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BERLINALE 2014 Competition

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Berlinale: Macondo, little big man...


- Sudabeh Mortezai explores a poor but colourful neighbourhood in Vienna, inhabited by seekers of political asylum

Berlinale: Macondo, little big man...

The Austrian film Macondo [+see also:
film focus
interview: Sudabeh Mortezai
film profile
by Sudabeh Mortezai, the last-but-one in this year's competition in Berlin, takes up the theme which has been central to the festival since it began: that of childhood deprived, one way or another, of part of its innocence. It even provides perfect symmetry with the second film in the selection: the German candidate Jack [+see also:
film review
film profile
directed by Edward Berger. As in Jack, the protagonist is a boy aged about 10, on whose heels we follow closely throughout the film, and who is weighed down by lots of responsibilities – not that they have been abdicated by his mother (Kheda Gazieva), but she works long hours and counts on her son Ramasan (Ramasan Minkailov) to look after his two younger sisters and do the shopping. As she does not yet speak German very well, she also takes him with her to handle all the administrative procedures required for their request for asylum, and has him translate everything into Chechen.

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In this film too, the father is absent (he died a hero's death in the conflict with the Russians), and here, the young lad's quest is naturally focused on this absent father figure. He carries out spontaneously some of the missions required of him by his role – as a young Moslem, he keeps an eye as much on his mother as his little sisters, encouraged to do so by other Chechens in the amazing refugee settlement of Macondo (in the district of Simmering in Vienna) –, but as soon as the character called Isa (Aslan Elbiev) appears, he naturally fills an obvious and general void. Isa knew the boy's father, and he first appears to give Ramasan the watch he had put aside for his son, though Isa soon begins to give his own advice and handyman techniques, as well as his own knife, meeting the young lad's eager desire for a tangible male model (in its wooden frame, the august face of his father in traditional costume is not of much help).

While Ramasan clearly blossoms thanks to this encounter – he is a determined little fellow, but still needs to be reassured and protected from wolves and monsters –, it creates a conflict within him which is expressed in silence when he looks at the austere photos of the father he misses so much, discreetly berates the other masculine figure who has just entered his life, or stares through dark eyebrows at his mother who, for once, has accepted a decorous dance, with a look which is rarely seen on the face of a child and is all to the credit of the young actor. Mortezai certainly does not re-invent the subject she is addressing nor the way she handles it, but one can't help admiring her restraint, perfectly conveyed by the performance of this young actor. 

(Translated from French)

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