Tallinn Film Festival: Day Four

Slam and Potential Victim

by Anton Bitel

Slam
Slam Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
Slam

After once more venting her feminist, anti-colonialist, anti-racist anger onstage in an elegantly constructed tirade of words (in fact penned by spoken-word artist/activist Candy Royalle, who has since passed away), Syrian-Australian slam poet Ameena Nasser (Danielle Horvat) vanishes. As he searches for the missing younger sister from whom he has long been estranged, "Ricky" (Adam Bakri) - an Anglicisiation of his birth name Tarik - must negotiate not just a hostile media and police harassment, but also an awkward no-man's-land between his native culture and his adopted nation, even as he is still haunted by the childhood trauma that drove him to migrate, and assimilate, to Australia in the first place. Meanwhile, coming with ghosts of her own, police officer Joanne Hendricks (Rachael Blake) finds her missing persons investigation into Ameena leading her to doubt the prevalent tenets and ideologies of her male superiors - and of her country.

All this unfolds against the backdrop of a corresponding disappearance in Syria, as the Australian pilot of a downed fighter plane is abducted by Islamic State, raising the heat and dust of Islamophobia all over the Australian airwaves. Writer/director Partho Sen-Gupta (Let The Wind Blow, 2004; Sunrise, 2014) structures Slam as a mystery thriller, keeping us guessing from the very start as to whether Ameena has been taken by the online white supremacists who keep sending her death threats, or has joined a militant jihad abroad against the West.

It could go either way, but the tension between these two positions engenders a critical dialectic along the Lucky Country's well-guarded borders of race, class and gender. As a film concerned in part with the question of whether - and how - words (rage-fuelled political poetry, violent online trolling) might lead to action, Slam is itself a little overwritten, hammering home too hard its messages about terrorism (domestic, in every sense, as much as external) and the clash of identity. Still, these are urgent issues, and Sen-Gupta offers a suitably complicated picture of them in compelling dramatic form.

Potential Victim (Victima Potencial)

Positing the iconic star as vampiric avatar of the internet age, Potential Victim is both postmodern experiment and extended music video. Chilean singer Sofía Oportot plays a version of herself, sustained, perhaps for eternity, by the dissemination online of her image and music by younger obsessive fans, who are themselves inspired by her lyrics - bleak assessments of modern life and identity delivered in upbeat synth pop - to acts of suicide, becoming "Cyber Ghosts" to her legend.

Expressly influenced as much by the story of The Pied Piper of Hamelin as by Oportot's songs, Nicolás Guzmán's film presents the digital space of the "ALMA system" as the fluid realm where celebrity is spread, diffracted, misappropriated and infected, and where participants become enthusiastically willing victims on the altar of their own longing for communion with their idol. A dizzying mix of abstract voiceovers, chatroom conversations, digital disruptions, fashion shoots, apartment sex, Santiago's modernist cityscape, and tableau-like scenes in which angsty youth drape themselves across furniture or floor, Potential Victims might elicit claims of being incoherent, fragmentary and insubstantial - but those are precisely the qualities of our online existence that it seeks to capture, reflect and refract.

  • Read capsule reviews of Between Covers and Yung
  • Read capsule reviews of Lorik, Erased, Deep Rivers and The World Is Yours
  • Read capsule reviews of As I Fall and Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  • Read capsule reviews of Lonesome Collectors, Cursed Seat, The Pact and The Fall Of The American Empire
  • Read further full reviews and features from Tallinnn Black Nights Film Festival here

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