Bad Weather: Perm Festival Review

Bad Weather Film Giovanni Giommi - H 2012

Bad Weather Film Giovanni Giommi - H 2012

Festival pleaser that blends brothel island story and climate change warning into a winning formula.

Giovanni Giommi's Bangladesh documentary portrays brutally exploited sex workers who face the loss of their homes through climate change.

A documentary combining aesthetic rigor, social concern and commercial appeal, Giovanni Giommi's Bad Weather is a stand-out collective portrait of exploited women working on a brothel island in the Bay of Bengal, whose troubles are deepened by the prospect of losing their homes due to climate change. At the Flahertiana Festival of Documentary Movies in Perm, Russia, it picked up both the main jury prize and the international critics award. With its cast of engaging characters, an exotic setting and a message of hope in extreme adversity, the film is a good candidate for independent arthouses.

Banishanta, home to a community of several dozen sex-workers and their dependents, is a tiny low-lying island off the coast of Bangladesh, some 300 feet long and 30 feet wide. Italian filmmaker Giommi spent three months filming the villagers as they went about their business of earning a living and coping with the consequences of global warming, which include frequent tropical storms and a rising sea-level. He sets the women at the heart of the film, opening with their accounts of how they fell into prostitution: sometimes for want of any other form of work, more often through the use of force or deception by their menfolk.

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Their clients arrive invariably by boat. The ferryman Sohel is married to Khadija, one of the sex-workers, and is so deeply in love with her that he cannot bear to be away from her for more than 24 hours. Razia, the women's good-natured but coolly determined representative, travels to the capital Dhaka for talks with other union leaders, while the village imam advises that it is not for him or for anyone else to judge the women in their strategy for survival. The most striking voice is that of the village madman Litu, whose apparently incoherent ramblings, warning of "the end" to come, provide an alternative form of wisdom.

From this unpromising material, Giommi has fashioned a film that is curiously uplifting. The beauty of the images, the bright colors of the women's saris, their lively chatter about sexual pleasure or pride in being able to feed their families, more than offset the darkness of the subject. Bad Weather may be an augury of future catastrophes, but it stands also as a tribute to the human spirit.

For the island is literally crumbling away beneath the villagers' feet, beaten by the rains and by the rising seas. Giommi is keenly attentive to the physical environment, with long tracking shots of the shanties on their thin sliver of land amid the sea-mists, and the impenetrable forests across the bay. The sense of impending doom is augmented by Ursula Schifflein's brooding electronic score which does for Bad Weather what Popol Vüh's soundtracks did for the early films of Werner Herzog. The visuals may also owe something to the great German director.

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Venue: Perm, Russia, Flahertiana International Documentary Film Festival, October 13, 2012

Production companies: filmproduktion (Germany), Cornbread

Films (UK), Century Films, ZDF

Director: Giovanni Giommi

Screenwriter: Giovanni Giommi

Producers: Heino Deckert, Carlotta Mastrojanni, Brian Hill

Director of photography: Giovanni Giommi

Editor: Fabio Capalbo

Music: Ursula Schifflein

World sales: Deckert Distribution

No rating, 82 minutes