Midnight Traveler (Hassan Fazili, 2019)
La graine et le mulet (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2007)
When looking at a documentary as a piece of filmmaking, the standrd I usually apply is that it must bring something that a newspaper article couldn't. Midnight Traveler doesn't have any obvious cinematic quality, but its value comes from, well, what it documents and the viewpoint from which it does so. We know the path refugees take to come to Europe (or anywhere else for that matter) tends to be a particularly arduous one, but seeing it from the subject's perspective frames it significantly differently, highlighting the reasons leading to their departure, the dangers they face, the perserverance they must show in order to get anywhere, but it especially suggests the psychological toll that spending years in this precarious situation encurs, even though this isn't necessarily Fazili's first intention. The most memoerable moment in the film is when he professes to hate himself for thinking about a particularly scary event (his daughter briefly going missing) in terms of cinema rather than as a father, and I think that's the key to the film, both because the daughters are constantly foregrounded as the people who may suffer the most long-term damage from the ordeal, but also because it highlights how imagining yourself as having a role (in this case that of a filmmaker) is both a blessing and a curse in dissociating oneself from the present situation.
Mizu no naka no hachigatsu (Gakuryû Ishii, 1995)
Knowing Kechiche from his later works, I was surprised by how restrained he was here, especially after that first scene. The fact that his camera doesn't sexualize Hafsia Herzi before that final sequence seems key to me here; whether or not that was his intention, it feels like a downright tragic ending, with her character having to conform to expectations of her, both within her community, since Slimane's family sees her and her mother as disreputable, and outside of it, having to embody the orientalist ideal in order to potentially save her father (and her whole community) from failure. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that this is what Kechiche is doing though, presenting the family unit as something that is both comfortable (there is undeniably warmth in the way he shoots that dinner early on) and suffocating, sweeping anything (like the son's infidelity or the father's new family) under the rug if possible. He spends a lot of time letting us know all of these characters though, so even if his primary sympathies are undoubtedly with the Slimane/Rym duo, the picture we get is complete enough that we get an understanding of everyone's role within this situation. It's growing on me as a piece of humanist cinema, though it seems to me that Kechiche's later films are stylistically much more accomplished, though this is likely his best script.
This film grabbed me immediately, as Ishii and cinematographer Norimichi Kasamatsu are undoubtedly very talented at visual storytelling and at creating an off-kilter mood which makes this story of adolescent love crossed with eschatological dread, something that certainly resonates as concerns with environmental change have come to the forefront even more since then. It seems to me that Ishii is exploring a certain idea of dualism, with the main female character mentioning feeling a separation between her soul and body, and the whole film contrasting that with the idea of human ingenuity/technology similarly being separate from the natural world we inhabit, and the need for some connection to be made through spirituality, namely through Japan's animistic tradition in this case. It's probably signfiicant that this came out the same year as Ghost in the Shell, because it seems to me that a lot of the same ideas are being explored here, though in very different ways but with no less style - these diving scenes look amazing, and the way Ishii generally shoots water as the primary conduit of that connection between spirit and body (or whatever other duality we can see in the film) is pretty remarkable. Loved the score too, contributing to a mood that leads to the film's unanswered (and possibly unanswerable questions) as feeling enticing rather than frustrating.
1. Mizu no naka no hachigatsu - 8/10
2. La graine et le mulet - 7/10
3. Midnight Traveler - 7/10