Catch the Wind (2017) / The Miner (2017)

Director/Screenwriter: Gaël Morel/Hanna Antonina Wojcik Slak

2018 Chicago European Union Film Festival

By Marilyn Ferdinand

One of the downsides of living in a modern society is loneliness. The primacy of the nuclear family in Western societies almost guarantees that when children mature and start their own lives, their parents will have fewer opportunities for contact with anyone. Catch the Wind brings the loneliness of its central character, 45-year-old widow Edith Clarvel (Sandrine Bonnaire), into sharp focus as she is faced with the possibility of becoming unemployed.

Edith’s employer, a textile manufacturer, decides to close its union factory in France. Workers are offered a generous severance package or the opportunity to work in the company’s factory in Morocco. To everyone’s surprise, Edith decides to move to Tangiers. In modern parlance, Edith is reinventing herself, taking the chance to “catch the wind,” as she tells a friend. In truth, she is terrified of facing every day alone, with no coworkers to take up the space where friends and her estranged son should be.

The screenplay is a predictable affair, with the hardships expatriots often face. Edith speaks no Arabic, gets mugged, runs afoul of the underground economy and the pecking order that rules her nonunion sweatshop of a workplace, and does not understand the restrictions that Islam imposes on women or the pushback that the liberalized government in Morocco has made on those restrictions.

But Bonnaire, in a part written especially for her, grounds every moment of the film with her character’s sadness and good intentions. Ably supported by an exuberant Mouna Fettou as Mina, the owner of the Tangiers boarding house where Edith lives, Kamal El Amri as Mina’s nearly grown son Ali, and the deft eyes of director Gaël Morel and cinematographer David Chambille in creating a complex mise-en-scène that reveals the depth of Moroccan life as well as the shallowness of French society, Bonnaire proves once again why she’s one of the best actresses on the planet.

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While watching the Slovenian film The Miner, my mind kept pulling me back to a 2008 film from Bosnia-Herzegovina called Snow, in which the mystery surrounding the missing Muslim men from a small town in Bosnia obsesses the women left behind. The violent break-up of Yugoslavia, of which Slovenia was a part, continues to haunt the region, as The Miner-Slovenia’s official selection for the 2018 Academy Awards-makes clear.

The film, based on true events, centers on a Bosnian miner named Alija Basic (Leon Lucev) who left his home country as a child to escape the Bosnian War. He has lived in Slovenia with his family for more than 30 years, and the move to capitalism has brought with it the economic uncertainties and workplace abuses well known in advanced capitalist nations. The mine he works in is being sold, and all the miners fear for their jobs. When he is assigned to inspect a closed-off part of the mine, a job beneath his skill and seniority, with only a student (Nikolaj Burger) to assist him, he reluctantly does as he’s told. When he finds evidence of a World War II-era atrocity in the mine, the pain of his past forces him irresistibly to uncover the whole truth.

Director Hanna Slak works her magic by concentrating her camera closely on Alija. We can practically see his thought processes as his mounting anxiety and sun-tinged memories of the beloved sister he lost to the war lead him to identify with the victims left to rot behind a wall of cement. Slak uses the physicality of his work to emphasize the hardship of his life and the immediacy of his response to his discovery, and her haunting shots inside the mine might as well be boring into the souls of people working hard to maintain their forgetfulness. As in Snow, the film’s emphasis on acknowledging the victims and offering them a proper burial highlights the need for truth and reconciliation in war-torn regions of the world. Erasure is for the immoral and amoral, and Slak and her talented ensemble do what they can to ensure that human life and memory are honored.

Catch the Wind screens Wednesday, March 14 at 8:15 p.m. The Miner screens Friday, March 30 at 6 p.m. and Monday, April 2 at 8 p.m. Both films show at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.

Previous coverage

Hitler’s Hollywood: A comprehensive and probing look at the films Germany made during the Nazi era highlights the ideology offered by Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels to the German people in support of Hitler’s agenda. (Germany)

Song of Granite: An experimental biopic of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney offers the sounds of his world while somewhat obscuring his life story. (Ireland/Canada)

Happy Birthday: A fictional look at the confrontations between police and students during the 2008 Athens riots highlights the difficulties of reconciliation, as riot cop and his rebel daughter try to reconnect at during a weekend in the country. (Cyprus/Greece)

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