Monday, April 26, 2010

IFFB 2010 Night Two: Taqwacore and Cracks

I've got to write something about Thursday night? Gads, that was four days and twelve movies ago! Sure, I wanted to say more, but this has been one of those festival weekends where I have no ambition for doing more than watching the new episode of Doctor Who when I get home (or Saturday/Sunday morning).

Anyway, rather than inflict my terrible picture from the Taqwacore screening on anyone without warning (It's here, on Facebook), I'll just zip this off during my lunch hour.

Well, one thing to mention - oddly enough, the first four movies I saw at IFFBoston were based on a novel in one way or another (yes, even the documentary). It was interesting to see, looking at Cracks, just how much that one seems to have changed - relocated from South Africa to an island in Britain, Fiamma becoming Spanish rather than Italian, an apparently tighter focus on her and Di, removing the author's self-insertion... Interestingly, director/co-writer Jordan Scott was on the original list of guests, but fell off later. I can't help but wonder if there were any fans of the book in the audience, because that might have made for an unusually interesting Q&A.

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

So, if you're making a movie about the birth of Muslim punk rock, who do you put at the center? Even if you know the players, that might not be as obvious as it seems: The word "taqwacore" (taqwa meaning "religious consciousness") first appeared in the title of a novel which inspired a number of musicians to pick up their guitars. Fortunately, writer Michael Muhammad Knight is as drawn to the real-life taqwacores as they were to his book, and director Omar Majeed is able to give us both at once.

So on the one hand, we start with Michael, whose life with a racial separatist father and abused mother eventually led him to seek enlightenment in a mosque in Pakistan. He wrote The Taqwacores later, and the novel would gain a following among young North American Muslims who felt stifled by their religion and their country. Among them were the teenagers in the Boston suburbs who formed a band, The Kominas; in 2007 they (and others) hopped aboard a green bus and road tripped across the country to Chicago, where the Islamic Society of North Ameica. Six months later, several would be in Pakistan, looking to spread the punk message to a different group.

Knight is also on the bus for much of the tour, and also returns to Pakistan for the movie's second half. Although he's not a great deal older than the musicians, he does clearly speak from a different perspective. While everyone in the film is outspoken and political, it's most often with a blunt, punk sensibility, while Knight's words - especially during readings or interviews supporting his novel - are much more considered and studied. He's no droning academic, and indeed throws himself into certain experiences with more abandon than anyone else, but he is definitely the one more likely to step back and take the long view.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #5 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Cracks looks like a tonier, period version of Mean Girls or Heathers, and that's not a bad way to describe it in one sentence. It's a bit more clever than that, though, with a different force driving it in addition to mere adolescent jealousy.

At first, there is a sort of order; Di (June Temple) sets the standard for this girls' boarding school's diving team, and is as such the favorite of coach Miss G (Eva Green), who appears to be the school's youngest and most glamorous instructor. She is told that their team (which also bunks and eats together) will be getting a new member, a Spanish aristocrat's daughter. Naturally, Fiamma (Maria Valverde) is everything that could threaten her - exotically beautiful, a gymnast who immediately becomes the new star of the team, intelligent, and well-traveled. And what's worse, although somewhat aloof, she's not conceited, and the inhaler she wears around her neck for her asthma keeps her humble. Di can't help but hate her.

It's a familiar set-up, and probably was back in 1934, when the film is set. The script (by director Jordan Scott, Ben Court, and Caroline Ip, from a novel by Sheila Kohler), however, does an excellent job of telling us just enough. We actually don't learn that much about the characters, and the really crucial bit is slipped in without much fanfare. Unlike many films about teenagers, Scott and company place a great deal of focus on how they are still children as opposed to small adults, with Di in particular seeking something akin to a parent's approval and attention from Miss G. Fiamma isn't quite the child that Di is, but she still isn't quite so mature as she seems.

Full review at EFC.

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