View from afar

The Foreign Film Week at the Varsity will run through Thursday, featuring six international award-winning features from six countries. It's a rare opportunity in that foreign films offer a unique cultural window and perspective. From the steppes of China and Kazakhstan to a small town in Thailand, shortly after the devastating tsunami, narratives unfold that bear the imprint of filmmakers who view the world through a lens far different from our own.

'Mongol from Kazakhstan'

Directed by award-winning Russian filmmaker Sergi Bodrov, "Mongol" is a sweeping, historical epic, beautifully photographed, from the 11th and 12th centuries when the Mongols ruled the steppes of China and Kazakhstan. Beginning with his early years, it tells the tale of Temudgin, a small boy who would one day become the leader of the Mongols, Ghengis Khan.

What makes the film rich and compelling is it avoids portraying Temudgin as a much feared caricature; instead, it shows him to be a complex man who was far more than contemporary clichés tell us. Wonderfully acted and spectacularly costumed, this film is the first in what will be a trilogy following the journey of Temudgin, also known as Ghengis Khan.

'Beaufort from Israel'

In 2000, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and the Beaufort Mountain fortress, which dates back to the Crusades, where a rotating platoon of Israeli defense forces had been hunkered down for 18 years. "Beaufort," an Academy Award nominee, directed by Joseph Cedar, is a harrowing, claustrophobic film that captures the final days of the fort's occupation.

Young Israeli soldiers live in a warren of tunnels, under constant barrage from Hezzbolah fighters who lob mortars and aim missiles at the fort. The troops are in constant jeopardy. No one wants to be the last soldier to die in what proves to be a meaningless and now futile endeavor. The men are weighted with days of tedium, broken by moments of terror and even horror. They never directly engage the enemy; rather, they simply wait for the final order to evacuate.

The subtext of the film is the undeniable nihilism and the futility of war as a form of conflict resolution, punctuated by the finality of those who give their lives for aging generals and politicians, sitting in offices, thousands of miles from the front.

'Wonderful Town from Thailand'

An unexpected love story takes form in the small Thai town of Takua Pa, not long after the devastating tsunami of 2004. Written and directed by Aditya Assarat, the film captures the slow and deliberate rhythms not only of Thai culture, but of a place that seems all but deserted.

Watching a young couple begin the ritual of courtship is like watching a tropical flower open in the early morning. Ever so slowly, Ton, an architect, who is in Takua Pa briefly to build a hotel, and Na, who helps her family run the hotel where he is staying, circle one another.

What is intriguing is the revelation that what goes unsaid is as filled with meaning as those few disclosures made over tea. Notice that, unlike so many American films, which are cut in a frenetic pace, this movie uses the lingering shot that then pans away slowly. This cinematic technique compliments the narrative, which is far more deliberate and, yes, thoughtful than so many films that assume a far shorter attention span from the audience. But know that, for all of its still water patina, the ending is completely unexpected. Even jarring. And something to think about.

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