It’s been a while since I posted here. That’s because I’ve been writing for a few other websites. Last week, In Review Online posted my review of Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux, possibly the strangest film I’ve seen in recent memory but certainly one of the most rewarding. I did not dissect the film’s every detail because some things are best to be experienced first-hand.
Also from last week, I wrote about two very different films about family by two young female filmmakers at the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival. The post is hosted on the website of dGenerate Films, an admirable independent distributor with a focus on Chinese cinema. Check them out.
The 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival opened on Sunday evening with yet another biopic of martial arts master Ip Man—played by the talismanic Anthony Wong this time in Ip Man: The Final Fight. The HKIFF society does a great job at drumming up public interest every year and having a popular commercial release kick-start the festival serves that purpose handsomely. Since Film Monitor is no red carpet reporting material, I skipped the event altogether for the sake of preserving my energy for a long festival ahead.
Before my first film:
My first HKIFF was at screening at UA iSquare, a multi-screen cinema on the top floor of a relatively new shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui. The location is noteworthy for the fact that it is right across the street from Chungking Mansions, aka the namesake of Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 hit Chungking Express. Just like in Wong’s film, there was an eclectic mix of international dwellers exchanging foreign currencies and trading at Indian-operated electronic shops. The place is every bit as shady as it is in the film but there is cheap and delicious Indian food at every corner.
Limite (dir. Mário Peixoto)
To my surprise, about 100 people showed up for the 3:00 pm screening of Limite. In Houston, I would be hard pressed to see 50 showing up for a little unknown silent film on the weekend, not to mention on a Monday afternoon. Director Mário Peixoto was only 21 when Limite—his first and only film—was released in 1931. Thanks to the efforts of Martin Sorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, Cinemateca Brasileira, filmmaker Walter Salles and others, the film, that has been hailed as the greatest its country has ever produced, is finally restored. Besides the few minutes that was severely damaged with an explanatory intertitle standing in for a few lost frames, the image of the digital print shown here in HKIFF is as pristine as one could hope for.
The story of Limite is mostly irrelevant to experiencing this work of visual mastery. A man and two women are adrift on a boat and each of their backstories is shown in flashbacks during the course of the film. Save for a scene in the second half, this silent film is devoid of intertitles and solely relies on its images to communicate with its audience. Peixoto has little interest in conveying plot details but instead provides a framework which each viewer can build his/her sensory experience upon. His innovative and poetic film grammar affects and disorients all at once. The way his camera lingers on the hands of his actors predates the work of the great Robert Bresson. It is a shame that Peixoto never finished another film. But judging by his daring camerawork and bold editing choices, he has done more in one film than most in a career. Continue reading
Realistically, there are at least thirty more films in this year’s HKIFF lineup (3/17 – 4/2) that you should not miss. But like a kid in a toy store (or app store for the children of the 21st century), it is easy to get lost in this sea of cinematic wonder that ranges from recent Berlinale entries (Hong Sang-soo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon) to repertory cinema (Golden Harvest classics, including Bruce Lee’s four complete films). Okay, enough with the parentheses. There are not many chances to see a James Broughton retrospective with the experimental filmmaking pioneer in attendance. Aside from that, here are my ten picks of the festival:
Leviathan (dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel / USA, UK, France)
Following the hypnotic documentary Sweetgrass, Lucien Castaing-Taylor came down from the mountains of Montana and ventured into the world of commercial fishing off the New England coast with his co-director Véréna Paravel (Foreign Parts). Marred by technical difficulties as soon as they set sail in the ferocious sea, the filmmakers opted to strap tiny GoPro cameras on the fishermen and their bodies, in addition to throwing (and retrieving) a few into the water. The resulting images and sounds are spellbinding. While their previous projects have quietly built up a reputation, perhaps Leviathan is the definitive film that lives up to the name of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, where the duo and their colleagues have combined the fields of visual arts and anthropology.
Closed Curtain (dir. Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi / Iran)
Jafar Panahi, one of revered Iranian filmmakers in world cinema, has been confined to house arrest and barred from filmmaking since Iran’s ill-fated Green Revolution in 2010. But the confines of four walls did not stop the defiantly resourceful Panahi from shooting a day-in-the-life documentary This Is Not a Film inside his apartment with Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. As brilliant as the Cannes-premiering film is, Panahi’s future remained grim—how many movies can one expect to shoot in a living room? Panahi surprised the world with Closed Curtain, which won Best Screenplay at Berlinale less than two months ago. The HKIFF closing film started off as a fictional story about a filmmaker and his dog in a beach house but Panahi pushes the narrative form once again because when an artist is being restricted, he/she is bound to break free by means of creativity.