IFFR’s Big Screen Competition encompassed a wide range of international work, from the more mainstream-friendly “Endless Borders,” also from Iran, to the more challenging Mexican three-character chamber drama “Before the Buzzards Arrive.”
“Before We Collapse,” co-directed by French novelist Alice Zeniter and Benoit Volais, brought comic touches, pathos, and a political slant to the tale of one man’s inadvertent brush with fatherhood. Tristan, a callow political campaign manager who juggles an active string of hookups in his private life, is brought up short by receiving a positive pregnancy test anonymously through the mail. His situation is complicated because a fatal hereditary disease runs in his family, but he has refused to be tested for the gene. Fear fuels his pursuit of past paramours in an attempt to find the prospective mother.
Zeniter’s script takes Tristan on a nostalgic tour through various lifestyles and ideologies representing the women of his past and includes a visit to a communal farm where urban revolution vs. grassroots activism is dinner table talk. Before it ends, “Before We Collapse” wittily evokes a bit of early Godard, the talky political affinities of Alain Tanner, and the romantic complications typical of Philippe Garrel.
The Iranian/Czech/German co-production “Endless Borders,” by Abbas Amini, was ultimately announced as the winner of IFFR’s Big Screen Competition, an award that guarantees that the film will play for a run in Dutch cinemas. Although relatively conventional in its form, the film has a currency that meshes with IFFR’s implied global concerns. A drama overt in its political implications, “Endless Borders” highlights hot-button issues that include the plight of Afghan refugees attempting to escape to the West and the Iranian regime’s persecution of intellectuals.
Vaezi is the sole schoolteacher in a tiny remote village on the Afghan border. The barren landscape, with its white-sand flatlands and formidable cliffs, projects loneliness and isolation. He is not there by choice but as a result of being sentenced to exile for an unspecified crime of a political nature. His wife Niloofar, also a teacher, is serving a sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for the same crime, which in her case, appears to be guilt by association.
When a bedraggled clutch of Afghan refugees heading for the Turkish border turns up near the village, Vaezi leaves his classroom unattended and attempts to render what humanitarian aid is possible given his meager circumstances. In one family group, a dying old man is in dire need of medication. The teen girl, who appears to be his daughter, seems strangely unconcerned. Not everyone in this family is who they seem. Village rivalries and ethnic animosity are stirred up by the arrival of the needy strangers, and the teacher’s good intentions threaten to sabotage his freedom and future when he is unwittingly entangled in a web that involves attempted murder and illicit love.