Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2020 4:44 pm 
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A myth of two opposite brothers

Green's new film recreates in modern dress an old Basque fable about good and the taint of evil. In the story the Goddess Mari is "visited" by a mortal and the result is two almost-twins, born within a few minutes of each other but not twins. She turns them over to an up-to-date Devil - he listens to rap on headphones while he does his "work" - for their education as small boys. When they grow up, Atarrabi (Saia Hiriart) wants to go out into the world. The Devil expects them both to remain and serve him. Only Mikelats (Lukas Hiriart) is happy to do that: he has a sly grin and enjoys playing around with the folks down below. The Devil allows Atarrabi to leave - but later, the escape turns out not to be complete.

Atarrabi is so saintly, he goes to join a monastery. But during training, the father superior finds, to his great disappointment, that the otherwise pleasing and admirable young man has no shadow, which means there is evil hovering about him. Hence he cannot join the order. He can only be a servant at the monastery but never a monk. Later, Atarrabi commits suicide at a mass because he feels his life has been wasted. A cardinal is called in who declares the father superior's wish to bury Atarrabi on the grounds cannot happen.

Unless - he suggests a test: put the body out on the mountain and if the birds of prey come and feed on it, it must be cast to the lowest place. If they don't, he can be buried in the holy grounds. In the final scene, a large bird comes, pecks at the corpse, and departs. A white dove comes and hovers at the body's breast - which is declared by to the Goddess Mari. End of story.

This is a more ethereal and strange - and celebratory and musical - film than Green's last NYFF film, The Son of Joseph. It's a lot less real and less interesting. But it's beautiful, with numerous exquisite scenes, many candlelit, music, dancing, and the beauty of the striking Basque-speaking Hiriart brothers.

All of this is in the Euskara Basque language, so presumably all the actors are Basque speakers. Apparently the brothers are. I'm ignorant of this subject, and this language, which has virtually no cognate words, putting it in a class with Georgian or Turkish or Hungarian, is a lot less relatable than major European languages or even Arabic or Japanese. Most of the Basques are Spanish speakers (as well as Basque) and a smaller number French-speaking I'm guessing this cast comes from the French-speakers. The language underwent standardization, Wikipedia tells us, but there are at least five dialects, and educational variations in all the different Basque regions. In my experience (with The Son of Joseph especially), Green's work has grown more accessible and enjoyable with repeated viewings. His work is hard going (like Bresson?) at first. Offhand, this one seems as though it will contain longeurs no matter how friendly you get with it. but we'll see.

As a somewhat troubling footnote, Eugène Green was expelled (by Basque police!) from the San Sebastien festival Sept. 24, 2020 for refusing to wear a mask or put it on properly after being asked to five times, and may have to pay a fine. (Variety). His accreditation was suspended and he lost his status as guest of the festival. The film was still shown, however, and the brothers who play the titular roles, Saia and Lucas Hiriart, remained for a Q&A.

Atarrabi & Mikelats, 123 mins., debuted at San Sebastien, Sept. 2020 followed by the virtual NYFF, where it was screened for this review. French theatrical release is scheduled for Nov. 18. Not many reviews; no interviews visible.

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