Monday 16 July 2012

Films in my life

The Taipei Film Festival is ending now. But this year I managed to see four films. Two Taiwanese films and two Swedish films. Strangely, they all reflected important issues of my own life. One of the two Taiwanese films How I learned to tell a lie, was directed by a friend of mine, Guo Shang-Sing. A short film about the loss of innocence of a boy who enters the adult world. I particularly appreciated the use of animation which brought an expected bittersweet, childlike irony to the narration, and the bold humour, something which is oddly missing in many Taiwanese films I have seen (they usually prefer something more gentle or verging more toward slapstick comedy).


Play, by Ruben Östlund, is a drama about bullying among the young children in Gothenburg. A group of Black teenagers decide to rob younger children (who are designated as coming from a wealthier background), using an alternative to the usual violence: they perform a well-oiled scheme to trap their victims, and overpower them by just using the racist cliches and prejudices that people often have of them. Somebody commented that the ignorance (absence of presence, I would rather say) of the adults was too parodic. If the person was there, I would argue that it is in fact very accurate. If I have to remember my time at school when I was the daily prey for bullying; the adults were extraordinary oblivious to what was going on right in front of their eyes, whether that was conscious or not. In the film, the adults are whether absent or don't get involved by simply discarding the drama as mere child play. That said, if the film wasn't a visual treat (Östlund opted for a documentary-like approach, with clever use of long shots), it was excellently acted by the young actors. Östlund actually focused less on the issue of racism, than on the rhetoric of opposite social groups which come across each other.

The other Swedish film, Maria Larssons eviga ögon (Everlasting Moments) by Jan Troell is a beautiful period piece set in the early 20th century. I had no idea what I was going to see when I decided to buy the ticket for that film. I only knew it was about a working class woman, a mother of seven and spouse of a loving but alcoholic husband, who wins a camera at a lottery and discovers a new way to apprehend life through the lens. I had brought William with me and we were both enchanted by the cinematography and the attention to details. Jan Troell created an enrapturing visual style which to me perfectly translates this silent and suspended moment when a photograph is taken, a feeling which is conveyed even more strongly in the earlier days pictures. I'm thinking of Gertrude Käsebier's Maiden in Prayer or the beautiful portraits of Paul Strand. Jan Troell is obviously in love with the image-making, a passion I also deeply relate to, as well as the fact that (artistic) creativity is an important, if not vital factor in one's life, that so many people are unaware of. In the title role, Maria Heiskanen is simply a miracle.

The fourth film I saw, Young Dudes, is a visual fantasy of modern time Taiwan involving two best friends and a pretty Russian girl, who decide to build a modern day Noah's Ark named KLAATU when they hear about the imminence of the apocalypse. There's the spirit of Woodstock, especially toward the end when the trio reunite at a rock concert among hundreds of other youngsters. DJ Chen's film captures the spirit of young Taiwan: energetic, cool, nonsensically funny, but the attitude cannot hide the fact that it also shows their lack of any real direction, or a sense of identity... The soundtrack reflected that as well. It was penned and performed by Taiwanese indie band Soler, and as it played during the film, I found that in spite of their obvious musical skills, they were better at imitating other artists' style then coming up with their own. And the choice of the David Bowie song All the young dudes is certainly relevant of that. The presence of the Russian girl added to that feeling. The actress is lovely and extremely cinegenic, but her acting amounts to  striking poses and looking kawai-cute. Not much life inside. Trippy and hallucinogenic as it may be, one cannot help but wonder what the whole point it. There's no real message, and the film ends up looking like an art-student experimental project.
The film might meet with some success among cinema goers. It's got attitude, but I can't help thinking of Terry Gillian would have done...
Beside, the camera on shoulder approach nearly made me sick...

The director CJ Chen and her leading lady Larisa Bakurova

Po-Chieh Wang and Larisa Bakurova signing posters for fans

Then it occurred to me: Larissa is the model who appeared in Tsai Ming-Liang's short film for Johan Ku The Hole! I knew she was more a model than an actress.

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