A Belgian film by two masters and a Cuban example of one hoping to be are two examples of how Miami Film Festival offerings address immigration and life as lived by citizens of oppressive regimes.
The Unknown Girl
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes
Where and when: 3/5, O Cinema Miami Beach, 9 p.m.; 3/12, Regal 17, 6 p.m.
Distinguishing a great film by the Belgian brothers (La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, The Kid on the Bike) from the okay (Lorna’s Silence, Two Days One Night) and the one that splits the difference (L’Enfant) is fruitless. Their characteristic hand held camera work and over the shoulder and POV shots give urgency to their contemporary scenarios. The Unknown Girl is a landmark — an outright bore, the first in the Dardennes’ extraordinary career.
A bored Adèle Haenel plays Jenny Gavin, a general practitioner who with the help of her tapped out intern Julien has to deal with an emphysema and epileptic in the opening sequence. Hence her reluctance to admit a woman whom she doesn’t see but Julien does. Then she learns the woman, a twentysomething of possible Gabonese descent, is found dead by the side of the expressway. The key witnesses, including a teen, refuse to come forward. Jenny investigates the case herself, to the irritation of the police inspector (Ben Hamidou).
Dardenne regulars like Jérémie Renier offer relieved support in a film that doesn’t explain why Jenny is obsessed with the victim besides her own guilt, and Haenel’s performance is no relief. Accustomed to Dardenne scripts that are so tight as to be schematic, I was baffled why certain characters shared information with Jenny at either the right or wrong moments. Meanwhile The Unknown Girl’s most promising element hovers like an inconvenience: Olivier Bonnaud as Julien, with an expression as hostile as a fist, says the hell with medicine and returns to rural life, prompting a visit from Jenny that trembles with unspoken possibilities.
Santa & Andres
Director: Carlos Lechuga
When and Where: 3/5 at MDC’s Tower Cinema, 9 p.m.
Between the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, North America heard little about Cuba. Its citizens had every reason to believe Fidel would live forever, and if not el jefe, then his security apparatus. A homosexual and a writer when it was dangerous to be both, Andres (Eduardo Martínez) writes a novel from his forced banishment in el campo. Surveilling him is Santa (Lola Amores), assigned by the local party satrap. He writes a novel, she lugs a chair. Their conversations form the basis for Santa & Andres, a ponderous little film whose scenario doesn’t get shaped or prodded by director Carlos Lechuga.
The freshness of the performers is its prime virtue. Its second virtue is getting at how regimes impress themselves on a populace too bored to resist (when you must stand in line in tropical heat, resistance is an exoticism once read about in a textbook). Amores plays a woman with little clue what a writer does except what the Castro regime has told her. The absurdity of the assignment is not lost on her. Their relationship deepens after Andres’ mute lover beats him senseless, requiring Santa to dress his wounds and listen to his views on art. This is the Cuba that broke Reinaldo Arenas; that sentenced him to prison in nightmarish conditions; that figuratively (and literally in some cases) grabbed him and hundreds of thousands of others by the collar and expelled them as undesirables, as offal.