Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: Capsules from Day Two

11 Flowers: This film is a gorgeously shot attempt to recall the director's (Xiaoshuai Wang's) childhood in an intensely political environment. The ambition is clearly to show the life and drama going on around a naive but rapidly growing boy. To this end narrative detail is drip-fed through overheard conversations and half glimpsed encounters shot with hand-held POV shots. Unfortunately Xiaoshuai Wang doesn't fully follow through; the "half-glimpsed details" add up to a clear picture of events, which rather lessens the intended fog-of-childhood effect. It doesn't help that the main plot is never especially compelling - instead it's overshadowed by recurring father-son encounters in which the elder attempts to equip the younger with the skills needed in a China where Mao literally hangs over everything.

The Day He Arrives:  Much like a Beach Boys song Hong Sangsoo's film hides a deep malaise underneath a light, goofy surface. In this case the surface bears the likeness of Groundhog Day as our middle-aged protagonist - Sungjoon - staggers drunkenly through the same day over and over again. Unlike Groundhog Day the conceit is used more metaphorically than literally: Instead of a plot device which works to enable our hero's self development the recurring day is used as a way through which Sungjoon's self-imposed stasis can be exposed in mortifying detail as he fails again and again to be bold enough to engineer a lasting relationship. The result is far gentler but no less trenchant than more caustic efforts such as Alexander Payne's Sideways.

Ace Attorney: The film is something of a mixed bag but for the most part Takashi Miike delivers a polished entertainment; ensuring that any failure to connect with a large audience will have more to do with the licensed property than the film itself. He layers gleefully silly humour over standard blockbuster tropes and keeps everything moving at a cracking pace - all the better to avoid belabouring tissue-thin emotional beats. Miike's well supported in his endeavours by Hiroki Narimiya who proves to be a very able comic actor. Unfortunately he's in the lead and the actors tasked with the actual comic relief roles are rather less accomplished - although they haven't got much to work with.

Nonetheless this deficiency hardly registers when Miike is delivering well composed frames or using jump cuts for clever gags. No, the film's most insurmountable defect is a staggering excess of plot. There's no reason why a confectionary like this should run for over two hours and one suspects that the writers were a little overeager to be faithful to the source material. Oh well, Miike claims he came back from the dead for this so I'm happy to just shut up and appreciate it.

Everyone Else in the World: Initially this seem to be yet another in a long line of well-written, handsomely mounted French character studies - a type of film which I've rapidly come to associate with a new kind of tradition of quality. As it turns out though this is a thesis film of sorts and its thesis is that family is not all it’s cracked up to be. As such the film is engineered towards proving that this arbitrary collection of disparate individuals, whose only thing in common is that they were born in the same house, would be much happier if they'd just go their separate ways.

The result is a film in which every encounter is hostile as a result of inadvertent insensitivity caused by a lack of concern for one another or naked hatred. Helped by a subtly aggressive sound design, in which Hookahs and club music underscore the characters' unease, the film rapidly becomes a draining, even tedious affair, in which every dinner party is a predictable farce. It's leavened somewhat by classroom scenes, in which one of the sisters teaches deaf children about the oppression of Native Americans but the content, while well-meaning, is both simplistic and completely superfluous.

No comments:

Post a Comment