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