Sound of Metal
In his fiction debut, Darius Marder explores the gradual loss of hearing with unprecedented attention and close collaboration with members of the deaf and hard of hearing community.
A recovering drug addict and drummer in a metal duo Ruben (Riz Ahmed), starts losing his hearing. Concerned about his health and worried that he might relapse, Ruben's girlfriend and vocalist Lou (Olivia Cooke) persuades him to move into a shelter for deaf recovering addicts to undergo an adaptation course run by Joe (Paul Raci), a former alcoholic and Vietnam veteran, whose method is based on complete isolation from the outside world, a search for inner peace and learning sign language. Ruben agrees to stay but continues to live in denial, focused on getting cochlear implants and returning to the stage with Lou.
At the facility, he discovers a new kind of community of deaf and hard of hearing people of all ages, races, and gender identities. With deaf actors and the incredible Paul Raci—a hearing child of deaf parents—involved in the making of the film, Marder and his team have created an elaborate sound design that has allowed them to convey the discomfort of gradual hearing loss, as well as the sounds of the world as they appear through cochlear implants. The outstanding sound design by Jaime Baksht and Michelle Couttolenc (BAFTA nominees for Pan's Labyrinth) is the result of ten years of research and preparation.
Darius Marder's explosive debut in fiction, co-written with Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines), premiered at Toronto Festival in 2019 and was listed among the ten best films of 2020 by the American Film Academy. The leads, Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci have collected a number of awards, including from the National Society of Film Critics (USA).
Emmy winner for his role in the mini-series The Night Of, British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed spent seven months preparing for the role: along with drumming lessons and learning American Sign Language, he took up intensive physical training to be able to convincingly play a strong man who has lost everything: his loud music, his girlfriend, and his camper van.
The film will be screened in English, French, and American Sign Language with Russian subtitles.
Sound of Metal
Director: Darius Marder
USA, 2019. 120 min. 18+
Code of the Freaks
Taking Tod Browning's classic film Freaks as a starting point, Salome Chasnoff looks back at the history of the representation of disability in Hollywood, discussing particular cases with activists, researchers and filmmakers.
Shot almost a century ago, Tod Browning's Freaks (1932) featured a model of identification that became innovative for Hollywood. Browning expected that viewers with and without disabilities would identify with the circus artists who had various disabilities instead of their antagonists who had none. Continuing Browning's policy of inclusion and neurodiversity and borrowing the form from Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's documentary The Celluloid Closet, Salome Chasnoff offers a fresh perspective on the history of film and its role in the formation of stereotypes.
As any attempts to "imagine" what people with disabilities think and how they experience the world lead to false representation, the makers of Code of the Freaks invited activists, researchers, and filmmakers with various disabilities to share their opinions and experience. They discovered that many of the interviewees, in fact, preferred the crude humour of the Farrelly brothers to teary and manipulative dramas. Searching to establish an honest discourse on disability without fetishizing scars, demonizing evil men in wheelchairs, and patronizing people with developmental disabilities, the film criticizes Hollywood, whose reward system encourages "inspiring" stories of people with disabilities made for those without them.
A frank intersectional discussion of disability, race, and sexuality, Code of the Freaks challenges all sort of stereotypes—those of the "magical black people" (The Green Mile), the "magical little people" (Harry Potter), the beautiful and helpless blind women (Blink) and the blind men with superpowers (Daredevil), as well as the lack of happy endings for characters with disabilities.
Code of the Freaks
Director: Salome Chasnoff
USA, 2020. 68 min. 16+
Artificial Things and Isadora's Children
British documentary maker Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert's Guide to Cinema; Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami) re-interprets Lucy Bennett's performance Artificial Things with Stopgap, a company of dancers with and without disabilities, while French director Damien Manivel presents interpretations of one dance piece (The Mother) by different artists (including Manon Carpentier—a young dancer with Down syndrome) in a poetic homage to Isadora Duncan.
Before her career in film, Sophie Fiennes managed the dance company of avant-garde choreographer Michael Clark. She returns to dance again in her short Artificial Things, inspired by the art of Peter Greenaway (with whom Fiennes has also collaborated): both a documentation and a re-interpretation of the same-name dance performance by Lucy Bennett, director of the inclusive Stopgap Dance Company. The performance itself has become iconic, collected a host of awards and is now studied in many secondary schools in the UK.
Condensing the original ninety-minute performance to half an hour, Fiennes has also moved it from the stage to a dystopian space inside an abandoned shopping mall, where five performers in everyday office clothes dance on the border between dream and reality, slowly moving from a poetical flow (You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To sung by Nina Simone) to rock and roll. Working with three dancers with disabilities, Fiennes and Bennett reaffirm the rights of people with various forms of disability to experience play, mystery and sensuality.
The film will be screened in English with Russian subtitles.
Director Sophie Fiennes
UK, 2018. 26 min. 6+
In 1913, the creator of contemporary dance Isadora Duncan survived a tragic loss when two of her children and their nanny drowned after the car they were in crashed into River Seine. In 1921, Duncan created her heart-wrenching performance, The Mother, to the music of Scriabin. A century later, three French dancers and one French choreographer are working on the score. One is searching for an appropriate intonation to avoid the anesthetization of trauma, two—a teacher and a student—are staging the dance, and one is watching from the audience. The elegant and captivating film about dance and cultural inheritance brought Damien Manivel the Best Director Award at the Locarno Film Festival.
Like the choreographer Mathilde Monnier in Claire Denis' documentary Towards Mathilde, former dancer and acrobat Damien Manivel is particularly interested in the process of preparation for performances. Subtitles mark the passing of rehearsal days, yet in the two months covered by the film, we hardly learn anything about the protagonists' life outside contemporary dance. Instead, Manivel lets their bodies speak for themselves: not only the young and classically beautiful body of actress Agathe Bonitzer (the daughter of the French critic, writer and director Pascal Bonitzer) but also the bodies of the dancer with Down syndrome Manon Carpentier, experienced dancer Marika Rizzi, and retired Jamaican American choreographer Elsa Wolliaston. Filming protagonists of different age, body shape, and level of skill, united by their admiration for Isadora Duncan and the grief they share with her, Manivel shows the diversity of possible interpretations of a single dance piece. Despite the absence of any details about the great dancer's life, this film might tell the audience more about Isadora Duncan and her method than many biopics.
The film will be screened in French with Russian subtitles.
Director: Damien Manivel
France, South Korea, 2019. 84 min. 18+
Paris Is Burning
In 1985, a 23-year-old Yale graduate Jennie Livingston moved to New York and found herself in the world of drag balls organized by the Latin and African-American gay and trans community. Fundamentally underprivileged in everyday life, the ball participants dressed in stereotypical costumes associated with particular social groups—often those above them on the social ladder—aspiring for "realness"—drag that is not aiming for complete replication, but rather for convincing comic resemblance, or satirical plausibility. Their flamboyant dance—voguing—was based on model looks and runway walks. Shot over six years, Livingston filmed the documentary whose importance as a historical document and an organizational model for the later LGBTQ+ generations cannot be overestimated. In 1991, Paris Is Burning won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Teddy Queer Award for Best Documentary Film at the Berlin Film Festival.
Livingstone's Paris Is Burning is filmed from an intersectional perspective and studies its protagonists from the point of view of their racial, class, and gender identities. Through the spectacular drag balls, the film touches on the themes of AIDS and homophobic and transphobic violence, which were almost taboo at the time. As a refuge from the hostile environment, the protagonists create Houses—surrogate families for those rejected by their biological ones. Houses with pretentious names, sometimes borrowed from fashion brands (Saint Laurent), are run by Mothers who take Daughters under their wing. However, the Mothers' and Sisters' support does not relieve the protagonists from work that can pay their lives and ball outfits. For many, this means sex work—for example, for Venus Xtravanganza, who was murdered during the making of the film (according to the Mother Xtravanganza House Angie, by a transphobic client). Others, like Willi Ninja, become acclaimed dancers who make voguing popular across the world.
Thirty years since the film's original release, it has gained a sad undertone: most of the dancers who took part in its making are dead, while drag balls have been commercialized. Paris Is Burning has become an example for filmmakers working with a marginalized community and a source of inspiration for generations of LGBTQ+ creators, including the makers of the television series Pose based on the stories of several of the documentary's protagonists.
A Perfectly Normal Family
An 11-year-old Danish girl Emma has a perfectly normal family: elder sister Carolina, mother Helle, and father Thomas. When Helle tells her daughters that their parents are getting divorced, Thomas has to admit that the reason for their separation is that he is transgender and asks children to call him Agnete. Carolina soon gets used to the idea of having two mothers, but for Emma, this perturbation is made more difficult by the uneasiness of puberty and her "un-feminine" interest in football. The directing debut by Danish actress Malou Reyman premiered at Film Festival Rotterdam in 2020.
The main storyline of A Perfectly Normal Family is interspersed with family videos showing young Emma and Carolina learning gender stereotypes ranging from cookery to the wearing of dresses. Now they have to reconsider their views and fight prejudice within themselves as well as in others. In this autobiographical story based on her own coming-of-age and her father's coming out as a transgender woman, Malou Reymann traces the parallel masculinization of Emma and feminization of Agnete and pushes the boundaries of what is considered feminine to the maximum.
Cisgender actor Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival for his role in A Royal Affair) portrays Agnete with utmost delicacy and without exaggeration—as a woman who wants to be happy and bring happiness to others. Leaving most of the medical aspects of gender transitioning out of shot, the film focuses primarily on family relationships. Building on the ideas of the Transparent series creator Jill Soloway, A Perfectly Normal Family follows the gender transition of a parent in parallel with the changes in the child's attitude to it: from denial (at first, Emma is so ashamed of Agnete that she covers her eyes with a scarf in order not to see her) to complete acceptance.
The film will be screened in Danish and English with Russian subtitles.
A Perfectly Normal Family
Director Malou Reymann
Denmark, 2020. 93 min. 18+
Close in style to the Dardenne brothers and the Romanian new wave, Oasis by the Serbian filmmaker Ivan Ikić is a harsh and minimalist drama about a love triangle in an institution for people with special needs. The film stars Marijana Novakov, Tijana Marković, and Valentino Zenuni—all with developmental disabilities—in their first acting roles.
Admitted to the facility for intellectually disabled youth, Maria (Marijana Novakov) tries to escape. After the attempt fails, the unlucky fugitive makes friends with her roommate Dragana (Tijana Marković)—a fiery free spirit like herself. Both are very interested in a resident who is their polar opposite: the quietest, Robert (Valentino Zenuni), who remains silent throughout the film. When one of them sleeps with him and gets pregnant, Maria and Dragana start a war, competing for signs of affection, and become the center of attention for doctors and nurses concerned about the pregnancy, which is unwanted in the institution. The second film by the Serbian filmmaker Ivan Ikić premiered and received a Europa Cinemas Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2020.
As a documentary counterpoint, the film opens with archival adverts for the facility, which Ivan Ikić discovered during the making of the film. The first advert was made in 1973—right after the institution's opening—and the second in 1976. The optimistic and condescending voiceover presents the facility as an oasis for the adaptation of people with developmental disabilities. In the film that follows, it proves to be the opposite: in each of the film's three parts named after the key protagonists, the residents are exploited, mistreated, or controlled by staff.
Assuming the perspectives of each of the three protagonists, Ikić does not show the doctors' discussions: the medical staff are not portrayed as evil, like nurse Mildred Ratched, but as bureaucrats who do their work. The repeating scenes in the laundry, the yard, and the canteen create a hermetic world of no escape. Actors play almost wordless, intuitive parts, conveying messages to each other and the viewer with body language and facial expressions. Proving to be masters of transformation, all three actors play parts opposite to their characters in real life: Zenuni is, in fact, an extravert, while the caring and responsible Markovich plays a vengeful religious zealot.
The film will be screened in Serbian with Russian subtitles.
Director: Ivan Ikić
Serbia, Netherlands, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, 2020. 122 min. 18+
Ellis Island and Fire at Sea
Garage Museum of Contemporary Art presents two films about the about the issue of refugees: Ellis Island (1982), a poetic short by minimalist composer Meredith Monk about the largest reception center for migrants in the United States in the early twentieth century, and Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea (2016)—a documentary about a modern-day reception center for refugees in Italy. The latter was nominated for an Oscar and won the Golden Bear award at the Berlinale.
Around sixteen million migrants arrived at Ellis Island, located at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor, between 1892 and 1927. In Meredith Monk and Bob Rosen’s experimental docufiction, ghosts of the visitors, played by professional actors, continue to inhabit abandoned hospitals, classrooms, and waiting rooms, re-enacting over and over again the humiliating procedures of physical examination, photographing, and classification. As the actors mainly remain wordless, dance and gestures become their language, while the very black and white photography imitates a silent slapstick. Rather than aestheticizing the manipulations, Monk and Rosen bear a critical distance, staging scenes full of absurdity, where a Scandinavian migrant’s name is shortened and thus distorted beyond recognition, and a teacher in a Buster Keaton costume helps migrants learn the basics of English in a comic manner. Switching between black-and-white portraits of migrants and the color-coded crowds of curious tourists roaming Ellis today, the authors create a bizarre palimpsest of an abandoned but unabated place. The picture is accompanied by Monk’s music written for an ensemble of vocalists and two pianos; the performers include the composer herself known for her unique vocalizations, as well as the iconic African-American gay composer Julius Eastman.
The film will be screened in English with Russian subtitles.
Dir. Meredith Monk, Bob Rosen
USA, 1982. 28 min. 16+
Courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Fire at Sea
Occupying an area of twenty square kilometers 70 miles off the African coast and 120 miles from Sicily, the island of Lampedusa is a staging post for refugees from North Africa. By the time Fire at Sea (2016) was filmed, some 400,000 people had passed through it, with about 15,000 dying from either drowning or falling victim to dehydration and disease. Italian documentary filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi (winner of the Golden Lion for Sacro GRA, 2013) records the manipulations that rescued refugees go through when they get on the island, while at the same time capturing the daily life of several Lampedusa locals, who are aware of the migration crisis to varying degrees: from the twelve-year-old boy Samuele, who, like his father, is going to become a sailor but for now spends days shooting birds with a homemade slingshot and cacti, to the doctor, Pietro Bartolo, who examines the newly arrived migrants. Rosi’s ingenious and caring film about one of our time’s core problems was premiered at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, grabbing its main prize, the Golden Bear there, followed by the European Film Academy Award and an Oscar nomination.
The title references both the migration crisis and the military operations at sea, which Samuele’s grandma, who witnessed the Second World War, describes to her grandson. Rosi uses bold strokes to portray the boy: occupying about a third of the picture, the story of Samuele traces his initiation into the male world. In the film, he not only gets out on a night hunt armed with a slingshot but also listens to the stories of his father, a sailor, about a six-month stay at sea, learns English, and cures a lazy eye. All this, including Samuele imitating military actions, designates that the boy might join the fleet when he grows up, putting the fate of illegal migrants into his hands. The future of Europe is not so much opposed to the current state of affairs in Africa—as it is in constant dialogue with it. Even though Samuele never encounters refugees in the film (nor hears of), Rosi arranges the narration in such a way that makes the viewer (especially European) reflect on how each of them can contribute to the situation. Serving as an example of perseverance for the director is Dr. Bartolo, the head physician of the local clinic, who, despite despair at the sight of the many dead, continues to help refugees, and since 2019 has been engaged in activism at a radically new level—as a Member of the European Parliament.
The film will be screened in Italian and English with Russian subtitles.
Fire at Sea
Dir. Gianfranco Rosi
Italy, 2016. 114 min. 16+