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2013年3月28日 星期四

Io e te (Me and You) (密室中的我和你)

Bernardo Bertolucci is one of my favourite directors. He has never once disappointed me yet. In his latest film, lo e te (me and you) (2012) he explores the strange relationship between two half siblings inside the basement of their house.

The opening scene of the movie already gives us a hint of the context in which we are to see the film. We see pimple faced 14 year old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) sitting in front of the desk of a shrink. His face is full of anger. He is rude, un-cooperative and unresponsive and was dying for the session to end. He couldn't wait to stand up once his hour is over. The shrink tried his best to be tolerant and understanding but Lorenzo couldn't care less. Next we see him in the school corridor. Despite some invitation by a girl to join her later in her fun activity, he ignored her and continued to listen to the pop music pouring into his ears from his ear phones. He lived in a world of his own, drowned in the waves of sound from the latest heavy rhythm rock music on his headphone. His ear phones served as the muffer to his psyche, locking out anyone trying to get in. His lady teacher reminded the students to bring the money for the coming ski trip and said the next day is the last day for handing in the money if they did not want to miss the ski trip. The following day, we see him with an envelope with money inside. He took out the money and put it inside his trousers pocket and crumpled up the envelope. After class, we see him going into a supermarket, buying 7 packets of orange juice, 7 canned meat, peanut butter and bread. The following morning he packed his stuff for the school ski trip. He was driven to school by his nagging  mother and he shouted at her mother not to drive right in front of the school gate because no kid of his age would be so driven by his mother. His mother insisted on taking him all the way to the school gate. He flew into a rage and shouted at his mother to stop well before she reached the gate. His mother backed down. He got off and continued walking to the school. All the students were preparing to board the big hired coach. We see him dodging his head amidst the crowd and boarding a city bus and returned home. He installed himself in the family basement, listened to his music and read a horror novel about vampires.  But he was not alone long. Unexpectedly, his half sister Olivia (Tea Falco) arrived. He asked her to go. She refused. He begged her. She still refused. There was no way she would leave. He tried to push her out. She shouted and threatened to continue shouting until the whole neighborhood would hear her. He backed down. Then his mother called him and asked to to speak to his teacher. Olivia stood out for him and pretended to the his teacher. She saved him from being exposed to further questioning by his mother. Soon, he discovered Olivia shaking all over. She was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. She told him that she was on drugs and wanted to kick off the habit and needed a place to do so all alone. She said that she would stay there a few days and then would leave to a friend's place in a horse farm. She had decided to kick the habit because her former lover would not agree to have her back unless she was clean.

In the course of the film we see all the withdrawal symptoms normally suffered by a drug addict, dizziness, shivering, feeling of nausea, vomiting etc. They got talking. Lorenzo discovered from her that his father had dumped her mother for Lorenzo's and said that their father bought the house at a discount from a down and out woman aristocratic who sold the house but retained the right to continue to live there until she died and that's why he found so many women's clothes in the cellar. She explained that she used to be a photographer who won some award in America and that she wanted to pick up her life again by weaning herself from heroin. Lorenzo then did what he could to help her. She told Lorenzo that she once had an exhibition in LA with the title "The Wall". According to her, we can walk through the wall if we like as if the wall which separates others from us did not exist, the way Buddha taught us. As the film ends, we see the two emerging from the family cellar into sunlight again, in the middle of the street. We see Lorenzo hugging Olivia to bid her farewell under the morning sunlight in the middle of the streets. Each has won their own battle through mutual help. They were reconciled to each other and to the world. And we see Lorenzo returning home. This final scene reminds me of that The Last Tango in Paris, where we see Marlon Brando emerging from the darkness of his hotel, opening the window and letting the rays of the morning sun fall on his face as he surveys Paris.

To me, the family cellar is also a hide out  where they may keep everything unneeded there; their memories, their secrets, everything hidden is locked away and concealed, covered over in cloth or plastic sheets or by dust. From time to time, we need to take out stuffs from there and put them to new uses. Is that not what Lorenzo is instinctively doing at the start of the film? It's there that both Lorenzo and Olivia put their lives together again. Is Bertolucci trying to tell us that it's the womb of the half brother and sister from which they may derive secret nourishment, away from the sight of the external world? Is he suggesting that it's the purgatory of their soul,  their unconscious? Is it a kind of crucible where they must first suffer in silence and in this case, with support from each other? First Olivia rejected any offer of help from Lorenzo but when she could not sleep, she begged for help and Lorenzo went to see her grandmother in hospital and took some sleeping pills from her for Olivia's use, thus establishing a new family bonding .And when she had overcome the first pains of biological dependence on drugs, she asked for food and again Lorenzo helped him by stealing some from the family frige. The family cellar thus proved to be kind of alchemical crucible of their psyche in which they transformed themselves through their suffering, to emerge chastened and empowered to meet again the pressures of life. It is also literally the cellar where their family secrets are normally kept, where everything is, so to speak , locked away from everyday consciousness.It was in that hole that Olivia promised Lorenzo to stay clean and it was there that Lorenzo promised Olivia never to escape from life again.


The lighting of the settings of that cellar is excellent. it fully brought out the desolate atmosphere felt by Lorenzo and Olivia but there is always hope. They can still access a little sunlight streaming in from a tiny window at ground level. The acting by Antinori and Falco is excellent. They portrayed so well  the state of mind of the two half-siblings: their fears, their angers and their hopes. The film is narrated from the viewpoint of Lorenzo. We are enveloped in Lorenzo's mind. We hear and see what he hears and sees. The camera work is obviously the result of some very careful planning. Bertolucci never disappointed me before. Neither has he done so in the portrait of the salvation of two members of that Italian family.



2013年3月27日 星期三

Something in the Air (Après Mai)(五月風,繼續吹)

For a whole generation of Frenchmen, May 1968 is the symbol of the struggle for freedom, self-realization, student rights,workers rights etc. It has now passed from history into legends and myths. In March, 1968, more than a hundred students, musicians and poets first occupied the Nanterre campus of University of Paris against bureaucratic control of the University's funding. The police were called in. The student leaders made certain declaration of what they thought was needed and left. The administration then held  disciplinary proceedings against those involved and threatened to expel them. After months of futile negotiations, on the 2nd May, 1968, the administration declared the University closed. This led to protests and demonstrations by the students at the U of Paris, Sorbonne. Again the police were called in.The students and workers joined hands at  at the Arc de Triomphe to
demand that  all criminal charges against arrested students be dropped,
the police quit occupation of the university and the authorities reopen
Nanterre and Sorbonne.The  Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF) then called for a general revolution and they were supported by disgruntled workers and by high school (lyseé) students and students at other universities all over France and also by leftist university lecturers and professors. Their call were answered by more than 11 million workers, about 2 thirds of the French working force. They held demonstrations for minimum wages and for massive increases in their pay and improvement of working conditions etc. More than a million people marched through the streets of Paris in protests. There were strikes all over France. The railways workers refused to run the trains. There were street battles with the police, armed with shields, wielding batons, firing teargas at the barricade creating and stone throwing car burning students and workers,but there were also agent provocateurs etc resulting in numerous injuries, arrests and prosecutions of hundreds of the protesters and demonstrators. The events were broadcast live on TV as they happened. The country was paralyzed for more than 2 weeks. Workers occupied some 50 factories and plants all over France including Sud Aviation and Renault plant. The demonstrations and strikes were spontaneous and not under the control of trade unions nor the organized socialists and communists which were inclined to  co-operate with the authorities. There were calls for widespread changes in the structure of French society. Prominent amongst them were the Maoists and Trotskyites. It was a time of confusion, of exploration, of hopes, of idealism.   But it was a failed revolution. General de Gaulle, the war time hero and President of France at the time, fled to a military base in Germany, then dissolved the French National Assembly and held general elections in June 1968 and the Gaullists came out stronger than before the "revolution". Even now many French intellectuals looked back upon that time of ferment, that atmosphere for change with nostalgia. My 19th film at the HKIFF is one of the delayed result of those events half a century after they happened. The French title of the movie "Après Mai" literally means "after May".

But the film by Oliver Assayas has a special angle. it follows the lives of two high school students about to graduate who wished to become artists, painters or film maker Alain (Felix Armand) Jean-Peare (Hugo Conzelmann), their free thinking girl friends Christine (Lola Créton), Laure (Carole Combes), Leslie (India Munuez)  and their revolutionary friends. We see their creativity, their enthusiasm for life, their uncertainties, their desire for change, their participation in spreading the message of reform, for "the struggle" against established values and established institutions and also some of their destructive activities, like bomb throwing at the head quarters of right wing political student organizations, their physical fights, the printing and distribution of revolutionary pamphlets, the speeches at workers meetings in France and Italy, the screening of Communist financed propaganda films about the success of the "revolution" in Laos etc, their free love, their smoking of opium, heroin etc. But revolution is not all idealism. They've got to decide what and where and how to work, to enter college or art school if they wish to become what they wanted to be, although they did not have any clear ideas about what that might mean.

What I like about this film is that the director does not have any explicit "message". He just shows us what it was like and how it felt to be living and experiencing all those confusing events happening at that time of change, of hope, of deep division at the heart of French society and the sense of urgency and exhilaration and even euphoria felt by the young and the radical elements of France at that time. The atmosphere was excellently captured. I like the way the camera follows the characters around as they move from one spot to another, continuously without break, as if the camera itself has become part of that youthful dynamism, that pulsating flow of life at that time of tentative exploration. of probing, of self- discovery and of the music which seem to fully reflect the ease,the fluidity, their dissatisfaction with the status quo, their hopes for change and the openness about what may happen. 


2013年3月26日 星期二

Beyond the Hills (非常教慾)

My 18th film at the HKIFF takes me back to Europe. Beyond the Hills, the third feature film by Rumanian director Christian Mingiu is a neutral look at the plight of certain ignorant Orthodox Catholic peasant nuns in a remote part of Rumania who had little to look forward to except the promised salvation in a next life.

As the film opens we see two young ladies having an intimate conversation inside a room in a convent. Alina (Cristina Flutur), a non-believer who had been with Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) since they met an orphanage in Rumania at primary one and had developed a very intimate bodily relationship with her, has just arrived from Germany where she is working and tries her best to persuade her ex to join her to work on a German cruise ship. But Voichikta says that her heart has now been taken over by God and that she has decided to devote her life to Him. Alina is furious and will not stop until she gets her way. In the process, she got into conflict with the pragmatic autocratic, dogmatic but compassionate head of the convent, the Orthodox priest whom everyone there called "Papa" (Valeriu Andriuta) who genuinely believed that there are 364 types of sins of man. Nobody there seem to understand why Alina is an unbeliever and after having exhausted all the available means they can think of to make her see the "light" and after constantly praying for her soul but without any apparent success and after she tried to set her own room on fire in a suicide attempt, they decided that Alina must be possessed by the devil and then went on to perform an "exorcism" upon her, with the notional consent of Alina's semi-retarded brother, a ritual which involves having to restrain her and tying her to a wooden crucifix. As a result, the fiery and unstable Alina finally calms down. She dies. She is rushed to the hospital, where she is treated without any sympathy or any apparent care and concern. She is pronounced dead before arrival. In fact, the religious community had already sent her to the same hospital once but owing to lack of ambulance, they had to use their own vehicle. There, she was given an injection which calmed her down and was quickly sent back to the convent where the hospital staff said that she would probably haven been better taken care of.

Is Alina possessed by the devil? Or is she just suffering from temporary insanity brought on by her raging hormones? We see the contrast of how she is treated at the convent and at the hospital. At the convent she is treated with respect and there is genuine care and concern for her spiritual welfare but at the hospital, she is treated as just another patient which need to be treated and discharged as quickly as possible. Religious fervor prompted by ignorance, superstition and blind faith unaided by any scientific knowledge Vs scientific knowledge administered coldly, bureaucratically without any sentiments. Ignorant religious and spiritual care and completely secular rational indifference? Which is better? Which is worse?  Those seem to be the questions posed by the film. Whatever the true answer may be, at the end of the film we find policemen rounding up all the witnesses who were involved in the last hours of the life of Alina, like an obedient flock of sheep. The last we see them, they were driven back to town, the priest, the sisters and all who assisted the priest to perform the exorcism. to the rumbling sound of the motor of the police van. The acting by Flutur, Stratan and Andriuta is excellent as also that of the mother superior Dana Tapalaga. The cinematographic works by Oleg Mutu is beyond reproach: he fully captures the rural atmosphere and the helplessness of the well-meaning sisters as they collectively ran about and mechanically co-operated with each other in doing whatever the priest or the mother superior said needed to be done, like ants. The film based on a real event, and a non-fiction "novel" by Tatiana Niculescu Bran, leaves us wondering where the truth may lie.


Disconnect (斷了線)

My 17th HKIFF film catapulted me from early 1800s Portugal back to contemporary America. I wonder if the film Disconnect by Henry Alex Rubin might not have been secretly funded by various producers of anti-virus software. It's a story about about how fraud might be committed through that universal and omnipresent, omnipotent media of communication called the internet and how easily what we say on the internet, including our most intimate personal details may be traced and monitored by others and in the wrong hands be  exploited. The story traces three of them, emotional fraud, commercial fraud and sex fraud.

The internet really connects people in the virtual world and by the same token it can disconnect people in the real world. In this thriller, we are introduced to the lives of three families.  Derek (Alexander Skarsgård), a former marine and now a business executive suddenly discovers that his credit card was rejected whilst working at Sao Paulo. He suspects that his wife Cindy (Paula Patton) has been overspending. She did not. He reports the matter to the police who didn't help much. So he hired Mike (Frank Grillo), a private detective who had been working at the police cyber crime squad for 20 years whose report made a surprise finding: Derek's wife had been communicating with another person Steven Schumacher (Michael Nyqvist) whom she thought was a member of an internet support group and had revealed to Steven the most intimate details of her thoughts about her marriage to Derek, in particular her inability to have another child after the death of their first and how she felt she was drifting away from her husband. Suspecting that Steven was making use of the internet to gain access to her and his personal financial data, Derk decided to stalk him, burgled into his house in the hope of finding sufficient evidence to help the police nail him or alternatively to confront him face to face to demand him to pay back the huge amount of money which he thought Steven had stolen from his bank account to such an extent that he and his wife had to move out from their present mortgaged home for default in payment as all his bank accounts had been frozen. He discovered later that in fact, that Steven himself was also a victim. His name and identity had been also been stolen by the real criminals who used his name as a platform. It nearly led to a killing.

The second story concerns a music loving teenager who is not very good at making friends Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo) who was fooled by two of his school mates Frye (Aviad Bernstein) and Shane (Kevin Csolak) who communicated with him on Facebook under the false name of Jessica with a photo of a girl they picked at random on the internet and then invited him to post a picture of his penis with words that he is prepared to be her love slave. The following day, his photo was posted in a social network so that the entire school population saw it and he was the made the butt of malicious jokes and snickers. He hanged himself in his bedroom. His absentee lawyer father Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman) was surprised and shocked and started to check out the whole thing. He continued to communicate with that fictitious "Jessica" . The real culprits responded as if they did not know that his son was in a coma in hospital but finally Frye could not resist the temptation of seeing how Ben was at the hospital when he was seen by Rich. Rich then tracked him down and gave him a real thrashing, until his father returned just in time to stop him. His father Mike was the cyber detective in the first story. 

The third story relates how a TV reporter (played by Hope Davis) of a small local TV network made an exposé about an internet racket selling sex chat services through young male teenagers. The investigative news reports proved a hit and CNN asked for permission to put it through their news network. This caught the attention of the FBI which stepped in. The story is about the delicate balance between need of a journalist to secure the personal trust of persons who are persuaded to give information of how cyber porn network works and the needs of law enforcement. The lady reporter involved knew that she was treading a thin red line but could not completely detach herself from what she thought was the the personal welfare of her informant Kyle (Max Thieriot).  She probably felt a pang of conscience about having to a certain extent exploited him for the benefit of herself as a journalist and for her company and tried her best to ease her conscience by "helping" him , after having revealed the whereabouts of his organization to the FBI and nearly got herself killed in the process by continuing to keep in touch with him now under "false pretenses" (?) that she was genuinely concerned about him. But when she finally found him, Kyle who had developed some genuine feelings for her, denounced her for the hypocrite that she was when she rejected his request to go away with him to live another new life.

Though not superb, the three stories do interweave quite well together with the skillful editing by Percy Lee, keeping the suspense going until the truth of the three dramas finally exploded before our eyes. An excellent Hollywood production. It invites us to think a little more both about how cyber networks are corroding any meaningful personal communication and its risks for all kinds of frauds.The director did not offer any solutions though. Can we blame him? With the mounting ease of communicating with others through internet technology, are we not ironically drifting further and further apart because of the "anonymity" of our real personal identities? Are we not losing touch with one another? Have we not become even more disconnected from one another in all sorts of ways? Apart from the cliché that we must become more aware of the potentially destructive power of the internet, are there really any easy solutions?


2013年3月25日 星期一

Lines of Wellington (威靈頓戰線)

My 16th  film at the HKIFF The Lines of Wellington is a condensed version of what originally was intended as a mini TV series about one of the Napoleonic Wars called the Battle of Bassasco (1810), a project first started by the Chilean director Raúl Ruíz who later died and then completed by his widow  Valeria Sarmiento. It centres on events around the Battle of Bassasco (1810). Its cast is literally a who's who in European cinema: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Amalric, Vincent Pérez,
Marisa Paredes, Chiara Mastroianni, Melvil Poupaud, Michel Piccoli, Elsa
Zylberstein, Christian Vadim. Vincent Lindon, Malik Zidiuopean and John Malkovich. 

It's a rambling tale consisting of many interweaving story lines following the very different fates of about a dozen motley characters:a Portuguese soldier poet Zé Maria (José Afonso Pimentel) , a Portuguese lieutenant Tenente Pedro de Alencar (Carlotto Catta), his Sergeant 'Chico' Francisco Xavier (Nuno Lopes) who finally succeeded in winning the woman of his heart, a scholar Vicente de Almeida (Filipe Vargas) who lost his wife Maureen (Jemina West), a teenage boy suffering from Parkinson's disease (João Arrais)   who is constantly abused by a tinkler, a portrait loving Duke Wellington (John Malkovich)  a teenage English flirt whose father had a vineyard in Portugal, an English Major Jonathan Foster (Marcello Urgeghe), another Portuguese lady who is the wife D Filipa Sanchez ( Maria Paredes) of a rich local merchant (Michel Piccoli) two ladies including the warm hearted Clarissa (Victória Guerra) who had to survive by entertaining soldiers, a local farmer Manuel Penabranca (Miguel Borges) who had to abandon his farm and who helped build the giant fortifications at a place called Torres  where the combined English and Portuguese were awaiting the arrival of the advancing French soldiers under Marshal Masséna (Melvil Poupaud) whose troops far outnumbered the combined forces of England and Portugal, and whose son died as a result of a collapsed wall he helped to build from the explosion of a bomb.

We are shown how the army of refugees consisting of rich and poor had to trail along in their retreat further and further inland with the advance of the French soldiers, burning everything along the way so that the French soldiers would have no supplies and hopefully defeated by sickness and hunger, how some soldiers from both sides deserted, how married, unmarried and even old ladies are raped, how some women had to survive by offering themselves as playmates of those who could supply their daily needs, how ordinary people had to harden their hearts against others in need, how rich young girls found the war a chance to break out from strict surveillance by their governesses, how other girls became nun caring selflessly for the wounded and the orphaned, how petty merchants profiteered  from the situation by asking for exorbitant prices for their wares, how they offered little for what was obviously worth much more, how the ordinary people would stick together in digging trenches, building fortifications in defence of their homeland, how young kids wanted nothing but to be big enough to become soldiers like some members of their family's relatives when they meet again, how the rich would continue to wine and dine and hold parties, how some generals were concerned merely for winning battles "elegantly" with minimal loss of lives of their own and even their enemies' soldiers, how battles could be won or retreat executed by bluffs and trickery and bluffs and how thinking soldiers could become disillusioned by the realities of war.

The film's dialogues switches without warning from English, to Portuguese, to French and sometimes two of the three languages according to whether we are shown the action of characters coming from which the three countries involved in that tragedy called by revolutionary war. It's scope is that of an epic but we are shown such short snippets in the lives of the different characters that we can never get quite involved or moved with their plight. The only two moving scenes for me are one in which the Portuguese soldier-poet who had become a deserter and the Portuguese lieutenant who lost contact with his soldiers because of two bullet in his head and who escaped from the hospital and later recovered joined hand to kill off two of the solider-poet's men who wanted to commit necrophilian sex with two recently dead women lying at the side of a road and the final scene in which a local farmer asked for permission to build a grave within the fortification for his only son because he helped build it and died within it when the wounded lieutenant who finally managed to rejoin his troops granted his request and gave him a military burial with full honors.

War is opportunity to meet dashing young men in uniform who promise romance and adventure for rich young ladies, an event which force less fortunately placed young women to sell their youth and their physical charm for bread and butter,  for aristocratic officers to win glory and honour, and for the rank and file soliders, it meant long marches, starvation, life and death struggle and opportunities for unbridled sex if they got the chance, for the established upper echelon of society, an unwelcome need to be subjected to the indignities of having to leave one's homes, for crafty and opportunistic merchants, plenty of chances chance to make an unconscionable profit, for the religious nuns dedicated to God, opportunities to display self-less sacrifice to glorify his name and for the ordinary farmers and their wives, hard work and loss or separation of fathers, mothers, children and for poets, numerous occasions for reflection on the vicissitudes and hypocrisies of terrestrial life. This is what I gather from watching this 151-minute historical epic done in costume. Apart from the initial battle in which the English and the Portuguese joined forces to fight the French at the Battle of Bussaco, both sides suffering massive deaths and maimings, there is not much real battle. The French withdrew when they saw the size of the fortifications at Torres (three lines of fortification stretching some 47 Kilometer,  the idea of Duke Wellington) after having positioned themselves for an attack for a number of days: then planted the figures of some straw soldiers on guard at their camp but under the cover of darkness, silently retreated. What the director seem to want to say is that there are no real victors in a war. But there is a bit of humor too. I now know the origin of the recipe called "Beef Wellington", Wellington himself being portrayed in the movie as a narcissistic and fastidious man obsessed with how he may look to posterity by soliciting the aid of a painter called Leveque with whose portraits, he had nothing but complaints. It's a panoramic view of one of the Napoleonic wars and its effects on the lives of all those affected. It's not a flattering picture. II it shows anything, its shows the emptiness of any pyrrhic "victories". There are really no winners in any war.


Rhino Season ( Fasle Kargadan) (犀牛的季節)

From Serbia, I was led to Iran and Turkey in my 15th HKIFF, "Rhino Season" (Fasle Kargardan) (2012) by Bahman Ghobadi. It's a story based on the diaries of an Iranian-Kurd poet Sadegh Kamangar. But in this film , the name of the poet was changed to Sahel (Behrouz Vossoughi), a poet who immediately after his release from a 30-year jail term in Iran went about tracking the whereabouts of his wife Mina (Monica Belluccis) whose memories he could and never wanted to erase. He went to a voluntary  organization specializing on tracing missing people. Fortunately, they located a file on Mina because she had been sought by a man called Akbar.

Then the film flashed back to the time when she was with his wife during a promotion of one of his books at a book store. We learn that Sahel was in prison ostensibly because
he was considered against an Islamic fundamentalist revival and revolution which deposed the more Western oriented Shah but really because his chauffeur had fallen in love with his beautiful wife, who rejected him and for reasons of jealousy, falsely accused both him and her of anti-revolutionary activities as a result of which Mina had to serve a 10 year jail sentence, during which she was given one chance of meeting her husband and to have sex with him with a hood over their faces in a room in the prison but in the middle of which, her former chauffeur substituted himself for her husband, something which she immediately discovered. In the interval, she gave birth to a pair of twins. Upon her release was falsely told that her husband had died in the meantime and was buried in an unmarked grave in the wilderness.  The first thing she did when she got out was to visit that grave. We see her in a flowing black gown and hood, crouching , reflecting, touching a slanting slab of stone which served as a gravestone, which she believed to be that of her former husband, weeping silently, like Mary before the tomb of Jesus. In the distance, we see the vastness of the sky and the land behind the deserted piles of stones. 

After Sahel got out, he went to where her former wife was then living, a house by the seaside in Istanbul with her two children. She had become a Madame, obsessed with tattooing a line or two of his verses upon such part of the bodies of her hookers as would be prepared to have it done. He went to observe her in his car by the seaside day after day. He did not want to disturb her new life. In the course of such observation, he got to know two young hookers to whom he would give free rides back to town. But he would not touch them until, one day, when the hookers were late and were beaten up by the hooker racketeers and he went to their aid and got beaten too. They went to his house to take care of his lacerations. It was there that he discovered a line of his own poetry on the back of one of the hookers, whom the other told him was tattooed on her by her mother. Then we see him being tattooed by Mina, who did not recognize him after so many years. Shortly after that, we see him meet his former chauffeur whom he asked to enter his car. Then he drove the car over a cliff and the two drowned together. When the film ends, we see him, back towards us, walking on a salt flat following a distance behind what appears to be the back of Mina towards the light on the far horizon.

It's a simple but grueling tale of love, of passion, of jealousy and of revenge, told with magnificent photography, with its impeccable composition, sublime and sometimes sensuous lights, shadows and suggestions of suffocating claustrophobia and of the immensity of space, which is more than merely physical. There is scarcely any dialogue. It's not really necessary. As we see images after images of neutral yet sombre blues and greys and lifeless yellows, we hear in voice-off different lines of Sahel's beautiful poetry about the suffering and the irrational forces of love, its hopes, its longing, the power of its passion and its lingering effects in one's memories.The acting of
Behrouz Vossoughi and that of Monica Belluccis was simply superb, both of whom have got that intense and yet far away look upon their face which seem to bespeak the profound desolation and melancholy consuming their hearts and which turns their faces into an eternal blank. Vossoughi has got eyes which seem to understand everything yet throughout the film, he would keep his his mouth and his identity completely sealed. Hence the tension and its power. A beautifully made film which I love.


When Day Breaks (破曉時光)

My 14th film at the HKIFF is another film which I like enormously. It's a film about a professor of music. We see him giving a last rehearsal to a choir which he had spent years building up. Then we see the arrival of a much younger lady who would take it over from him. They greeted each other, the new lady thanked him for all that he had done and then promised to continue his work. He went home. We see him training a young violinist in his early teens whose brother, one of his former students whom he trained for free had already gone on to the local musical academy at Belgrade. Then he got a telephone asking him to go to Jewish synagogue saying that they have something for him. He went and was given a box inside which was a yellowing black and white photograph of his parents with a young child and a half finished musical score entitled "When the Day Breaks" signed Isaac Weiss. He asked what it had to do with him and was told then he was not what he thought he was  ie. the son of a Christian family called the Brankovs and that his real name was Misha Weiss, not Misha Brankov and that he was given away to his father's friend the Brankov in 1941, when he was barely 2-yea old just before his parents, Serbian Jews, were led into a a truck, called "soul suckers", where unbeknown to its occupants, they would be asphyxiated with poison gas by Nazi Germans and that his father was buried in a mass grave at what used to be the Belgrade Fairground, which was the site of the International Fair there in 1937 with its modernist buildings etc and the pride of Belgrade at the time, later turned into the Semlin Judenlager concentration camp with the arrival of the Nazi Germans but now a deserted and overgrown wasteland about to be resumed by the Government to be turned into a new commercial plaza and that in the course of building works, the workers found that box. He was told that his father was the most well known violinist in Belgrade at that time, just before he died. He could not believe it but was given some names which might help him ascertain what he was told. He checked them out with one of the survivors.  He went on to pay a visit to the Brankovs. His half brother confirmed the same in front of his foster father's grave.

Misha Weiss (Brankov) was told that on 8th December, a memorial service for the dead would be held at the site of that mass grave. He promised the rabbi that on that day, he would bring in the best musicians in Belgrade and that there'd be thousands who would hear a new composition in memory of those who died at that former site of the concentration camp. He visited site and discovered an old water tower which looked exactly like the one in the photograph. Some of the abandoned pavilion houses are now occupied by Rumanian squatters. He went to the former address of his parents. The house was now occupied by a young Rumanian couple with a baby, also squatters and was told to get off because he was not going to have it back. He set about to fulfill his promise. He went first to his former choir but heard the new musical director had switched it some rhythmic rock music but in any event had already made prior concert engagements on that day. He then went to the music Academy to look for his son and asked him to help. His son told him he was busy rehearsing for another new concert and really did not have time that even if he were to help, his musicians would have to be paid. After much soul searching, the professor finally decided to sell his good quality piano, only to be told when he returned to his son that that time slot had already been taken. He then went to the countryside to seek out the best tenor that he knew . He was told that he hadn't sang for the past 20 years and that he could not sleep without a bottle of cognac a day. His friend at first refused but agreed after he begged him.

The day of the memorial service arrived. The crowd gathered, barely 20 odd people, including the rabbi. It was time for the singing. His orchestra consisted of just a group of musician with one violin, one accordion, some drums, those who performed at the wedding of his former student. But his two violin students came, his current student and his elder brother. His singer friend came but he could not sing. He had lost his voice despite taking another drink just before he was about to begin. They played the composition his father half wrote and he completed. The film ends.

This 2012 film Kad Svane Dan or When the Day Breaks, by the Serbain director Goran Paskaljevic about this forgotten episode lost amongst the millions of tales of the Holocaust was superbly shot, principally with a yellowish hue and with not too sharp outlines ( like something from old photograph albums). It has everything: restraint and sensitive acting by the leading actor Mustafa Nadarevic as the retired music professor, static but atmospheric camera work by Milan Spasic which fits the mood of something frozen in time and has a very haunting melody. There is only one dream sequence: when Misha dreamt of how when the names of his father and mother Isaac Weiss and Sarah Weiss were called out, the search light of the German soldiers blinded him so that everything within sight turned into a numbing whiteness. But 50 years after it happened, hardly any one cared. But there are still a few. As the professor said, it was as if his father had deliberately left the very sad and yet hopeful music half finished, waiting for it to be completed by his son. If so, it was. And as a result, we have this very moving film. It's a bleak tale meticulously and ponderously told, without sentimental embellishment or any explicit moral commentary, a perfect blend of images and music. 



2013年3月24日 星期日

The Holy Quaternity( 四性一體)

I do not know how it is for others. For me, my 13th film, the Holy Quaternity at the HKIFF is comedy rather than a serious movie exploring the dynamics and implications of a sexual foursome. It's a 2012 film 'Svatá čtveřice by Czech director Jan Hřebejk starring  Jenovefa Bokova as Johanka, Gregor Buaer as Adam, Hynek Cermak as Adam's buddy, Viktorie Cermáková as his wife.   

We see two women living next to each other working as volunteers at an art playgroup talking about their sex life. They are the wives of two electricians working at the same company both of whom had been married almost 20 years and both with teenage children and were saying how dull the marital bed has become. Then one of their husbands won a lottery and they decided to have a holiday. Since it just so happens that their company wants them to help do some post hurricane remedial power supply work somewhere in the Caribbeans, they decide to take their wives along.  The film is about what happens there: wife swapping on two cardinal conditions: they must promise never to fall in love and they can never meet privately without the presence of the other. They think it may work except that they need a little time to get used to the idea. In fact, it does except when by accident they show some parts of the videos they have taken about their holiday which should not have been there to their children and their grandparents and when the two wives have taken a liking to each other and making it in bed leaving the two men drinking beer outside their bedroom of of one of them!   

The title says "Holy Quaternity". I am sure that the word "holy" there must have been there as an irony. Not only are parents sleeping around, so are their teenage children, who are initially repulsed by what they saw but later toy with the idea that they might do the same. I understand that in Japan some couples are actually doing this already. It's a real lightweight of a movie, which looks to me barely little more than a flimsy excuse to show some bit of Caribbean sand, sea, sun and lots of skin..


Gebo and the Shadow ( Gebo e a Sombra) (影兒子)

If one is told that someone who is now 103 year is still actively working as a director, I'm quite sure that the chances of one believing it would be more or less the same as one were told that he has won the first prize of the latest government lottery. Yet that's not a lie. Yesterday, I saw a beautiful film by the famous centenarian Portuguese director  Manoel de Oliveira. It's a screen adaptation of a drama called "O Gebo e a Sombra" by Raul Brandão. But to me, it's more a filmed version of a stage play than a "motion picture) meeting the strictest requirements of the Aristotelian poetics for drama: the unity of time, place and character. Except for one outside scene which is just outside of the sitting room of where the drama began, the entire film took place within that sitting room of the hero Gebo ( Michael Lonsdale), normally inhabited only by his wife Candidnha (Jeanne Moreau) and his daughter in law Doroteia (Claudia Cardinale) though occasionally visited by their neighbors Sofia (Leonor Silveira) and Chamiço ( Luís Miguel Cintra).

As the film opens, we see Candidnha anxious waiting for the return of his husband Gebo, a poor accounts clerk, saying that she longs to hear from him news about their long lost son João (Luis Miguel Cintra). They lived under difficult circumstances, barely surviving. Finally he returns with a huge trunk full of money and a ledger on which he had to enter the details of all the bills that his company would be collecting. He asked for a cafe and then continues to work. Candidnha asks him to recount to her all the details of his recent encounter with his son. He could give no concrete details. All he could say is that he knew in the dark from his eyes that it was indeed his son but they didn't talk except that he asked after her. Candidnha was ecstatic and wanted her husband to recount everything to her the next day. When she is gone, we hear Gebo telling Dorotheia that he didn't really see her husband but he had to keep his wife's hopes alive. Then the neighbors came, chitchatting about how hard life is for everyone and Chanmico revealed that when he was young, he played the flute and how only art could redeem the dreariness of life. Then unannounced, João arrived and sneered at his theory. He asked them if they knew the taste of hunger and how when one is driven by it one had to steal and rob if need be to stay alive. When he father went to sleep. He used a screw driver to break the lock where his father kept a casket of money that he collected for his company and made off in the dark. In the morning, the police arrived with his son and said they thought that he was the one who stole it from the true owner. At that point, Gebo announced that the real thief was he!

Throughout static tableaux like scenes captured with stunningly beautiful shots from a fixed camera with predominantly yellow candle light to accompany the unfolding action, (more accurately the dialogues) in the dark of the night, we feel a sense of death overhanging everything. It was not until the film ends that we see the light of day when the police brought his son in as the culprit
Until he appears, it seems that João is just a shadow, a figment of the imagination, a myth, a legend and that Gebo is the model of honest hard work. But ironically, it takes a thief to expose another thief, the son to expose the father, the truth to expose the lie. Gebo turns out to be the most despicable kind of liar. He lies to himself, the way he lies to his wife. Is Oliveira trying to say ironically, that all hard work are lies and that only his art is something which deserves to stay? 

The quality of the acting is perfect. So is the use of music which helps create the right kind of atmosphere for Oliveira reflection upon the ironies and hypocrisies of life. The claustrophobic space of the sitting room where he constantly pretends to be working hard is almost viscerally suffocating and fits in perfectly with the closure of the mind of Gebo to reality. My hats off to this centenarian. Long may he live!



World Animation (世界動畫精選)

My first and only animation film at this year's HKIFF is World Animation. an assortment of 6 different shorts.

The first is Triangular Affair by Bydlo, a tale of division of labor in the modern world.



Another short feature is Oh Sheep which would shows how two flocks of sheep would refuse to be separated into different groups despite the efforts of their shepherds to separate them. An allegory of the relations of different nations led by different political leaders?.

The third is 7 minutes in the Warshaw Ghetto, a portrait of life in the ghetto in Warshaw seen through the life of a child. For its trailer, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6N2HQc_ZRs done in I-frame

The fourth, The Day I killed my Best Friend is a fantasy about the arrival of a girl's first period, an event which comes with surprise, fear and confusion. Its trailer can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd1I7qbg0TM

The fifth is Junkyard, which is a beautiful crafted animation about the adventures of two teenagers trying to find something interesting to do in the harsh environment of a junkyard full of dope and violence, an animation trying  to portray how friendship might be forged by two teenagers coming from two different social strata through their common exploration of the world of desolation inhabited by the poorer sectors of society. Its link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRyyNA3vYsQ

The last is Head Over Heels, an allegory of about how through years of marriage, a couple has come to live inside the same house but each lives its own life, one living on the floor and another living upside down on the roof and they could communicate only through mechanical devices but in the end, through looking at an old photograph of their younger days, the couple would finally live as a couple again on the same floor.  



2013年3月23日 星期六

It was the Son ( E stato il figlio) (奪命的富貴)

My 10th HKIFF film this year is another film in a class of its own. It's É stato il figlio (It was the son) by director Daniele Ciprì, who co-wrote the film script with Massimo Gaudioso and Miriam Rizzo, based upon a novel by Roberto Alaimo about the events leading to the imprisonment of the only son in a working class family in Palermo whose livelihood depends on getting and selling scrap metal from shipyards and auto junk yard.

As the film opens, we see the head of the family Nicola Ciraulo (Toni Servillo) proudly leading his retinue consisting of his father, his son Loredana Ciraulo (Giselda Volodi)  and niece to the gates of a shipyardf. Once it's open, they march in got into a boat and then quickly scramble on a ship being demolished to remove useful parts for sale. He's very angry that they couldn't go to a good part of the junk ship where they can find more copper because their boat was slower than that of the another group of metal strippers. Instead of stripping metal as quickly as possible, his father appears to be fascinated by a globe spent the time doting on it, bursting  into a song. He was reproaching his son for not being as smart as his cousin, who when scolded by him, retorted and said he'd stop working for Toni..Then we see his daughter Serenella (Alessia Zammitti), joining in throwing discarded aerosol cans into a fire awaiting the popping sound as they exploded. Near to her, stood a little boy protected by a guard, asking to play with her but he was ignored. Then we see two nefarious looking guys observing and then aiming. The next we know, Serenela fell on the ground, dead. It was a Mafia revenge attack. The Ciraulos were heart broken. Then by accident, he heard that the Mafia had a foundation to assist victims of their crime. He approached a lawyer whose ways appear as crooked as his deformed face. Learning after a court hearing that they would come into huge sum of money, they started to spend and spend until they are deeply into debt so that they had to borrow from a loan shark, once and then again. At the third time, when he heard the conditions, he stormed out. Fortunately, the long awaited sum arrived. They were advised not to trust the banks and placed all the money on the dining table and held a family conference as to what to do with the money. The son wanted a new TV, his wife wanted a new kitchen and he wanted a Mercedes Benz. His mother was in agreement and they got the Benz and drove around the proudest man in Palermo. Then one night, his son stole his car for a joy ride to a cinema house with his cousin and got it scratched. When he discovered that in the morning, he gave his son a good thrashing and wanted to kill him. His cousin was called. He argued with Toni. When he used words considered too abusive, his cousin took out a gun and shot him. Then his mother made an ingenious proposal: his cousin would look after the family whilst Loreanda would say that it was him who killed his dad.

That was the tale Loreanda told anyone who cared to listen at a local utility payment centre. The film was a grotesque tale of iItalian socio-economical reality of the Italy of the 1970s, told with humor, a bit exaggerated but not too much so that the double tragedy in the Ciraulo family tragedy was presented as a species of comedy. What made it credible was the acting and the music and the slightly comical presentation of by its hero played by Toni Servillo. It's rhythm too was also like that of its music by Carlo Crevelli.  The film got the Marcello Mastrioni prize at the at the Venice film festival and got Cipri another award for its cinematography for the composition, colors of its images and at moments for its air of surrealism which helps to lift the allegorical film from any suggestion that it's intended as a "realistic" film.


A perdre la raison (Our children)( 誰知亞媽心)

My next two films at the HKIFF are both concerned with that most universal social form of human organization known as the family. The first is a joint production of Belgium, Luxembourg and France called in French "A Perdre la raison" (To lose reason/the mind ) and in English entitled Our Children (originally entitled "Loving without Reason")  and in Chinese「 誰知亞媽心」by Belgian writer-driector Joachaim Lafosse.

As the film opens we see a thirty-ish woman in a hospital, Murielle (Émilie Dequenne) giving directions as to how 4 children's caskets are to be flown back to Morocco and buried with their ancestors. Then we see two men hug each other in the hospital corridor. They are Dr. André Pinget (Niels Arestrup) and Mounir (Tahar Rahim), the latter being the adopted son of the former. Then the film flashes back to how it all happened: to the time before Mounir's marriage to Murielle. In fact, the story is based on a real life quadruple infanticide by their Belgian mother.

We are shown step by step how Mournir could not be separated from Murielle, a primary school teacher, how he graduated from college, hoping to enrol in the faculty of medicine, failed and how his adopted father suggested that if he like, he could work for him at his busy clinic, how he offered to pay for all the expenses of the newly weds' honeymoon in Morocco, how Mounir would not accept unless he were to accompany them, how if Mounir did not mind, he could continue to live in his adoptive father's house, how Mounir's first baby arrived, then the second, then the third, how the house became too cramped, how Dr. Pinget got a bigger flat and how he finally got a son after three daughters, how Dr. Pinget would patiently play and coach the children and how the children prefer him to their mother, how the mother felt the domestic work of teaching during the day and taking care of the house and preparing food for two men and four children  gradually took its toll and made her feel inadequate, how she suggested to Mournir that they should live in Morocco away from Dr. Pinget and how when Mournir mentioned that to him, Dr. Pinget wanted to sever all further relations with him, how Dr. Pinget suggested that she got a little psychological help from one of his friends and how she let slip the fact that the doctor who recommended her to the psychiatrist was in fact her father in law, something Dr. Pinget asked her never to disclose upon learning of the same her shrink said that she could no longer continue to do her therapy with Dr. Pinget as part of her team because it was against professional rules and how for that reason, how she lied to Dr. Pinget that she would stop therapy because she was sufficiently cured when in fact it might be that if she told him the true reason, Dr. Pinget would probably give her one of his quiet and perfectly controlled icy looks of displeasure and how she ceased to take the sedative pills and how after she did so, she stole a knife at the supermarket and called her children then playing together at the sitting room to go up to her bedroom one by one into her room and then when they were all there, she killed them off and then stabbed herself and then called her shrink to tell her what she had done.

It's a story of how how a manipulative and skilful father in law can create so much pressure which when added to the normal pressure of having to look after 4 demanding young children without any support from one's own husband and how the little things and unhappiness of everyday life can build up so much stress upon a psyche subject to depression that it could be released ultimately through a burst of mindless violence of four of one's own children. Lafosse told the story really well: without exaggeration, without overdramatization, without comment,  instead of through the subjective point of view of Murielle, obviously the focus of the film. His job was rendered much easier because of the excellent performance by all three of the protagonist, Arestrrup, Rahim and  Dequenne. I also like the insistent theme of the baroque music of Alessandro Scarlatti that underline every new important episode adding to the emotional strain on Murielle, as if it were a devil hovering over the horizon waiting to overwhelm her and also the final episode when Murielle was driving and listening to the song Julien Clerc "Femmes je
vous aime" in her car when she broke down sobbing.

It was a powerful film because everything seem to happen so "naturally" and we are shown all the details of what led Murielle to the final explosion almost clinically. Yet when the final tragic climax came, I'm so glad that I was spared the gory details: Lafosse shot the scene of the house nice, spik and span, orderly from a distance and just the sound of 4 objects falling, one after another and then the agitated voice of Murielle speaking on the telephone to her shrink, informing her what she had done, as if a theorem had been proven in mathematics as domestic bliss slowly and methodically drove Murielle over the edge, spiraling from initial inconvenience, into oppressive discomfort, then into depression and finally into despairing desperation. We can almost viscerally feel the suffocating force of Dr. Pinget's calm, polite, considerate and ostensibly completely rationally justified intervention and intrusion into the lives of Mounir and Murielle and their children. What is most shocking is that we can't find any fault with Dr. Pinget's approach. He did it out of excess of "love" for his adopted son and his family! He paid for everything and provided for every one of their material needs. He even helped Mounir's brother in Morroco to enter into a false marriage with  Murielle's sister ! But did he do it only of disinterested love for Mounir and Murielle. Through the film, we never see him hang out with any friends or women. Appearances notwithstanding, could he have been an emotional parasite, sucking the life out of emotional bond between Mounir and Murielle and their children until his smothering "affection" and "care" and "concern" become unbearable and yet leaving behind absolutely no room for any "rejection" of his apparently "selfless" offer of fatherly love ? His beautiful house had been turned into an emotional inferno and what appeared to be a guardian angel had become a prison warder!

The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where Émilie Dequenne won the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actress and Lafosse won the award as best film at the Sao Paulo Film Festival. 


A fast blow (易燃版)

The past week has been quite hectic. Though all the tight schedule and rushing about are self-infliected, it's still is "hectic"! So if there are less jokes than normal this weekend, I hope I'll be excused. Without further ado, here're two, instead of the usual three and five. The first one is short and the second one "long" , well...you'll see. But both are fun. What's more, there's even a photo on the second one.

1.

“The doctor draws two circles and says ‘What do you see?’ the guy says ‘Sex.’”

So the doctor draws trees, ‘What do you see?’ The guy says ‘sex.’ The doctor draws a car, owl, ‘Sex, sex, sex.’

The doctor says to him. ‘You are obsessed with sex!’ He replies, ‘Well you're the one drawing all the dirty pictures!’”

2.



Hello, my name is Lilah Krytsick, and on our wedding night, my husband gave me something very long and hard... a new and unpronounceable  name.


Have a nice weekend. Sorry, got to go....for another show! What else?

2013年3月22日 星期五

Lilou's Adventure (Lilou no Boken)(妮露的冒險)


My 8th HKIFF came from our neighbor to the east, from the land of the rising sun. It's got a funny name Lilou no Boken or Lilou's Adventure. It's a story of loneliness and the kind of unusual adventure that it may lead to.

Lilou is a sensitve black girl whose father is a Guibean jazz musician who is bashful and doesn't like to be teased. Her primary 5 classmate Kokoro is another odd ball kid who never smiles because she longs to but can't dream. But there is a strange chemistry between the two and they become best friends in the school in a small Japanese town where from time to tome, the girls can dance to some African rhythms. Lilou is determined to help Kokoro dream so that she can smile again.

One day, Kokoro mysteriously disappeared. Lilou followed certain clues from an electronic game and managed to finally to find her. in Tokyo! The two could play again, despite occasional temper tantrums and little fights. As the movie ends, we see images of the two girls meeting, floating in the air, a blue sky behind and story book type clouds behind them and the father of Lilou tells us it's not the end but the beginning of Lilou's adventures. 

This 2012 film called Lilou No Boken ( Lilou's adventure), the second feature film by Kumusaka Izuru, is in a class all its own. It's both realistic and surrealistic at the same time. The way the kids play and fight are realistic enough but they way Kokoro suddenly vanishes and how she is found again is not.  This film won the Red Chameleon award at CinDi in Seoul in 2012. it's perhaps Kumasaka's exploration of the strange workings of the human subconscious. Perhaps Kokoro's inability to dream could only be resolved when she abandons herself to the world of imagination. In the film we are shown repeated images of Kokoru visiting what looks like an old black woman lying in bed in some kind of hospital or sanatorium, in the dark, without any sun. Is that the image of a sick subconscious? If there's any logic in the dream which connect the various images on the screen, could that be the logic of dreams, which is free to roam over space and time without any any apparent constraint. Is that not also the logic in a child's mind?  If we wish to access that world, do we not have to employ a kind of logic which is very different from the logic of the conventional linear dualistic narrative logic of our everyday social life and use a kind of logic which is much more free flowing?



Trois Mondes (Three Worlds) (一撞三世界)

My 7th film at the HKIFF was another French film. But this time, it belongs to another genre altogether. It's a tale of moral and of an impossible love by a lady French director Catherine Corsini: Trois mondes (Three Worlds)(2012). .The three worlds of the title probably refers to the different worlds of the perpetrator, the family of the victim and the reluctant witness of a hit and run accident.

As the film opens, three young men were having a good time after watching a football game, drinking, fooling around at a car park just as they were preparing to leave. One of them, Franck (Reda Kateb) deliberately stood in front of the car driven by his buddy Al (.Raphaël Personnaz) and dared Al to knock him down. Al accelerated a bit to try to scare him off. He jumped on to the car's bonnet and grabbed his hand on the side of the car and challenged Al to do his best to throw him off. Al accelerated and swerved the car around a number of times. Franck fell upon the ground, motionless. His two companions got alarmed. When they bent over to see how he was doing, thinking he passed out, he gave them a big shock by suddenly shouting some abuses. They laughed and drove home. We next see Al, a top notch car salesman who rose from the ranks and who was all set tp marry with Marion Testard (Adèle Haenel) within 10 days being offered a 25% stake in the garage business run by his future father in law and boss Testard( Jean-Pierre Malo) with certain conditions. He went to celebrate with his two buddies at the garage and whilst fighting to look at a picture of the new girl friend of Franck on his mobile knocked down a man. Al got down, looked at the pool of blood around the man's head, panicked, and urged by his buddies to get away, hesitated for a moment, then got back into the car and drove off.

Life was never the same again. Al could never get the off the image of the man from his mind. He saw in the newspaper a picture of the man and went to the hospital to see how the man was doing. There he met Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), a medical student who had a relationship with a university philosophy lecturer and had just discovered that she was pregnant, saw the accident and who took it upon herself to help the victim but they did not introduce themselves. Earlier, she  learned that the man was an illegal immigrant from Moldavia and traced his wife Vera (Arta Dobroshi) and called her from a number she discovered from the hospital records which the hospital staff did not yet have the time to call. Juliette suspected that the Al was involved in the accident, followed him and got down his car license number and then went to the garage to confront him. Al denied and said that he did not know what she was talking about. He could not because that would mean that he would be sent to jail and it would spell the end of 20 years of hard work to rise to the position he got and possibly the end of his impending marriage. Juliette felt that Al was not the rotten apple she imagined he would be and could not get herself to denounce him to the police. Al told her all he could do was to offer the man money and asked Juliette to pass such sum as he could manage to Vera. Juliette agreed. He did his best but it was not enough. He started to embezzle from the garage. Vera also got suspicious and asked Juliette where she got the huge sums of money that she was giving her. Juliette was forced to tell that it was from the man who knocked down her husband. Vera got furious. Juliette told her Al was genuinely sorry that it happened. Her Morrocan friends then traced Al and gave him a good beating. Eventually, the man died. He attended his funeral incognito. But he was not beaten up again.

It was a strange but not entirely unlikely tale, perfect educational material to teach the moral consequences of being a hit and run driver. We see how after the accident, Al's world is falling apart from his guilt: he was nervous at work, distant with
Marion, could not sleep at night, had to go to the bank to get loans and even had to start to do shady deals under the table and could no longer take jokes from his
buddies and to relieve the pressure, even made love to Juliette in his car on a sudden impulse The acting was good, the pace fast and the original music by Grégoire Hetzel excellent and the story well told because until it happened, the spectator was kept guessing how it would all turn out.  A mix between a detective story, a tale of moral and an impressionistic diagnostic of the plight of illegal immigrants. The three worlds of the title is the working class world of Al and his mechanic buddies, the middle class world Juliette and the world of illegal immigrant workers in France made to cross path by a fatal accident.


Renoir (雷內亞)

If the predominant moods of the other films I saw at the HKIFF this year were those of seamy or pessimist and if the colors they portrayed on the screen are mostly greys, blues and black, the colors of the sixth film are those of the yellows, orange, browns and greens. If the worlds of the previous films  are filled with the colors of the night, the last is overflowing with the warm glow of the Mediteranean sun of the French Rivieras. It's Gilles Bourdos' Renoir, premiered  at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

A 15-year-old girl, Andrée Heuschlingin (Christa Theret) an orange-yellow dress and matching jacket peddles a bike along a path in the lush countryside of Southern France in summer. She stops at a gate of a huge garden, pushes it open, is met by a gamin, Coco Renoir (Thomas Doret) playing in the garden, asks to see Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet ) saying that she was ordered to come by Madame Renoir, is told that she is dead, carries on, meets the 74-year old painter sitting by the window in the sun, painting, repeats that she was told by Madame Renoir to come because there might be work for her there. The old Renoir studies her, amused, and asks her to show him her hands and says that since she is there, she can pose for him. She sits down on a chair, is asked to shift her position so that the sun may fall on her profile, and the old Renoir continues painting. After a while, she's told that she's done for the day. Renoir asks that she be given 5 francs. She leaves and turns her face to peek at what Renoir has painted and discovers that there are only 5 green apples in light green.She asks where is she in the painting. Renoir tells her to come the following day. As she is leaving, she says angrily that she charges 10 franc per session, not 5. She is ignored. The following day, she returns and the following and the following....

The film is about the relationship between this girl and Auguste Renoir and his 21 year-old son Jean Renoir, who later went on to be a famous film director. There really is not much of a story and such narrative as there is serves merely as just so many pretexts for the director to "paint" a living portrait of the old Renoir and show us on celluloid the delicious skin and curves of Andrée and the profile of the old Renoir in the warm Mediterranean sun, the sunlight on the wood, the green leaves and as reflected on the surface of the streams. The old Renoir is troubled by athritis who would make him scream horribly at night but he keeps painting because he has an irresistible fondness for the delicate skin of young ladies, who all first started posing for him and ended up being either his wife, his housekeeper or maid. In the film, his second son Jean Renoir (Vincent Rottiers)  returns from the war on sick leave because of a leg injury, falls in love with Andrée and promises her that once the war is over, he'd be her partner in a new invention which he created, motion picture, something which the old Renoir thought interesting but of little value as a form of art, which he thought should capture the vitality of life, something which explains why he always wanted live models. In the film, we are shown the old Renoir, a grumpy old man and autocrat, referred to by all the women in the house as "le Patron" (the boss) pontificating on everything not just on his own view of what art should be, a liberal as far as what his children may want to do including letting his first two sons to serve in the French army and the third to be home schooled.  

What saves the film from a complete failure as a drama or the portraits of the latter part of the life of the old Renoir or the development of his son Jean Renoir as a film director (something almost completely non-existent) is the quality of its beautiful music, composed specially for the film by Alexandre Desplat  and the qualtity its photography done by Taiwanese born photographer Mark Ping-Bing Lee: the lushness of the Mediterannean trees, its leaves, the crystal clarity of its sparkling waters, the play of sunlight upon the profiles of its characters and various objects either indoors or outdoors is simply stunningly beautiful and matches perfectly the mood of quiet contemplation of Nature and the beauty of the feminine form in the world of the old Renoir, far from the din of war, something rather more eternal than the vicissitudes of that horrible tragedy called the First World War and secluded and quarantined from the ugliness of the destruction it provoked in the human form in the form of mutilated soldiers, disfigured faces, soldier missing an arm, a leg, an eye, hobbling and limping along as living proof of the "deformation" of humanity, also emphasized I think deliberately by a number of shots on rotting flesh of animals in the countryside and also butchered rabbits, birds, disemboweled fishes.etc in Renoir's kitchen. In that sense, Renoir's paintings and his life at the Riviera, the
simplicity of his lines, the intimacy and voluptuousness of the feminine
form, the softness and the opulence of his color tones, often suffused
by the warmth of the sunlight, the vitality of his greens, the purity of
his blues, the warmth of his yellows, browns and red, the mixing and
merging of one color into another, the melting of stiff and clear
boundaries in the paintings of the old Renoir represents literally an
artistic bastion against human ugliness and human butchery. As Renoir says, he wants his
lines and his colors to float and he wants to show not human misery but a bit of its joy. The film is thus more a series of movable tableaux than a narrative. Is that the reason why it never very clear whether its title refers to the old or the young Renoir, artists both, though in different domains?
 


2013年3月21日 星期四

The Last Time I Saw Macau (再見澳門郎)

My fifth HKIFF film came from Portugal. It's about our close neighbor Macau. According to its director João Pedro Rodrigues, with whom I talked after its sceening at UA Langham Place, its nature changed during the course of its production. Originally, it started out as an idea that the director had about certain vague memories of his happy childhood spent in Macau but as it progressed, he got other ideas and from a documentary, it metamorphosed into a tale of imagination. The actual footages suggested certain other possibilities to him and he wove them together into a tale of mystery and of the imagination.

As the film opens, we see a travestite called Candy singing old jazz songs in the mock styles of the late 1950's, which itself is an imitation of a much earlier time in 1930s America.  In the background we see a tigress and its two cubs, playing behind an iron cage. In a voice off, we hear the narrator talking in Portuguese about his impressions of this former Portuguese colony to which he is returning after an absence of some 40 years: its sights, its sounds, it history, its peculiar mystique etc. In many ways, Candy is the symbol of what Rodrigues is doing: like the transvestite, which is neither purely male or purely female, neither purely Chinese nor purely Portuguese, neither completely contemporary nor completely  dominated by its past, that's the Macau of his false imagination. In the film, the narrator says he has received a message to come back to Macau to help Candy who was in a bit of a fix and that there is nobody else whom he/she could trust to help her. She merely gave directions as to where the narrator would have to go and to wait for further directions as to how they would meet. The narrator went as directed, waited but owing to problems of language and of traffic, missed the first appointment. Not having anything meaningful to do, he wandered around Macau in search of places he frequented as a child including schools, temples, the Military Club, the quayside, some of which existed and some of which had since been demolished, rebuilt etc He also missed the second appointment, and for exactly the same reason, something which proved fatal, for Candy

The film seems to unfurl upon a double path, going in parallel, the search for his own past and the "current" plight of the mysterious Candy and his/her call for assistance involving triads, intrigues and strange rituals of the dragon cult, its use of bird cages as secret language, dark and occult forces and traces and hints of the eventual murder of and the disposal of her body at some remote corner of the Macanese harbour. When the narrator arrived too late to her rescue, he found only a lone red high heel shoe on the dirty concrete floor by the sea  and her wig being washed upon the steps of the pier. He said he later got a letter which told him that by the time he received it, she would already be dead and that he must hire a sampan to go whither the sampan rower would take him and that she would give directions from another world at the appropriate moments. The film ends as its starts, as a rondo, with Candy and her song.

The director agreed with me that what he is trying to do in this film is to document not just the records of his memories of Macau as such but to document the very process of creation of the film itself in respect of which his memories served only as jumping board.:it is a documentary which is not a documentary in the conventional understanding of that term. It is not intended in any way as an objective account of what Macau is nor an objective account of how he actually spent his childhood there. It is a work of his imagination, an imaginative creation/invention or re-creation/re-invention of an entirely fictive Macau. In the film he never succeeded in establishing contact with Candy. All he and through him, we got are hints and traces of her existence. Is she real or is she an object of his mind or his imagination? All that is real are the sights and sounds of Macau. Ultimately, is that not what we have? As Chuangtzu queried long ago: are we butterflies dreaming that we are ourselves or are we ourselves dreaming that we are butterflies? Whatever else Rodrigues may have left us, he certainly leaves us an entirely different view of Macau: the Macau of his imagination.  The film is really about Candy, somebody or something from his past whom he could never quite access again, something real yet unreal, something mysterious, something haunting, something fascinating, an impossible beauty mixed with crime and the darker side of life. But as a whole, I find the structure of the film fairly loose and random and many of the images shown on the screen are not that well integrated into the its main theme, if any. The only thing in the film which is firm the voice of the narrator.


2013年3月20日 星期三

In the Fog (V Tumane) (霧裏人鬼神)

My fourth film at the HKIFF this year is a brilliant second feature film of a long time documentary film director from Belarus, an ex-USSR state, Sergei Loznitsa's 
(My Joy 2010) . It's a simple film about three characters which the accidents of war first put together on opposite sides and then together: Sushenya (Vladimir Svirsky) Burov (Vladimir Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov).

It happened in 1942, when the Nazi Germany took Belarus over a small village from Soviet Russia at its south eastern borders. It started with the unexplained release of a native villager Sushenya who was seized and beaten up by the German soldiiers together with 3 other of his colleagues, who were hanged in the village square after a train was derailed. Everyone in the village, including his wife, suspected that he had betrayed his countrymen, and shunned him as if he were a plague. He said it would have been better if the German commandant had killed him off instead of releasing him and letting him live. But soon the local resistance fighters burst into his home unannounced to  shoot him with their rifles. He begged them not to do so in front of his wife and child. The leader Burov relented. Sushenya led the way into a wood nearby. We see their trek and how he was treated like an animal and asked to dig his own grave. When it was ready and Burov was about to pull the trigger, Sushenya asked Burov to give his fine coat to Inelya, his wife because it would have been a waste if it were thrown away. Burov agreed. He raised his gun again. Sudddenly some firing was heard nearby and before Burov could fire at the enemies, whose face were never shown, he himself was shot. In the confusion, Sushenya escaped. After the noise subsided, we see Sushenya crawling back to the site of his former grave. He saw his former executioner lying on the ground. He shoved him. It made a noise. He was not yet dead. He lugged him on his shoulders and made off. On the way, he met Voitik, the other resistance fighter who was asked by Burov to stand guard a little distance away but who fell asleep from fatigue, leading to the surprise attack. Burov's first words to Sushenya were, "I should have killed you" , probably meaning that had he not shot Sushenya at his home, he wouldn't have been shot by German now.

The film continues. We see the threesome making their way through the forest. Before long, Burov felt that unless they got a cart instead of being carried by Sushenya, They had to make a decision who should go to do that. Burov asked Voitik to go. Before he left, Voitik took over Burov's rifle and gave him his own revolver for his self protection. Whilst Voitik was was, they got talking. Burov asked Sushenya why did not escape when he could. Sushenya then gave his reasons. He did not want to live because he was falsely suspected to have been a traitor when all he did was to stop any further loss of life. He said that after they were caught and beaten up and was about to be executed, the Nazi commandant made him a deal: he would sign a "collaboration agreement" with the Germans and be their spy in return for his life. He said he couldn't do it. The commandant asked him to reflect over his proposal and tell him the following morning. The morning arrived. The commandant asked him again. He said he couldn't do it. The commandant looked at him and after a while, suddenly said he could go. When he left, the Commandant went out of his office and waved him goodbye. This was seen by the villagers. He was never trusted again. It was a living death. Burov  remarked how everything has changed within a year and a half since the German came. Sushenya replied that people didn't change within a year and a half, they have changed since the village had been taken over by the Russians. It was never the same again. He said people may change, if they want to survive because human nature is unstable. This caused Burov to reflect on how life is never as simple as it looks and how he himself was led to become a resistance fighter. We are given a flashback. He used to be a compulsive car mechanic and had built a truck which was then requisitioned by the Germans. The sight of it made him carrying German soldiers carrying an old grandfather clock for the use of the German officer make him boil over. The flash point came when one of his childhood friend, now made a local policemen by the German came to his house to ask him to help him fix a problem with his truck. He said he would not. His friend told him that he could have "ordered" him to do so and pointed his rifle at him. He looked him in the eye and spat on him. His former friend raised his rifle at him again. At that point, his mother stepped in and hit him with the dress she was then mending and shoved him off. He left. That night, he blew up the truck with a petrol soaked wad. When he was packing to go, his mother begged him not to and asked whether there were enough sorrows. But he would not listen and his mother knew she couldn't stop him. Then the film cut to the fate of Voitik who became a resistance fighter when he took shelter on the way through the forest in an abandoned shed built built by resistance fighters. It triggered another flash back. He was once accommodated for the night whilst passing through a nearby village. The host happened to be a family sympathetic to the local resistance fighters who would from time to time get some tobacco from him. He left the following morning and was met by some local policemen where he was from and where he was going. They searched him and found only some potatoes which were given to him by his host as food on his way.  He said he did not know what the place was called. The police then asked him to lead the way. He did. When they arrived, the local police entered without knocking. The next we know, a gun shot was heard. Then we see the policeman firing into the house and throwing a gnenade inside. The door of the house was seen flying in the air and the house caught fire. No words were exchanged before they entered the house. No explanation were asked nor required. The only language appeared to be the language of naked violence: the language of rifles, rapid firing machine gun, grenades and bombs .

By the time Voitik returned empty handed, Burov was already dead. Voitik was preparing to leave. Sushenya said they could not leave Burov's body there. Voitik asked why. Sushenya pointed to a crow on one of the tree branches above. He said that it had been there for the past two days. Voitik then told him to carry Burov's dead body. Time for decision again. Since Babinski from where they heard gunshots was in one direction, there was only one way to go: in the opposite direction. But they had to cross a main road. Voitik expressed some hesitation. Sushenya asked him whether he had any better idea. They reached the main road but Sushenya told him they must wait till it's dark before they could go. They  waited. Dusk was closing in. Sushenya carried Burov;s body rapidly across without incident. It was Voitik's turn. He hesitated and when he thought it was safe, he got down the slope. But suddenly, we hear guns firing. Voitik was shot. Two local policemen approached, searched him, took his wallet out, removed all cash and threw the rest away and when they were about to leave, one of them noticed his boots which looked strong. He set about removing it when Voitik made a noise when he felt his feet cold. The policeman was surprised. He stood up, looked at Voitik, raised his rifle and finished him off and made off with his boots. When they were gone, Sushenya crossed the main road again. He picked up Voitik's body, carried it over the road and lay him beside Burov's body one on each side. He straightened their coats and set their feet upright. A fog had arisen. He took the revolver from Burov's pocket. We see the fog closing in on him, as if it were a vague and indistinct memory of the common fate of 3 people whose quite different paths were made to cross by the German occupation.  When he was completely covered, we hear the sound of a gun shot. The fog grew thicker and thicker, The main road and the surrounding forest returned to dead silence, with 3 motionless bodies. The film ends.  

It's a strangely moving but depressing film. There's no much talk. All images and motions. Against the purity and freshness of the Belarusian forest and snow,  what unfurls is a drama of senseless violence, a total breakdown of communication, an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and suspicion instead of trust and solidarity  caused by political and military domination. Under such conditions, perhaps the only fate for any residual sense of humanity appears to be death, "in the fog". A giant question mark overhangs the film's finale. We're left pondering.

The cinematography was excellent, the play of light against dark and the desolateness of man's fate in the frozen and unforgiving environment was fully brought out. The dialogues are sparse and economical. Hence the impact of the film which won the FIPRESCI award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.