Effectively designed, Quo Vadis, Aida? is tense and progressively dire. The central characterization and the superb performance at the fulcrum of this story are vessels for elucidating the horrors capable by men, and the collective pain of the Bosnian genocide, which was so recent but largely forgotten among even the contemporary annals of history. Positioned around an intimate story of loss, Quo Vadis, Aida has a streamlined simplicity that is imbued with conviction. It's an elegy for the dead by way of one such woman's extreme loss. It doesn't ruminate on the why, it aims for exhibition and ultimately resignation, almost coming from a place of quiet acceptance about the perpetual nature of violence and conflict intrinsic to man.
Shyam Benegal's Bhumika is a rich social drama and an exceptional feminist text that beautifully illuminates the pervasive ways misogyny and the subservience of feminity are inoculated into all aspects of society. Tactical in its deployment of a familiar narrative archetype - a character rises from poverty and destitution to become a highly-renowned star - Bhumika illustrates the deep structural issues of this hyper-patriarchal culture, enunciated by the fact that even though our heroine rests in a position often associated with significant social and cultural capital, she remains subservient due to her gender, incapable of freeing herself from the deeply-embedded inequities of society. A tragedy of self-ownership and the subjugation of free will, whether in her profession or her personal life she is putting on a performance, navigating the wide-spread social subjugation expected of her as she fights tooth-and-nail for personal autonomy. Throughout this story structure her encounters with the opposite sex range from melodramatic to more quietly more-complex, yet at the core of every one of her relationships, she remains ornamental, an object not granted equal-footing. A life in which appeasement is a necessity, our heroine oscillates between attempting to not offend and fighting for her own free will. She is subservient to the masculine ego and ultimately she finds herself to have been manipulated both in her personal and professional life by the male gaze and the overarching sociality in which woman's status remains subjugated to male authority. In the end, this film is deeply tragic because at its core it's a story of a woman who wants love, not possession, and her inability to retain this in nearly every aspect of her life is emotionally devastating to witness. While she never acts on it, one must ponder if death itself remains her only avenue for freedom, a tragic but honest mindset to behold
Imbued with a romanticization of machismo and the honor among criminals bestowed to many similar films of this era of Hong Kong cinema and yet A Hero Never Dies is also a subversion of this trope. With A Hero Never Dies, To begins to re-contextualize heroic bloodshed with an emotional resolve rooted in love, compassion, and forgiveness, illuminating how the divisions created by legality or hierarchal structures themselves are trivial when compared to those of morality and the nature of being. The two men at the center of this story are rivals but ultimately their labor is nothing but utility for their bosses to extort. Their value is ephemeral to the powers that be and ultimately disposable. A visually kinetic experience that brings all the hyper-stylized action and visual panache one would expect from Johnnie To, yet this film feels like a moment where the filmmaker begins to seek out something beyond the 'honor among thieves' motif in his action films, A Hero Never Dies begins as a big, silly work of machismo that transcends into an emotional, heartful experience with underlying existentialism that transcends the material world.
A social-realist drama intent on elucidating our dysfunctional system and the inequities which persist while never losing sight of the relationship and individuals that rests at the fulcrum of its story. Proper allocation and attention to sexual assault is just a symptom of a larger problem in society, and the film juxtaposes these external deficiencies with the internal turmoil felt by our main protagonist beautifully. Internal trauma paired with external neglect yield a deadly analogous concoction of pain and entrapment - there is no reprieve for progression out of the darkness. Test Pattern beautifully constructs a pensive study of trauma and neglect, one that is emotionally affecting but embedded with an understated naturalism that never aims for polemics. Impressionist in moments but largely a film that attempts to avoid artifice, Test Pattern narratively follows a relationship under tremendous strain, not caused from within but from external forces that insidiously disrupt this healthy and loving relationship not only through the more explicit physical assault but also the lesser-seen neglect from a system in which justice feels rarely served. Justice is a necessity for healing and re-birth, one which our central protagonist seemingly will never get.
Dread-inducing formal stylings grafted beautifully onto an understated spy thriller that never subjugates its characterizations for the sake of narrative complexity. Wife of a Spy is another impeccably well-made film by Kurosawa, one that never devalues or divulges from its root intention - irrevocable, historical melodrama, telling a story of abject devotion as viewed through the prism of a wife's love for her husband. Some may find the film to be anti-climatic, but the denouement stings, imbued with a sense of ambiguity but one resolute in its depiction of the tragedy inflicted onto its central protagonist, a woman whose primary intentions throughout this low-key WWII spy film were never truly driven by any force other than love
The explicit text of Shinji Sômai's The Catch is a familial drama, a story that espouses the insidious nature of masculine hubris and the destructive effect it can have on the family unit. The story in itself is compelling - if perhaps a little too long - but what I find far more interesting is to view The Catch through the larger prism of society and its disregard for the working-class. Hard labor is a necessary utility for prosperity yet it is often neglected by society itself. The fisherman patriarch at the center of this story is self-destructive in a sense, but what Sômai also exposes is how this is simply a matter of perspective - the denigration such hard labor places on the body and soul internally calcifies the fisherman into a place of emotional solitude, his tough, cold exterior forged out of a life in which no sense of financial fortitude is sustainable. His rough exterior is actually born out of a place of love for his daughter, wanting something better for her despite his inability to express it. The son-in-law's arch is one infused out of masculine pride, incapable or unwilling to recognize his romanticization with labor that ultimately leads to tragedy as he himself forgets what is most important - his shared love with his wife. The Catch is a somewhat messy film narratively and thematically but there are interesting ideas embedded into its conceptual framework related to gender-normative notions of masculinity and social neglect of the working-class.
Encaptures the freedom and spontaneity intrinsic to being on holiday; Obstacles arise but conflict is largely a force that is easily obfuscated by a temperament rooted in discovery and openness to experience. Exhibits the ephemeral anarchy of day-to-day activity and interaction where sometimes the best-laid plans are untenable and yet through this aforementioned openness, life itself can provide something beautiful. Featuring a strong cast all-around, Brac's film manages to deliver an ethereal experience, one which in many ways channels aspects of Rohmer's vacation films, as it delivers a lovely portrait of youth and experience in which the spatiality of a holiday serves as the perfect setting for encapturing the extemporaneity of life itself.
Wallows too much in a cynical, lugubrious milieu that when the film's story begins to materialize and attempts to construct something meaningful it largely doesn't work due to the viewer not being emotionally invested in these characters Existentialism as cheap theatrics as opposed to intellectual inquiry. Moorhead and Benson remain highly effective stylists, with Synchronic featuring some beautifully conceived and constructed sequences, but the film's absurd premise feels more a means-to-an-end than an investigation into existence and being. Dramatically one is left not being invested in these characters, and the narrative thrust of the story, despite a singular conceit that unquestionably intriguing. A rare miss from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, a filmmaking duo who've I've always appreciated.
Deserves its place among the better Hong Kong immigrant stories to arise in the late 80s/early 90s in response to the Joint Declaration, Mabel Cheung's An Autumn's Tale is a highly effective romance that operates in a way that allows itself to deliver a holistic portrait of its central characters, immigrants, but more importantly, individuals searching for their sense of being in this world. An Autumn's Tale is a love story in which there is not a single kiss; sensuality as a symbol of affection is largely regulated to the periphery of this story between two individuals whose affection for each other and budding romance is viewed through a prism of diasporic milieu. While Cherie Chung's character's struggle for identity amongst a foreign spatiality is more explicitly stated from the onset, Chow Yung-Fat's rough facade only masks his own underlying internal strife, and through this relationship that is the fulcrum of this story, Mabel Cheung rapturously elucidates how love is a confluence of disparate emotions, vulnerabilities, and identities. The journey towards love is not quantifiable or calculable, and these two character's place of transcendence is a direct result of this exchange/confluence. They each struggle in their own way to find comfort not only in this foreign place but within themselves.
An exquisite story of human desire and the intangible reality of the psychological conception of love. Posits emotion and being as subjugating forces to reason and consciousness, re-contextualizing love through a delightful narrative framework. Elucidates how social norms, while somewhat organically conceived, create entrapments and strictures on the human soul. Throughout Love Affair(s) any attempt to calcify or tether emotion to logic or reason, whether it be via external or internal forces, leads to emotional destabilization, and what I believe Mouret is attempting here is a conception of love that is decoupled from our deeply engrained puritanical impulse and social normativity. It's a rejection of any simplistic or binary notion of individual and/or collective love, attempting to transcend such discourse and question fundamental ideas of love and companionship. How much does any social conception restrain us? In the case of love, one of the most unquantifiable and elusive yet pure conceptions that exist, Mouret suggests that placing any such boundaries can only lead to destabilization of the psyche on an individual and collective level, obfuscating in a sense the pursuit of happiness which we all strive to attain.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.