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Mixed Media: Film

Doing it for themselves –Trafficked circus workers set up their own Circus Kathmandu.

Even When I Fall (93 minutes) co-directed by Kate McLarnon and Sky Neal

Six years in the making, this revealing, resonating doc opens by telling us that 10,000 children are trafficked from Nepal to India, many of them to slavery in circuses. Saraswoti was one of them, sold at the age of eight. At 14 she was married to the circus owner’s son. By 17 she’d had three children. At 25, after her husband’s death, she was returned to her family in Nepal.

She was beaten, where her circus costume would hide the bruises, and though she has a grace and fluency there’s a detachment that suggests an otherworldliness. She doesn’t talk easily about her experiences, but says she no longer feels love for the family who gave her away. Her friend Sheetal says the same, and doesn’t know her age, or caste. Both are illiterate, know no other life, and, on return, faced stigma and exclusion.

The underlying cause of trafficking is grinding poverty, which the 2015 earthquake has clearly made worse. Saraswoti, at one point, says she was happier at the circus. There, she and her children had food and shelter. What can they do in Nepal?

The answer was Circus Kathmandu, Nepal’s first and only circus that she, Sheetal, and 11 other survivors of trafficking, set up. They tour villages. They perform. Their workshops give kids a feel for movement and performance. They set up audience dialogue with short action dramas about the grim realities of trafficking. They suggest possibilities, widen horizons, counter prejudice. They warn, and survive.

★★★★ ML

120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (143 minutes) directed and co-written by Robin Campillo

Not to be silenced – HIV/AIDS activists take to the streets in 1990s France.

They appear on stage, holding placards, shouting slogans, interrupting the professional politician’s speech. A bag of what seems to be blood splatters the speaker who staggers, shocked, and is then handcuffed to the set. Cut to passionate debate at the debrief. A slim, bright young man – Sean – defends himself against the charge of indiscipline, of breaking the code of non-violence. They are members of ACT UP in 1990s Paris who are protesting government and pharmaceutical company indifference and inaction in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The activists appear uninvited to raise awareness in schools and colleges and the sometimes hostile gay community. They organize politicized funerals of those among them who have died.

120 BPM is unusual in honouring a collective and its culture. The protests are exuberant and celebratory; the invasions well-planned and dramatic. The film gets the politics brilliantly, and its members’ commitment, seriousness, honesty and guts. It gets its members’ takes on it. To a degree it also gets the more personal – we see a new member’s admiration for Sean grow into love. Yet there is a failure to engage fully the audience, to rein in the generic. And, apart from Sean and his partner, to round out character. This weakens the narrative and provokes an audience fatalism that cuts against the film’s ethos. It needs more of its intimacies and anxieties to really hit home.

★★★★ ML

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