Since 1969, the Nashville Film Festival has been bringing the art of cinema to Music City, and the 2021 edition carries a simple slogan of “Film/Music/Culture”. The virtual and in-person programming lives up to this description, with the 52nd NFF presenting a curated selection of V.R. content, musical performances, industry panels, and, of course, narrative and documentary features and shorts. Some have Nashville roots, others are from far-flung corners of the world, and there’s a few fall festival critical favorites thrown in, to boot. This year, The Lens will be covering a selection of NFF films during the festival, which runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 6.
There’s a concrete shed emanating some bad vibes in the Philippines. Noli (Noli Tobol) and other villagers from the mountainous area have come to investigate and sacrifice a few chickens in hopes of appeasing whatever force is controlling it. There’s an upscale apartment in the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo. Elsa (Inés Bortagaray) lives here by herself, but the wine-fueled sleep makes her suspect she’s not alone at night. There’s an elegant cruise ship off the coast of the Patagonia region. Working as a lowly deckhand here, Chico (Daniel Quiroga) is a young loner whose only contact with the outside world is through the same windows used for whale-watching by the unimpressed elite. Somehow, these three places are quite literally connected without much regard to the laws of physics.
Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine, one of the international selections of this year’s festival, is writer-director Alex Piperno’s contemplative statement on the very globalization that affords his poetic lo-fi sci-fi feature a screening at regional festivals like NFF. Piperno is, in fact, a poet of the written word, and within each stanza of Window Boy, he builds visual rhymes to marry his disparate setpieces, often defying spatial and temporal logic in favor of the metaphysical and emotional. Within the liminal “portal” linking these spaces, Piperno and cinematographer Manuel Rebella further laugh in the face of logic: mirrors double characters as other structures bisect them, and the camera is placed so that a series of stairs appears to have been built by M.C. Escher.
Like Tsai Ming-Liang in his recently released film Days, Piperno finds the humility in yearning, the ache in loneliness, and the futility of brief encounters. Days is exquisite and measured at nearly every turn, with the mundanity of existence explicated in a series of long-takes that lull viewers into a trance. Piperno’s similarly hypnotic modern fable has softly made pronouncements that are nevertheless blunt, exposing a simplistic worldview that could use the complexity of the cinematic prowess displayed on the screen.
Simplicity in storytelling, however, is en vogue, if other NFF selections from around the globe are any indication. When the world feels at its most unstable, perhaps the parable is a natural mode of seeking to understand it. The Tale of the King Crab explicitly suggests this with a framing device in which contemporary Italian men share the story of the film proper. Within each chapter of the bifurcated centuries-old narrative, these elderly farmers – as well as writer-directors Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis – find moral dilemmas in matters of love, life, and death.
“The Saint Orsio’s Misdeed” finds Luciano (Gabriele Silli), a village drunkard with an ax to grind for the ruling monarchy, in love with Emma (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the young woman destined to be married into that royal family. His fiery passion leads to a fatal action, and in the second chapter, “The Asshole of the World“, he’s years and continents removed from that life-altering decision. Pirates stalk a priest rumored to be on the hunt for buried treasure on the Tierra del Fuego coast. When the parties finally meet, it’s a collar-donning Luciano they encounter. He’s got the treasure map in his head and a great red king crab as a compass.
The surreality of these details is carried with a death-haunted seriousness that the filmmakers doubled-down on through presentation. The lush color film photography by cinematographer Simone D'Arcangelo is a painterly realization of a romantic vision of the past, and comparisons to masterfully wrought visuals of like-landscapes of Luchino Visconti’s films are apt. The majesty of The Leopard, the Italian director’s 1963 epic masterwork, isn’t present here, but it doesn’t need to be. Rigo de Righi and Zoppis aren’t concerned with a decades-long scope of a ruling class in decline; rather, they’re interested in truth and consequence via their almost cipher-like center’s myopic quests.
The protagonist of writer-director Angeliki Antoniou’s Green Sea is a more literal blank slate onto which others can project. Anna (Angeliki Papoulia of Dogtooth ) stumbles upon a grocer, picking up some dry herbs for a purpose not immediately apparent to her. From the bruises on her arms, it seems like Anna has undergone some traumatic event. She’s since developed amnesia, and the only thing she remembers about herself is that she can cook and how to do it. Anna ends up doing so in a Greek seaside restaurant owned by Roula (Yannis Tsortekis). He has his own trauma, and it manifests violently when he demands the truth from Anna about her past. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know what that would be.
Anna is the magical innocent in Antoniou’s fable. The food she cooks not only brings revenue to the nearly destitute Roula, but for the restaurant’s patrons, it has the ability to bring back previously long-lost memories. The irony that she can do for others what she cannot do for herself is among the few successes of Green Sea, which mostly feels engineered to please crowds through its twee-leaning droll wit and nods to the strength of found families. However, the director’s script defies logic in vastly different ways from those other world-bound fantasies, Window Boy and King Crab. She presents people as stock archetypes, forgetting that for her intended heart-warming effects to work, she first needs to make her characters’ actions and details credible. They can’t just be from tales as old as time.