Displacement and violence haunt a young Chow Yun Fat in Ann Hui's The Story of Woo Viet, a film following a Vietnamese Refugee who in an attempt to immigrate to the US, gets caught up in a crime syndicate in order to pay his way. This has got to be one of the best performances of Chow Yun Fat's career, as Hui gives him a lot to work with, being a man whose steely presence, nothing-to-lose demeanor, and quiet sense of unequivocal strength speak to a character who has suffered through hell, seen tremendous horror and violence in his past, and must continue down this road of degradation placed in front of him in search for peace and in a sense, a new home and identity. A refugee, much of the circumstances this man finds himself in stems from his lack of identity his inability to transcend due to this abstraction we define as the nation state, with Hui using the edifice of an action film to tell a nuanced, empathetic tale which implicitly suggests how displacement reinforces a perpetual state of violence. I watched this more due to Ann Hui, and was shocked with how much action the film has; Those who watch due to Chow Yun-fat, will probably be surprised how stoic and reflective it is.
Not much to say, infuriating and depressing. A personal story of struggle and sacrifice that doesn't attempt to pretend the edifice of the documentary format in itself is one rooted in 100% objectivity. Focusing on Venezuela's healthcare crisis, the film profiles the bravery of those who have stayed behind, profiling in particular two doctors who stay and fight despite the unsure future of both themselves and their country. The black-and-white scenes in particular are an interesting choice - therapy sessions which one could argue detach the viewer from the overarching story of Venezuela yet they also provide insight into the internalized struggle of the individuals the film documents. In a sense these scenes empower their subjects, give them a platform, to express their emotions, often rooted in turmoil but also at times, hope. Harrowing stuff right here.
Plucky and playful, Manoel de Olivera's The Divine Comedy manages to never divulge into pretension, despite its lofty philosophical aims. The madness of faith is certainly a central dialect of Oliveira's dense and pedantic philosophical romp and yet the film subverts this assertion in order to dig deeper, exhibiting an outright rejection of the so-called binary which modernity places between religion and science, offering instead a deconstruction in which both objects are in fact analogous when viewed through the lens of authority and by proxy power. The Divine Comedy sheds insight on the tyranny of mankind's penchant for objectivity, this orthodox-like requirement rooted in existentialism provides a breeding ground for the omnipresence of authority and power, forces which intrinsically restrict and reject the autonomy of the living. Authority and thus Power, whether decreed via science, politics, theology is exhibited as somewhat irrelevant throughout this playful intellectual piece, astutely revealing how all such forces can reject a general sense of free association and pluralism, despite their surface-level potential or promise for human progress. The irrationality of man, caught between powerful forces of mind and body, emotion and intellect, is displayed throughout The Divine Comedy's duration, as the freedom vs. security paradigm of human existence and the faux projection which authority exhibits whether through politics, theology, or scientific doctrine is lambasted in this gleefully pedantic romp.
Visually astute and creatively designed, the film uses its dimwitted, empathetic protagonist with great utility, effectively weaponizing its fairy tale soaked formalism and overall light sensibilities into a pointed, brazen anti-nationalist message. Embraces yet distorts the tropes of fairy tale lure - the handsome prince with the heart of gold, the wicked sisters - weaving a playful examination of the state of the world, one that is far from subtle in its personal affront of nationalism in Portugal under this current epoch. Presented with satirical flair and absurdist sensibilities, Dimantino touches on a host of contemporary socio-political talking points related to national and gender identity, as well as other societal defined constructions, doing so in a way that never feels pedantic nor didactic, evoking the same general sense of empathy and optimism as its main protagonist and in doing the film feels very much like a modern fairy tale with its melodramatic confrontations and moralist undercurrent with an important message.
Aided by moments of levity which which help assure the film doesn't divulge into overwrought drama, Carlos Reygadas' Our Time is a longitudinal study of a relationship, one which is both mature and astute in its examination of the social constructions we place on the feelings of love, how the rhetoric itself is possessive, not rooted in the natural framing of this concept, if one exists. Through its detailed characterizations of its two leads, the film deconstructs how love is defined by its need for independence, how it's a force that cannot be subservient, rooted in the freedom of choice, intrinsically opposed to control or authority. Featuring polyamorous relationship, one in which the husband's envy and need for control create the fracture, Our Time could lazily be read as a critique of lifestyle but they would be mistaken, as this is just used as a narrative device to cut through the cultural minutiae and reach the core philosophical intentions, ones about the conflation between selfishness and self preservation/personal health. Exhibiting how this impulse to treat altruism and egoism as diametrically opposed forces is crude, Our Time shows how the ego cannot be viewed as an opposition to love, but its conduit, with control and hubris being the antithetical of love, as love requires a desire for mutual affection, something which egoism provides due to transference.
An astute ontological examination of loneliness in which the poignancy of human connection is purveyed through the primal nature of physical touch. Hamaguchi's Touching the Skin of Eeriness is a challenging work, one that refuses to conform to a strict definition realism, employing unearthly sensibilities into its piercing study of detachment and loneliness, one that feels like an outright rejection of the crude dichotomy we place between the individual and the larger collective, exhibiting how intimacy and empathy are intrinsically linked to the human condition through the emotive nature of physical touch.
A patient and observant feature in which the formalism employed methodically allows its primary characterization to unravel, presenting the world of a petty drug lord's girlfriend in meticulous detail. Isabella Eklof's Holiday shows remarkable restraint, a temperament which only pays off in the films climatic final scenes. Employing a lavish aesthetic which evokes the decadence and excess of this lifestyle through use of composition, Holiday counteracts this pristine, luxurious setting with choice of cinematography completely devoid of any close-ups only using wide lenses which exude an experience devoid of intimacy. This visual technique breeds a sense of detachment between the viewer and the main protagonist, one which makes her no less sympathetic but one that makes her internal mechanisms more alluring in their sheltered mystery, as the film explores the life of a woman whose dependency has outgrown her own intrinsic desire for agency. The less you know the better with Isabella Eklof's Holiday, yet what she delivers is a relatively unique thriller which places characterization first and foremost, expertly employing an aesthetic that works to evoke thematic intent throughout the narrative which leads to its memorable denouement in which formalism, characterization, and aesthetic all come together in one cohesive story.
Clinical in approach, with a pedantic, rapid-fire style which evokes a dizzying experience, Straub & Huillet's Othon is Incredibly dense, being undeniably astute but also abrasive. Piercing in its examination of how rhetoric and communication in effect transform and shape culture, often implicitly, exhibiting how love and politics are diametrically opposed, with love lacking the persuasive nature of language under any polity. Contrasting ancient Rome with the present - in this case 1969 Rome - the film's clear message is how things haven't changed, with power itself being perhaps the root of mankinds inability to elicit profound transformation. The dialogue moves at such a brisk pace that it can be hard to follow, more likely than not an intentional decision, but the film becomes grating and more abrsive than many of Straub & Huillet's other work, making it a hard film to love despite its more than obvious philosophical merits
Incredibly ambitious, incisive and persuasive at times but full of over-simplifications as well, which in a sense, implicitly reinforces one of the film's central themes: the important political act one can have is simply trying to untangle this intricate web of actions and reactions which have led to the current epoch without the oversimplification which is somewhat intrinsic to human nature due to emotion. Exhibits how history itself is defined somewhat simply by power, opportunity, and ambition to wield it, with the structures whether driven by networks, hierarchy or something in between shifting throughout history and manifesting themselves in new forms which effectively and accurately disputes the crude left-right dichotomy of the political spectrum. It's astute in its recognition of truth itself being fundamentally tough to grasp due to human subjectivity. From a technical perspective, I deeply respect Curtis' unwillingness to even engage the proposition of a documentary being objective, delivering a quite entrancing mosaic. Honestly, reminded of a fantastic book 'The Square and the Tower' and of course James C. Scott's 'Seeing Like A State' which I think contains an intricate link to what this film is somewhat simplifying or glossing over due to its subjective intent. Lots of good strong stuff in here about the perpetual nature of imperialism and interventionism, and the pernicious nature of fear, an interesting but flawed work.
The evolution of Bruno Dumont as a filmmaker is well documented and one of the most intriguing evolutions to take place in contemporary cinema. Going from pensive, piercing dramas to absurdest slapstick comedies seems like an odd transition, but Bruno Dumont laughs in the face of such genre generalizations, with his latest film being a great example of how absurdest sensibilities can provide deeply resonant readings about the world itself. Coincoin is methodical in its absurdist sensibilities, featuring a slapstick facade which evolves into a poignant farce about the state of the world. This is a sly political work in which its creative and intricate humor slowly transforms into a potent form of acceptance about the state of the world, one which signals the end of the world itself may not be that bad after all, given man kind's inability to get over their xenophobia, racism, and general fear of the other. It as if Dumont is saying, well maybe the end of the world itself is what is needed to bring us all together.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.