RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film El Futuro Perfecto

In a scene from the hybrid documentary El Futuro Perfecto, Zhang Xiaobin, centre, and her fellow students in a Spanish language class prove that they understand the meaning of the word "ojos."
In a scene from the hybrid documentary El Futuro Perfecto, Zhang Xiaobin, centre, and her fellow students in a Spanish language class prove that they understand the meaning of the word “ojos.”

Xiaobin is a young woman of 17 who moves from China to Buenos Aires to join her parents.

Signing up for Spanish lessons allows her to make friends, expand her horizons and contemplate many possible futures.

Each student in the class is given a Spanish name (she gets Beatriz). They can play at new identities – a nurse from Barcelona, a business woman from Colombia, a lawyer from Montevideo.

They read questionable statements from their text book, “If I marry a rich man, I won’t have to work.” (Tsk, tsk!)

They practice mildly stilted dialogue exercises, inviting each other to meals or to the movies. Outside the classroom, Xiaobin uses those phrases when talking to Vijay, an immigrant programmer from India, and they really do go places together. They still act like they’re practicing, though. They order orange juice, and then decide to leave a few minutes later without even tasting it. “Should we go? “Let’s go.” The audience in the cinema laughs.

After the film, a friend said that the person who played Vijay was not a good actor. I’m not sure about that. I think he might have played his part exactly the way director Nele Wohlatz wanted him to.

The dialogues in their text books will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a language class, but some of the overwrought things Vijay says sound like they’re from a melodramatic telenovela.

Kitty content: After a few dialogues about cats, kittens start to appear in the homes of some of the students.

El Futuro Perfecto is not a typical documentary at all. It’s some sort of hybrid thing – drama/documentary/improv, based on the real-life experience of star Zhang Xiaobin. Many parts are quite funny, too. I would have been happy to spend more time in the world of El Futuro Perfecto, but it’s only 65 minutes long. Maybe writer/director Wohlatz and her cast said every thing that they wanted to say within that time frame. If so, kudos to them for not dragging things out.

Learn more about El Futuro Perfecto or buy tickets on the web site of RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.
El Futuro Perfecto, 65 minutes long, in Spanish and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Director: Nele Wohlatz
Cast: Zhang Xiaobin , Saroj Kumar Malik , Jiang Mian , Wang Dong Xi , Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Producer: Cecilia Salim
Cinematography: Roman Kasseroller, Agustina San Martín
Sound: Nahuel Palenque
Editing: Ana Godoy
Production: Murillo Cine

El Futuro Perfecto
Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2:30 p.m., Cinémathèque Québécoise, Salle Principale, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.

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RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film The Great Wall

An image from the documentary The Great Wall, whch is being shown at the 2016 RIDM documentary film festival in Montreal. For me, the curves of this fence suggest the dragon-like undulations of The Great Wall of China.
An image from the documentary The Great Wall, whch is being shown at the 2016 RIDM documentary film festival in Montreal. For me, the curves of this fence suggest the dragon-like undulations of The Great Wall of China.

The Great Wall is about walls and borders, old and new. The old one is the Great Wall of China, as described by Franz Kafka, in his short story Building The Great Wall of China, which was written in 1917, though not published until 1931. (Coincidentally, I happened to read it a few weeks before I heard of this film. Everyone seems to call it a short story, but it reads more like a philosophical essay to me. )

The short story’s nameless narrator is someone who worked on the wall himself, thouands of years ago; he muses about why it was built the way it was – in many unconnected pieces of 1,000 metres each, with great gaps in between. He declares that it was dysfunctional and the authorities must have known that, so they must have intended it to be dysfunctional. . .but again, why?

The film’s narrator, Nicola Creighton, reads excerpts from Kafka, in the original German, while we look at walls and very tall fences marking borders in Europe and North Africa. Those North African scenes were shot in Melilla, a small chunk of Morocco that Spain has held on to since 1497.

Because I had read the story recently, I caught a change that had been made to Kafka’s words. He wrote: “Against whom was the great wall to provide protection? Against the people of the north.” The film narration says “people of the south.” This north-south change occurs several times in the narration.

Walls and fences alone are not enough to keep the “others” out. There are watchers in the sky, in airplanes, surveillance cameras with night vision, and the kind of towers you see in films about prisons and concentration camps.

Often, it is not clear where we are in the world, though palm trees hint at a hot climate. Is that because one border often looks like another? Is it because some refugees/migrants don’t always know where they are, either? Should we think of it as a metaphor, more than anything?

Sometimes, the forces of law and order give us a clue: what does it say on the back of their uniforms? POLICE, POLIZEI or GUARDIA CIVIL? In Greece, their shields say POLICE, but there is another word writen in Greek alphabet.

Some scenes start in one country and end in another (far as I could tell). The Great Wall was shot in 11 countries; I did not recognize all of them. One city had a large, strange, ugly building. I want to learn the story of that. (As in, who are the guilty parties?)

There are scenes of huge skyscrapers in big cities, with pedestrians in suits walking around looking powerful and purposeful. My thought about that was, those buildings are another kind of wall or border, that will succeed in keeping strangers out. It’s likely that few migrants will be able to enter them, except perhaps as cleaners.

The music in the film gives an air of menace to many scenes. On the other hand, we often hear birds singing. My interpretation of that: birds are almost everywhere, they sing on good days and bad, they can go to any place that the wind and their wings will take them, unlike humans, they know no borders.

Coincidence: This was the second time this week that I have seen Maersk shipping lines onscreen. The other time was in a documentary about the “boat people” who fled Vietnam 40 years ago. Some of them were rescued by a Maersk ship.

At 72 minutes, The Great Wall felt a bit longer than it is. Some viewers might find their interest flagging toward the end. Or not. I’m not sorry that I went. There’s lots of food for thought in the film.
The Great Wall, 2015, from Ireland.
Director: Tadhg O’Sullivan
Camera: Feargal Ward
In German with English subtitles

The Great Wall is being shown as part of RIDM, Montreal’s Documentary film festival. See it at 8:30 pm, Friday, Nov. 18, at Cinéma du Parc, 3575 Ave du Parc. You can read more about it, and buy tickets on the RIDM web site. The trailer below looks very dark. Most of the scenes in the film are not like that.

RIDM 2015 Review: Llévate mis amores (All of Me)

In a scene from the film LlŽevate mis amores, a member of the group Las Patronas holds bags of food for Central American migrants travelling north on a freight train.
In a scene from the film LlŽévate mis amores, a member of the group Las Patronas holds bags of food for Central American migrants travelling north on a freight train.

Llévate mis amores (All of Me) is a film about a group of Mexican women known as Las Patronas, after La Patrona, their village in Veracruz state. They’re poor in possessions, but rich in humanity and love. Even though they have very little themselves, they work hard to help people who have even less than they do.

Since 1995 they have been preparing food and water for migrants from Central America who ride freight trains through Mexico into the U.S. The trains are called La Bestia (the Beast), or sometimes, the Train of Death, because people can die if they fall off. The migrants are victims of a bad economy and globalization – there isn’t enough work in their home countries and they can only travel via freight trains because passenger service ended when the Mexican railroads were privatized in the 1990s. A train might have as many as 800 riders, with some inside the boxcars cars, others on the roof or even hanging precariously between the cars. The train is not the only danger on the trip – there are crooked police, thieves, kidnappers, human traffickers and extortionists.

Every day the women cook huge pots of rice and beans and make tortillas over wood fires. They pack the food in plastic bags and fill recycled bottles with water. When they hear the whistle of an approaching train, they rush to the tracks to toss the food and water to the migrants, who hold their hands out eagerly. They never know when the trains will come or how many there might be.

In this scene from the documentary film LlŽevate mis amores (All of Me), a Central American migrant is able to call her mother, thanks to the helpful women known as Las Patronas.
In this scene from the documentary film LlŽévate mis amores (All of Me), a Central American migrant is able to call her mother, thanks to the helpful women known as Las Patronas.

Some migrants jump off the train for the food, and then they can’t get back on. When that happens, they are driven to the next place that the train stops or slows down. That’s not all that La Patronas do. They have taken injured migrants to hospitals, and on those occasions when doctors or hospitals refused to help, they have nursed them back to health themselves. They lend people cellphones so they can check in with their families.

When the director asks the women to describe themselves the younger ones talk of their hopes for the future (to be a lawyer or a journalist) while the older ones talk about their pasts – one had an abusive husband who was murdered, another had a potential husband who stayed up north too long, yet another was pulled out of school at a young age because someone told her father that the vaccinations given to students would cause sterility. One woman liked to sing and dance; she had wanted to be in a band. Some worked in the fields, others worked as maids; those with children want them to have a better life.

Llévate mis amores (All of Me) is truly inspirational; long before it was over I was wondering what I could do to make the world a better place. It was great to see the screening sell out, too. You can buy tickets online to make sure that you get in. Director Arturo González Villaseñor will be at the screening to answer questions after the film. When asked if the film will be available for rent or purchase he said that it probably will be eventually, but for now it’s still making the rounds of film festivals.
Llévate mis amores (All of Me)Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, 9:15 p.m., Excentris (Salle Cassavetes), 3536 St Laurent Blvd.

RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.