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Have you ever visited an international film festival before? Well, I recently got the opportunity to visit one for the first time. The Seattle International Film Festival came through over the last couple of months, and it exhibited a series of high-quality films from across the globe that we otherwise would never see. The one I watched in particular for the festival was AMAMA: When a Tree Falls, produced in Spain and spoken in Basque. It was past my comfort zone to see a movie in another language, yet the experience still proved itself worthwhile by the end. The one thing I learned about seeing movies outside your immediate mode of interest is that they broaden your thoughts about the world and gives a new perspective on how relationships with family and friends ought to function. At first, I knew relationships were about commitment and putting others first, a piece of common knowledge later expanded upon by AMAMA with its theme of ancestry and keeping tradition.
The director and screenwriter Asier Altuna has created a plot less yet effective survey of how a family in a farmland communicates through personal issues. His final product presents a consistently slow, cold and lonely view of the family spliced throughout with footage of old family videos. I would have made some changes to allow more tension to build, but the heart still lingers on the right things.
Altuna's fictional family was inspired by his own experiences growing up on a farm, and it certainly shows, as the fictional family has an interesting way of preserving the wisdom of their ancestors. They believe the seeds they plant preserve wisdom, leaving one child in each generation to inherit the farm. With every new childbirth, they plant a tree in their backyard forest, and the parent of the eldest generation paints each tree depending on whatever personality each child will inherit: red for hard work, white for laziness, and black for rebellion. Picture Of the three kids within the youngest generation, Amaia is the one with the black tree. She has obtained the fortune of inheriting the farm someday, and yet lives in a completely separate world from her father. Actress Iraia Elias could have put in more facial variety in her performance as Amaia, but she still brings across the shut-in city life type of rebellious child with a striking contrast against her surroundings. One day she's shut in her room editing old family photos and videos, the next day she's leaving the farm in her yellow van to go to a city rave.
Then there's the father of the family, Tomás, portrayed by Kandido Uranga. Much like any other workaholic father who puts his career above his kids, he treats life like it's all about rewards in works. He believes in getting work done above allowing the family to interact; a bit like how the typical everyday middle-class father sees his career. For years he has raised up the farm in this old philosophy, his wife too quiet to say anything about his lack of love for their ancestral origins. Tomás is neither the most original character nor the most effective, but he appropriately sets the film's bonding force on family redemption.
Then finally, the eldest of the family, Amama (Basque for grandma), played by Amparo Badiola, is where the most powerful core of the film lies. Her screen time consists majorly of sitting, intently staring, and talking about the approaching judgment day, and with that alone she commands the most authority in binding all the narrative's loose ends. She proves how any serious actor should rely on good delivery more than good dialogue to bring out an expert performance.
That being said, I still wish the actors had more to work with. They're all playing such finely-tuned characters with so much to add to one another's emotional journey, but I don't feel like Asier Altuna staged them well enough for all the emotions to reach the audience. We don't always get clean looks of their faces when they're feeling distraught, and the constantly slow pace ironically makes it harder to care.
Regardless of the clear flaws however, AMAMA: When a Tree Falls still projects the value of a redemptive father and the importance of inter-generational communication within the family tree. It addresses the commonly forgotten moral on how the one responsible for family conflict needs also to resolve it. It also teaches the value of living in the countryside as opposed to the busy loudness of the city, an important moral seeing how we Americans today ought to learn how to habitually get away from the noise.
Yet here's the unfortunate catch on this well-done survey of the simple life: no one in the United States will ever get a chance to see it. Everyone, including you and me, will go back to watching the easily accessible big-scale blockbusters that exist for no reason other than to make a quick buck. I believe that we still have the power to broaden our scopes on ourselves and our loved ones. Here is a list of some foreign-language films that could hopefully appeal to you, as I know from experience that walking through new territories will help you to understand your place in our confused, selfish world we call Earth.
Overall Grade: B
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