This is a series of posts that originally appeared on the NYT in early March; these are the only things I have recently wrote on the NYT, so I decided to move them to the blog.
Some quick notes on some films that I have seen since Thursday:
(Jan Svankmajer, Czech Republic)--A truly creepy film about consumption run amock; set in the contemporary Czech republic, though based on a folktale, the film is about a desperate, childless couple who "adopt" a tree-stump that looks like a baby. Then it comes alive and develops an insatiable appetite (matched by the people around them for food, consumer goods, and sex). Svankmajer's creation of Otik is truly creepy, with the use of stop-motion creating a jerky, unworldy affect, especially disconcerting when matched with the cooing, gurgling, and giggling sounds of a human baby. The social worker scene is truly disgusting.
Dou San/A Borrowed Life
(Wu Nien-jien, Taiwan)--First film directed by screenwriter (Hou Hsiao-hsien's City of Sadness
and Edward Yang's That Day, on the Beach) and actor Wu Nien-jien (probably best known outside of Taiwan for his portrayal of NJ in Yi Yi
; but he is apparently a major TV personality in Taiwan, there were many, many autograph seekers at the screening last night); a complex autobiographical tale about his father (and generation), who was either unemployed or worked in the mines in northern Taiwan. Spanning an interval between 1958 and his father's suicide in 1990, Wu Nien-jien uses long takes and an episodic structure to create an ultimately engaging portrait of his father. The film really hit me when it was over. Pristine print courtesy of Martin Scorsese.
(Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan)--My favorite film so far this weekend, turn of the millenium Taipei wracked by millenial anxiety given physical form in the Taiwan Fever virus. Two people, a man and a woman, ultimately alienated and lone, connect to each other through a hole connecting their two apartments. Besides each other, there only comforts are musical dream sequences set to the music of Gracie Chang. Both beautiful and moving, I will have to see it again.
Two more films from the Taiwanese Symposium, both were part of the "Tales of Three Cities," series, which I previously, and erroneously reported as a trilogy, but in actuality is a six-part series, three of which are done (the other film, Bettelnut Beauties
was not shown). The three cities are of course, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Beijing.
(d. Wang Xiaoshui)--A film that superficially resembles De Sica's The Bicycle Thief
, the film is set in Beijing; a country boy named Guei from Hubei comes to the city and gets a job as a bicycle messenger. After he pays off the bike, officially becoming his, it is stolen. Bring in working-class, city student Jian who bought the stolen bike. Guei searches for his bike, the only means of keeping his job, and finds it eventually; possession of the bike transfers back and forth between the two before the reach a tenuous compromise and uneasy truce. Frequently very funny, the film points out the rampant disparity between the urban inhabitants of Beijing (Jian depends on the bike for social status and picking up girls) and the recent, rural immigrants (Guei needs the bike for economic survival). One of the first films by a Sixth Generation director that I liked without hesitation (the other being The Postman
) The film plays in Chicago at the Music Box on March 15th, I recommend it to those people who live there.
Blue Gate Crossing
(d. Yi Chih-yen)--This was the world premiere of the film; it was so new that it just got out of the lab on Monday. Set among high school students in Taipei, the film explores themes of growing up and discovering sexuality. It sets up a love triangle of sorts between a male and two female students. The main virtue of this sweet and funny film are the performances by the non-professional actors; at times shy, at times boisterous, all the while fumbling, almost naively, with new feelings and emotions. I don't know when the film will be released, according to the producer Peggy Chiao, there trying to get it in Cannes. Still well worth watching; I'm looking forward to screenings of the other films in "Tales of Three Cities" anthology.