FESTIVAL FARE : ‘The Wind Blows Round’ / ‘The Day Bobby Ewing Died’

Giorgio Diritti's The Wind Blows Round [7/10]
   'Good fences make good neighbours,' as the saying goes – and it most definitely applies to the situation in The Wind Blows Round, a compellingly well-observed tale of rural strife set in a tiny Italian hamlet, high up in the mountains near the French border. It's an area where the old dialect known as 'Occitan' (aka langue d'oc, and as spoken here a kind of Italian/French hybrid) is still dominant, especially among the more senior residents. Not that there are many youthful faces around, this (fictional) village – named Chersogno – being conspicuously underpopulated for most of the year: most of the houses are summer-properties for affluent Torinese.
   Shades of Mercedes Alvarez's recent Spanish documentary The Sky Turns (the original titles of the two films are also, coincidentally, similar: El cielo gira and Il vento fa il suo giro), not to mention Michelangelo Frammartino's inert The Gift (2003). These films clearly emanate from the same zeitgeist: many corners of Europe have become significantly depopulated as a result of demographic shifts and other socio-economic factors.
   In The Wind Blows Round such trends are bucked by Philippe (Thierry Toscan), a goat-farming cheesemaker from the French side of the Pyrenees who arrives with his wife Chris (Alessandra Agosti) and three young children with the aim of setting up a business. He's warmly welcomed by his new neighbours – in a striking, torchlit nocturnal scene – but it doesn't take long for frictions to develop. Almost before you can say Jean de Florette Philippe discovers that some of the 'Chersognians' can turn decidedly nasty when the mood takes them…
   Thanks to the crisp cinematography and elegantly mobile camerawork of Roberto Cimatti, The Wind Blows Round enticingly captures the spectacular scenery and chilly splendours of this vertigo-inducing highland. Indeed, the picture would make a very bracing double-bill with Greg Zglinski's One Long Winter Without Fire (2004), which also chronicled the hardships of a French mountain farmer. But where Zglinski's plot patiently developed from and revolved around a shattering domestic tragedy, Diritti's script (co-written with Fredo Valla) is a rather sprightlier, less harrowingly dramatic affair: scenes are mostly short and to-the-point as Philippe and clan discover the highs and lows of their new life. The tone does darken somewhat in the final act, before a brief coda provides an unexpected, welcome and believable spark of optimism.
   Though there's no shortage of 'issues' being explored here, The Wind Blows Round works just fine in the most basic storytelling terms: this is an original take on some important, topical themes, sensitively handled and briskly paced. As an ensemble, however, it's not exactly even-handed – you may lose track of exactly who some of the peripheral people are, and how they relate to each other, and the character Chris doesn't quite come into focus, partly because she speaks only 'orthodox' French.
   But the free-spirited, mule-stubborn Philippe is very much the fulcrum of the movie and Toscan turns in a fine, powerhouse performance of sustained intensity that carries us along on his broad shoulders. There's a moment near the end where me makes a particularly unpleasant discovery, and the emotions he imparts purely through facial expression call to mind another 'family man' who's pushed too far, namely Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence. Toscan's work is all the more remarkable as this would seem to be his acting debut: he did work as 'prop man' on Liliana Cavani's Ripley's Game, and from this evidence his proximity to John Malkovich on that project certainly didn't go to waste.

Lars Jessen's The Day Bobby Ewing Died [6/10]
   Leaving aside his infamous 'shower' resurrection, the day Bobby Ewing 'died' was May 17th, 1985 – the date on which the Dallas episode Swan Song was first aired in the US. But it wasn't until late April 1986 that the footage of Bobby's demise was beamed into the homes of German viewers – on the same day that an even greater disaster dominated the news bulletins…
   Jessen's nostalgic, youth-oriented comedy-drama chronicles the period surrounding this one epochal day, focussing on carrot-topped 17-year-old Niels (Franz Dinda). When his radical-activist mother Hanne (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) moves from the hectic bright lights of Bremen to a small hippy-style commune in a rural farmhouse, Niels isn't best pleased.
   He doesn't get involved in the commune's campaign against a local nuclear power station, and is suspicious of the commune's unofficial 'leader', Peter (Peter Lohmeyer) – especially when the latter becomes intimate with Hanne. The sole bright spot in Niels' existence is getting to know Martina (Luise Helm), a girl of roughly his own age – despite the stern disapproval of her father Prestin (Peter Heinrich Brix), who happens to be the local mayor. Global events, however, soon put such domestic problems into stark perspective…
   Jessen doesn't go overboard on the period detail, but successfully evokes the era with a close attention to props, costumes and hairstyles: when first seen, Niels' blow-dried coiffure is cringe-makingly accurate. Along with his co-scriptwriters Ingo Haeb and Kai Hensel, Jessen captures the zeitgeist pretty well, successfully integrating their wider themes into the basic plot of Niels belatedly coming of age: this an emotionally difficult process in which Martina's broken-nosed, leather-jacketed, beer-swilling, mullet-sporting pal Rakete ('Rocket': scenestealing work from Jens Munchow) proves crucial.
   The 'Southfork' stuff (see also Dallas Among Us) is also nicely handled – no post-modern smirking, thankfully – and the presentation of the commune is rather more convincing and even-handed than recent exercises in ostensibly similar vein such as Stefan Krohmer's They've Got Knut (2003) or, from Sweden, Lukas Moodysson's ludicrously overpraised Together (2000). That said, for all its merits The Day Bobby Ewing Died doesn't delve especially deeply into the rights and wrongs of the political issues with which it deals – and as such it may well play rather better to the 'Nielses' and 'Martinas' of this world, than it will to the 'Hannes,' the 'Prestins,' or the 'Peters.' And the 'Raketes'? Not much to drag them away from the pub, the bowling-alley or the telly…

Neil Young
2nd January, 2006

THE WIND BLOWS ROUND : [7/10] : Il Vento fa il suo giro : Italy 2005 : Giorgio DIRITTI : 110 mins (approx) : recent film festivals include London.

THE DAY BOBBY EWING DIED : [6/10] : Am Tag als Bobby Ewing starb : Germany 2005 (copyright-dated 2004) : Lars JESSEN : 92 mins (timed) : film festivals include London (German), Buenos Aires, Berlinale.

Both seen on DVD at home in Sunderland (UK):
The Wind Blows Round, 1st January 2006 (with thanks to Simone Bachini)
The Day Bobby Ewing Died, 31st December 2005