71st Venice Film Festival
(first published in the 4th newsletter of Nisimazine
REVIEW Words with Gods by Guillermo Arriaga, Emir Kusturica, Amos Gitai, Mira Nair, Warwick Thornton, Hector Babenco, Bahman Ghobadi, Hideo Nakata, Álex de la Iglesia (Mexico, USA) – Out of Competition
Religion is part of human history. People always try to define their lives through the temporary answers religion offers. Words with Gods though, deals with multiple questions without falling in the trap to give ultimate answers. It has managed to convey different universal and cultural aspects of human religions creating a respectful and divine whole.
Writer and director Guillermo Arriaga gathered nine acclaimed directors and gave them a mission; to depict their thoughts on spirituality and their perception of God through different religions. Every director chose the religion he/she felt closer to without imposing or manipulating. The purpose of this mosaic was to show truthfully, through a series of diverse stories, the relationship with God. This film is innovative on how it approaches its subject, without escaping being 'heavy'. Every short story is connected visually by the amazing animations of Maribel Martinez and is escorted by the breathtaking score of Peter Gabriel. Those 9 short stories were put in order by Nobel Prize winner writer Mario Vargas Llosa confirming the project's ambition to be remembered beyond Venice Film Festival.
With intense cinematography the first story begins with a pregnant woman walking alone in the Australian desert, in order to find the perfect place to give birth. Having no dialogue, True Gods of Warwick Thornton talks about Aboriginal Spirituality and the strong relation between humans and Earth, expressing how divinity is evident more than ever when the miracle of birth occurs and that true gods are those who have the gift to create those wonders.
A woman after being beaten gathers her clothes and runs out of the house. Her husband will not hunt her down. He will sit on the couch unable to cope with the fact he lost everything. Wandering in the streets of São Paulo, he seeks comfort in his own existence. He has become a lonesome traveler searching for the meaning in life when he discovers a local group of Umbanda and loses himself. In The Man Who Stole a Duck Babenco has managed to give graciously a story about grief and solitude, enhancing the importance of religion to human suffering.
A big wealthy family has just bought a big apartment in Mumbai, arguing over who is getting which room, doubting about where God's rooms should be. Light and colorful, in God's Room Mira Nair talks about Hinduism through the eyes of a young boy, who has trouble synchronizing with his family disputes. He sees through their pretentious behavior the truth about God residing everywhere around us but mostly deep inside us.
Japan 2011. A fisherman has lost his entire family in the destructive tsunami. He is struggling to make amends with why God didn't choose to take him instead of his family. During a conversation with a Shinto Buddhist monk – the strongest scene of the film – he doubts God himself, raising questions of death and loss in the heaviest and most emotional story of all by the hands of horror master Hideo Nakata.
Perhaps the only politically charged film, Book of Amos of Amos Gitai explores, through passages from the Hebrew Bible, Israel's current state in contrast with its past. Words of social balance and equality are said during a fight between soldiers and civilians in a passionate one-shot film, on an attempt to represent divinity and define its essence.
Dark humour and witty dialogues in a story of a ruthless hitman who manages to escape from a failed mission only to be captured by destiny in a self-discovery misfortune. Examining the idea of sin and forgiveness, this tale handles Catholicism without falling into ridiculousness. Comic and smart Alex de la Inglesia's film offers loads of discussion.
A Christian Orthodox priest living in the Serbian countryside takes on a journey of atonement by cleansing himself from all sin. Carrying bags full of stones, he starts climbing on a hill under the hot sun in order to purify himself from the world's suffering. On his way up he will encounter evil, but mostly himself, realizing the necessity of suffering in order to survive. Kusturica purely elaborates on Christian faith, strengthening the importance of torture and distress for achieving grace.
The struggles of conjoined twin brothers on finding a solution between their different desires are shown in an intelligent and divided way in Ghobadi's film. One is craving for a sexual relationship with a woman while the other is devoted to Islam, contrasting lust and faith on a tale about duty and human nature.
The last chapter of Guillermo Arriaga's, God's Blood ends with Death in a poetical depiction of atheism, leaving us with mixed feelings. While the group of the directors has managed to explore courageously their own creativity, it would be useless to compare them or even try to. Whether you believe or not and whatever your cultural and religious background is, you will find yourself wandering about what you saw and coming back to various aspects of this film only to realize the vibrant conversation it manages to open for humanity.