MSPIFF: Sunday 4/25: Jordan & Syria, France

Sunday was Day 10 of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.  How does a person who’s just returned from vacation in Europe (asking hypothetically, of course) deal with jet lag?  Movies!  Today Mom and I saw two documentaries:

  * [The Unreturned](, Jordan/Syria/Minnesota, [MSPIFF link](  The director is originally from Minneapolis; this documentary was his master's thesis work in film at The New School in New York.  He wanted a project that could make a difference outside of school.  I believe he succeeded well.  Of the estimated 4.5 million refugees who fled Iraq during and after the US invasion, only about 9% of them have returned.  Many middle-class and professionals have not returned, and many don't plan to.  Many more would like to but are still afraid for their safety if they were to return home.  Except that many don't have a home to return to: thieves and squatters make it impossible to return to the home they fled.  The UNHCR tries to help, but they don't have enough resources to help the huge number of refugees.  Those people interviewed for the film, living in Jordan and Syria, cannot work in their host country: the penalty in Jordan (?) is expulsion and being barred from returning for five years.  So they must sit idle, or take illegal, low-paying jobs and watch their savings dwindle.  **Highly recommended**. Not showing again, sorry, though it will probably be shown again in Minnesota in August.
  * [Kings of Pastry](, USA (Chicago) and France, [MSPIFF link](  Every four years, France has a competition across many fields of work that Americans might call blue-collar or skilled manual labor.  This film follows a pastry school instructor from Chicago who makes it into the finals of the pastry making competition: only 16 of about 70 semi-finalists made the cut.  These 16 compete against themselves for the title of M.O.F., Meilleur Ouvrier de France.  If you claim this title falsely in France, you can be arrested.  The finals are pastries and sculpture (chocolate, blown sugar (like glass), and pulled sugar) where the clients are all pastry M.O.F. holders, armed with stopwatches and eyes everywhere to prevent cheating: what ingredients you use, how you make them, the errors you make, and all the scraps you throw away.  No glue or rubber cement allowed!  It's wrenching to see years of preparation shattered in a moment of exhaustion, hopes foiled by fickle sugar spoiled by high humidity.  **Highly recommended**, but eat something before or during the movie.  Not showing again.

Both of these documentaries deserve wider audiences.  “The Unreturned” because it tells a story that very few Americans are aware of.  “Kings of Pastry” because it shows guys with tremendous creativity and skill put through a grueling ordeal to be recognized as masters of their craft.  I’ll write about them again if they’re picked & return for the “Best of the Fest” reprise at the beginning of May.