Writing about Andrzej Wajda’s Walesa, Man of Hope in this week’s issue, J.R. Jones posits that “in this era of worldwide video communication, the idea of national cinema has begun to lose its meaning.” I wouldn’t disagree, though I’d add that one can still detect a clear national sensibility in the recent cinematic output of Mexico, Uruguay, and South Korea. I’d also contend that some of the more invigorating movies being made anywhere today are the ones that engage with the notion of contemporary statelessness that Jones identifies. The Dialogue of Cultures International Film Festival—viewable for free at Mubi.com through November 14—collects about two dozen recent movies that address “the worldwide phenomenon of people in search of their identity in the era of mass migration and globalization.” You can detect the optimism of this project in its title, which implies community rather than alienation.
For Chicagoans, the program offers a chance to sample a variety of films that haven’t played here. To my knowledge, only two of the selections have screened in town. Reader emeritus Jonathan Rosenbaum introduced The Forgotten Space (Noel Burch and Allan Sekula’s meditative documentary about the global shipping industry) at Northwestern University’s symposium on film criticism in 2011, while the Kiarostamiesque You Are All Captains, made in Morocco by Spanish director Oliver Laxe, played once at Cinema Borealis in early 2012. (Drew Hunt wrote about the latter screening when it occurred.)
The two movies I’ve watched this week both center on Chinese women who go to Europe, though the differences between these movies are as revealing as the similarities. The young, unemployed heroine of Xiaolu Guo’s She, A Chinese (2009) goes to England on a whim after she lands upon a pile of money. As a foreigner, she feels no less adrift than she did in the busy economic system she left behind. Guo doesn’t underscore this dramatic irony—her movie is all the more poignant for its modesty.
On the other hand, the heroine of Old Is the New (2012) is a regular go-getter. A representative of China’s national tourism office, Jessye visits a sleepy town in southern Italy to evaluate its potential as a Chinese travel destination. The locals, sensing a chance for economic growth, welcome her with open arms. Yet in their push to modernize the town, they threaten to pave over its historic charm. Slighter than She, A Chinese in terms of character, the film is more interested in economics and the avenues of cultural exchange. Tellingly, writer-directors Mirko and Dario Bischofberger are Swiss brothers of Italian descent, and in Salento, the town in which the movie takes place, people still speak a near-extinct Italian dialect that derived from Greek.
A few other titles in the series are worth noting. After the Battle is the latest feature by Egyptian filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah, whose Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story was one of the most entertaining Middle Eastern exports to play Chicago in recent years; this is said to deal with the state of Egypt following the tumultuous protests of early 2011. Century of Birthing (2011) is an avant-garde epic by Lav Diaz, a Filipino filmmaker who’s attracted much attention on the international festival circuit but whose work is hard to see in Chicago. Another intriguing-sounding epic is It’s the Earth Not the Moon, a three-hour documentary about Corvo, a small island in the middle of the Atlantic whose single village contains fewer than 500 people and whose history remains unknown to most of the world.