’s angst and breakdown (we get it already), and the surreal touches aren’t executed well enough. This results in an at times boring narrative with an unintentionally diluted impact.