Big Screen Berkeley: 62nd San Francisco International Film Festival

Lapü: cinéma vérité about Colombia’s indigenous Wayuu people

You wait for more than half a century to see a film about Colombia’s indigenous Wayuu people, and then two come along at (almost) the same time. The first, of course, was Birds of Passage, reviewed here just a month ago; the second, Lapü, arrives at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 at Pacific Film Archive courtesy this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, which begins this week and continues through Tuesday, April 23.

Surface similarities aside, Lapü and Birds of Passage have little in common. Eschewing the widescreen narrative complexities of Birds, Lapü (directed by César Alejandro Jaimes and Juan Pablo Polanco) relies on  lingering static shots, natural lighting, and an amateur cast to create a memorable piece of cinéma vérité.

The story is simplicity itself: a young woman’s cousin has died and been buried outside Wayuu territory. The young woman (Carmen González Jusayú) and her extended family travel to the grave and exhume the cousin’s remains in order to give her an appropriate send-off.

Jaimes and Polanco make sure we don’t miss any of the details, challenging viewers with unwavering static shots of the coffin opening and all that comes afterwards. A blunt and occasionally shocking essay on death and memory, Lapü is also quiet, restrained, and deeply respectful of the Wayuu people.


In My Room stars Hans Löw as Armin, a sad sack television cameraman who has trouble maintaining relationships

Following Lapü at 8:15 p.m., In My Room stars Hans Löw as Armin, a sad sack television cameraman who has trouble maintaining relationships and isn’t terribly good at his job, either. Called away from work one day to care for his dying grandmother, the exhausted Armin falls asleep by the side of the road and awakens to discover that he is now apparently alone in the world.

Directed by Ulrich Köhler, In My Room is a post-apocalyptic drama that offers absolutely no clues as to what has befallen humankind. At times reminiscent of Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth (1985), Köhler’s film takes a slightly more prosaic approach to the topic: the typical cinematic signifiers of apocalypse are here (abandoned cars, well-stocked convenience stores, and, erm, portapotties floating downstream), but reanimated corpses are strictly off the menu.

Without giving too much away, In My Room posits a world that is manifestly unsuited for human occupancy – not because it’s been ravaged by radiation or irreversible climate change, but because it’s simply too darn empty. Adam and Eve must have felt pretty isolated, too, but Armin seems untouched by the hand of their (or any other) God. The film’s open-ended conclusion is an invitation to post-viewing conversations, so be sure to bring a friend.

What We Left Unfinished is a fascinating documentary examining the travails of the communist-era Afghan movie industry

What We Left Unfinished (screening on Sunday, April 14 at 3:15 p.m.) is a fascinating documentary examining the travails of the communist-era Afghan movie industry. Featuring interviews with a handful of Afghan film vets, Unfinished‘s focus is on five incomplete features hidden from the Taliban after the Islamic fundamentalists seized power in the 1990s.

The film also acknowledges that, despite the heavy hand of Soviet film censorship, the communist years were good ones for Afghan cinema. Resources were plentiful and art, as always, found ways to transcend the limitations of ideology. The Taliban would prove much less malleable.