Powerful drama about Chechen refugees wows Berlin fest

BERLIN- A powerful debut feature about Chechen asylum-seekers in Europe, "Macondo", by a female director who had to leave Iran as a child drew cheers Friday at the Berlin film festival.
As the competition for the Golden Bear top prize wrapped up a day ahead of a gala awards ceremony, Austrian-Iranian filmmaker Sudabeh Mortezai premiered the picture made with lay actors.

The film, which emerged as a strong contender among 20 international entries to the competition by the likes of Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater, is set at an actual refugee settlement on the tough industrial outskirts of Vienna.
The community has existed since the 1950s and now houses some 5,000 people from around 20 countries.
It was nicknamed "Macondo" by Chilean asylum seekers in the 1970s, after a town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude".
The film tells the story of Ramasan, an 11-year-old Chechen boy who lives in Macondo with his war widow mother Aminat and two sisters, all played by Chechen refugees.
As the "man of the house", Ramasan is expected to look after his young siblings while his mother is at work and to translate German for her while her asylum application is being processed.
But Ramasan is still grieving the loss of his father and when another Chechen war veteran at Macondo, Isa, tries to take him under his wing, the boy latches on to the prospect of having a male role model.
But when the boy suspects Isa is trying to woo his mother, Ramasan turns against him and begins to run with a tough crowd of Roma kids from the settlement.
They lure him into break-ins and shoplifting, putting the family's asylum application at risk and leading to a fateful confrontation with Isa.
- About 80 percent real life -
Mortezai, who grew up in Tehran, said her starting point on the film had been her own experience trying to begin a new life with her family in Europe.
"I arrived in Austria at the age of 12 from Iran and so I have a very strong personal connection to this material even though it's about a boy and not a girl," she said.
Mortezai said she did film workshops at Macondo and in the process cast residents who could improvise well on camera.
"I didn't set out to make a film about Chechen refugees but it arose out of the community at Macondo -- you have a lot of people with that background there," she said, calling the film a collaborative effort.
Ramasan Minkailov, who played the boy, said he was able to call on his own experience for the role.
"It really is my character and my story, except for the stealing and things," he said. "It's about 80 percent my real life."
"Macondo" recalls the Bosnian docudrama "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker", which scooped two prizes at the Berlin film festival last year including best actor for its star, Nazif Mujic.
One year later, Mujic is now seeking asylum in Berlin with his wife and three children.
"Macondo" generated positive buzz on social media, with Geoff Andrew of the British Film Institute tweeting that the film was a "a treat and undoubtedly one of the best" at the 11-day festival.

Friday, February 14th 2014

New comment:

News | Politics | Features | Arts | Entertainment | Society | Sport

At a glance