This Week’s Agenda
This week’s selection includes three self-reflexive films, all set in impoverished communities where they question the role of the filmmaker and of fiction.
Evolution of a Filipino Family (Lav Diaz, 2004) follows a farming family struggling to survive during the fifteen years of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. Scripted sequences get mixed with archive footage, amateur home videos of miners and farmers, and interviews with a fictional version of Filipino director Lino Brocka expressing a call to action that mirrors Diaz’s artistic mission. We also get behind the scenes recordings of a radio play, Hope Awaits Everyone, a fictional drama-within-the-drama which the family listens to everyday and discusses in relation to their own lives. Not unlike the other two films, this almost 11-hour epic shows a fascination for telling stories and an awareness that fiction is ingrained in our lives.
Ten years in the making, the latter film started its shoot around the same time that Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami, 1994) premiered. Kiarostami’s film is about the process of filming Life and Nothing More (1992), the second film of his Koker trilogy, set in the eponymous region that was struck by a fatal earthquake in 1990 and of which this is the final installment. Olive Trees elaborates on the anecdote that local actor Hossein Rezai seemed to have real but unrequited feelings for the girl who played his (unnamed) young bride in the previous film. Here, Hossein enacts this behind the scenes story with another actress, now called Tahereh.
Just as in the other two films, Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941) features a fictional stand-in film director. With the nation still suffering from the Great Depression, John Sullivan wants to document the trials of the downtrodden, but not before doing research by going undercover posing as a tramp. Structured around three movies-within-a -movie, this satire concludes with Sullivan wanting to return to his customary production of escapist fare similar to the soothing radio soap in Lav Diaz’s film. Yet by this time, the film has nonetheless shown the face of poverty in a conscious and serious way, not in the least in a long, stunning, wordless montage.