Chicago International Film Festival Summer Screening
Chicago’s International Film Festival is gearing up for the season with their summer International Screening Program! This free, weekly film series features 18 independent films from all over the globe, from poignant dramas to riotous comedies.
Coming on July 22 is the incredible tale of Macondo, by Austrian director Sudabeh Mortezai. This, powerful, coming-of-age story is centered around a Chechen refugee boy. This central character is played by Ramasan Minkailov. The young boy’s family flees from a war-torn Chechnya to the Viennese neighborhood of Macondo. A child Ramasan’s age could be the man of the house in Chechnya. Yet, he must learn to live in a new society where they view him as a child. Things change when Isa arrives at the settlement. Isa introduces himself as an ex-soldier and comrade of Ramasan’s father, who died in the war. The boy begins to wonder about the father he barely knew. Simultaneously he is learning how to open up to this new father figure.
Director Mortezai told cineurpoa.org in an interview that she started with the location. She heard about a refugee settlement nicknamed “Macondo” on the outskirts of Vienna. After doing research, talking to refugees and exploring the settlement, Mortezai decided that she wanted to do something different: create a narrative.
Compelling Narrative-The Boys from Chechnya
“The boys from Chechnya … became very interesting to me, and I started to spin the story around that child,” Mortezai told cineurpoa.
The cast members were not professional actors. Most of them were actual refugees. Mortezai’s criterion was that they had to be real people. She wrote a full screenplay for the film, but the actors never saw it. Incredibly, they improvised every scene. However, Mortezai said they worked chronologically so the actors could grow with the characters.
“When they needed a line, I would tell them … ‘at some point, you should really say this, but how you get there is up to you,’” Mortezai told cineuropa.
Praise and Criticism of Macondo
Matt Micucci, 25, director of programming at FRED.fm praised Macondo in movie blog CineCola. He said “Macondo shows great humanity and intensity with its many creative points and different ways of dealing with the heavy issues very naturally,” he wrote.
In an email from Matt, he further explained that, “Macondo doesn’t waste time in setting up a backstory. It doesn’t manipulate the viewer with use of soundtrack.”
But some critics say the film lacked the transformation typically seen in the protagonists of cinema.
Christian Siegel, movie blogger, 35, wrote in movie blog, A life in 24fbs, “something can be said about the traditional ‘hero journey’ movie structure, where the main protagonist has to overcome some outer or inner obstacle, and during the course of this struggle, grows or at least changes as a person, which is exactly what Macondo is missing in my opinion.”
“To me, it seemed as if Sudabeh Mortezai first and foremost was interested in portraying a (fictional) immigrant family living in this refugee complex, and less in telling an actual (interesting, gripping) story.” Siegel wrote in an email to IndyNews. “Thus, I just missed … a clear journey of protagonists going from A to B,” he said. “Which, granted, is probably more honest and life-like than a more traditional approach … but ultimately had me thinking, ‘what was the point?’”
Despite that, Siegel says boy actor Minkailov gives an incredible and raw performance.
“I’ve seen my fair share of bad child performances, and I think it’s extremely difficult when you got someone who’s never acted before,” Siegel wrote in an email to IndyNews. “He was very natural and believable.”
Mortezai won the Best Director Award for Macondo at the LECCE European Film Festival. He was selected in Variety’s Critics Choice.