Kornel Mundruczo's Jupiter's Moon (Hungarian) is about a man who can fly. At least, he can levitate. By all rights, he shouldn't be able to. This isn't a question of physics but of biology. Aryan (Zsombor Jeger, who looks a lot like Gael García Bernal) is a Syrian refugee who's been shot after attempting to enter Hungary. He should be dead. Instead, he's risen from the dead – in every sense of the word. The film is, in part, a religious parable. Aryan says his father is a carpenter. Does that make him…? At least one woman seems to think so. She sees him in flight and kneels.
Dr Stern (Merab Ninidze), however, sees him as a metaphysical parlour trick: he wants to take Aryan around to patients on their deathbed and make money. (They'll think they've been visited by an angel.) The flying sequences are wondrous. In one instance, Aryan is silhouetted against the golden light of a chandelier – it's practically a halo. In another, he descends several floors and passes people in their apartments, doing the most mundane things. I laughed at the man doing weights. Little does he realise that outside his window there's someone who's…weightless.
Jupiter's Moon isn't the story of a man waking up with a superpower and deciding to fight crime. Despite the air of suspense and the well-designed chase sequences (the man who shot Aryan is after him), this is as far removed from Hollywood as you can get. What is it, then? A clue is offered in the opening text about Jupiter's many moons, one of which is named Europa and is the most likely to sustain life. In other words, a new home bearing the name of a continent struggling with an unprecedented influx of people who've been driven out of theirs. Another clue comes from Stern, who says, "There's no safe place from the injuries of history." Not land. Perhaps not even above it, where Aryan is often suspended. He's always in danger.
The metaphors don't always stick, but the film is never less than arresting. I found it Shyamalanesque – not because it has a twist ending (it doesn't) but due to its sombre handling of genre material. "Why are you alive?" asks Stern (who probably represents Hungary's attitude to refugees). Aryan 's reply: "You have a purpose and I have a purpose." Later, he places a hand on Stern's head. Is it forgiveness? A blessing? Let's just call it a state of grace, the notion that the people you are most afraid of, the ones you hate, may end up saving you. I heard the words of another carpenter's son: "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
Barbet Schroeder's The Venerable W, filmed in Burma, is about a Buddhist monk named Wirathu and a peach of an irony. Wirathu's religion is peaceful, tolerant, non-violent – and yet, here he is, delivering racist sermons filled with hate speech against Muslims. A lulling female voiceover keeps saying things like "In our religion, the Buddha is not a god; he is a man, no more, no less," and, "Buddhism is opposed to animal sacrifice." We think these are 101-level nuggets about Buddhism. As the documentary rolls on, we realise these are really sly digs against Islam.
The film could have been made in India. Wirathu talks about a Saffron Revolution. He asks his countrymen to stop buying things from Muslims, because that only makes them richer and they use this wealth to lure Buddhist women into their fold. (How do you say "love jihad" in Burmese?) He declares, "The threat against Buddhists has reached alert levels. There are fewer and fewer Buddhists, more and more kalars." That's derogatory slang for Muslims, the equivalent of "nigger" in the US.
Wirathu's thoughts were likely shaped by a book he read as a young man: On Fear of our Race Disappearing. But what explains everyone else's fear that Muslims are taking over their nation (where 88 per cent are Buddhists and only 4 per cent Muslim)? Schroeder says this isn't just a Burmese problem. Take France. The actual percentage of Muslims is 7.5. The "perceived" percentage is 31. The Burmese government seems to be pushing back, but The Venerable W made me very sad. It's probably the perception we have of Buddhists. To see them on the warpath is like stumbling on carnivorous rabbits.
Anahita Ghazvinizadeh's They is one of those productions that sounds better as a conceit than an actual movie. J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) is a boy who thinks he (or "they," to be PC) should be a girl. The doctor has pumped in puberty blockers, so J and his family will have more time to discuss this and arrive at a decision . Small problem: dad and mom are away, and J's sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), who lands up with her Iranian boyfriend (Araz, played by Koohyar Hosseini), has all her mindspace sucked up by her upcoming marriage and a job assignment.
The film is subtitled "An intimate story of arriving home," but Ghazvinizadeh isn't interested in arriving at a closure. The conversations, instead, revolve around an aunt's early-onset dementia, Lauren's job, and – when they visit Azaz's aunt's home for a get-together – how rude it is for everyone to be speaking in Farsi, a language that Lauren and J don't understand. But that may be the point (and the conceit): that people are different, and what should be the most monumental day of your life could end being about a series of nothings. A beautiful idea, but the gauzy film slips away even as we are watching it.
Watch the trailer of The Venerable W here –