Ending my first day of watching screeners, I was overwhelmed with the number of other film offerings on hand. I am always amazed by how much this fest offers versus others that I have been to. However, I hope that in the near future I can be more personally active in Chicago to attend more screenings and participate in discussions with others. Still, I am honored to have a chance to see what I can and work with Cultured Vultures for this coverage. In continuing on to my second day of viewings, I was ecstatic to see more tales that other filmmakers had to tell.
When we see the Olympic Games, we are reminded of the tenacity of the human spirit, the thrill of competition, and the testing of human feats beyond imagination. But what we don’t see, especially in poorer cities, is what happens in the surrounding areas before the games even begin. In the case of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Samuel Chalard’s Favela Olímpica shows the disparities between officials who believe that the Olympics will bring the city prosperity and wealth, and the citizens who are losing their homes and community due to the construction of Olympic facilities.
According to Rio’s mayor and the architects doing the construction, not only will the Olympics give the city more money, but these intricate structures will be further utilized after the games to house schools and give other benefits to Brazilian citizens. Unfortunately, the construction taking place in the outlying favelas (or slums) surrounding the campus reduced many of the residents’ homes to rubble, forcing them to move elsewhere. To make matters worse, those who chose to stay in these areas had to deal with issues that threatened their way of life, like underground piping and broken water mains from destroyed buildings that could flood their homes. It’s a disheartening scenario, consisting of outraged workers and business owners, empty sections of road with huge piles of rubble, and a community broken by big business. But by banding together and making their voices heard, the district and the members of the housing rights groups attempted to fight back and create new policies to preserve the homes they have left. While not unique, (there are similarities to the events of the 2008 Beijing Games), it’s another example of everyday people fighting to safeguard their lives in the face of global pressures.
It is 1936: a gloomy and dreary period. Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös is dead, the streets are littered with Nazis, Hitler is continuing his expansion in Europe, and a woman’s mysterious death in Budapest starts a criminal investigation in Eva Gardos’ Budapest Noir, a murder mystery based on the 2012 novel of the same name. Zsigmond Gordon (Krisztian Kolovratnik) is a well-known crime journalist for a local newspaper who is covering the funeral of the fascist-leaning Prime Minister Gömbös. One day, after meeting a mysterious woman in a café a few days prior, Gordon finds the corpse of the same young prostitute at a crime scene, beaten to death in a courtyard. On top of that, when Gordon later visits the morgue to look at the body, the corpse turns up missing. Suspecting foul play, Gordon looks into the city’s dark underbelly – a world of boxing rings, brothels, and influential businessmen – to gather clues about the murder and uncover the dark secrets behind what is occurring.
What is instantly noticeable in this film is its vintage atmosphere and setting. It has the distinct feeling of a classic 1950s detective drama, complete with jazz music, a smoky atmosphere, old-school Hungarian dialects and conversations, introspective narration, and a gritty, brownish filter. Needless to say, Gardos nails the ambiance extremely well. But much like the novels and films it takes its inspiration from, the pacing is quite slow and focuses on minute details of the murder, information surrounding the setting’s history, and the characters that make Gordon more real, like his father and past love interests. However, despite its vintage feel and execution, the plot hardly contains any action, riveting plot twists, or memorable enemies for Gordon to battle. And the plot doesn’t provide any deep, altruistic lessons that the viewer can take away. As a result, the film does get to be quite boring as the plot slowly culminates and crawls through its scenes. So while the film has outstanding visual quality, the content contained here may not grip audiences until the end.
Crime is a threat we have to deal with every day. Whether it’s homicide, rape, robbery, or some other issue, looking over your shoulder is second nature. But what if authorities stopped crime before it happened? Better yet, what if they could predict it? Taking the theoretical principles behind Minority Report and Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs video game, Pre-Crime is a technological documentary that focuses on techniques used by departments around the world to determine, assess, and potentially predict crime and stop criminals.
The main component behind these technologies and crime prevention measures lie in algorithmic mathematical equations. By looking at the criminal history of an individual or an area, the databases put in place can give a probability on whether or not a crime will be committed by a person in a particular area or timeframe. In some scenarios, if a first-time robbery was done in a high-risk area, there was further activity in nearby areas within the same week or later. It is a very intricate technical system that comprises all forms of data, even Facebook posts and Twitter feeds.
However, the documentary suggests that these policing systems are not only flawed, but they also leave out important elements of human reasoning that don’t make these systems very effective. For example, one Chicagoan was listed as the 217th most dangerous man in the city, but only because he sold weed, did some gambling, and was associated with a higher-profile criminal. But because he had a bit of a record, a major criminal association, and was black, he was put on this list and could go to jail despite the fact that he was trying to clean his life up. This system bottlenecks people into a criminal infrastructure they can’t seem to get out of, while corporate crimes from more prominent institutions don’t seem to be similarly monitored. So while law enforcement is implementing new ways to prevent crime and keep people safe, this film posits that these technologies only serve to keep a few people safe, while others are constantly kept under the watchful eye of the police.
THE BLUE YEARS
If there is one thing that is certain, it is that human interaction is one of the main factors in our development. We encounter individuals from all walks of life, and while we may be very different, we can connect with each other as beings with dreams, goals, and aspirations. Such interactions are the focus of Sofía Gómez-Córdova’s The Blue Years, a drama concerning five young adults in a run-down Mexican apartment complex. Moving in the area with little money and no prior notice to landlady Silvia (Ilse Orozco), Diana (Paloma Dominguez) quickly connects with the other tenants and hopes she will have a place to stay. Each member has their own passions and issues, and these youths quickly form a tight-knit family bond.
The film occasionally feels like a gripping docudrama or a sitcom. Gómez-Córdova presents these characters with such depth and ardor that it is easy to connect to them and empathize with their feelings. From the openly gay Jaime (Luis Velazquez), who acts as a big brother to Silvia, to the hopeless romantic Andrés (Juan Carlos Huguenin) who slowly falls in love with college student Angélica (Natalia Gómez Vázquez), these characters embody both youthful passion and the complexity of humanity. The common thread in all these entangling stories is a gray household cat that is constantly interacting with the tenants and acts as a kind of audience surrogate. Add a great level of humor and compelling twists, and you have a masterwork of cinema that leaves you wanting more. Led by a compelling narrative, great cinematography, and various shots that place viewers in the middle of the drama, The Blue Years explores the heart of humanity in all its glory and heartbreak.
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