Sunday, August 03, 2008

MIFF Day 8

Festival fatigue has definitely got a hold, but fortunately I saw three solid films on day 8, including the latest by the Dardenne brothers, my festival favourite so far.

Fri 1 August

Ma jiang (Mahjong, Edward Yang, Taiwan, 1996)
Er shi si cheng ji (24 City, Jia Zhang-ke, China, 2008)
Le silence de Lorna (Lorna's Silence, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy, 2008)

This was a welcome change of pace after the previous evening's Taipei Story, also part of the Edward Yang retrospective. The film is similarly austere, but with characters that are less likeable, giving the audience more of a challenge. With a group of low-grade criminals, there was a palpable sense of the unpredictable, keeping the audience on edge. I particularly liked the casting of la actrice française Virginie Doyenne, who has a similar look and persona to the lovely Natalie Portman.

The film meanders somewhat at the end, with faux-endings making the narrative unpredictable. The ending is surprisingly sentimental. I enjoyed the film both as part of the Yang retrospective and as a festival film.

24 City
Jia Zhang-ke's Still Life was one of my favourite films at MIFF last year. Thus I was keen to see this doco by him. Still Life itself has a documentary look and feel about it, documenting a disappearing way of life for millions in the China Three Gorges project. In this actual documentary, Jia captures the recollections of various workers in a high security military factory that is being relocated after over half a century's operation. We see similar devices Jia used in Still Life, with long takes of dialogue.

At first, I didn't think I would stay for the length of the film, due to fatigue and a general disinterest in documentaries on the big screen. However, on the strength of Jia's earlier film, I stayed and was surprised at how moving the film becomes. As different workers express their experiences at the factory, we get personal glimpses into each of their lives as well as their changing culture. I was very much reminded of Errol Morris' style of film-making, the way he just rolls the camera and allows his subjects to speak with little prompting. Without the constant cutting and other editing we usually get, we get a greater sense of the person and the impact of their experiences. It's quite amazing what naturalistic performances ensue. Highly recommended.

Lorna's Silence
Another great film from les fréres Dardennes. I will have to see again if it gets a theatrical release by Madman. The intensity of a major festival like MIFF doesn't do a film like this justice. But is it better than L'enfant (The Child)? I find it hard to answer that right now, but it's of the same high quality of cinematic story-telling. For what it's worth, L'enfant was my favourite film of 2006, so I had high expectations. And I wasn't disappointed.

It's about an Albanian woman, Lorna (Arta Dobroshi, who was present for a Q&A session after the screening and who kindly agreed to being photographed, left), who finds herself in a difficult position. She is in the process of acquiring Belgian citizenship, by paying a local (a junkie played by Dardenne regular, Jérémie Renier) to marry her. There is a complex web of international criminality being played out, of which Lorna is a pawn. There is an omniscient sense of danger that if things don't go to plan (and they don't) that things may get ugly for Lorna.

Dobroshi is in just about every frame of this film and turned out an amazing performance. She is an Albanian actress, whose work has mostly been in theatre and who learnt French for the film. She skillfully treads a fragile path between deceit and criminality on the one hand, and innocence and an empathetic character on the other. She depicts vulnerability, valour and resourcefulness wonderfully. The film has a powerfully ambiguous ending. It's my favourite at MIFF so far, and an exhilirating experience. It was my pleasure to express as much to Ms. Dobroshi in person after the Q&A session last night.

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