Conceptually intriguing, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a heightened satire about modern societies' obsession with empiricism that deploys a tone rooted more in light-hearted inquiry than pointed social critique, A story of modernity's pursuit at quantifying human happiness, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a warm-hearted comedy uninterested in derision, focusing its aims on exhibiting the lovely absurdity that is human emotion. Featuring tepid pacing and a plot that struggles to earn its 80+ min run-time, Tiong Bahru Social Club doesn't always work, but it does provide a handful of great moments that resonate, both philosophically and emotionally. An aesthetic rooted in vibrant pop pastiche reminiscent of the work of Wes Anderson, Tiong Bahru Social Club visually expresses our attempt at crafting happiness through exteriority, and along with its precise, often symmetrical framing, the visual design deployed here perfectly elicits its themes related to modernity's flawed attempts at quantifying happiness through computation and quantification instead of accepting its intangible nature of human emotion. The pursuit of happiness and the complexities of human nature and psychology are not finite or static but in a perpetual state of motion. As our principal character traverses this social club promising happiness it becomes increasingly clear - despite our best-laid plans to craft utopia through empiricism, we can never pinpoint the endless multitude of factors that define something as imperfect but incalculable as happiness.
An elegiac evocation on the psychological and physical trauma inflicted on the personal and social by industrialized human conflict, Nhat Minh Dang's The Town Within Reach is a deeply haunting experience, one which reminded me of Alain Resnais in the way it excavates the psychological toll of conflict through ontological investigation. The Town Within Reach transcends the political in a sense, being imbued with an opaqueness in its film grammar that feels deeply personal yet expansive in how it operates, exhibiting the collective diaspora and dissonance inflicted on social relationships by conflict. Affect is not something that conforms to the restrictive constructions of nationalism or social hierarchy, yet our material conditions are deeply malleable to such forces, and what The Town Within Reach achieves feels like something deeply existential, suggesting that violence itself is spawned through cowardice and self-interest instead of through altruism and empathy towards the other. Frankly, this is a film that I don't feel completely adequate writing about - it's a deeply immersive experience in which feeling is deployed as a means of reaching a sense of transcendence that goes beyond ideology. It recognizes that the social, personal, and political are not disparate but intrinsically linked - the dispersion of conflict itself being far from uniform due to our proclivity towards self-interest that is often forged through nationalism and/or political ideology. In this sense, The Town Within Reach feels like an ode to agrarian ways of living, fond of the simplicity of a reciprocal relationship with nature that doesn't attempt to supplant the natural world but live symbiotically within its grand, anarchic designs. Explicitly the film is interested in purveying the trauma of human conflict and the effects it places on the social though what Nhat Minh Dang has created feels revelatory in its affectional lens towards removing the political apparatus from its discussion of existential questions related to living.
My first Vecchiali film, Rosa la Rose, Public Girl is a wonderous evocation on the entangled nature of living, one which investigates a host of rich themes related to youth vs. experience, love vs. pleasure, and control vs anarchy through a precise directorial vision crafted out of fluidity and affection. The entanglements and complexities of the world are perfectly exhibited through youthful objective perfection, as young Rosa's aura early on is one of elevation, existing above the harshness and cruelty of life - radiating a sense of perfection, her ethereal beauty is too good for this world. As the film's narrative progresses, Rosa's persona of perfection begins to fracture as she is introduced into the fray of living and maturation in which one's choices aren't simply rooted in self-indulgence. Her carefree lifestyle becomes progressively shattered, not through harsh dramatics but through natural realizations often attuned to experience in which the forces of love and melodrama create restrictions due to their complexities beyond mere indulgence. These restrictions are not to viewed as pejorative but simply intrinsic to love - the loss of control Rosa feels brought by sharing in something with another. The strict binaries that make up her life both in the act of sex and in the hierarchy of her profession are shattered by this new feeling. This is one of those films in which I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface of everything it is touching on, nor do I even feel adequate to do so. It's an elegant, emotive experience that unfolds like a great Shakespearian play delivering a ripe text worthy of investigation as it details the vast and varied emotional interconnectivity between a host of concepts such as love, pleasure, power, authority, control, etc. On first viewing, I'm already questioning if it is a masterpiece.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.