International Film Festival spotlights other cultures

By Brooks Robards

Now in its 14th year, the M.V. International Film Festival, playing through Sunday, Sept. 8, brings a welcome bounty of foreign films to the Island. The festival screenings provide fascinating windows into other cultures.

Here are three films of those I have watched that seem particularly insightful about the unusual places where they are based. “The Bra” comes from Azerbaijan (produced with Germany), and plays at the Film Center on Friday, Sept. 6, with director Veit Helmer leading a post-film Q and A. “Sibel” is set in a remote Turkish village and plays on Sunday, Sept. 8. Playing at the Capawock on Sunday is “Fig Tree” from Ethiopia.

In “The Bra,” conductor Nurlan guides his train down a narrow street in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. At the end of the day he removes the debris that collects on its front. One time a woman’s brassiere happens to land on the train’s front. Nurlan, who is about to retire, retrieves it and begins looking for the owner. One woman after another tries on the bra, but it doesn’t fit any of them. Husbands are, of course, angry about Nurlan’s visits to their wives with the bra, and at one point, some of them even beat up the conductor. Much of the comic charm of “The Bra,” which has no dialogue, comes from actor Predrag Manojlik, who plays Nurlan with an expressive and unprurient face. The role the train plays in the lives of Baku’s citizens sheds interesting light on the world of this former Soviet republic.

In a remote Turkish village, most citizens understand and/or communicate in a unique whistling language. “Sibel” tells the story of an eponymous young woman who has no choice but to whistle because she is mute. An outcast, Sibel spends much of her time hunting for an elusive wolf said to threaten the village. She hopes that by killing it, she will be accepted by the villagers. When a man named Ali assaults her, she retaliates by dragging him into a pit she’s dug to capture the wolf. Because Ali is in hiding and has an injured leg, Sibel nurses him at an isolated cabin, and they become companions of sorts. They uncover bones that may not be the wolf’s. Sibel’s sister Fatma has been contracted to marry, then the marriage is canceled when villagers find out Sibel has been spending time alone in the woods with Ali. “Sibel” offers a fascinating view of a culture that communicates with whistles and the effect it has on the heroine.

The era for “Fig Tree” is the 1989 civil war in Ethiopia, and 16-year-old Mina’s Jewish family hopes to escape the conflict by emigrating to Israel. Mina lives with her grandmother outside Addis Ababa, and her mother has already arrived in Israel. Because the military government forces young men into military service, Mina’s boyfriend Eli hides in a fig tree to avoid conscription. The fig tree is where the couple meet, and one day they discover a legless man in a military uniform under the tree, with a noose around his neck. They rescue him, bring him home and offer food, but once recovered, the crippled man drags himself away. This film follows the complicated efforts of Mina’s family to negotiate the process for leaving Ethiopia, and Mina’s resistance to leaving without Eli. In addition to demonstrating the political implications of the civil war, “Fig Tree” captures poignantly the world of Ethiopia as it existed in 1989.

These three films, as well as many others, illustrate the International Film Festival’s value in exploring the globe and identifying its nations’ distinctive qualities.

Information and tickets, including all-access passes, are available for the M.V. International Film Festival at Information on films playing at Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown is available at