I wish I could have rented a different father, while he was alive. Actually, now that he’s gone I would love to get a second chance at having a decent dad, someone who didn’t always put himself first and left this world as much a jerk as when he was in it. It turns out, if I lived in Werner Herzog’s cool ode to a Japanese efficiency kind of a world, I could.
In ‘Family Romance, Llc’ the prolific German filmmaker finds a new way to work through the difficulties life throws our way — outsource them to an agency specializing in family connections. He does it with his usual flair for our flawed human ridiculousness and making the impossible seem real. During the junket following the screening, I loved listening to my esteemed colleagues’ confused explanations of stories they thought they’d seen like this one in documentaries, or even completely convinced this was a reality film, instead of fiction. And Herzog himself quite perfectly, calmly, with that hint of a smooth German accent shooting down each and all of their perplexed ideas.
‘Family Romance, Llc’ was a Special Screening at this year’s Festival de Cannes.
At fifteen, I remember watching ‘Fitzcarraldo’ at a cinema in Los Angeles, and life was never quite the same again for me. This film that seemed so real, about an impossible feat in the Amazon jungle, made me walk out of the theater thinking nothing was impossible. I’ve lived my entire life that way — reinventing myself and finding new ways, when the old ones didn’t seem to work to my advantage anymore.
So sitting across from Herzog, his kind, blue eyes and his sharp wit holding court with us — five enchanted journalists who hung on his lips at his every word — was sheer magic. More including the full interview with Werner Herzog coming up.
Regarding ‘Papicha’ I think most of my male colleagues missed the point. Screening in Un Certain Regard, Mounia Meddour’s film is as much about Algeria and the Black Years civil war as it is about girlfriends coming of age, and the perils of womanhood. When I can sit through a screening and hear inside my head conversations that go, “Yes! That’s it, that is how I feel too,” I know I’m watching a masterpiece. I’ll argue that my male colleagues can’t possibly have the same experience and feel the same feelings and thus, ‘Papicha’ has been somewhat overlooked or put down by reviewers. One esteemed film critic who typically reviews Arab titles with magnificent insight, said the film wouldn’t fly beyond the festival circuit and French cinemas — which of course he guaranteed as a reality once he put those words black on white in a major trade publication.
Why did I connect with ‘Papicha’ so much? Because within the character of Nedjma (played by the divine Lyna Khoudri, whom I could listen to reading the phone book!) there is a Nina, a woman fighting against it all, those constant forces of opposition men can’t possibly know exist, only to find her energy so misspent that she needs to find refuge in the oblivion — as our heroine indeed does. I cried at Nedjma’s strength and resolve but also because I knew all that wonderful initiative, and self worth were not taking her the path of an Oprah special — “you are what you believe” and “believe in yourself to make it happen” kind of stuff — rather to that dark place where courageous women end up, when they dare to speak up and out against the injustices they see. My mom always called us two “the lawyers of lost causes” and I believe that women who stand up, with logic, to the wrongs committed against womanhood always get cast in those roles.
More on Meddour in an interview with the filmmaker coming up. As a personal aside, I first met the filmmaker in Qatar during this year’s Qumra film event, organized by the Doha Film Institute and I immediately loved her self assuredness, which is absolutely in tune with her masterful narrative-debut film. The Algerian born filmmaker made shorts and documentaries before but this is her first time for a fiction feature. Not that anyone watching ‘Papicha’ could guess that fact in any way.
Finally, I never thought I’d be part of a conversation that went “you know, I checked, we should have taken the helicopter yesterday.” Yet this year, in Cannes I was. A friend stood nearby and his eyes bulged while his lower lip dropped at hearing another acquaintance of ours say that to me. It would have only cost like 160 Euros per person, it turns out, to travel from Nice Airport to Cannes in a helicopter. You know what, I may try it next year.
Two days later, I found myself on the largest yacht I’ve ever seen, drinking champagne and mingling with the crème de la crème of Arab cinema. It belongs to the founder of El Gouna Film Festival on the Red Sea, the esteemed Engineer Naguib Sawiris and we were all welcomed on board by the lovely Intishal Al Timimi, the director of the festival and a man whose talents I’ve been fortunate to know since he was a film programmer in Abu Dhabi.
So Cannes, you are as much about substance as you are about fun and glamour, it turns out. And perhaps that’s why, through thick and thin, badge downgrades through upgrades, with all the blisters on our feet and hours spent waiting for screenings, we end up coming back year after year. Even though some of us swear we’ll never do it again…