The second day of the Tofifest began with a film set in Syria. The Day I Lost my Shadow (Yom adaatou zouli 2018) by Soudade Kaadan. The director is Syrian but was born in France. The story is set in Syria in 2012 and centres around Sana who lives alone with her son since her husband is abroad. She is trying to provide a life as normal as possible for herself and her son. When the electricity runs out in the middle of a washing cycle, Sana needs gas to be able to cook a meal. She joins siblings Jalal and Reem in an attempt to find a supplier of gas.
Through different circumstances, they have to get out of the city and end up in the countryside where different forces operate. They end up in several hazardous situations. One interesting aspect of the film is that it is not always clear which side the people they encounter are on, but in any case, the peril of the events is all too obvious. In that regard, the film is akin to the abstractions of Jancsó.
Sana soon notices that Jalal casts no shadow. A phenomenon explained as happening to people who have seen too many atrocities during the war. Thus the film blends a realistic approach, especially during the affectionate scenes between Sana and her son, magical realism as well as the aforementioned “Jancsóesque” distancing form. Close-ups who are used in the beginning to get close to the characters later works as a means to disorient the spectator who never gets a clear picture of where each scene takes place.
If this sounds like a recipe for frustration, it didn’t work that way for me. I was constantly intrigued. I wouldn’t claim that Kadaan performs an exquisite juggling act with her different approaches, but the outcome is never less than effective. The director, who here commits her feature film debut, explains that the concept was inspired by the bombing of Hiroshima where the only thing that remained of the victims was their shadows. This is also referred to in the film. Thus on the second day of Tofifest, there was yet another first film that managed to win me over.
As this wasn’t enough, the day continued with another first feature. Carnaval (2019) by Alexandre Lavigne. A year ago, Julie’s parents died in a car crash. Now we follow her a year later in her everyday life. Nothing in particular happens. She meets new people, bickers, plays football and other things. The whole thing takes place in the summer of 1996, and the conceit of the film is that it looks like it was shot with a VHS-camera. It should be stressed that it never feels like a cheap gimmick, but rather consistent.
The film was an ultralow-budget affair, and it’s done mostly with master shots. The shooting lasted eight days, and many scenes only had one take, including a long scene where Julie and her friends struggle to get over a fence. To achieve the look of a film it was first shot with a modern camera, then played on a TV from which the director photographed with a vintage camera. The result works surprisingly well, and the 74 minutes flew by for me. It doesn’t feel like an average “independent” film but rather very refreshing and naturalistic. I hope it will be screened at many festivals.
So that’s two days of Tofifest, and I haven’t disapproved of anything I’ve seen so far. Today there were even two debut features. How long will this streak last?