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Month: February, 2015

Biutiful

Another film about a man and which I had little idea what it was about before I watched it. Since “Birdman” got Best Picture at the Oscars I finally can make up my mind to pick out this film from my very long pending list and have it done with. I liked “Babel” a lot so I kind of knew what to expect and that I would like it too. And I do like it. The story of a man who has been informed that he has got cancer and has only very little time left to live, and which reminds me of François Ozon’s “Time to Leave.” But “Biutiful” is less stoic and in a way I like this better. The man set out to fix the many broken things in his life – his loose family ties, his broken marriage with a prostitute with bipolar disorder, his young children without a mother to take care of them, his many illicit business and the complicated relationships with the people he dealt with. When he was helping his daughter with her homework she asked him how to spell “beautiful” – and that is where “Biutiful” comes from. Something is crooked, wrong, but still beautiful. Life is beautiful, with all its many complications and bitterness. The Chinese say “When a person is about to die he speaks goodness.” So one tries to fix everything, right every wrong, before one dies, albeit it is not always possible. Things might even get worse, as in the film. Here one sees again this solitary man fighting against the inevitable. Sad but so very biutiful.

A Serious Man

I did not know it is the story of a Jewish man, but Jewish or not, I really like the dark humour and the director brother-duo’s treatment is, as always, just right. Not too melodramatic to lose touch of the real, and at the same time not too plain as to be droll. Life is ridiculous, goodness is not always rewarded, we seek an answer from God and God does not heed. Just when you think every cloud has a silver lining, the sky changes, there comes a tornado along with the brusque ending. “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.” Jewish or Christian or Pagan. Sometimes we have to help ourselves, so even if God does not help those who help themselves we still have ourselves. Life is ridiculous, so don’t you take it too seriously.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

The usual virtuous wife story but very beautifully made. Instead of the romance I am more drawn to the theme of the country vs city, traditions vs modernity, virtues vs desires. While the city is being portrayed as a very magical place where people have so much fun they forget about time and place, it is also where the evil lurks – the smart city girl who tempts the young farmer and persuades him to kill his simple rustic wife. It is quite hard to believe that the city girl can fall in love with a farmer – but perhaps it is not an issue here. She is the embodiment of all the evils of modern city life and should be shunned. Though I do feel sorry for her when the film ends with her sitting mournfully in a wagon heading back to the city. She has fallen in love with the wrong person, that’s all.

等一個人咖啡

我還記得為了《那些年,我們一起追的女孩》而跟你起了爭執。我說那實在很一般,雷聲大雨點小,讓喜歡九把刀的平常不易動怒的你生氣了。但無論你如何生氣也好,說我常自命高人一等大言不慚,我也不會因而喜歡上我覺得不夠好的東西,也不會因為怕讓人不快而不表達心中想法。那也已說明了我們之間的差距,只是我們總是置若罔聞,過了便算。九把刀是有的小聰明,但他的東西千篇一律,品味永遠停留在同一個階層,《等一個人咖啡》也是一樣。看了一遍後我只有再一次確認了我的想法,九把刀不是不好,但對我來說真的很一般。或者正是因為如此我們不得不分開,各自再去等我們的那一個人吧。

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Sorry I am late Mr. Lawrence. And sorry too that I have always thought that David Bowie was Mr. Lawrence. Sorry three that I could not at all recognise Ryuichi Sakamoto…… all the while I was thinking who that guy with those funny brows is…… And I had imagined a very different story (with more explicit content perhaps – obviously I was thinking of Gohatto). The pace of the film is very 80s – actors overlap their lines and actions and the breathings felt unnatural (to me in the 21st century). But really good to finally meet you, albeit many years late, Mr. Lawrence.

Contagion

I like the opening Hong Kong sequence – they made good choices and those scenes of the Mongkok look really good, as well the decision to use Chui Tien You and Josie Ho. Except the terrible idea of the Chinese village where the epidemic killed half of its inhabitants – come on Hong Kong is a city… we have villages in the New Territories but not like that in the film, unless they meant it to be mainland China. Then there are many big names in this film but somehow the story does not work out too well – not thought through well enough? One sees big themes hovering through the air but they just do not seep through. Blindness, on the other hand, also about a fictional – probably even more fantastical – epidemic, was really shocking. The credit goes to the original story’s Nobel Laureate author. One really needs a good script in order to make a good film, not big names nor visual effects.

Thérèse

The real Amelie. I don’t know why they give Thérèse such a low rating but I really enjoyed it. The same old story of a upperclass lady with an independent spirit trying to fight through the cage of a conservative French countryside. Calm and slow, no apparent outrageous passion, every latent, hidden under a serene surface. That calmness is the real cage, the real source of suffocation, the real source of death. One might ask, why can’t she just escape from it all? Just walk out of that door, and never turn back. I think of that often. Perhaps that inability to walk out of one’s cage is the real chain that inhabits us from attaining our freedom.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet

It does not smell American – that was my first impression of The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet. By the time I realised that it actually smelled like my favourite Amelie, it also appeared to me that this film was by none other than that same eccentric French director. But I was disappointed – it is meant to be a cute story with a little bit of dark side to it, but the drawback is, unfortunately, the little T.S. Spivet. It is the wrong boy. It feels like Amelie is being played by Sophie Marceau. Well, something like that.

La passion de Jeanne d’Arc

One of the silent classics that can be watched online for free now. Like the few others I watched before, La passion de Jeanne d’Arc strikes me as being so much more ‘modern’ (such a problematic word) than what we have nowadays. Having no prior knowledge whatsoever about this production, I was very much surprised to find that the entire film revolves around the trial of Joan of Arc, and for the most part only the face of Joan is portrayed in a very close shot. The beautiful face of Maria Falconetti in all her passions is just like a classical sculpture of a Greek goddess, a Botticelli angel. Every frame, every shot is like a piece of fine art photography. One does not hope to learn much about the story of Joan of Arc through the plot because the audience is expected to be acquainted with the facts already, still from the minimal information one can still gain a rough idea of the happenings. The focus is on the passions of the martyr.

Briefly I was acquainted with the Hundred Years’ War through my Shakespearean studies. It is very interesting indeed to study this history from both the English and French points of view. On the other hand I am beginning to feel uneasy about my passions for European history over that of my own country. Perhaps it is because of the current state of my ‘motherland’ which makes me reluctant to have anything to do with her. But of her glorious past I do wish to learn. Such is my passion for knowledge, over that of many things, and may god forgive me for it.

On revisiting Love Letter

After 18 years and I was finally going to Otaru, the little harbour town in Hokkaido where Shunji Iwaii’s Love Letter was set. 18 years! I was not even 18 when I first watched this film, and decided it would be my life’s love. Just like all first loves.

Of course at that time I was most touched by the love story between the young Fujii Itsukis, and all other beautiful threads of the story were lost to me. I remember being a little puzzled when I saw in an interview where Shunji Iwaii said that the film was about treasuring the present. To me Love Letter had always been about the bitter sweet beauty of a lost love, memories through softened lens. Yet as years go by, whenever I revisit this classic of Japanese love cinema, and unlike all the Japanese love movies that came after it and which tried hard to imitate it (lost love, regrets… all the same formula), I discover something new – and this is the best thing a film can do, to surprise you every time you watch it.

While I was sitting on a bench, my legs crossed, trying to make myself as comfortable as possible for a night in the airport, I brought out my tablet and revisited Love Letter, in the dead silence of a lone corridor of Narita Airport. I wanted to revisit one more time this first love of mine before embarking on my first journey to Hokkaido.

When Hiroko found the address on the graduation album she started up, searching for a pen, and the music came in – this is always where I begin to cry. But not as indulgently as I used to be, quietly I watched – observed – through the film silently this time. And at the end I think, after 18 years of many lost loves and regrets, I have finally come to understand the film as Shunji Iwaii had intended it to convey. Love Letter is not about that last library book – Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. It is not about digging into the past and trying to recover things lost to us forever. It is about finding out a way in between remembering and forgetting, holding on and letting go, in order that we may live in the present and treasure what we have now before they become another regret. In the film there are people who are forgetful – almost too much so. On the other hand there are people, such as Hiroko, who remembers too much, and that makes her incapable to live on. Just the right amount of remembrance and forgetfulness. Accept that all things begin and end gracefully, as such is our fate as mortal beings. And this is what makes Love Letter much more powerful than those melodramatic imitations that only focus on the lost love romance.