With exquisitely wrought pieces by Pedro Costa and Wang Bing, and a fleecy, poetic contribution from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the ambitious omnibus film “The State of the World” brings together some of the globe’s most daring and interesting filmmakers for a fragmentary but thoughtful panorama (with a couple of exceptions) of the world’s have-nots. Pedigree, which includes a vid doodle by Chantal Akerman, will draw extensive fest and alt-cinema interest for the Gulbenkian Foundation-funded project.
In “Luminous People,” leading Thai filmmaker Weerasethakul (fresh off “Syndromes and a Century”) trains his exploratory eye on a riverboat filled with loved ones scattering a relative’s ashes. Shunning explanatory text or devices, Weerasethakul depicts the occasion in a chain of isolated shots rather than the real-time shooting style he’s known for, overlaying it all with the voices of participants commenting on the images. Effect falls somewhere between incantatory dream and impressionist documentary.
Brazilian helmer Vicente Ferraz (“I Am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth”) chooses a rather obvious globalization fable for his view of the world’s state in “Germano.” Pic’s titular aging fisherman (Paschoal Vilaboim) believes that, with a lousy catch near a northeast Brazilian port, he and his tiny crew should venture into deeper waters. Symbolism of boat being stuck in the doldrums, and then Quixotically confronting a giant Russian oil tanker, is too facile by half.
The uncertain nature of a life in exile from political oppression is gently captured by Indian filmmaker Ayisha Abraham in “One Way,” profiling a Nepal-born, Bangalore-based security guard. Abraham allows Shyam Bahadur to narrate his own story as she intercuts archival footage and present-day lensing of Bahadur’s humdrum existence in the bustling center of India’s high-tech trade. The saddest aspect of Bahadur’s account is his admission that, with all of the stark changes imposed on Nepal by China, he’s afraid to return to his homeland.
Wang’s extraordinary “Brutality Factory” begins with images of sprawling factory ruins right out of his epic doc, “West of the Tracks.” In a fluid flashback to the Cultural Revolution, Wang stages his first-ever dramatized scenes, showing the torture inflicted on supposed counterrevolutionaries within these hulking, rusting buildings.
A wife, ordered to rat out her husband, refuses to do so, and guards are ordered to burn her alive. The husband, the pic informs, killed himself in 1967. Brief but awful passage fades back into the present day, where the factory is being dismantled.
Omnibus high point is Costa’s “Tarrafal,” a film spiritually and materially linked with his “In Vanda’s Room” and “Colossal Youth,” but drawing upon such inspirations as Jacques Tourneur’s “Night of the Demon.” Opening passage shows a son (Jose Alberto Silva) sitting with his mother (Lucinda Tavares) in a shack in the outskirts of Lisbon, discussing the decrepit state of their family home on Cape Verde. The mother then matter-of-factly changes the subject, talking about a boogeyman that stalks the world, picking those who are doomed to die.
The number of themes and relationships contained in roughly 15 minutes’ running time is astonishing, and Costa’s already refined style of constructing a film with blocks of scenes takes another step forward here. Helmer’s own painterly vid lensing is yet another argument that the medium has fully matured.
Akerman’s “Nightfall Over Shanghai (April 2007)” consists of little more than long-held vid shots of Shanghai skyscrapers and a floating boat, bearing giant video displays of consumer products and familiar images such as Da Vinci’s “La Giaconda.” Compared with Akerman’s recent experiments with projected images, such as “A Voice in the Desert,” this is little more than an afterthought, and a weak closer to the project.