The Challenging Diversity of the World

Impressions of the Leipzig Film Festival 2021
Father (Deng Wei)

Winner of the Golden Dove: "Father" by Deng Wei (© FilmFreeway)

Shortly before the official opening of the festival we met, the members of the festival's Interreligious Jury, appointed by INTERFILM and SIGNIS. The jury consisted of four members from various religious backgrounds. Daniel Wildmann had a Jewish backdrop, Lothar Strüber a Catholic one and Kadija Leclere a mixed one which included some Muslim elements. I myself, Freek L. Bakker, am a Protestant and familiar with Indian Hindu movies.

The jury was expected to see the twelve main films selected for the International Competition of Long Documentary and Animated Film.

On the second day of the festival the jury saw the film May God Be with You (Que Dieu te protège) composed by Cléo Cohen in 2021. From that moment the members of the jury had the feeling that this movie could become the winner of the Award of the Interreligious Jury. At the end of the festival it turned out that it was indeed the best film of this competition.

The reason is that this film explores, in a beautifully cinematographic way, the silent transmission of human values and feelings of belonging within a Jewish family coming from the Maghreb, but now living in France. The strength of this movie is that its subtle images make clear that the individual’s identity is never fixed but constantly in flux. One of the examples illustrating this vision is how Cléo – the director – through the use of her body – especially her hair – demonstrates the fluid identities of Jewish people living in France today. Cléo has curly hair, which obviously revers to the outlook of many Arabs, of whom the great majority is Muslim. In the film, however, she shows how her grandmother treats her hair in such a way that Cléo’s appearance will become more European. Constantly Cléo asks her grandmas why they never talk about their previous lives in Algeria and Tunisia. Thus, she creates much upheaval in the family and fierce discussions. But there is one person who is silent, also because of his bad health, her grandfather. He does understand his granddaughter and would probably have defended her viewpoints. Thus, May God Be with You reveals that the identities of the Jews in France are partially rooted in various religious and cultural traditions – be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim, and that the different individuals in Cléo’s family develop their personal, perhaps even contradictory identities in a fascinating dialogue with their history and the cultural and religious legacies of their environment. Cléo Cohen was moved when she received the prize. She had never thought that she would get an award for the first film she made.

The International Jury of the festival granted its awards to other films. A recommendation was given to Republic of Silence produced by Diana El-Jeroudi in 2021. It is silent in El-Jeroudi’s Berlin flat. But in her mind things are different and the film explains why. In various segments it shows the struggle of the Syrians against their dictator, president Bashar al-Assad. First the focus is on Diana’s friend Rami Abou Jamra, who, being a physician, starts a clinic in Damascus to help the victims wounded by the violent attacks of the Syrian army. Later the focus turns to Diana’s husband, Orwa Nyrabia, who makes a documentary film about the attacks of the Syrian army on the city of Homs. He shows this movie at various film festivals hoping that he can create and strengthen the opposition to the regime of Assad. Later the film shows the life of Diana’s family and friends in Germany and other European countries trying to build up a new life as exiles. The struggle of the democratic forces in Syria seems to be lost, but her husband’s nocturnal teeth grinding reveals the pain and anger that still penetrate their lives.

The Silver Dove was granted to the film Bucolic made by Karol Pałka in 2021. The film is about a mother, Danusia, and her daughter, Basia, who live in a ramshackle house in a remote area in the Polish countryside. The priest of a nearby Catholic parish church visits them, says a prayer and admonishes them to listen to the conservative Polish radio station Maryja. When the mother is alone outside their home, she seeks contact with her deceased husband. In the meantime, the daughter also searches for contact with the outside world via her mobile phone. She gets in touch with an old friend who sends her a ghetto blaster. She dances when she is alone in the nature surrounding their house. Thus she reveals her increasing desire for contact with the world outside.

The Golden Dove was presented to Wei Deng, the director of the film Father (Ye ye fu qin), produced in 2021. This father is Donggu, a developer and the child of a blind man, Zuogui, who got the opportunity to be educated as a fortune teller. People are still coming to him for advice, including his son: ‘Dad, how is my fortune next year?’ His father warns him that what he is doing will end in a disaster. Donggu does not believe him, but his father turns out to be right. When his son is bankrupt, his father says that he must show a film at his funeral. That will spare him the money for the musicians who are mostly asked to act at these opportunities. In the meantime, the movie depicts the interaction between tradition and change, violence and alienation in Chinese society. Pale greys and dim lights create an atmosphere that seems to correspond to the dark memories of famine, dead siblings and the violently enforced one-child policy. It is clear that Zuogui has little use for the modern China that claims to stand for economic growth.