Monday 13th October, 10am – Odeon West End
A contender in the London Film Festival’s First Feature Competition, Iranian-Austrian director Sudabeh Mortezai’s Macondo provides a refreshingly matter-of-fact, documentary-style insight to the all-too-readily forgotten reality of war refugees.
The film takes its title from a real Viennese settlement, populated by refugees from a catalogue of wars from Chechnya to Chile to Vietnam; spreading out centrifugally, as the director puts it, “like growth rings in a tree”.
We closely follow 11-year-old Ramasan who has assumed responsibility for his family, helping out his weary mother and looking out for his younger sisters. His father, having died in the Russia-Chechnya war, represents a void in his life that yearns to be filled. So when Isa arrives, a man claiming to have fought alongside his father, he becomes a de facto mentor for the boy. Yet Ramasan becomes wary of Isa and ultimately has to grapple with his own conflicting feelings towards authority, responsibility and honesty.
The film’s mise-en-scène captures well the feeling of enclosure exuded by the settlement – the concrete stairways, steel railings and overlooked quadrangles – that resembles almost a ghetto of the forgotten victims displaced by conflict.
The realism of the direction brings to mind Lav Diaz’s most recent work Norte: the End of History, with most scenes improvised and captured on a single take. Although the narrative may be too tempered in naturalism for many, the nuanced interpretive subtexts – the Freudian resentment of patriarchy, the moral dilemma between betrayal and loyalty – suffice to inspire empathy and draw you in deeper to Ramasan’s story.
While overall this is something of a slight and incidental effort, Mortezai deserves credit for casting light on the plight of refugees frequently left to languish in the shadows, and demonstrates an agile, restrained and sensitive approach to filmmaking that certainly makes her one to watch out for over the coming years.
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Watch the trailer for Macondo here: