Pig Iron

This year’s Jeonju Film Festival offered up James Benning smelting more Duisburger experience and Argentine Rivette acolyte Matias Pineiro staging Shakespearean flirtations in the latest edition of the Digital Project, alongside retrospectives of Pedro Costa, Romuald Karmakar, Miklós Jancsó, and Korean documentary prime mover Kim Dong Won. Game playing and sensual/tactile cinema were recurring themes in this correspondent’s sampling of the festival’s robust 11th edition—with a frequency that suggested that the universe is neither an accident nor does it make much sense.

Benning’s Digital snapshot, Pig Iron, which he dubbed a “found narrative,” stares at a rail dock for loading iron from a furnace. (A periodic siren suggests it might be the base of the monolithic structure in the final shot of his latest film, Ruhr.) Sherbet-orange sparks and heat shimmering over carts illuminate the center of the image, framed by the steelwork’s massive girders. Almost diametrically opposed in its airiness but related in its contemplation of process was Pineiro’s Rosalind. Adapting parts of As You Like It to the frolicking of young lovers by riverside and through jungle, the Argentinean extends the practice distilled in his recent feature, They All Lie, distilling storytelling into pure ludic mysteries and pleasures, like a narrative dance accompanied by words. (The less-successful third segment of the Digital Project was Denis Cote’s The Enemy Lines, a weak parody following a troop of pallid army grunts on patrol).

Alejo Moguillansky’s Castro was in the same spirit as Pineiro’s work but in a more madcap vein. Ostensibly about a man being pursued by multiple individuals for reasons unknown, it’s really just a cavalcade of chases and nonsensical intrigue across Buenos Aires, the pace and tone somewhere between Marx Brothers, Godardian deadpan, and Bourne parody. (Together with marathon-running bank-robber saga The Robber, a breakneck double feature could be had.)


There were two oases of calm: Nicolas Philibert’s Nénette and Amit Dutta’s Man’s Woman and Other Stories. Philibert’s visit with a zoo orangutan slows down to the contemplative pace of the elderly female primate, who watches her watchers through glass, and ends up affirming the difficulty of truly pinning down just what an animal’s existence feels like. Man’s Woman and Other Stories renders three short stories by Vinod Kumar Shukla and Sadat Hasan Manto (one of them a harrowing narrative about a woman’s tattoo) with such exquisite gemlike color and composition and feel for rhythm that their subject matter fades into the background.

Seo Seh-chin’s Before the Full Moon is an extraordinary documentary about the 2009 factory occupation in Pyeongtaek: the filmmaker snuck past police barriers into the factory and joined the besieged workers during assaults by cops and thugs as well as aerial bombardment with what appears to be acid. Featuring spectacular riot footage, gruesome injuries, and rice rationing, the film portrays the deep intimacy and courage of comradeship (rivaling that seen in Harlan County USA), while Seo’s voiceover expresses unvarnished dismay and big-hearted sentiments. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo’s 1975 historical drama Winstanley, revived as part of the festival sidebar “Poetics of Resistance and Revolution,” depicted a similar solidarity-against-all-odds, through efforts of the eponymous 17th-century English radical to hold together his separatist commune, the Diggers. Fields, forests, raggedy clothes, and wild hair are shot in an earthily vivid black-and-white you could rub between your hands.

As always, Jeonju’s question-and-answer sessions after films yielded insights, as well as priceless moments such as a frustrated Romuald Karmakar scolding a university student puzzled by Villalobos: “That’s the art of the D.J. Jesus! You are not a grandmother. C’mon.” He cooled down a bit after reflecting upon a happy recent outing in town: “Last night I went into a small place where this guy is making dumplings,” he began, growing more excited. “I made an interview. We were only talking dumplings—what it means to make 1500 dumplings a day!”