Disappearing Act V
Play, by Ruben Ostlund – Race Matters
The opening film of Disappearing Act V, a series of new and neglected films that starts tonight at IFC at 7 pm, is Play, a set of incidents set in the context of racial tensions in uncomfortably multi-cultural Sweden, the country which is often cited in news of peace-making initiatives.
A group of black youths bullies younger white kids. Everyday mischief turns in dangerous directions, and the law of unintended consequences kicks in – in a mall, in the street, on a tram, everywhere.
Shot with what looks like a surveillance camera, the film doesn’t stop and start for its action. There are shots that replicate large-format still photography, sections that look as if they could have been directed by Chantal Ackerman. Other sequences remind you of the most generic indie/amateur footage. There are some dramatic fireworks, but most of Play shows everyday moments, in everyday light, in segments of real time.
Disappearing Act is a series that hasn’t fallen for the trap of premiere-ism. The sposor is Czech beer, not Kool Aid. Most of its films have already been shown in New York, but you probably wouldn’t know it. Even if a film is released commercially, there’s no reason to expect that much of New York has seen it – if it’s a film in a language other than English, like most of Disappearing Act, you can bet the audience was and is small. I can vouch for that truth. Portrait of Wally, a film that I co-wrote and co-produced about a Nazi-looted painting that turned up at the Museum of Modern Art, was reduced to anonymity by incompetents — quite an achievement for a film in English. Even with competent representation, the films of Disappearing Acts disappeared.
One such film worth showing again, Corpo Celeste, by Alice Rohrwacher, is set in the ugliest parts of Reggio Calabria, an Italian city that’s synonymous with the mafia. An impoverished church with a bored indifferent corrupt priest is about to have a confirmation ceremony for the youth in its embattled congregation.
The setting, a dreary place that even the new Franciscan Pope is unlikely to visit, is grim and grey, depicting Italy as a place wrung dry of beauty and hope, but not completely dry. Then comes the opportunity to salvage a crucifix from an abandoned church outside of town. A new trophy for a parish with nothing but debts and demoralization? When the mob decides to take possession of the sacred body (corpo celeste) there is some wondrous pageantry. Corpo Celeste is warm-hearted, witty, an improbable mosaic shot with a no-budget lyricism that does wonders with a palette of ordinariness. Who says there’s no such thing as magic realism?