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Eve Lucas: Small is beautiful

Two smaller films made for much more satisfying viewing than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, to say nothing (please) of In the Land of Blood and Honey.

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La Demora

It’s small films from countries with underdeveloped and under-publicized film industries that more than justify the Berlinale ‘wide-net’ approach – and compensate for the gruelling, over- and underwhelming insistence on big themes and big names (Q.E.D. In the Land of Blood and Honey).

This year is no different with two films from Uruguay and Nepal providing personal and specifically national views of universal themes.

La Demora (The Delay) from Uruguay, directed by Rodrigo Plá, deals with more than just one kind of retardation. Caught smack bang in the middle of spider’s web of generational responsibilities, a daughter tries to earn a crust for her three kids and keep her senile father from wandering off to indulge the memories that haunt his failing mind (and what a beautifully resigned performance from Carlos Vallarino, counterpointing Meryl Streep’s take on a similar condition in The Iron Lady).

The delay here is in the old man’s reactions: infuriatingly slow and pedantic. It’s there in the daughter’s unarticulated impatience to live a life delayed by her present situation. It’s there in the hours that her father spends waiting for her on a concrete park bench after she temporarily abandons him. And it’s there in her delayed realization that however desperate her condition, she’ll only achieve a measure of contentment if she steps up to what seems like an impossible challenge.

Bleak? Yes, it’s bleak. You can count the humorous moments on the fingers of one hand—little stabs of light that make the drudgery around them all the darker. But the hope these moments convey feels real—a reflection on structures in which families do step up and are rewarded with moments of grace. However barren Uruguay’s tenements, based on this film, the people inhabiting them deserve admiration.

Highway from Nepal, directed by Deepak Rauniyar, is a truly unusual variant on the road movie. A group of passengers aboard a bus to Kathmandu find their stories intermeshing for a brief period of transition.

Traveling with their own special baggage (hidden sexuality, semi-arranged marriages,) they are forced to cooperate in order to overcome obstacles that threaten to slow their progress. The bus is a surprisingly apt metaphor for a culture that’s on the move, but Highway is careful to steer a middle course.

Concepts such as tradition, continuity and change – all road movie staples – are taken on board and then left by the wayside. There are no endings, just journeys that continue after the lights come up. Most of the dialogue in this movie was improvised and well suited to the general feeling of impermanence that it conveys. But that’s fair enough. If this is the state of cinema in Nepal, there’s every reason to hope for a good outcome.