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Medium format options

Topo y Wera / Centar
Regissør: Jean-Charles Hue,Ivan Marković

INTERMEDIATE FORMAT / Unfortunately, the medium-length film is often overlooked. With his new works, directors Jean-Charles Hue and Ivan Marković each prove in their own right that the format has more than enough weight.


Unfortunately, documentary films receive far less international attention and publicity than fiction films. This was confirmed when the BBC's cultural department last autumn conducted an international survey of established critics, which resulted in a list of the best 100 films made in languages ​​other than English. Amazingly, this one contained only two documentaries – Dziga Vertovs Man with a Movie Camera (1929) on 73. space and recently deceased Claude Lanzmann's nine and a half hours long Shoah (1985), who squeezed into an 96. place. The short film got an even colder shoulder: Chris Marker's twenty-eight minutes long La Jetée (1962) was the only representative of this format, on a modest 86. place.

The result points to a general problem: Short films and documentaries rarely get the attention they deserve, and short film documentaries are hit twice. For medium-length documentaries, the situation is even gloomier. Such productions – which do not slip smoothly into the narrow frames of television channels or cinema distribution – have minimal commercial potential and often strive to find an appropriate lock, even within the short-film circuit channels. The curators often complain about medium format productions, which have a length of 30-60 minutes, because they are so "difficult to place into the program". But if the will is there, you get the most: Progressive festivals such as FIDMarseille, IDFA in Amsterdam and CPH: DOX in Copenhagen not only find a place for the intermediate formats, they let them into their most profiled competitions.

Rand zones

Medium format movies often show that they have enough weight – and well then – when they only get the chance. This was once again illustrated at the sixteenth Doclisboa festival, which took place from the 18th to the 28th. October in Portugal's increasingly trendy capital. In the eclectic main competition, the 48-minute long sparkled Topo and Wera by Jean-Charles Hue as a rough diamond. At the age of 50, screenwriter and director Hue is still relatively unknown outside his native France if you ignore a small following of enthusiastic film nerds around the world. In his home country, his star status was established when his second feature film Many tes morts won the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo, which is awarded a French debutant film every year. The action in boats Many tes morts and its predecessor The MB of Seigneur (2010) takes place in the Yénche community in Beauvais, 80 kilometers north of Paris. The films tell stories where people from this space community – which Hue himself grew up in – play fictionalized editions of themselves. His major findings (which dominate in both films) are Fred Dorkel, an amateur actor with a distinctive talent and unique presence.

Topo and Wera
Director: Jean-Charles Hue

But Hue also makes clean documentaries and has found fertile material in the Mexican border town of Tijuana. Topo and Wera is the latest product of his dealings with the poorest residents of an area that has long flourished as a result of its proximity to California, but also marked by crime and decay. It is a two-part work in which the first introduces us to a couple in love in their twenties: Topo (the "mole") is a former gang member and has both mental and physical scruples from his "narcos"»period – a bullet is buried in his brain. Wera, originally from Los Angeles, is a live scratching cup.

Hue follows the pair up close, where they stroke the street or hang with the gang. And take (lots of) drugs: Crack cocaine is the main character's mental escape from money worries and other life problems. Hue navigates his handheld camera into the darkest corners and never shy away from the practical problems and brutal consequences of addiction. These are strong and unadulterated matters; For some, the hard-edged fringe in the community may be perceived as overbearing.

Topo and Wera never shy away from the brutal consequences of addiction.

About midway through the film, however, comes a sudden break; the screen is black for several seconds. Then Hue resumes the story, several years later: Topo is now alone, and in a situation so stubborn that the former life section for comparison appears as cozy idyll. He literally lives in a hole in the wall, tucked away on the edge of a ghetto that almost seems to have been exposed to an atomic bomb attack. The memories of his time with Wera are the only thing keeping him up. It becomes obvious that Topo is suffering from an undiagnosed and untreated mental disorder; we see him spend most of his time wading and rolling around in the garbage. The overall effect of all this is both gripping and appalling.

Constructed environment

Topo and Wera combines empathic humanism and courageous reporting in a work that confirms Hugh's position among France's – and Europe's – supreme and most adventurous filmmakers. He is uncompromising and intangible, independent and intelligent – with a clear social conscience. If Hue does not yet enjoy the international recognition his works deserve, he is now sufficiently established that he can afford to make a medium film if he wants to. However, making a mid-format movie at the beginning of your career is a risky move. But the 29-year-old Serbian Ivan Markovic recently proved that it is not impossible, with his quiet and promising debut Center, which premiered in Doclisboa's side program, New Visions last fall.

Where Hue looks at individuals in their socio-geographical context, Markovi is mainly concerned with constructed environments – and more specifically in one selected building in the center of the Serbian capital Belgrade: Sava Centar, designed by architect Stojan Maksimovic, is a colossal construction by the banks of the river Sava. The complex is a grand testimony of Yugoslavia's last heyday during the long reign of Josip Broz, also known as Tito. For decades, Sava Centar has hosted concerts, congresses, competitions and festivals, including the Magnificent Seven, which shows documentaries on a giant canvas. But with its 100 square feet and 000 seats in the main hall, the center is in a secure position in terms of funding and future status. The facility is owned by the Belgrade City Council, but the regional authorities are eager to share ownership with private players – who in turn refuse to enter into a partnership. Maintenance of such a huge building is costly, and although Sava Centar is still used for various events, parts of the building are in disrepair.

Centar is a large-scale portrait of a magnificent landmark.

Markovic's movie Center is a large-scale portrait of a magnificent landmark, which is shown almost invariably from the inside. The director explains that it is a conscious choice – he wanted to highlight the emptiness of the impressive interiors. "It's not always empty," he admitted in the panel interview in connection with the screening in Lisbon, after presenting the film as "an abstraction of reality."

The static cameras observe daily maintenance with a robotic-like distance: A small army of green shirt workers perform their various tasks with quiet efficiency. The spectator probably notices that Serbian socializing has been withheld, as if the workers are doing extra diligence and thinking "look professional, maybe the boss sees you". Through Markovic's lenses – in images that consistently have an appealing sharpness – Sava Centar gets a different aura: The complex is more reminiscent of a 21st-century spaceship than a building of a lost socialist era. In an expressive sequence, the huge hall's hangar-like doors open onto a carbon black void, as if it were a portal to outer space.

The second part of the film moves closer to the human "occupants" of the Sava Centers, including close-ups of math workers passing the time between shifts. The scroll text conveys some key information about Center, but otherwise, Markovic avoids both explanation and storytelling, and has also opted for movie music. The sounds and images of this bizarre place – stripped of history but worth preserving for future generations – speak for themselves. In a forty-minute film, which feels just as long: only this – neither more nor less.

Neil Young
Neil Young
Young is a regular film critic for Modern Times Review.

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