The Portuguese-produced, Gulbenkian Foundation-funded omnibus film The State of the World (O Estado do Mundo, 2007) joins September 11 (2003), Paris, Je T'Aime (2006), and other feature-length works made around the same time that resurrect the form and structure of the classic "episode picture." Like the aforementioned titles, the scope here is international: six directors from around the globe were each invited to contribute a sketch of around 15 minutes, on the theme of sociocultural change as it occurs transcontinentally -- change in populace, landscape, economy, and/or lifestyles. The directors who agreed to participate include Belgian Chantal Akerman, Portuguese Pedro Costa, Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Chinese Wang Bing, Brazilian Vicente Ferraz, and Indian Ayisha Abraham.
Weerasethakul's segment, "Luminous People," opens the picture, and depicts one Thai family's ash-scattering ceremony following the death of a beloved relative, as they cruise down the Mekong River in a boat between Laos and Thailand. The director utilizes a broken stream of metonymical shots to create a dreamlike, gossamery ambience, and consciously resists any explanatory voice-over or interpretation, instead encouraging his subjects to reflect on the meaning of the ceremony in voice-over. Next up is Ferraz's contribution, "Germano" -- a message-laden allegory about the elderly Brazilian fisherman of the title (Paschoal Vilaboim), saddled with a minimal crew, who must pilot his tiny vessel beyond its safe and shallow haven and venture boldly into deep waters to draw a healthy catch. En route, however, he must face a lull in the dreaded doldrums and the presence of a mammoth Russian oil tanker. Abraham helms the third segment, "One Way" -- a documentary piece that meditates on the life of Shyam Bahadur, a Nepali emigrant who works as a security guard in Bangalore. Per its title, Bing's fourth segment, "Brutality Factory," bombards the audience with a compendium of almost assaultive images, depicting factory ruins culled from his movie West of the Tracks. Bing then shifts the form of the segment from documentary to docudrama, by filming scripted scenes that depict the torture inflicted by the government on alleged counterrevolutionary dissidents during the notorious Cultural Revolution. A wife is ordered, under threat of execution, to betray her husband. She refuses and is promptly murdered, prior to the sickeningly ironic revelation that the husband committed suicide in 1967. Costa's acclaimed fifth segment, "Tarrafal," unfolds in a dilapidated shack in the outlying regions of Lisbon, where a mother and her son huddle protectively and reflect on the destruction of their Cape Verde home. The mother tells the son a fantastic story about a Boogeyman saddled with the task of determining who is to die, in his roamings throughout the world. Akerman closes the picture with a conceptual art piece -- a montage set in Shanghai, depicting the advertisements for popular products on the sides of buildings and boats. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi
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