LFF 2019 Day Four: A Thief’s Daughter, The Sharks and The Orphanage (all 2019)

Day four of the London Film Festival is the first weekend, and so the first day on which I have bought myself tickets to more than two films — only three, mind, and with fairly generous spacing, so there’s no running from screen to screen today. Two of them are in Spanish (one is Catalan although mostly in Castilian, the other Uruguyuan) and two are coming of age stories (The Sharks and The Orphanage). Oh, and all three are directed by women of course.


La hija de un ladrón (A Thief’s Daughter, 2019) [Spain]

This to me is like the Platonic ideal of a social realist arthouse film. It deals with a young woman who is trying to cope with life in her early-20s. She has a young child, lives in social housing, has a half-brother she’s concerned about, and then there’s her dad, about whom there is some suspicion. He is, presumably, a thief by trade but like so much in the film, the script never really belabours it (or aside from the title, mentions it at all). In fact, it’s only by the small accretion of details do you get a sense of the characters’ lives and problems, many of which extend far beyond either end of the film itself. It starts (and ends) in medias res and it just seems to observe a small fragment of these lives, giving you a sense of how they unfold, but also playing its cards close to its chest, never willing to give too much away about exactly what’s going on. At length, there’s a sense that the dad Manuel (Eduard Fernández) is just a bit rubbish and fundamentally unreliable, and that his daughter Sara (Greta Fernández) has at length found a way to deal with things, though it can be a bit touch and go at times. A scene in which she’s washing up glasses after a big knees-up for her brother’s first communion, smelling the alcohol on her hands, suggests she’s dealt with an alcohol problem at some point in the past, but like so many of the character details to be found in this film, they are very much revealed in passing. Both lead actors give excellent performances, and this is a stylish feature film which reveals as much about its characters as it keeps hidden.

A Thief's Daughter film posterCREDITS
Director Belén Funes; Writers Marçal Cebrian and Funes; Cinematographer Neus Ollé; Starring Greta Fernández, Eduard Fernández; Length 102 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Saturday 5 October 2019.


Los tiburones (The Sharks, 2019) [Uruguay/Argentina/Spain]

Rosina is the lead character of this film, and is played by non-professional Romina Bentancur in a beautifully nuanced and (as you might expect) naturalistic way. She’s growing up near a beach in Uruguay, and her dad is involved in a trade that she helps out with. Meanwhile — in a side plot laden with allegorical weight — there have been rumours of sharks in the waters near her town, which locals are very much keen to downplay, though Rosina swears she’s seen the fins. Gradually the coming of age storyline, and Rosina’s dedication to the animal welfare cause, starts to intersect with the story of the sharks, as Rosina becomes more cunning and even a little bit threatening towards the callous men around her. Nothing ever explodes (aside from the little homemade bombs she throws into the water, ostensibly to scare off the predators), but it builds in intensity, and reminds me of similar films dealing with young women growing up around small town boys (for example, Katharina Mückstein’s L’animale).

The Sharks film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Lucía Garibaldi; Cinematographer Germán Nocella; Starring Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini; Length 80 minutes.
Seen at ICA, London, Saturday 5 October 2019.


پرورشگاه Parwareshghah (The Orphanage, 2019) [Denmark/Afghanistan/Germany/France/Luxembourg]

On the one hand, this story set at an orphanage in Afghanistan in the early-80s has plenty of pretty upsetting content — the threatening rise of the Mujihadeen, the dangers of constant warfare and Soviet occupation, the precarious lives these young characters live, away from stable homes and parents — and yet it manages to be rather charming too. Primarily, this is from the use of pastiche sequences filmed like 70s Bollywood movies and set to songs from those same films — as when our hero (Qodratollah Qadiri) falls in love, or laments the death of a friend. Elsewhere the period setting is rather naturalistically done, and the acting feels completely believable.

The Orphanage film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Shahrbanoo Sadat شهربانو سادات (based on the unpublished diaries of Anwar Hashemi انور ‌هاشمی); Cinematographer Virginie Surdej; Starring Qodratollah Qadiri, Masihullah Feraji, Hasibullah Rasooli, Anwar Hashemi انور ‌هاشمی; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT2), London, Saturday 5 October 2019.

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