LFF 2019 Day Three: Maggie and The Unknown Saint (both 2019)

Day three of the #LFF brings two films from the ‘Laugh’ strand of the programme, one each from South Korea and Morocco, which go about their comedy beats in different ways, but both raise wry smiles and a few laugh-out-loud moments.

메기 Me-gi (Maggie, 2018) [South Korea]

It’s an odd fish this one, not least for being actually narrated by a fish (a catfish, specifically) — the on-screen title near the start calls it “Maggie: The Fish Who Saved the Planet” or something to that effect, which is already an absurd claim for such a light-hearted story. That said, I can’t pinpoint exactly what the film is about because its narrative hops all over the place, though it focuses chiefly on a young woman, a nurse called Yoo-young (Lee Joo-young). There’s a bit of fun involving a rather explicit X-ray taken in the hospital where she works, then she’s teaming up with her boss (played by the ever dependable Moon So-ri), and then we leap over to follow her feckless boyfriend for a bit (played by the co-screenwriter Koo Kyo-hwan). As such, the narrative never really coheres into something that fully makes sense, although it has an absurdist energy at times, with some great visual gags helped by the spiky, quirky imagery and the spirited performances.

Maggie film posterCREDITS
Director Yi Ok-seop 이옥섭; Writers Yi and Koo Kyo-hwan 구교환; Cinematographer Lee Jae-woo 이재우; Starring Lee Joo-young 이주영, Koo Kyo-hwan 구교환, Moon So-ri 문소리; Length 88 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT3), London, Friday 4 October 2019.

سيد المجهول Sayed El-Majhoul (aka Le Miracle du saint inconnu, The Unknown Saint, 2019) [Morocco/France/Qatar]

The London Film Festival regularly seems to serve up deadpan comedies from the MENA region (certainly they had Iranian film Tehran: City of Love last year) and this one’s no exception. It has the simplest possible premise: a thief (Younes Bouab) buries his ill-gotten gains on a deserted hilltop, disguising the hole as a grave, and when he gets out of jail, he returns to find a shrine built over his money. The rest of the film is about his attempts to retrieve the money, but it’s not ever as simple as that, though the camera set-ups stick to static shots which find their humour and interest through little repetitions and details, the simple movements of the actors, and plenty of deadpan affect. The fickleness of religious practices and the mores of small communities are skewered, but gently and lovingly. There’s the idiot who guards the shrine by night and another idiot (Salah Ben Salah) who joins the thief to try and break into the shrine by night, there’s the enterprising barber/dentist, there’s a slick city doctor who finds himself handing out aspirin to old ladies who use his dispensary as a hang-out, and there’s the doctor’s elderly assistant, who likes to get high and do petty crimes. But there’s also an old man in a neighbouring village who has seen his fields dry up in a drought and watched as his compatriots move down the road to the village which now has this shrine, a man who lives a holy but apparently doomed life, but who in death motivates the final act of the film. It’s not a talky film, but it’s rather delightful as these little portraits of a community cohere to suggest something ultimately rather absurdist about the world (in the manner perhaps of the Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman).

Director/Writer Alaa Eddine Aljem الدين الجم; Cinematographer Amine Berrada; Starring Younes Bouab يونس بواب, Salah Ben Salah صلاح بن صلاح; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT2), London, Friday 4 October 2019.


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