JIFF 2006

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| 2. Japan |

Haze by/with Tsukamoto Shinya.
Strong relationships: Mrs.
There were interesting Japanese works in Jeonju. The first one I was able to see was the (now not-so-)short Tsukamoto Shinya's Haze. The film was conceived for the Digital Short Films project of the previous year, and was now presented in a 50 minute version — 20 minutes longer than the original. As with Song Il-gon's Magicians, which followed on the same screening, Haze uses the digital medium in an aesthetically attractive way, without the plain, cool and clean look characteristic of many DV shorts.

The synopsis of Tsukamoto's film might bring memories of Vicenzo Natali's Cube, but the similarities stop at the basic setting where characters are placed at the beginning. In both cases we start with someone waking up in a confined space having lost the memories on how he/they got there. The film is very effective creating tension and anxiety, during its characters' journey of physical and psychological pain; he drags himself horizontally or vertically, in-between narrow cement walls and has to support part of his weight with his teeth biting into a metal pipe, moving along the way, unable to completely set his feet on the barbed wire floor.

Sometimes an essay on sadism, Haze slightly disappoints with an ending which tries to supply answers, something which I think was absent from the short version.

Zeze Takahisa's Mrs. mixes family drama, mystery thriller and a bit of sexploitation. Zeze is referenced as an author of pinku eiga — a term that applies to a variety of Japanese erotic films. The same script would work quite well without the carnality, but I will not complain about the colourfulness it provides, especially since the film nevers backs off with shame like some others do, provoking and then holding out and behaving.

Mrs. begins with a woman entering a cab, falling asleep and finding herself chained to the car. Through flashbacks, we'll learn her relation with another woman and her drama: her son was missing, apparently kidnaped, and her marriage crumbled down. The narrative is spiced up with a few moments of love between women — surprisingly free of optical censorship (in the name of art, I assume).

Zeze Takahisa answered audience questions on his film Mrs.
The major strength of the film is its characters, the weakness the not really nice DV look. Some DV films look acceptable or good; others just make us scream "35mm please!". The image seemed slightly distorted, even though in general the digital projection on the JIFF was excellent. The problem, if there was one (it could be something I ate that day), could have been in the image source.

Yanagimashi Mitsuo directed Who's Camus Anyway? (Camus Nante Shiranai), a film about a film, stuffed with cinephile references, from its opening with a long continuous shot where characters talk about long continuous shots (Altman's The Player, Wells' Touch of Evil).

Film students try to take to good term the production of a thriller called "The Bored Killer". It all starts on a lighter note, but then it gets deeper and with an ironic sense of humour. The main actor (The Bored Killer himself) searches for enlightenment on the motivations for his character to kill people and there is an intense discussion on the subject amidst the students, from where a question arises: can someone kill another person just to know how it feels? The ending, which continues through the end credits is a bit dubious and might disappoint those who would expect well defined resolutions.

| 3. China |

One of the films I didn't really want to miss was Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Qian Li Zou Dan Qi), the return of director Zhang Yimou to gentle drama and social realism in China's forgotten villages, after the martial arts epics Hero and House of Flying Daggers. It was definitely a good choice, able to clean some of the stains of disappointment left by his previous film.

Takakura Ken (left, during the shooting of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, with director Zhang Yimou.
B420, shot in Macao.
Riding Alone... has a particularity when compared with other of the "smaller" Zhang's films, which is the fact it's a co-production with Japan with Takakura Ken as the protagonist.

Takakura plays a man who travels to China to record on video a famous opera for his son, who is in a hospital bed with a serious disease. For him this could be the last chance to heal the long-broken relationship.

The difficulties seem to pile up one after the other, but he is determined to do whatever it takes, in spite of communication problems. In his resilient fight against bureaucracy we can see similarities with Story of Qiuju and with the Gong Li character. Emotions and all the rest are in place. Make sure to have a Kleenex around just in case.

B420 is a Hong Kong production, directed by Mathew Tang, which has drawn comparisons with Wong Kar-wai's films. The director was at the JIFF and he said even though he was a fan, alleged similarities with Chungking Express or other of Wong's films were coincidence.

In Tang's film there's a sort of love triangle between characters disappointed with life due to one reason or the other, like being poor or depressed by the Portuguese style architecture that surrounds them. A girl who feels "life is like a Coke bottle" is at the centre. There's also a boy which secretly loves her and another one, older, unemployed and selling used DVDs on the street to make some money. There is something from a heist thriller later in the film, but its strong points are in its characters and their routes.

| 4. Philipines |

The Masseur (Masahista), in the Digital Spectrum competition, is a philipino film dealing with massage parlours which are a cover for male homosexual prostitution. Director Brillante Mendoza cuts from the protagonist work to preparations for his fathers funeral, something which is at least intriguing and, according to him, is meant to draw a parallel between life and death (life goes on?).

The normality of something portrayed as just another job is somewhat shaken by the presence of his girlfriend who insults him for having to wait inside a taxi for him to finish servicing his male customers. It might sound funny, but in the general context of the film it is filled with bitterness.

| 5. Other |

JIFF presented films from diversified origins. The remaining are titles normally excluded from the site's reviews, but which will be having short comments in festival reports or other articles that would call for it.

The First on the Moon: archive footage.
Reason, Debate and a Story (Jukti Takko ar Gappo) (India, 1974) was the only title from the Ritwik Ghatak retrospective I saw. The director focused, during his career, political and cultural issues related with the division of Bengal, where he was born, into territories administered by India and Pakistan (this one resulting later in Bangladesh); migration and poverty and other difficulties faced by refugees. In this film, Ghatak plays the main character, an alcoholic intellectual, abandoned by his wife and roaming without destiny, with other people with no apparent place in society.

A Spring for the Thirsty (Krynytsya dlya Sprahlykh (Ucrania, i.e. URSS, 1965) was included on the retrospective of the forbidden titles by Moscow's communist regime, whose showing was only allowed after Gorbatchov's perestroika, in the end of the 1980's. Undertitled "an allegory in film", it is made of a succession of images and symbols, which censorship probably decided to ban even before bothering to decode. The central character is an old man who owns a well and thinks constantly about death. The screening was from a video source.

The First on the Moon (Pervye na Lune) is a Russian film, selected for Indie Vision, under the form of a mockumentary, about the attempts made by the Soviets to send men to the Moon, in the end of the 1930's. Technically competent, in terms of editing and in the recreation of "archive footage", looking quite convincing. The poker face tone wasn't able to get laughs from the Korean audience and no more than a few smiles from this European. It will not be surprising that many viewers without previous information will need a bit to realise that the archive footage was shot just a few months ago.

Familia (Indie Vision) is a solid Canadian drama, focusing on the problems of a group of characters related by family ties. A woman runs away from an abusive boyfriend with her teenage daughter and they spend some time on her ex-sister-in-law's house. Her addiction to alcohol and game will push the patience of her hostess. Meanwhile, the sister-in-law tries to understand why her husband spends so much time out on business.

Plain ingredients very well cooked, in a film dominated by the female gender, the first from Louise Archambault. I missed the reason, if there was any, for the particular spelling of the film title, i.e., "family" in Spanish (or Portuguese if we add an accent on the first 'i').

Offside, directed by Jafar Panahi, was chosen as opening film of the 7th edition of the JIFF. From Panahi I just knew The Circle, whose semi-documentary style I didn't find particularly appealing, not withstanding the relevance of the social analysis of the country's attitude toward women, under the cover or religion, which look near medieval when observed by European eyes.

Offside: football fanatics.
Offside is different in the way it deals with the same subject matter. It sustains itself mostly through humour, based in the determination of several girls to watch football on a stadium, something forbidden by law in Iran. Woman should not be mixed with men in stadiums, and one of the reasons, apparently, is because they scream profanities during the games. Maybe they could just make the use of swear words near women illegal.

In what concerns the theme but also the narrative structure, there are many similarities with The Circle, but the option to talk about serious (and sad) issues by the use of humour really heightens the results. The film was shot during the game that made Iran qualify for the World Cup which is taking place while I write this. I couldn't prevent the thought of a sequel with a less "happy" ending, shot during the game in which Portugal sent the Iranian team back home, just a few days ago.


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1. Korea | 2. Japan | 3. China | 4. Philipines | 5. Other | 6. Shorts
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