Monday, August 06, 2007

dry season / new crowned hope

Doug Cummings points us to DRY SEASON, another international film that sounds like it will follow in the footsteps of other DC reccs that have found their place in the Soul Food pantheon; f’rinstance THE SON, L’ENFANT, HAWAII OSLO, and everything in black and white by Robert Bresson. It’s part of the New Crowned Hope series commissioned as part of Vienna’s celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday: here’s Doug’s entry from, followed by gleanings from the July issue of Sight & Sound... (Since I can't seem to make that link work, here's the address of Doug's review, so you can cut and paste it into your browser;
Doug Cummings, July 2

Continuing my exploration of the excellent New Crowned Hope series, I caught up with Mahamat Saleh Haroun's entry from Chad, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival last year. The filmmaker builds off the themes of vengeance and forgiveness in Mozart's La clemenza di Tito by setting his story during the period following the Chadian civil war, when universal amnesty was officially declared. Rejecting that policy, an elderly man whose son was murdered during the conflict asks his grandson to avenge his father, and the teenager travels to a nearby village determined to assassinate the murderer. As the boy is devising his plan, however, the murderer--now a scarred and hardened sixty-year-old baker--offers him a job.
I don't want to say more than that, because this is a highly nuanced story that focuses on the antagonistic, yet strangely positive relationship that forms between master and apprentice-assassin. It quietly emphasizes the physical and emotional tensions that emerge in ways that are reminiscent of the Dardennes' superb THE SON. Like the Belgian masters, Haroun has an especially strong sense of visual rhythm and knows how to frame figures in loose yet provocative counterpoint. Haroun has claimed he was also inspired by the minimalist power of Mozart's violin concertos, and has crafted a deep meditation on justice through his highly observant camera, strong sense of place, and the film's terrifically underplayed, simmering performances. It's a fine, powerful achievement.

James Bell, July ’07 Sight & Sound, pg 37

DRY SEASON is set in the present and deals with a personal tragedy resulting from Chad’s ongoing civil war. It follows a teenager named Atim who is commanded by his grandfather to track down Nassara, the man who murdered the boy’s father before he was born. Atim travels to the country’s capital N’Jamena and soon finds Nassara, who employs him in his bakery. Atim continues to plot Nassara’s murder but experiences conflicting feelings when the older man shows him a paternal kindness.
James Bell, Sight & Sound: How did you become involved in New Crowned Hope?
Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun: I prepared a ten-page treatment for DRY SEASON and Simon Field (executive producer of the New Crowned Hope series) thought it reflected the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation in Mozart’s opera “La clemenza di Tito.” So he invited me to join the project. I thought the best way to make DRY SEASON was to be very spare and pure: Mozart’s sonatas are simpler but also eternal and I wanted to see the film like that.
The first films I saw weren’t African: I was inspired by ROME, OPEN CITY, Charlie Chaplin, and now Abbas Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-hsien.
S&S: DRY SEASON has been compared to the Dardennes’ THE SON, which has a similar story. Was it an influence?
Haroun: No. When I wrote the script, THE SON hadn’t been made. But the editor on DRY SEASON also worked on THE SON. I like the Dardenne brothers, but their approach is more factual whereas I tried to give to my story something mythological.

Geoffrey Macnab, July ’07 Sight & Sound, pg 38

What connects the world of Mozart to film-makers such as Mahamat-Saleh Haroun? By the time Mozart, racked with ill health and poverty, made his last public conducting appearance at the New Crowned Hope Masonic lodge in Vienna, the composer had become a highly politicized figure. Peter Sellars, Artistic Director, New Crowned Hope series: “Mozart created superbly refined works of art in “The Marriage of Figaro” or “Don Giovanni,” which are statements of the equality of all human beings. In the last year of his life, however, his work was no longer political in the same way but rather strangely illuminated, not holding grudges and instead offering alternatives.” What Sellars wanted from the New Crowned Hope film-makers was “a high level of self-searching” in pieces that dealt with the themes of transformation, truth, reconciliation and redemption that run through the composer’s final works.

Mark Cousins, July Sight & Sound, pp 35-36

Back in 1790 new ideas were sweeping Europe. The French revolution was out of the starting blocks and marching to the tune of the Enlightenment, while in Vienna it was the freemasons who carried the torch of liberal fervour. When the secret police closed down their lodges there was an outcry, so the emperor – anxious to pacify his opponents – allowed one to reopen. To celebrate the event, a 35-year-old modernizer called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conducted a cantata that was to be one of his last compositions. The lodge went by the exquisite name of New Crowned Hope.
Two hundred and fifty years after the composer’s birth, Austria is going Mozart mad. Amid the Amadeus keyrings and schnitzel, theatre impresario Peter Sellars has devised the New Crowned Hope arts festival, which took over Vienna at the end of last year and will play at the Barbican in London in July and August. This tribute to Mozart includes not a single note of his music. Instead Sellars has commissioned new works of music, theatre, dance, film, visual arts and architecture that respond to the themes of magic and transformation, truth and reconciliation, and ceremonies for the dead that inform Mozart’s last three great works: “The Marriage of Figaro,” “La clemenza di Tito” and the “Requiem.”
While the festival’s music, opera and dance are largely Euro-American, the six feature films and one short are from Kurdish Iran and Iraq, Indonesia, Paraguay, Chad, Thailand, Malaysia and South Africa. Tsai Ming-Liang’s I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE is a work of rare tenderness in which the director’s regular Lee Kang-Sheng plays two men, one in a coma, one a migrant Chinese worker in Kuala Lumpur who has been mugged. The film is about how each is nursed – and their bodies washed – by a young woman and a Bangladeshi man respectively. in each case the nursing is both a Magdalene act and an erotic one. The film ends with a real coup, a cinematic equivalent to the hidden track on a music CD. More than 30 seconds after the movie seems to have ended, with black on the screen and no sound, the top edge of the frame begins to glow blue. Nearly two minutes later there is a revelation.
In Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY, magical or subconscious material erupts into the everyday to render its events mythic. Like Tsai’s film, SYNDROMES has two stories and a style that’s visually detached and radically spare: the people in his second story seem reincarnations of those from the first section. The last conversation in the first story is about reincarnation.
DRY SEASON is a version of the Dardenne brothers’ THE SON in which a young man whose father has been murdered is sent by his grandfather to kill the murderer, who turns out to be a taciturn, community-minded baker of physical nobility. The son becomes his apprentice and the baker asks to adopt him. As with the Dardennes, it feels as if Haroun has been watching Robert Bresson: most of DRY SEASON is confined to the bakery, where the suspense simmers as the men circle each other, and in the absence of words we read their body language.
New Crowned Hope shows how good world cinema is.


Anonymous said...

I saw Dry Season at the Nashville Film Festival this year; it was very well done.

Ron Reed said...

I'm jealous! Well, I'm optimistic it will show up at the Vancouver International Film Festival here where I live: all good things come to those who wait! (Except for those who wait for foreign films to get distribution. Oh well...)

I'd ask you more about DRY SEASON, but it sounds like one of those films where you don't want to know too much going in. I've probably let my curiosity lure me too far down that path with the pieces I've quoted right here in the blog!

Have you seen THE SON? Also involves a young man who becomes apprentice to an older man, in that case in a woodworking shop. In that film as well, violence hangs in the air. One of my favorite films, though extremely sparse - a viewer needs to be able to give it their full attention. One of my favorite films.