The initial impression one gets of Kimiko is that she already has everything she needs in her life and has clearly flown from the nest. Rather than leaving the audience wondering the point of her failed attempt to reconnect her parents, director and writer Mikio Naruse constantly keeps us aware of Kimiko’s position in the family. In the presence of her mother, Kimiko becomes an excitable child, seemingly responsible for keeping her spirits up, and her search for father is more than just a search for the missing piece. As the artificiality in Kimiko’s mission is obvious to everyone but herself, one wonders whether there ought to have been more moments where she reflected on her expectations of the upcoming marriage, but such an immediate connection is perhaps too facile for a master like Naruse.
Saturday, 31 July 2010
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
The idea of evoking male dominance in sexuality through the accounts of women brings to mind de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, which Pier Paolo Pasolini famously adapted in the seventies as Salò. Like Pasolini’s film, The Marquise de Sade is the result of countless revisions, keeping the Japanese music of Mishima’s play but reinventing the cast as Swedish noblewomen. In composing his play for television, Bergman balances theatre with cinema, taking advantage of close-ups to generate a sense of intimacy where necessary. There is a peculiar sensuality in the women’s dialogues which is echoed in the vibrant colour palette, and Dangerous Liaisons springs to mind more than once. De Sade’s absence is notable, but his hold over people is palpable as each woman deals with her individual morality. With superb performances by a familiar cast, The Marquise de Sade is further evidence that Bergman was a true master of dramaturgy.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
If the above description has you thinking of a sub-standard Noah Baumbach family dramedy, think again. Using a consistent colour palette of blue and green and a moody (if melodramatic) soundtrack, Harpreet Dehal amplifies his characters’ anguish, and the more elusive the storytelling gets, the more the audience feels sympathy. Camerawork is shaky but purposeful, with many scenes framed asymmetrically to mirror the disequilibrium in the characters’ lives. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is the mature pacing – multiple angles of scenes add dimension to the experience, while patient close-ups eschew action for emotional depth. Though technically precocious, Dehal tries to tackle too many issues at the same time and the result is a little dishonest, particularly in the dramatic moments, but the amateur cast do a decent job of fulfilling their roles. Gentle but touching, Oceania is an episode of teenage angst, culled straight from the source.
Download Oceania at Harpreet Dehal’s website here.
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Though clearly meant as a tribute to his own grandparents, Dews has essentially created a moving portrait of any American family striving to keep up appearances. Inadequacy is a frequent topic, as if Allis and Charley lived their entire lives benchmarking themselves against ‘the American dream’. What is fascinating about the film is what isn’t shown – Allis talks a little about her first marriage but Charley avoids discussing his. Whether it was Dews’ decision to exclude any reference to these issues or if there simply wasn’t any discussion of it, it contributes greatly to the viewer’s understanding of this couple as human beings. A daringly personal project, Must Read After My Death is a beautiful, caring tribute to Dews’ grandparents, brimming with love and nostalgia.
If it had to be categorised, Nuuk would best align itself with the voyeuristic works of James Benning and Sharon Lockhart, its wordless presentation encouraging the viewer to let go of all previous understanding of cinema and enjoy the experience. One is led to feel as if the music is somehow being produced by the ice itself, as there is a deep, raw quality to the soundtrack that defies musical classification, and the texture of the video harmonises with this. Though successful, it is tempting to consider what effect the film would have if there was movement in each ‘still’, for example if a person were to be seen walking through the city scene. Not for the impatient, Nuuk is a twenty-minute film in name only, and deserves one’s full attention.
Saturday, 17 July 2010
Through patient development of each character, Khoo plays the story out at a decent pace and gives particular consideration to the audience’s experience. We see Bunny before we learn about the mee pok man’s longing for her – the film challenges the viewer to see the warmth and vulnerability in Bunny in the same way that he does. Bunny herself has the potential to be a fascinating character, caught between the prospect of cosmpolitan living with her English photographer boyfriend and her drab career in the underworld, but there is little convincing emotion brought to the role. Though marvellously lensed, Mee Pok Man is a middling experience that will leave one wanting.
Sunday, 11 July 2010
Shot on a budget of $200,000, The Most Dangerous Game turned out to be more bankable than the 1933’s expensive King Kong, with which it shares actress Fay Wray, and certainly rivals it for entertainment value. The set-up is simple but brilliant, and even though the eventual outcome is obvious to the modern viewer, the suspense is kept up at a decent pace. As with many other contemporary films, the acting and screenplay are excessively camp, particularly Leslie Banks’ hammy portrayal of a Russian count, but fans of Béla Lugosi and early B-movies should recognise this is par for the course. Funny and sinister in equal parts, The Most Dangerous Game deserves a revival.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
While the role of an experimental film is undoubtedly to deflect the viewer from the screen while still holding their gaze, and the bulk of Cooley’s work appears to be designed for this function, Nothing is surprisingly accessible and markedly more direct than his other films. With the self-appointed task of documenting a painful time on film, Cooley sheds some of the layers of punkish deviation and displays himself in an intimate light, although ‘characters’ still exist, including a dragon mask that acts as his advisor. The most touching moments are the simplest – a peculiar riff on Super Mario Bros. comments humorously on gender difference – but Cooley upholds his frenetic editing style, frequently changing the speed of audio. It might not speak to everybody, but Nothing is an unconventionally personal work.
Friday, 9 July 2010
It is easiest to say that Oxhide II is deceptively simple. In keeping her camera static, Liu ensures that the family (and their cats) are the only moving objects, and our focus is thus drawn to their actions alone. Unfortunately, its simplicity is also its downfall, as an attempt to form a more minimalist narrative removes some of the heart that was seen in the film’s predecessor. An exceptionally long take in which Daughter chops vegetables carries a certain cultural relevance as well as establishing her status in the family, but may not have needed to last as long in order to make an impact. Nonetheless, there is something new to Oxhide II as a basic daily ritual is given a feature-length presentation, and the viewer is left to ponder how much one can learn about life if they look closer.
Sunday, 4 July 2010
Naruse makes great use of sound to bind together the sisters’ stories, drawing comparisons by use of incidental music and voiceover. At times it is hard to follow the plot, not only for the overlapping storylines, but also because Hahaoya treats all the geishas in the house as her own children. This is perhaps what sets it apart from Naruse’s earlier work, as the family dynamic is corrupted and replaced by a disciplinarian hierarchy which blurs the lines between work and play. There is warmth between the sisters, particularly Osome and Chieko as they worry about Oren’s eventual fate, but the stronger feeling is that of distance. Chieko’s relationship plays out in secret and is made to feel unnatural, and by the end of the film one wonders if she will follow Oren’s path.
At just over an hour in length, Off The Grid: Life On The Mesa is essentially a glimpse of the subject rather than an in-depth documentary, but there is still a lot of ground covered. The residents are quite open to explain the source of their emotional struggles, which helps to demystify their reasons for living in such circumstances. The Mesa itself is halfway between a batty micronation and a peaceful, nurturing community, and while it may not seem desirable for living, it does have a loving heart at its centre.
The title makes reference to the Taliban’s explosion of the Buddha statues in Bamyan, and we see first-hand footage of the shocking incident before the first credit is up. Though never sensationalist or sentimental, the film is deeply upsetting for its portrayal of oppression under Taliban rule, and the adults’ lack of presence serves to highlight the issues. Bahtai is portrayed consistently as a child – Makhmalbaf never pretends that she suddenly has the capacity to understand the socio-political gravity of her journey – and it is this that gives the film its strength, particularly as nobody else in the film treats her with appropriate consideration. An important film.
Friday, 2 July 2010
Many of Nagisa Ôshima’s detractors have pointed out that he wallows in misery and destruction without offering a solution, but it is exactly this attitude that makes his early works so vital. Admittedly The Sun’s Burial lacks subtlety in its attempts to sketch a metaphor for Japan – the title in particular spells it out – but there is heart in Ôshima’s mission. The character of ‘the Agitator’, an embittered war veteran who observes the turf war dismissively, is the ghost of Japan past, and a brief glimpse of an optimistic banner ushers in a new Japan, one to exist in the future after the film. Gorgeously shot and scored, The Sun’s Burial is a historically important, deceptively nihilistic thriller.
It would be cliché to call the work ‘brave’ for its simplicity, especially in light of the achievements made earlier by artists like Norman McLaren and Tony Conrad, but there is something excitingly new about One11 And 103, even seeing it 18 years later. Being denied the ability to gauge even space or time in a film is an alienating experience, and this is precisely what Cage and Culver appear to reference in their collaboration. Naturally, it can get quite frustrating to watch, even if one knows what to expect from Cage. The audience is always kept on the surface of the film, but the more open-minded viewer may sink deeper, finding elementary patterns in either the visuals or the composition – this could easily be minimalism’s Fantasia.
Harvest carries along at a slow pace, mirroring the endless labour carried out by the family. It is in this respect that the film loses some of its potential as, while the meditative style is beautiful and certainly appropriate, the unprofessional cast are unable to sustain the experience. Additionally, Gerima refined most of the film’s themes in Sankofa, adding a modern context to portray the idea that the suffering never ends. Nonetheless, this should all be forgiven, particularly as Gerima was still a student when the film was completed. The most significant aspect of Harvest is its provenance, having been completed just a year after the fall of Haile Selassie I, and those looking for an honest historical account will be satisfied.
Thursday, 1 July 2010
Though minimalist in terms of how it operates as a film, Goshogaoka appears to reference other borderline cinematic works, such as Frederick Wiseman’s documentary High School, or Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 1. Lockhart worked closely with ballet choreographer Stephen Galloway to produce a routine for the girls to perform that looked realistic but also benefitted the film’s aesthetics, and the effect is convincing. One interesting shot sees pairs of basketball players throwing the balls to one another, a practice which gradually falls out of rhythm and becomes a piece of visual syncopation. Beautifully composed with subtle yet sinister sound design, Goshogaoka is an unclassifiable piece of art, deceptive in its role but a nonetheless magnetising watch.