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Nyon's light reaches all the way to the forgotten outer edges

Wound / Diary of Cattle
Regissør: Arthur Sukiasyan David Darmadi Lidia Afrilita
( Armenia / Indonesia)

VISIONS YOU REAL / The powerful short films Wound and Diary of Cattle prove that this year's 50th anniversary Visions du Reel has the vitality and willingness to explore the outer edges.


Visions du Reel (VdR), one of the oldest and most influential documentary film festivals in Europe, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. It was the second time VdR was launched under the leadership of French Emilie Bujes, the sixth artistic director since its inception. Visions du Reel's first artistic director was Moritz de Hadeln (born in Exeter, England), who, together with his wife Erika, founded the festival in 1969. Ten years later he passed the helm and gradually took over responsibility for other film festivals – in Locarno, Berlin respectively (where he was director of the Berlin for over 20 years) and Venice. Under the leadership of de Hadel, Nyon International Documentary Festival became known for showing films produced behind the Iron Curtain – at a time when unfiltered stories from inside the Soviet Union rarely reached the international community.


The film festival was relaunched with its current name in 1995 – with a nine-day celebration in the small Swiss town of Nyon, just off the magnificent Lake Geneva – when film critic and critic Jean Perret took over the creative reins. The change of name reflected Perret's commitment and enthusiasm for "cinema du reel" ("realistic film"), which is freer in expression than the traditional and conservative non-fiction film. With the new artistic leader at the forefront, the festival program was increasingly filled with hybrid works – that is, films that are often based on a diverse mix of methods, such as recreations of situations and various narrative approaches.

During an interview in 2009, Perret stated that “from the late 80s and beyond the 90s, you could imagine a kind of idleness in the fiction film industry, which struggled to come up with complex and innovative stories. The realistic film genre opened up to depictions of reality and of real people, put into a directed context and with a new, refreshing aesthetic ”.

Wound Director Arthur Sukiasyan
Director Arthur Sukiasyan

This view has now become the normative line for the successful and challenging European festivals, such as Copenhagen's CPH: DOX, FIDMarseille, Montreal's RIDM and the North American True / False (in Columbia, Missouri). These festivals' choice of names indicates an emphasis on documentaries and non-fiction films, but their programs include a wide range of artistic expressions. Two of the most hard-hitting card documentaries during this year's VDR are at each end of this spectrum.

I Arthur Sukiasyans 25 minutes long Wound we are flying on the wall at home with two brothers who seem to be at least in their late sixties. They live in the Armenian countryside, near the regional capital Gyumri. The landscapes reveal that the area still has not recovered after the powerful earthquake that hit them in 1988.

Diary of Cattle, made by Indonesian duo David Darmadi and Lidia Afrilita, dedicates its 17 minutes to an investigation into a landfill site in the sumatric city of Pandang, where cows graze in the middle of the garbage dump. The protagonists, the cows, now and then show a certain interest in Darmadi and Afrilita and their camera, but do largely what they do – trying to find food – as if their directors and equipment were not present.


Wound apparently portrays everyday life to Suren and Levon Sukiasyan – who shares the last name with the director and probably is related to both him and his close partner, Martin Sukiasyan. The relationship gives Arthur and Martin a close and intimate access to the home of the Levon brothers (also called Olan) and Suren, where we watch them cook, work with complicated woodcuts, socialize with friends, drink and complain about their lot in life.

Wound is a film without illusions, about a forgotten corner of the world.

The director's and camera's presence in the room is consistently ignored throughout the film. In some scenes, such as highlighting Suren and Levon's loneliness, this requires a certain portion of viewer benevolence: The well-established rules of the documentary assume that we occasionally and conveniently forget the fact that there are other people present in the room, and that the film's characters to some extent are consciously expecting them to behave "naturally" in front of the camera lens. But this does not become a disruptive element in the film. Wound acts as an empathic dive into a forgotten backwater, where time has apparently stood still on several levels: The house of the two brothers appears to have been erected in the 1800th century – and has not been significantly changed since. The solid and old-fashioned construction probably contributed to the house surviving the brutal earthquake, which, according to the documentary's introductory text, killed the lives of some 25 people and destroyed 000 villages.

The film is, most profoundly, a study of enduring survival and endurance. It also shows that attachment to family and friends has become crucial after the fall of the Soviet Union: The ensuing collapse in social and administrative infrastructure led to further differences and more corruption.

Women are noticeably absent in the film – one of the brothers became a widower as a result of the earthquake – and most of the dialogue consists of the year-old gentlemen expressing their displeasure. With a nostalgic look, they look back at the Soviet era, whose chaotic end could be seen on the horizon already when the natural disaster hit them in 1988. "Try to complain today? Who are you going to complain to then? If you don't have money, you're nobody. "

Wound seeks to investigate and convey the ongoing effects not only of the earthquake but also of the sudden upheavals in Armenia (like a number of other eastern bloc countries that became independent states in the 90s) and the traumas this created in the depleted population. It is a film without illusions and is sometimes misanthropic ("In this country and in this state there is no future") about a forgotten corner of the world, whose lack of financial opportunities seems to have left the majority of young people leaving the country – we see children and older people, but the generations in between are missing in the picture.

Religion becomes a source of comfort for some. The film concludes with one of the brothers reflecting on the story of Job as he clings to the hope that he will receive his reward in heaven, after an earthly life filled with suffering and toil.

Diary of Cattle

Like the brothers in Wound have the four-legged protagonists in Diary of Cattle the vessel acquires a basis of existence in a very inhospitable environment. We see some farmers lead their cows to a rubbish dump as the sun rises. The landfill landfill is on, probably belongs to the farmers, and the small flock is led there every day to devour what must be edible among all the garbage. A couple of disturbing sequences show that the cows also chew inedible things, such as plastic bags or pieces of musty rubber, but even though they occasionally look a bit erratic and diseased, the animals have no external signs of emaciation or seem particularly uncomfortable (except for an unfortunate one). carcass).

Diary of Cattle is sensational direct, stripped down and effective.

The directors have steered clear of commentary and text posters – the only dialogue we hear comes in the last few minutes, while the cows are about to round off today's garbage disposal. Darmadi and Afrilita let the exceptional, almost surreal images speak for themselves. Their documentary is sensationally direct and stripped down, making it very powerful and effective. The cows roam leisurely around the hideous garbage mountains and behave as if they were grazing in more "natural", traditional farm environments. It may be surprising, but we don't see any people messing through this garbage dump (up to several documentaries and fiction films have in recent years focused attention on desperate people living on and off of similar fillings). Big, white, seagull-like birds are the only ones competing with the cows for leftovers that give them their daily food.

This is a dystopian, man-made landscape of the depressing and upsetting kind. The film has compressed a typical day into one quarter, but that's more than enough to give us a sharp taste of this toxic wasteland. That the realistic film genre does not include the simulation of odor is (in this case) a pure blessing.

Translated by Vibeke Harper

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

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