Opening on Friday at the Cinema Village in New York, “Virus of Fear” is identical thematically to the “The Hunt”, a very fine Danish film that I reviewed for CounterPunch in 2014. “The Hunt” starred Mads Mikkelsen as a kindergarten teacher who is falsely accused of exposing himself to a girl in his class. In the “Virus of Fear”, a swimming coach named Jordi is accused of kissing a boy on the lips in his class for elementary school children, when in reality all he did was hug and kiss him on the cheek to stop his crying. The boy was deathly afraid of being in the water without his wings and broke down when Jordi insisted that he swim unaided.
Ninety percent of this tightly-coiled film takes place in the locker room of the upscale Barcelona sports complex where Jordi is interrogated by the manager, a hard nosed middle-aged woman named Anna who has been visited (besieged might be a better word) by the boy’s father. Except for the scene in her office where she fends off the father and some minor scenes between Jordi and another swimming coach named Hector in the locker room, this is essentially a two-character film that has much more in common with a stage play than a film. Whatever medium it conjured up, it made for powerful drama. While barely worth commenting on cinematically, it is a tour de force of dialog and character development that is better than anything you will see in a New York theater today, off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway (forget about Broadway, where a $150 ticket will rot out your brain.)
Anna has to walk a tightrope. She has to communicate the father’s accusations even though she is skeptical that Jordi would prey upon one of his pupils. Did he kiss the boy on the cheek or on the lips? Was he gay? Did he “like” children? The more she ratchets up the interrogation, the more defensive he becomes—finally to the point of throwing off his bathrobe and facing Anna buck naked. He asks, “What would someone say if they came in now?”
What makes “Virus of Fear” more effective than the standard TV “problem” drama is Jordi’s character. He is not that likeable. In a scene with his Hector in the locker room, he talks about how much he would like to bang the mother of one of his students. When Hector bridles at Jordi’s acting out having sex with the woman, Jordi taunts him with the question of whether he might be gay himself. He goes further and acts out taking Hector from behind. In other words, he is a typical locker room macho man.
But in the course of the day (the film elapses over a five-hour period or so), Jordi begins to break down psychologically as the pressure mounts. The word has gotten out that he is under accusation and a number of parents descend upon the club to demand Jordi’s head.
The film is directed by Ventura Pons, a highly regarded Catalan director who has made 27 films. Made in the Catalan language, it is reason enough to take a trip down to Cinema Village to hear it spoken. Born in 1945, Pons spent a decade in the theater before moving on to film. He co-wrote the script with Josep Maria Miró, another Catalan with a background in the theater. Unlike most films, this is one that cares less about cinematography than character. As such, it is a welcome anomaly especially in an age when “Mad Max: Fury Road” gets a 97 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
I regret not having written anything about “Kings of Nowhere” that will be shown at MOMA tonight and tomorrow before now. My only excuse is that I am swamped by book reviews, film reviews and the constant need to do battle with the Putinite left.
This is a Mexican documentary directed by Betzabe Garcia about a handful of families still living in what amounts to a ghost town largely inundated by waters generated by a poorly engineered dam. When I first saw the press release for the film, I thought it would feature scientists and activists knowledgeable about the baleful effects of megadams. While there is no doubt that Garcia made the film out of a need to show the damage they do, it is not a “propaganda” film like “Up the Yangtze” that is about the social and environmental costs of the Three Gorges Dam.
Instead it is focused on the three families who stayed behind, mostly because they were too old, too poor and too much rooted in San Marcos, the tiny town in Sinaloa that fell victim to civil engineering gone bad, just as it and a myriad of other towns have fallen victim of the state’s drug cartel run by “Shorty” Guzman. Most of the film consists of playful recollections about life in San Marcos by the elderly stay-behinds but in one scene, a man talks about how a gunman in a truck pursued him down a dark road late at night firing a pistol at his car.
The film is a work of art visually with the waterlogged town looking more beautiful than Venice (in my eyes) as donkeys, pigs and dogs stroll aimlessly down the as yet unflooded streets. Garcia first visited the town when she was 13 and a member of a theatre company (TATIU) that organized plays in rural and hard-to-reach communities.
Although the film has a languid and ethereal quality, there was danger all about as Garcia explained to “Women and Hollywood”:
San Marcos is not only partly flooded by the dam, but also besieged by armed groups. Since the people who stayed in town largely avoid talking explicitly about the killings in the area, the biggest challenge was to show the fear in which they constantly live and confront on a daily basis, as well as their loneliness.
This surprising film with a sensibility all its own is a reminder of the decency of Mexican townspeople and the artistic vanguard that has made great sacrifices to tell their story. If you want to see some transcendental cinema, check out “Kings of Nowhere” tomorrow at MOMA.