Even though the 41st Hong Kong International Film Festival has ended, I wanted to finish up the roundup of films that I watched at the event. Sadly, many of these films will not be coming to Hong Kong’s cinemas but don’t let that stop you from searching for them. In addition to DVD shops, there’s also Netflix and other pay-per-view sites. So, if you see something here that interests you, do check it out.
On Body and Soul (Teströl és lélekröl)
This drama from Hungary was the big winner at this year’s Berlinale taking home four awards including the Golden Bear for Best Film.
Endre and Maria work at the same abattoir where he is the financial director and she is a recently-hired quality control inspector. Through a series of interactions they come to realise that they’ve been having the same dream where they are a pair of deer in the forest. What could it mean? Were they a couple in a previous life? Are they meant to be together in this life? Both are a little socially inept so maybe they are, but their attempt to bring their dreams into their conscious world doesn’t go as well as they had hoped.
This is an interesting and well made film though it’s a bit slow going. And if the scenes in the abattoir don’t turn you off meat for good, nothing will!
Although the film isn’t scheduled to play here commercially, it probably will arrive sometime later this year.
Mr. Long (Ryu san)
A Taiwanese hitman is sent on an assignment in Japan but events don’t go quite as planned. Now on the run from the people he tried to kill, Ah Long ends up in a derelict district on the outskirts of Tokyo where he is befriended by a young boy whose mother is strung out on heroin. While Ah Long tries to wean the woman off her addiction, the neighbours take him under their wing and get him set up with a noodle stand, preparing authentic Taiwanese beef noodle soup for his growing fan base. Eventually, though, Ah Long’s past catches up to him.
What starts out as a grizzly triad drama turns into a warm comedy. Who would have thought that you could have both genres in one film… or even in one scene? But Japanese director SABU pulls it off.
This film will probably come to Hong Kong’s cinemas later this year.
French director Olivier Assayas (CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA) has teamed up with Kristen Stewart again in this modern ghost story set in Paris. K-Stew plays Maureen, an American woman who is the personal shopper for a high-end fashion diva. She’s also the twin sister whose brother recently died also in Paris. Oh, and she and her brother are/were mediums who made a pact with each other that whoever should die first, their spirit would send a message to the surviving sibling. So while Maureen hates both her job and her boss, she’s sticking around waiting for her late brother’s spirit to contact her. It turns out, though, that Maureen is not the most astute of mediums and when she is contacted by something or someone, she can’t tell if it’s her brother.
After this film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May, it was greeted by a chorus of boos. It is opening here commercially in few weeks’ time so I’ll do a proper review of it then. I have plenty to say.
A Quiet Passion
Cynthia Nixon (SEX AND THE CITY) stars as American poet Emily Dickenson in this period drama that looks at her life through her poetry. Beautifully written, well acted and nicely shot, I couldn’t get past the feeling that Nixon was too old for the part, as were the two actors who played her brother and sister. Sure, by the time the story ended they were the correct ages, but leading up to that point their makeup couldn’t cover all their wrinkles.
This film will probably come to Hong Kong cinemas later this year.
Romanian writer Max Blecher was just 28 when he died in 1938 of spinal tuberculosis, or Pott’s disease. Confined to a body cast and forced to lie flat in bed for the final years of his life, he still managed to pen a number of major works including “Inimi cicatrizate” (Scarred Hearts). The movie, SCARRED HEARTS, takes viewers back to that time when he (named “Emmanuel” in the film, which may have been Max’s Hebrew name) entered the Techirghiol sanatorium for treatment. There, the ever-optimistic Manu engages with his fellow patients, partying it up as best he can and even having a bit of fun under the bed sheets.
Though the film is a bit long (at two hours and twenty minutes), it’s an interesting though sad story about a great mind who left the world far too young. Ironically, and this is not mentioned in the film, had Max lived long enough to see the Nazis invade his country, he would have been one of the first to be sent to his death.
Janina Duszejko is a semi-retired English teacher who lives with her two dogs in a quiet valley in southwestern Poland where sport hunting is the townsmen’s passion. But when some of the more powerful men turn up dead, Duszejko believes that the forest’s animals are seeking vengeance. Is Duszejko a wild boar-hugging nutter or are there dark forces at work? The evidence at the crime scenes certainly indicates that she may be onto something.
SPOOR is the latest film by acclaimed director Agnieszka Holland. Though it’s nowhere in the same league as some of her previous work (EUROPA, EUROPA and IN DARKNESS to name just two), it did manage to scoop up the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlinale. I doubt this film will be released here commercially but you never know.
There are a couple French filmmakers who are the darlings of Hong Kong cinephiles — Olivier Assayas being one and François Ozon being another. Ozon (IN THE HOUSE) is back with an adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film, BROKEN LULLABY, which itself was based on a 1930 French play entitled “L’homme que j’ai tué” (The Man I Killed).
In FRANTZ, Marcello Mastroianni Award winner (for best emerging actor or actress, an award the Oscars should also bestow) Paula Beer stars as a young woman in 1919 Germany who has lost her fiancé in the Great War. One day while she’s at the cemetery, she notices a man laying flowers on her late fiancé’s grave. She tracks him down and learns that he and her fiancé were good friends in Paris before the war. She takes the man to meet the people who would have become her in-laws and, as the man regales them with stories of their beloved son, they open up and welcome the man into their lives. The only problem is that the man’s stories are all fabricated. In reality, he was the French soldier who killed their son/fiancé.
FRANTZ is about the lies we tell each other and the lies we tell ourselves when the truth is too hard to bear. This is a superb film that is beautifully acted and meticulously crafted. I hope it opens in Hong Kong commercially so that more people can see it. This was probably my favourite film from the festival.
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