Sunday, October 2, 2011

Day 3 NYFF: Action in 'Tahrir' and at 'Le Havre'

Protesters at Cairo's Tahrir Square in "Tahrir." Photos courtesy of New York Film Festival.

THE world watched in shocked astonishment as protests erupted, seemingly out of nowhere, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Egyptians from many spheres of society congregated to voice their frustration with a government that had neglected their welfare for far too long.

At the time of the protests Stefano Savona was in Paris working on a film. He, too, was fascinated by the incredible scene unfolding in Egypt. “I just had to go,” he said during an interview via Skpe after a press and industry screening of the film for the 49th New York Film Festival. He boarded a plane to Cairo with a small camera so as to avoid detection, got himself to Tahrir Square and just followed the people.

The result is “Tahrir,” which joins the protesters in the square on 30 Jan. 2011, the sixth day of the revolution. The documentary makes its world premiere today at NYFF.

“Tahrir” is riveting. It is also surreal because it is current history so familiar to the world because it played out in old media, New Media and Social Media in a 24-hour, continuous news cycle. Post-revolutionary aspirations and notions are still being arrived at. Unlike newcasts, which tend to provide mere snippets of such goings-on, “Tahrir” takes the viewer directly into the belly of the beast, so to speak.

The director and his camera have unfettered access; viewers don’t see only what someone with an agenda wanted them to see. In the crowd are groups of people chanting various slogans, sundry speakers take to the makeshift podium to denounce the government and call for Hosni Mubarak to step down. Numerous conversations are in progress about a post-Mubarak Egypt. Surprisingly, a number of women is among the protesters – many taking part in the discussions about the future of their country.

A most impassioned speech comes from a 62-year-old man who SS says almost hijacked his camera. The gentleman would not be moved until he’d had his say about the ineffectual government. “I am a young Egyptian. I suffocated at home, here [in Tahrir Square] I can breathe ... They want the people to stay sleep doing such things as watching fools play football.”

He ticks off a long list of grievances against the government: girls without dowries, boys without jobs, cronyism, etc.

André Wilms and Blondin Miguel as comrades in "Le Havre."

“Tahrir” ends on a cautionary note but leaves the viewer with hope that the incredible events in Egypt that held the world captive for several weeks were not all for naught.

A film guaranteed to keep hope alive is Aki Kaurismäki’s award-winning “Le Havre,” which makes its North American premiere today.

The film is a reminder of the basic decency and goodness of people. It is revealed through the encounter between Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a Parisian author who has exiled himself to the port city of the title and Idrissa (Blondin Miguel in an understated, affecting performance) a young Gabon refugee who is being hunted by police.

AW is endearing as a man given new purpose and a new lease on life. Until Idrissa, his days were spent shining the occasional pair of shoes, sitting on a barstool at a neighborhood bistro and caring for and being cared for by his sick wife (longtime AK collaborator Kati Outinen).

Marcel’s cause is to deliver Idrissa into the bosom of the boy's mother in London. To do so requires a little detective work that finds Marcel in the office of a detention center where a relative of Idrissa’s is being held. In one of the funniest scenes in the film, Marcel accuses a prison official of racism and throws the good book (French constitution at him). That charge wins the writer an audience with the detained man who gives him the vital information he needs.

The film is at its best when it references Resistance dramas that have inspired the director. There is the neighborhood in solidarity against the authorities pursuing Idrissa so doggedly. Often, they look feckless, except for the brilliant inspector (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who has a flinty veneer. Underneath, though, is a soft heart and a strong sense of humanity. He warns Marcel often enough when danger is too near.

Shishido Joe (in foreground) will attend the screening of "Gate of Flesh" today.

“Le Havre,” which won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes Film Festival among other awards, is tender, profound and funny. It is another wonderful testament to the kindness of strangers.

Other screenings and events today at NYFF include “The 99-Unbound,” “Hometown,” “Julia Loktev in conversation with Melissa Anderson,” and “Gate of Flesh.”

Visit to learn more about the 49th New York Film Festival: including schedule, repeat screenings, ticket and venue information.

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