EIFF blog: Kinship, Sacrifice, Diplomacy
In 1897, Danish photographer Peter Elfelt etched snow and fur onto celluloid as he captured Travelling with Greenlandic Dogs. A husky-drawn sled rushes its driver beyond the limits of the frame. Seconds later, the sled reappears, but with its displaced driver hurtling through the snow, trying to regain his seat. In all of a minute tables turn, a story emerges and life somehow enchants. Three very different documentaries were shown as part of the Focus on Denmark strand at Edinburgh International Film Festival, and it’s clear that 115 years after its pioneering work, Danish documentary still blossoms.
To an only child, the four snapshots of kinship in Siblings – For Better or Worse were mesmerising; for all the softness of their articulation. The touching Me and My Twin is a delicate portrait of once identical twin sisters. Once – Cecille, the more independent of the girls, has had cancer since she was three years old, while Katrine is healthy. They are softly chronicled as they bicker over cards, experiment with makeup and make the huge decision to be in different classes at their new school. Altogether lasting 77 minutes, the four pieces from filmmakers Max Kestner, Mikala Krogh, Laila Hodell and Aage Rais-Nordentoft successfully craft new perspective from the most commonplace of materials.
Meanwhile Mattet, Theresa and Roselie are the subjects of Au Pair, an intensely human look at the young Filipino women who sacrifice their families, love lives and ambition to work long hours in Copenhagen's affluent suburbia. Selflessness and sacrifice are the order of the day; Mattet sends over two-thirds of her wages home, along with freshly Skyped smiles and tears to get her mother through chemotherapy sessions. Theresa hasn’t seen her baby daughter in 18 months and Roselie pays her younger sister's schooling with her earnings. All three women face deportation after 18 months, the maximum term of a Danish residence permit.
To an avid champion of the Vice documentaries, gonzo journalism and charismatic but unattractive men, The Ambassador was a match made in… well, in a pseudo match factory in the Central African Republic. After tramping his motley comedy troupe all over the Dear Leader’s front room with 2009 documentary The Red Chapel, brazen Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger shed his identity to slip on the gleaming boots of Liberian diplomat Mr Cortzen. Cortzen brokers a title from a diplomacy Del Boy then proceeds to lubricate his way to the diamond mines of the Central African Republic with cash-stuffed ‘envelopes of happiness’, hidden cameras and slippery diplomatic fixer Paul. While many an aspersion has been cast over the authenticity of Brügger’s methods, the wariness to laugh at his balls-out, ferocious neo-colonial posturing on Monday evening was something of an education in itself.