Wednesday, August 01, 2007

MIFF Day 8

After a quiet day yesterday, I saw another three films today and it was a real mixed bag. Nothing stood out particularly, but it's great to have the variety. I'm sure for most people who attend many festival screenings, variety is what it's all about.

Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2004)
Nobody Knows opens to the statement that while based on real events, the characters in the film are all fictitious. The film is a totally unsentimental portrayal of a mother's abandoning her children in an apartment to fend for themselves while she moves elsewhere with her lover. While the film's narrative is grim, in reality it was much worse.

While Kore-eda's Maborosi is a gentle meditative film with many sweeping shots of natural beauty, Nobody Knows is largely confined to the claustrophobic confines of a small Tokyo apartment that the children have been instructed by the mother to keep to. While the two films are visually different, they unsurprisingly share a common aesthetic, Kore-eda preferring to let the visuals do the talking. His style is very observational, the camera capturing many seemingly mundane details, perhaps reflecting his start in film with documentaries.

Kore-eda doesn't artificially build up the drama by, for example, the use of manipulative devices like music to portray the increasingly dire situation of the children. He trusts the audience to take note of the film's narrative, and to understand themselves that these children are in desperate need of help. The escalating measures taken by the children, and the increasing squalor said it all. The naturalistic performances by the children in the film were excellent and Yagira Yuya, then 14, won best actor award at Cannes 2004. As I wrote about Maborosi, this film rewards the patient viewer but could well be boring for the casual movie-goer.

Nobody Knows had a single screening at MIFF as part of the Hirokazu Kore-eda retrospective. Also still to be screened: Hana (Kore-eda's most recent film, which has two screenings), Distance, & After Life. Official website.

The Hottest State (Ethan Hawke, USA, 2006)
This was a surprisingly competent first film by Ethan Hawke as director. While it covers fairly safe territory - a romantic drama - it does it with nice visuals and some originality. While the protagonist William (Mark Webber) is a bit of a slacker, he was introspective enough to try to resolve some of his own issues when his lover Sarah (Catalina Sandino Moreno) splits and leaves him broken hearted. The fact that this was tackled from the male perspective, and grappled with some psychological insight gave the film some gravitas. Mind you, how deeply a twenty-one year old can delve into his psyche is another thing.

I found the film quite enjoyable, more than superficial, but still largely in the "middle-of-the-road" category - not that that's a bad thing. The cinematography was great, and there were nice camera angles. The music was nice but sometimes a little intrusive. While it's the type of film that's likely to do well at Sundance (maybe it has, I don't know), it's a lot better than the quirky comedies like Little Miss Sunshine et al. This film could do well on general release and was an OK film to add some variation to my MIFF viewings, but nothing to rave about. A good first effort by Hawke (who is also a guest speaker at the festival).

The Hottest State screened as part of MIFF's International Panorama. It has no further screenings at MIFF.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Hei yan quan, Tsai Ming-Liang, Malaysia/China/Taiwan/France/Austria, 2006)
This is a strange film, very strange, and not the type of film to get a release outside of a festival. There was virtually no dialogue for two hours - mostly visuals with background noises and music (played in the scene, not dubbed over). We see various strugglers on the streets and buildings of Malaysia and get a strong sense of alienation.

The film is almost a photo essay, constructed largely of beautifully composed shots of urban decay. There's the flooded building site, modest abodes, a huge butterfly and the surrealist streets choked in smoke from Indonesian bushfires. The film challenges an audience's patience and I was surprised there were only a few walkouts. My partner left after 90 minutes, and shortly after a little more action started to appear. A sex scene affected by the smoke was amusing. The final take is particularly poignant and poetic. The film is not something I would generally recommend, but if you like something unusual during a festival, it might be worth a look in. Just be prepared to be patient.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone screened as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch. It screens again on Sunday 5 August at 5.15pm at the RMIT Capitol Theatre.

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


Jana said...

What I tried to express yesterday about Maboroshi was this way Kore-eda has of making big things happen in very small steps. I think this is particularly visible in Nobody Knows (which was filmed over a whole year). I really like this film. It has an incredible gentleness about it.

Marina said...

I've been a bit anxious to hear something, anything, about "The Hottest State" and happy that it's fairly positive.

Paul Martin said...

Jana, I think you've expressed that really well, in a way that I couldn't quite.

Marina, I liked it more than I expected to, and I thought it was more intelligent than what most people will give it credit for. I wrongly credited it as Hawke's first film, but someone pointed out to me today that it's his second as director.

richardwatts said...

I very much wanted to see I Don't Want To Sleep Alone, Paul, but seeing it straight after Glue was not really the right headspace to watch the film in, so i skipped it. Sounds fascinating, though. By the way, I plugged your blog on RRR today...

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the plug, Richard. It's a pity SmartArts doesn't have a podcast. I wanted to see Glue but ended up seeing The Hottest State instead. Ah, the MIFF-tradeoffs we make.