The Monadnock International Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday and runs through next Sunday, will feature a host of film screenings, panel discussions, parties and more. Here is a look at some of the feature films on the lineup, as reviewed, in coordination with MONIFF, by Keene State graduate Matt Bilodeau. Check out coming editions of The Sentinel for more.
Director Agnes Varda; Thursday, April 19, 7:30 p.m., The Colonial Theatre
Despite a 50-year age gap between them, French New Wave director Agnès Varda and photographer/muralist JR develop an unlikely friendship that takes them on a spectacular journey across rural France. Their mutual admiration for one another’s work brings these two together, with Varda citing JR’s captivating murals, and JR citing Varda’s filmic images, particularly the luminous Corinne Marchand in “Cléo from 5 to 7.” They’re both compelled and intrigued by the power of faces, which fuels a fascinating collaboration: They set out to photograph people and enlarge their portraits for public display within their picturesque communities.
To add to the adventure, Varda and JR travel in a large truck — one that accommodates a makeshift photo booth that prints out large black and white portraits, sort of like a 10-foot Polaroid. With each new town they visit, this affectionate duo pays tribute to strangers from all facets of life. Former coal miners, farmers and factory workers are forever immortalized on buildings, construction structures or any place they see fit. For Varda and JR, no surface is unusable. It’s tremendously affecting how emotional their participants are upon seeing themselves showcased as landmarks in their community, most notably a woman who resides in an array of homes formerly owned by town miners.
Portraits aside, “Faces Places” provides a captivating insight into the mindset of Varda and JR. With JR, there’s an interesting paradox of a photographer who’s stimulated by wrinkles and other intricate facial features, yet he’s apprehensive about exposing his own. Meanwhile, Varda soaks up every moment she has, joking about her visual impairment, taking photos of oddly shaped fish, and recreating the speedy Louvre tour from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Bande à part.” Not only do the pictures in “Faces Places” say a thousand words, they present an endearing road trip you’ll never want to end.
Director Thomas Morgan; Friday, April 20, 2 p.m., the Putnam Theatre at Keene State College
More than 50,000 people reside in Bourj el Barajneh, a cramped refugee camp south of Beirut. Many feel unfairly imprisoned within this enclosure. They lack the financial means to rent outside of the camp, let alone secure viable employment. Raised in Bourj el Barajneh since childhood, local entrepreneur Mariam Shaar has faced her own challenges growing up in the camp, having abandoned her education to provide for her family, despite her high rank at the top of her class. With so few opportunities, Shaar has considered the few options she and other refugee women have to run a successful business of their own. It becomes clear their adept cooking skills are their ticket.
Soufra, as it’s described in the film, is a big, fancy table with a variety of food scattered across it. If the food on that table looks half as good as it does in this documentary, then sign me up for that meal. Director Thomas A. Morgan and Director of Photography Johny Karam, with a careful eye for color and detail, make every dish look succulent and colorful. In addition to the spectacular food, the spirit of camaraderie among these women is a testament to Shaar and her vision. This kitchen is her success story.
Living amid dilapidated buildings and loose, frayed wiring, Shaar is the heart of “Soufra” as you witness the joys and frustrations of her strenuous labor, roadblocks and all. While the focus is primarily on the women’s business ventures (delivering to schools/earning enough to secure a food truck), it does take a few moments to recognize the prejudice against refugees, specifically the weight of discriminatory accusations of terrorism levied against them. These larger and certainly pressing issues, while important, halt the film, only to advance without further input. Nevertheless, “Soufra” is an efficient documentary that admirably showcases an inspiring story of these dedicated women and their commendable achievements under strenuous circumstances.
Director Bohdan Sláma; Saturday, April 21, 1:45 p.m., the Putnam Theatre at Keene State College
Receiving a compliment, purchasing a winning lottery ticket, performing an act of courage — all demonstrations of being in the right place at the right time. We sometimes forget that, despite our predestined routines, the smallest of actions have the ability to make waves. In the case of Bohdan Sláma’s melancholic drama “Ice Mother,” Hana (Zuzana Kronerová), a selfless widow, rescues Brona (Pavel Nový), an aging ice swimmer, from drowning in the river, igniting an unexpected romantic spark amid frivolous family predicaments.
As Brona escorts Hana to one of his competitions, the camera tends to deviate from its leads to showcase other swimmers, many of whom aren’t bound by their age or physical appearance. Hana is graciously welcomed into the inclusive community with open arms from Brona. He contains a zest for ice swimming despite the deterioration of his fragile legs. These scenes that reflect the humanity and humility of the characters offer a notable contrast to the aggravating treatment Hana’s immediate family inflicts upon her. When the annual family dinner isn’t bathed in uncomfortable silence, it’s pierced by the self-centered quarreling of her two adult sons, Ivan (Václav Neužil) and Petr (Marek Daniel). It’s devastating to witness a reticent Hana suppress her frustrations and disappointment as she endures the condescension of her children.
Zuzana Kronerová’s vulnerability says so much with very little. It could be that she bears a considerable resemblance to German actress Brigitte Mira, but I couldn’t help but notice little correlations in her performance (intentional or not) with Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” another soul-crushing film in which an older woman faces disparagement from a conceited family who unjustly disapprove of her life choices (although under significantly different circumstances). Lined with authentic performances and frigid scenery, “Ice Mother” provides a remarkably discomforting glimpse into Hana’s internal oppression, and the ways in which she attempts to open up as a result of her newfound relationship.
Director Anjali Nayar; Friday, April 20, 3:30 p.m., the Putnam Theatre at Keene State College
On April 12, 1980, a military coup left Liberia, Africa, in shambles. Amid violent conflicts and brazen political corruption, a plethora of the country’s natural resources were traded for arms. Only 10 years old at the time, activist Silas Siakor witnessed Liberia’s destruction firsthand, prompting him to take charge and prove how much of what transpired constituted inhumane acts of aggression toward its citizens. While his valiant actions would eventually help disassemble warlord Charles Taylor’s ruinous reign, Siakor’s work is far from over — a massive quantity of Liberian natural resources is consistently seized under disreputable government control.
Directors Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman skillfully present what unfolds through the eyes of Siakor, chronicling his interactions with the vigilant citizens (many of whom feel like prisoners of corporate powers) who come to his aid in prepping cases against illegal permits. Founded by Siakor, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), with the help of concerned citizens, tracks these land seizures through TIMBY (This Is My Backyard), a watchdog app developed to tag and report instances of illegally seized resources. In fact, among the fascinating elements of this film is the employment of social media, not just as a platform for sharing ideas but a real mechanism for action and change, holding those accountable with damning evidence.
At the center his crusade, Siakor is only one man, having to balance the life of an activist and the life of a committed father and husband. He’s a man so selflessly dedicated to the cause that his health deteriorates as a result. It’s no surprise that the impressive power of “Silas” lies in its titular crusader’s tireless efforts to challenge that which threatens the people and the land he loves.
This article has been updated to correct the screening date for "Silas."