RIDM Reviews: Sofia Foi, Motherland, Programme Malena Sziam

Woman in red behind window Sofia Foi

Sofia Foi review (Brasil; 2023; 67min)

Brazilian student Sofia lives just off campus in São Paulo where she’s struggling with an unravelling life.  So Sofia Foi (“Sofia Was”) becomes about our ability to live in denial, to bury our heads in the sand and distract ourselves in the face of gravitas, and then it’s about the downward spiral of drifting that can ensue. But far from being critical, there’s only sympathy here.

With the theme and story simple and nailed, it’s easy to concentrate on Pedro Geraldo’s wonderful cinematic technique as he marries a budget arthouse approach – handheld camera, minimal sets, slow pace –  with a real knack for nuanced story telling.

Tension is built by simple acts like dwelling overlong on particular objects: a suitcase by a wall becomes worrying, a dog leash tied to a tree ominous.

But the key technique is to let reactions tell the story. Lingering tight shots of the compellingly inscrutable main protagonist, Sofia Tomic (a peerless performance) provides the viewer with clues to piece together much of the story from  mere expressions.

The film requires viewers to bring a good deal of imagination and creative detective work into play but it’s an easy journey and produces an immersive and rewarding cinema experience that you should catch if you can.

Sofia Foi is another excellent selection by the program team at the RIDM festival, held in Montreal until November 26. Details on films and tickets can be found HERE.

Programme Malena Sziam (Canada Chili 22min)

Living somewhere between a cinematic installation and a short, the work of Canadian-Chilean director Malena Sziam’s is not easily digestible,  but it does tease some interesting nuances out of her natural subject material.

By reproducing nature using extremely short clips changing at a frenetic pace, subjects are given new and strange perspectives. The moon stutters through the sky; high Chilean plateaus  wrestle with sunrise; water judders across stream beds; volcanic ridges emerge from flickering clouds.

Some of this is a nod to the jumpy style of early cinema, but much of the nuance, and the Q&A afterwards was lost on me. Nonetheless, it’s doubtless on the frontlines of challenging and experimental contemporary cinema and the packed auditorium suggests there are plenty of fans of the genre in Montreal.

Programme Malena Sziam was screened  by the RIDM festival, held in Montreal until November 26. Details on films and tickets can be found HERE.

Motherland (Sweden, Ukraine, Norway; 2023; 92min)

If ever there was a film that the Belarussian Ministry for Tourism didn’t want you to see then this is it: a slick and punchy investigative documentary about its dehumanising military and the country’s brutal state control.

You can only imagine the risks involved in shooting and producing this, and it’s hardly surprising some of the team remained anonymous in the credits.

Harrowing footage includes the view from a car as it’s battered to a wreck by riot police and the scene at prison gates where family and friends listen to the screams of those being tortured while awaiting their release.

But most of the film has a slower pace and follows more enduring and potent struggles — that of grieving mothers campaigning for justice for sons killed by institutionalized bullying in the military, the tensions and fears of young men conscripted to join this famously malignant institution.

A remorseless and desperate picture of Belarus emerges and the frustrations those the film follows is palpable.  “How long can this last? A month? A year?” muses one, not long before many of them are forced into exile.

For fly-on-the-wall viewer the answer is similar – avoid Belarus at all costs, but bear a thought for those stuck there struggling against injustice and congratulate filmmakers like this for their intelligence, candour and bravery.

Motherland  was screened  by the RIDM festival, held in Montreal until November 26. Details on films and tickets can be found HERE.