The Rotterdam Film Festival has a reputation for programming fascinating oddball fare, and Renata Pinheiro’s King Car (Portuguese) is the first film I saw that truly deserved its programming slot. It’s about a boy who can talk to cars. It’s an ecological parable. It’s a cautionary tale about technology. It’s a socialist takedown of rampant capitalism. Did I say it’s also about a boy who can talk to cars? Uno (Luciano Pedro Jr) is his name and he perhaps got his “power” because he was born in the backseat of the family automobile. His father runs a taxicab company, and assumes Uno will take over the family business. But Uno springs a surprise. He wants to study agro-ecology, agro-forestry. And we get to the nub of the narrative: Nature vs Technology. Or let’s say it differently: what the Earth gave us vs what we made with our own hands.
There’s a nice little theory in here: that our relationship with technology began when prehistoric man made the first tool. Our ancestors tried to amplify the body’s ability by using a rock to split open a seed. The “tool”, therefore, was not just a rock — it was an extension of the body. Fast-forward to today, and every time you are clutching the steering wheel of your car, you are the wheel. You are driving your own life. I had a small smile throughout, thinking of how our smartphones have become an extension of our hands. It is our “tool” today. Indeed, Uno does wonder: If cars could talk to everyone, would people become more isolated, individualistic? Yes, Uno. The answer is a vehement yes! My favourite lines from the film: “Maybe we are turning into machines. Or maybe we are machines, and these pieces of technology are our offspring.”
The cars seem to have personalities. The one in which Uno was born claims to hate anyone who takes away its loneliness without offering true companionship in return. But all this philosophy is pushed to the background when a law comes into effect, banning cars over 15 years old from the roads. Now, it’s all-out war — not just between cars and men but also with the eco-minded people in Uno’s class, who begin to grow plants in a junkyard piled up high with car wrecks. In short, we end up with a Terminator-style scenario where we have to fight to overcome the technology we created in order to liberate us but which ended up enslaving us, instead. The final image is a reminder that humankind will never learn its lessons. Inevitably so. Can you imagine a life without technology, even if it ends up killing us?
A crime with a virus
In 2008, a trial got going in the northern Dutch city of Groningen. The defendants were three homosexual men alleged to have drugged and then deliberately infected (i.e. through blood injections) other men with the HIV virus. Tim Leyendekker’s Feast is based on this incident, and yet to say “based on” would suggest a story filled with sex, deception, moral outrage, and a lot of courtroom back-and-forth-ing. This is not that movie. The opening scene has a stern woman at what looks like a media conference (we don’t see anyone else in the static frame, though do hear the clicking of cameras), laying out items on a table. These items are in plastic storage crates, and they include a laptop, wine glasses, a used condom, a dildo, anal beads, a letter that says the letter-writer gets “a kick out of rough bare fucking…”
Are these the debris of the lives of the men on trial? Before we can find out, the narrative moves to a scene with three middle-aged gay men being observed (through a one-way mirror) by a line of detectives. The latter attempt to unlock the meanings behind the men’s words, like “you no longer need to be an I” and “I am the nerve that enables the skin to feel a caress”. Then, we move to the third set-piece, and the fourth… (There are seven in all, set to surreal visuals like, say, blood as seen under a microscope.) We get interrogations of the men who got infected, the men who did the infecting. The most conventional of this series of vignettes is that of a man reporting an assault. The most out-there vignette involves a scientist who studies HIV. She says: “It’s just the idea of a virus moving through your blood… I find it very poetic.” One of the hashtag-like descriptors for Feast – in the festival notes – is “Experimental Grief”. That sounds just about right.