Day 2 of MIFF, and the first 'real' day of screenings. I managed three films, which is about as much as I want to see in a day (I'm concerned about film-fatigue). Each of the three films was very different to the other, and I enjoyed them all.
Tuya's Marriage (Tuya de hun shi, Wang Quan'an, China, 2006)
This is an exotic film that recalls other indigenous Mongolian tales by Byambasuren Davaa such as The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) or The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005). It also has much in common with the Tibetan film Himalaya (1999) and rural Iranian cinema. The story, like that in each of these other films, is very simple - a woman's husband is incapacitated and she seeks a new man who will support the old.
The cinematography is beautiful with the harshness of the inner Mongolian landscape captured aesthetically. Dialogue is sparse, and the film is very observational, documenting a way of life that is gradually receding into the past. The herding and riding of animals, the digging of wells, the visits from potential suitors and other aspects of rural life are nicely captured, and contrast against the oncoming tide of modernity.
Thematically, the film has more in common with Breaking the Waves (1996), my favourite Lars von Trier film. There is both humour and heartbreak as the story unfolds. I didn't find the film quite as effective as Weeping Camel but a nice bit of cultural diversity that's worth seeing to break up some of the more challenging films I'm planning to see at MIFF.
Tuya's Marriage screened as part of MIFF's World Stories. It screens again on Sunday 29 July at 3.10pm at the Forum Theatre.
Breath (Soom, Kim Ki-duk, South Korea, 2007)
This is the third film I have seen by Kim Ki-duk. Each one has been very different to the other, and I have loved them all. Address Unknown was bleak and emotionally challenging, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring was beautifully poetic, while Breath is hard to describe. It has aspects of the earlier films - it's visually poetic and bleak - but it's very different to both most notably for its surreal/absurdist devices combined with very black humour (slightly reminiscent of some of the work of Raúl Ruiz).
Sparse dialogue makes for great intrigue as we attempt to make sense of the two main protagonists and what they have in common. One, a man on death row, the other a suburban mother who follows news of his exploits on the TV. To discuss how the story unfolds is to spoil the film if you haven't watched it. However, the story is so elusive, that even with the details, much remains unexplained, adding to the mystique of the film. The prisoner does not speak during the film and the mother does not speak to her family; she is on screen for about twenty minutes before we hear a word uttered from her mouth.
There is a really competent and confident film-maker at work in Kim Ki-duk, and he's not afraid to experiment. Beautifully photographed in winter, the use of steel/blue tones indoors accentuates the sense of cold and contrasts some of the surreal aspects. The film is contemplative, giving one ample opportunity to appreciate the superb visual aesthetics and make sense of the narrative. I enjoyed this film immensely, and highly recommend it.
Breath screened as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch. It screens again on Sunday 12 August at 11am at the Forum Theatre.
Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2007)
This is a chilling film made with minimal resources that grabs you by the jugular and doesn't let go - a family tragedy that reeks of Shakespeare. A father has died leaving two sets of sons behind (by different mothers). The older sons were abandoned when young and when they turn up at the funeral held by the younger sons, old hostilities surface. Much of the narrative unfolds without explicit explanation, and often with minimal dialogue. We get into the minds of the various protagonists largely by their actions.
Set in the cotton-growing region of Arkansas, it gives a view of Americans struggling in semi-rural life. The film cast is mostly with unknown actors and this is a strength that adds a level of realism to a film. While there is a sense of dreaded inevitability throughout, there is plenty of room for the unexpected, but not in a contrived Hollywood manner. The film is both very well written and impeccably directed. Remarkably, this is a directorial debut by Jeff Nichols who also wrote and produced the film. He is definitely a talent to watch.
As a slight negative, I don't know if it was the film or the venue (the RMIT Capitol theatre), but the visuals and sound didn't seem quite up to scratch. This bothered me slightly at the start, but once the story got into gear (pretty early in the piece), it was barely noticeable. I found the music enjoyable.
Shotgun Stories screened as part of MIFF's International Panorama. It screens again on Monday 6 August at 7pm at the Regent Theatre. Official website.
Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website