Friday, August 03, 2007

MIFF Day 10

Day ten is over, with nine to go. The time is just flying, and I feel I've paced myself quite well. When I booked a full festival passport, there was a bit of concern that I might OD on cinema. So far that hasn't happened. I have had a couple of days where I had booked four films, but on each occasion I bowed out of a session. Most days I'm seeing two or three films and on one occasion (not counting opening night), just the one. Maybe I can make this an annual thing - taking time off work and attending the festival full-time.

Today's two screenings were both Asian films (which I seem to be seeing a lot of, especially with the two Japanese retrospectives). In between the screenings, there was a meetup between a few bloggers - Mathieu Ravier from Last Night With Riviera, Matt Clayfield from Esoteric Rabbit, Olga from Ghost in the Invisible Bikini and the Melbourne Cinematheque blog (Olga, Matt C and myself are all current or past Cinémathèque committee members), Jana from mono no aware and her partner, Gareth (momentarily), and myself. It's great to be able to catch up with people that one mostly interacts with online.

After Life (Wandâfuru raifu, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 1998)
As Matt Clayfield mentioned after today's screening of After Life, this film should be compulsory viewing for film students. It proves that a good story put together inventively is all it takes to produce a compelling film. With scarce resources and mostly non-professional actors, Kore-eda has ingeniously contrived an alternate reality, where people go at the time of death. No pearly gates, no angels, no hell-fire - just bureaucrats in government buildings (or so they seemed to this writer), processing the dead, and extracting from them their lives' fondest memories to be made into videos.

This idea is almost comical, yet it works beautifully. Clearly there's a humorous element, but Kore-eda plays it matter-of-fact serious, almost like a documentary. For me it strongly recalls some of the early fiction films of Kieslowski (like Camera Buff) which evolved out of the documentary format. The film shares the beautifully raw aesthetics of Camera Buff and Blind Chance and with the latter's metaphysical exploration. Having seen at MIFF all but one of Kore-eda's films (Distance, which I plan to see on Tuesday), this is my favourite so far. But each of the films I have seen thus far are very different in content and style to each other. This film is both enjoyable and moving.

After Life had a single screening at MIFF as part of the Hirokazu Kore-eda retrospective. Also still to be screened: Distance

Woman on the Beach (Haebyonui yoin, Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2006)
In Woman on the Beach Hong Sang-soo has expertly crafted a drama of the ordinary, using great character development, insight and excellent attention to detail and without resorting to manipulative or sentimental devices.

A film director, Kim Jung-rae (played by Kim Seung-woo), goes away to the beach for the weekend with his assistant Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) and Chang-wook's girlfriend, Moon-suk (Go Hyun-jung). Jung-rae sets about bedding both Moon-suk one day and another woman, Sun-hee (Song Seon-mi) the next. Complications arise when the smitten Moon-suk returns the following day.

It's interesting that Hong depicts a film director. Is he criticising what he has seen in his own industry? Or maybe he's mocking himself. Superficially, it recalls Takashi Miike's Ôdishon (Audition, 1999) in which a film director sets up auditions in search of a wife. Without any of Miike's horror or fantasy, Hong uses an entirely plausible setup where a director uses his celebrity to beguile women for his selfish and short-term purposes.

Hong depicts a complex scenario with understatement, with nuanced characters who do not slip into gender stereotypes. While the males could have been caricatured and demonised, the setup is tempered by showing the complicity of females who also go against stereotype by refusing to be passive victims.

I haven't seen any of Hong's earlier films, so I can't place it in the context of his other work. I find it disappointing that we don't see more Korean cinema in this country on theatrical release. With just one minor quibble - the music was sometimes a little intrusive - this film is well-written, intelligent, very accessible, engaging and superior to most of the middle-of-the-road dramas we've been getting in recent months. This film should appeal to both casual arthouse film-goers and more serious cinephiles alike. It really deserves a theatrical release.

This was the second and final screening of Woman on the Beach as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch, one of my favourite strands of MIFF (the other being International Panorama).

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

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