Wednesday, November 9, 2011

LIFF25: El Sicario, Budrus and I Am Jesus

Ok then! Here come a few more review from the Leeds International Film Festival. I'm currently seeing more films than I can write about, so a review of Fanomonen's Night of the Dead will have to wait a day or so. For now, here are three documentaries from Monday and Tuesday...

El Sicario
This is certainly not a cheerful one! El Sicario can be summed up pretty quickly as one man in one room talking about the horrible things he has done. In a bit more depth, it is an ex-hitman in a hotel room in Ciudad Juarez, explaining over the course of 80 minutes what his life has contained. With his face masked throughout the film and no props other than a pad of drawing paper and a squeaky black marker, the hitman proceeds to explain the procedures of induction to the Mexican drug cartels and the jobs he had to carry out.

It is, as you can probably imagine, pretty gruelling stuff. He talks us through the day-by-day plan of a typical kidnapping, explains how the narcos (cartels) ensure there is at least one policeman in their pay amongst every group of new police recruits and recounts stories of strangling kidnapped people on the orders of the boss (if you strangle them before cutting them up, they bleed less, he explains).

Whilst this would all have worked equally powerfully (and in less time) if it were a written interview, his stories are compelling (and gruesome) enough to ensure that the time flies by. It's a grim but fascinating account of a lawless, dangerous life in a dangerous part of the world (Ciudad Juarez is now, apparently, the most violent city on the planet!)

Although you might not expect it from merely glancing at the subject matter, Budrus is a much more uplifting film than El Sicario. We've moved from Mexico to Palestine and are witnessing the residents of Budrus' attempts to prevent the Israeli fence from going through their lands, particularly their cemetery. In the face of the Israeli army's tear-gas and barricades, this is a film about people coming together to protect what they love (and, thankfully, succeeding). 

An especially powerful moment comes when a large group of Israeli peace-activists join the Palestinians in their village in opposition to the army. The interviewed army leader's claim that the destruction of this Palestinian village's cemetery was necessary for "Israelis to sleep soundly at night" rang somewhat hollow as a line of Israelis stood face-to-face with their own army. Perhaps even more shocking was the grumbled complaint from the army captain that they could no longer "use force" to crush the (nonviolent) opposition because "there were Israeli Jews in the group" - the implication that it was absolutely fine to violently crush peaceful Palestinian opposition remaining unspoken but unmissable...

I Am Jesus
From the serious to the ridiculous: I am Jesus is a wonderfully straight-faced documentary about three different people who fervently, honestly, astonishingly believe themselves to be the second coming of a certain Jesus Christ... 

From mental ex-secret-service hippy David Shayler ("I first realised I was Jesus whilst tripping on mushrooms...") via the bearded, robed Brazilian Inri Christo, to the messianic monk of the Siberian wilderness Vissarion, I have no hesitation at all in labelling these people as deluded, ego-centred freaks. For all that, little of what any of them do could possibly hurt anyone, so they're probably just best left to it really.

Great fun to watch and worth the ticket for the followers of Inri Christo's "mystical version" of Eye of the Tiger alone... 

Oh my...

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