Maybe it’s me. Or maybe it’s the films. But today’s Competition selection makes for depressingly ambiguous viewing. First there’s Argentinian director Celina Murga’s La Tercera Orilla (The Third Side Of The River). It features a great performance from Alian Devetac as the troubled teenager at the film’s centre struggling to cope with the weight of family responsibilities on his tender shoulders. It makes most sense as a rankled son desperate for his father’s appreciation, who, largely ignored and misunderstood, turns his discontent into rebellion as he sets fire to his father’s ranch and jeep and escapes from his crime and small-town life. But there’s also another reading where the third side of the river is a sexual liberation, as Nico develops an infatuation with his stepfather Jorge, and when he abandons him plans his fiery flight. Atmospheric and tender, Celina Murga’s film is a firebrand of delicate performance, just hazy on the details.
Then there’s Claudia Llosa’s follow-up to La Teta Asustada, Aloft. Filmed in Canada and Spain with global funding, it contains beautiful performances from Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy as a mother and son estranged by a family tragedy. It’s one of the best looking films of the Competition, but with its Andy Goldsworthy structures (healing through art and nature) Aloft is unnecessarily overwrought and mystical, underplaying its strongest hand – the desperate reunion between mother and son. Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice begins well – as a hard boiled and freshly divorced detective fails to solve a seemingly uncrackable case in which human body parts appear in coal-fired power stations all over the country at the same time. But as the film toys with Ferris wheel references to The Third Man and neo-noirish femmes fatales, Black Coal, Thin Ice becomes a messy web of half-baked ideas, genre clichés and lazy characters.
Umut Dag’s Risse Im Beton on the other hand is a moving story of two tough men hammering cracks in concrete as they come face to face with impossible situations and unknown emotions. With its plot of an ex-con torn from the straight path reminiscent of Two Men In Town, Risse Im Beton brings us full circle with its father and son relationship -a tender counterpart to La Tercera Orilla only from the father’s perspective. Its plot is occasionally slow and easily familiar, but with its final twenty minutes, Risse Im Beton rips a hole in its otherwise concrete heart.