Completely different was the Romanian entry Aurora, Cristi Puiu’s follow up to his award-winning The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Aurora belongs to that very annoying trend of nothing-happens-hence-this-must-be-a-masterpiece cinema, and at three hours, Puiu really doesn’t leave anything at all out in the description of the day in the life of some man (played by the director himself), who wanders through a city without saying much, goes to the supermarket, walks some more, eats cake, walks some more and then buys a gun. The highlight is a scene in which he regales the audience with a long take of himself taking a shower and doing what it seems to be a prostatic examination. There are some pretty cool details here and there, an acute sense of observation and an obviously elaborate work of mise-en-scene, but unfortunately, the whole thing seems pointless.
A bunch of other trends are present in Little Baby Jesus of Flandr, by Flemish director Gust Van der Berghe, which was originally intended as a graduation short film, but the director decided to go on and make it a feature. Like most student films, this one is dishonest, goes straight for shock value, is unbelievably pretentious and at times even ridiculous. However, I do believe that Van der Berghe has some real talent, passion and a strong sense of cinema. His retelling of the Three Wise Men story is more a sucession of beautiful vignettes, shot in gorgeous black and white, and performed mostly by actors with Down Syndrome. How much of this is exploitation and how much is actual inspiration is very debatable, but behind the silliness of it all, there is some fine filmmaking, somewhere along the lines of Werner Herzog and Bela Tarr.
The festival decided to set two special screenings at the same time (in which films are only shown once, in smaller venues): Diego Luna’s Abel and Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the light). Having only heard good things about Luna’s debut and assuming that it would be easier to watch at a later date, I decided to go for the Chilean doc, presented by the director of the festival as “one of those rare films that aren’t made anymore.”
Astronomy and democracy are two words that do not often come together, but that’s the point of the film. Guzmán’s theory is that astronomy and archaeology are in the end very similar, given that both try to make sense of the present through the past (as we get to know most celestial bodies long after they have died). The spectacular desert of Atacama hosts some of the biggest observatories on the planet, given its very specific situation; nearby, lies in ruins a concentration camp in which dissidents of the dictator Pinochet were incarcerated. Little by little, all pieces together into a very coherent, moving meditation on the past and the future. It is not an easy sell, but it’s definitely worth seeking out.