It’s difficult to know who’s the targeted audience for the ultra-worthy omnibus compilation “8.” Helmers including Gael Garcia Bernal, Jane Campion and Gus Van Sant were asked to tackle the eight Millenium Development Goals established in 2000 to halve world poverty by 2015, including eradicating hunger, promoting gender equality and guaranteeing universal education. The results are often didactic, occasionally simplistic, and only rarely genuinely affecting. “8” is a good tool to get high schoolers thinking globally, but beyond classrooms and fests eager to promote the string of top names, pic has little hope for wider release.
An intro, voiced by Catherine Deneuve, runs through a potted history of the U.N. as newsreel images are projected onto body parts. Segue to the first short, Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Tiya’s Dream,” shot by the Mauritanian helmer in Ethiopia to illustrate the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. As the only African in the group, it’s unsurprising that Sissako expresses doubt, through Tiya (Nigist Anteneh), that eliminating poverty is a realistic goal.
Bernal’s short “The Letter” is inexplicably set in Iceland and deals with the right to universal primary education; a scene with a class learning about world cultures through a kind of fun fair reinforces the globalized village theme, though the entry is one of the weakest. Gaspar Noe’s “AIDS,” originally presented as an independent short in Cannes in 2006, is the most stylized, composed largely of fixed shots of Dieudonne Ilboudo, a man from Burkina Faso recounting his struggle with the disease in voiceover.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment are the themes of Mira Nair’s “How Can It Be?,” in which a Brooklyn-based Muslim woman (Konkona Sen Sharma) leaves her husband (Ranvir Shorey) and son to seek fulfillment with a married man. Nair’s choice of story is certainly brave in this context, but it’s not the best illustration of the struggle for equal rights and feels unsatisfying.
More worked through is Jane Campion’s “The Water Diary,” which stars her daughter Alice Englert and, like the Noe, preemed as an indie short at Cannes in 2006. Tackling the goal of environmental sustainability, Campion sets her contribution in the Australian outback, where global warming has created extreme drought conditions and water conservation leads to drastic measures. Story, the longest of the group, has a satisfying narrative arc that incorporates its primary theme without didacticism.
Not so Gus Van Sant’s lazy “Mansion on the Hill,” featuring his now tedious skateboarder fetish via images of middle-class kids rolling down streets, intercut with titles explaining infant mortality statistics. It would take a sophistical character out of Moliere to package this as a meaningful device, and Van Sant doesn’t bother mentioning that the U.S. has the second highest infant mortality rate in the developed world.
Best of the bunch is “The Story of Panshin Beka,” by Jan Kounen (“Darshan: The Embrace”). Handsomely shot in sharp black-and-white, pic incorporates the folklore of the Peruvian Amazon in its tale of a pregnant woman (Loydi Hucshva Haynas) unable to get medical attention when deadly complications arise. On all levels, from narrative involvement and sensitivity to local culture to the superb tech aspects, Kounen’s entry easily stands alone.
Wim Wenders’ “Person to Person” sets itself apart in a different way, playing like an infomercial for micro-credit. Aiming to illustrate the Millenium Goal of a global partnership for development, Wenders has the Third World subjects of cynical and apathetic journalists pop off the screens to take back their identities, much like the toys in “The Nutcracker” coming to life. Blatant proselytizing pulls the entire pic into the realm of an upbeat instructional manual for community organizers.
Visuals throughout are varied and generally strong, from Sissako’s rich tonalities to Noe’s grainy, deep saturations. Lengths vary, though none of the pics is longer than 15 minutes.