Thai film maker, Phuttiphong Aroonpeng's Manta Ray and Israeli director, Yona Rozenkier's The Dive both screened on the festival's first full day on Wednesday.
Patience is a virtue – and Manta Ray is proof that the proverb holds true. Aroonpeng had to wait seven years to complete his first feature film after making a number of shorts and already having established himself behind the camera for others.
From the first jungle scenes, with strange, glowing lights appearing as if from nowhere, Manta Ray reminds us of Thailand's Cannes Golden Palm winner in 2010. The same sort of mystery and spirituality prevails as in Apichatpong Weerasetakul 's Uncle Boonmee and Tropical Malady. Dialogue is pared down to the barest.
The film leaves questions hanging. Where has the main character come from with a bullet in his chest? What happened to the fisherman who saves him and shares his home with him? Who are the corpses buried in the jungle? What does the captain of the fishing trawler have to do with them?
The Thai-Franco-Chinese coproduction is an unidentified reference to an unsolved crime near the border between southern Thailand and Malaysia. A mass grave containing the corpses of Rohingya who fled Myanmar was uncovered in 2015 in that area.
The Dive plunges the audience into a world on the edge of Europe, in what might be called West Asia. The characters look familiarly European to audiences in Nantes, but the everyday context on a kibbutz in Israel is wholly unimaginable. The kibbutz ideal in this film has become as run down and seedy as the place itself.
Not one young woman lives there. No future.
There are a few young men. They come and go. Three brothers, in real-life too, are the main characters, and could be facets of one alone. Add a special friend, nicknamed 'Private' and that makes four under 40s.
The three meet up a year after the death of their father, on the kibbutz where they have grown up. Yoav returns from Tel Aviv. He was kicked out of the army and suffers from PTSD. The youngest is due to go to fight in Lebanon but he's unprepared and despairing. The elder brother is resentful and belligerent, and on edge. He's helped his mother looked after the sick father and sees himself as the defence force for the elderly kibbutzim.
Yona Rozenkier broaches a skewer-full of issues facing young people in Israel who have to be in the army, and probably go to fight. The feelings of parents, siblings and friends are equally and keenly broached, from a resigned mother shaving her son's head, to a father disarmed when dealing with the loss of a son. Filmed on the kibbutz where Rozenkier and his two brothers grew up, each playing one of the brothers in the film, they appear to be naturally gifted actors.
The brothers only bond when they manage to meet in virile exercise. It's natural for one, in anger for another and a watershed for the third.
The touches of dark humour in The Dive are as irreverent and absurd as Monty Python. Such scenes are accompanied by natty music with Yiddish back-melodies, the work of Israel Bright.
Take for example the reason the trio reunite. It's because it's time to bury the remnants of their father who died a year earlier but dedicated his organs to science. The hospital has kindly sent back the bits it didn't use. Some thoughtful soul has stuck labels on the coldbox hamper and a black plastic bin bag containing the body parts, which read, "Bernard - do not throw away". A summary prayer for the dead is read by the kibbutz bartender.
Haunting vestiges of childhood are never far beneath the surface in The Dive. In that sense you could dub it a belated coming-of-age film. Actually, it's a lot more, and an interesting glimpse into a part of Israeli society, and its emotions which are very rarely exported.