Ice Poison, directed by Midi Z, tells the story of a farmer’s son in Myanmar and the consequences that unfold when he turns to selling drugs following the devaluation of his crop.
The most effective aspect of Ice Poison is the contrast in shot selection and the rhythm that this generates within the narrative. The beginning of the film has a stillness to it. Long takes and relatively little movement from the camera gives the film, and subsequently the situation faced by the farmer’s son, an unmoving quality – this is how things are and they are unlikely to change. The slow, measured sequence of shots that populate the beginning of the film connote a sense of stagnancy. This is reinforced by the conversations had by the farmer and his son as they travel throughout their village, discussing the grim economic circumstances faced by the other inhabitants. There are moments when these long takes can feel a little too drawn out, however an argument could be made that any feeling of “this has gone on a little too long” induced in the viewer, could be a reflection of the same feeling of those that live in the economically deprived area of Lashio where the film is set.
What works beautifully is when these long takes are contrasted with moments of intimacy. The most notable intimate moment is when the farmer’s son tries the drug ‘ice’ for the first time. Sitting on the end of Sanmei’s bed, the farmer’s son leans in to inhale the fumes. At this point we see a medium close up as he sways a little. Sanmei then leans into shot, the light from the flame illuminating her face as she too inhales. She then moves the tin foil between them as they both take turns inhaling the fumes and enjoying the resulting high. The scene has a definite sexual quality to it. In another film, in different circumstances, this scene at this point in the film (following on from earlier hints at romance), might be a sex scene. However, in this part of Myanmar, it seems that not only is this drug the only opportunity for economic prosperity, it is also replacing love and physical intimacy.
Overall I found the film to be effective and moving. However, although the final scene was powerful and provided a solid summation of the movie’s themes, it felt a little cheap and I am left questioning whether its absence would have prompted a deeper more exhaustive meditation on the film.
Life May Be
Bold and brave, Life May Be is an excitingly honest piece of filmmaking. Co-directed by Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari, the film takes the shape of five filmed letters in which Mark and Mania poetically discuss and depict themes such as art, nudity and Iran. Nominated for the Award for Best Documentary Feature Film, Cousins is in familiar territory. What separates this work from his other documentaries is the presence of the inspirational Mania Akbari: this is not a narration but a shared, intimate conversation.
The lack of any human voice in the final scene captures what this film is truly about. No matter how hard the film tries in the closing moments, with its sensational shots of waterfalls and its dramatic score, the words on the screen in place of Cousins’ thick Irish accent leaves us with a sense of absence. Great art can capture something of the essential nature of life and this film certainly does – but ultimately, like the “Scottish heather on your bare feet” or “the wind on your thighs”, it is physical connection that humans crave above all else.
Go experience this film for yourself – go naked. Not literally of course - you’ll end up incarcerated with the ‘Naked Rambler’ Stephen Gough. Strip yourself of any preconceptions you have about what a film should be or what a documentary should do. Enter the cinema with the same open vulnerability laid bare on screen by both these artists and you may be moved in an unexpected way.
Manakamana, co-directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Valez, offers the audience a glimpse into the journey made by many Nepalese who travel to the ancient sacred temple (from which the film gets its title) by cable car. The film is produced by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Laboratory (HSEL). Those familiar with HSEL will inevitably draw comparisons with Sweetgrass (2009) and Leviathan (2012), and we are indeed in similar territory.
Manakamana is a measured film, quite literally. One trip fits perfectly into one roll of 16mm film. Twelve of these 10-minute takes make up the entirety of the film and are edited together to give an impression of one long take. A lot of this film is about impression, about what is seen and not seen. The absence of the ancient Hindu temple from the film’s title is probably the most notable and prompts one to ask: What else are we not seeing? Well, the filmmakers for one. The observational style of Manakamana gives the audience a feeling of being a fly-on-the-wall, looking in on these snippets of peoples’ lives. However, a lot about the film is planned. The filmmakers are present in each cable car and the passengers on screen have, in fact, been chosen for their ability to play themselves naturally on screen. For me, a large part of the appeal to this film is its ‘claim to the real’ – as you start to pick away at this claim and find that a lot of it is constructed, one might question what exactly you are left with.