Festival Roundup #2 – Hong Kong International Film Festival 2018

The 42nd Annual Hong Kong International Film Festival is on right now. Running to April 5, it features over 230 films from 60 countries and regions, 63 of which are world, international or Asian premieres. There are still plenty of films to choose from and only a few are sold out so do go along.

Last week I mentioned a few films I saw that will have their second screenings this coming week. You can check out my reviews to read up about them. In the meantime, here are a few more films that I saw this past week that will have second screenings before the festival ends:

Loveless (Nelyubov)

From the director of the powerful film, 2015 Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film, LEVIATHAN, comes another story of collateral damage in Putin’s corrupt Russia. Zhenya and Boris are a middle class couple whose marriage is coming to an acrimonious end. Both already have already begun new relationships, she with a wealthy, older divorcé and he with a younger woman who is already pregnant with his child. Now they have to deal with selling their small apartment and deciding who gets custody of their 12-year-old son, Alyosha. Neither of them wants him and their feelings on the matter are quite clear, especially to the boy. One morning, instead of going to school, Alyosha runs off never to be seen again. As much as Zhenya and Boris would like to move forward with their new lives, they have to work together to find their son.

Once again, director Andrey Zvyaginsev makes it clear that he’s not impressed with what has become of his country or his countrymen. Both Zhenya and Boris are very selfish people, caring more about themselves than even their new partners, let alone for their son. In one scene, Boris discusses with a work colleague the theoretical repercussions of revealing to their employer that he may get divorced. It seems that religious conservatives are not just found in Trump’s America. They’re also found in Putin’s Russia and they’re just as powerful – and hypocritical.

The film spends a lot of time (perhaps too much) in the search for Alyosha and we hope that he will be found alive and safe. However, we realise that even if that happens, what kind of life is in store for him with parents like that? The answer to that question is revealed in the film’s epilogue.

The second screening will take place on April 1st.

Foxtrot

It seems that idiotic politicians can be found everywhere. When it was announced a few months ago that the Israeli Film Festival in Paris would open its festival with the film, FOXTROT, Israel’s outspoken culture minister, Miri Regev, who openly rejoiced when the multiple award-winning film failed to make the shortlist in the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category, ordered the Foreign Ministry to boycott the March event. She even threatened to withhold future financial support to the Festival. Not surprisingly, her actions only made people more curious about the film and now it’s getting even more attention and a wider distribution than it may have otherwise received. When will these fools ever learn? (I have to say that when I ran the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, I had a great relationship with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and they never commented on my film selections, though Regev was not in charge back then.)

Director Samuel Maoz is no stranger to controversy though. His award-winning 2009 film, LEBANON, delivered a nice black eye to the Israeli government and its military. In FOXTROT, the country’s manned border with the Palestinian Territories is the location for the film’s second act. This time, the story focuses on a couple who has to deal with the news that their son has been killed in the line of duty. If there is such a thing as karma, Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) may have just gotten his. As we learn in the story, Michael broke a family tradition when he was young. Now his mother has Alzheimer’s and she thinks he’s his brother. He’s in a fragile relationship with his wife, Dafna (Sarah Adler), and now his son is dead. To say any more would be to reveal too much but I will say that Ashkenazi gives a powerful performance as someone who has learned how to shove his emotions way down inside him. When they do bubble up to the surface, they are devastating, not just for him but for everyone else around him.

Like the dance step, FOXTROT’s message is that no matter that we move in different directions, we always end up back where we started is a poignant one. With Iran actively providing arms to the Assad regime in Syria and to the terrorist group, Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, it’s only a matter of time before war there breaks out again. Nearly 12 years after Maoz himself was a soldier in that region, peace seems just as elusive as it ever was. And as for that controversial scene that got Mrs. Regev’s knickers all tied up in knots, it has never happened in real life. Someone needs to teach her what the word “metaphor” means.

The second screening will take place on April 1st.

Lucky

Perhaps my favourite film of this year’s festival so far, LUCKY tells the gentle story of a 90-year-old man who struggles against his old age. Lucky (the late screen icon Harry Dean Stanton in his final starring role, ALIEN; REPO MAN; PARIS, TEXAS; THE GREEN MILE, PRETTY IN PINK; COOL HAND LUKE and, of course, TWIN PEAKS) lives alone on the edge of the desert in a small town in the middle of nowhere in Arizona. Every morning after he wakes up, he does a bit of yoga on his living room floor then makes himself a coffee before grabbing the daily crossword puzzle and walking over to the local diner where he enjoys the company of the owner, Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley, PATERSON), and his family. In the afternoon, he walks home to watch his favourite TV game shows and he ends his day at the local bar where he sips on a Bloody Maria, engaging in playful banter with the company of regulars who hang out there. And that’s his life. Lately, though, Lucky, who has been an atheist for his adult life, has been thinking about his spirituality. After all, he smokes a pack of cigarettes a day and he’s 90, but his doctor (played by Ed Begley, Jr., perhaps best known for TV’s ST. ELSEWHERE) tells him that he’s doing just fine for a man of his age.

LUCKY is the directorial debut of John Carroll Lynch who is best known for his many acting roles in movies (JACKIE) and on TV (Twisty the Clown on American Horror Story). In interviews, Lynch has said that he’d been wanting to get behind the camera for a while and he jumped at the chance to work with Stanton. The screenplay was written by Stanton’s long-time friends, Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, who took real episodes from the actor’s life and recontextualised them. The result is a love letter to this Hollywood legend.

The film features a rich roster of character actors, many of whom are Stanton’s friends including long-time collaborator David Lynch, Ron Livingston (TV’s SEX AND THE CITY), Tom Skerritt (ALIEN and TV’s PICKET FENCES, ’50s movie heartthrob James Darren (GIDGET and TV’s T.J. HOOKER) and Beth Grant (JACKIE and TV’s THE MINDY PROJECT). Both Skerritt and Darren are in their 80s and they look amazing!

If you’re already a Harry Dean Stanton fan, you will love this film, and if you’ve never seen any of his more than 100 films and 50 television appearances, you will become a fan after you see this one. How lucky we all are that this film was made!

The second screening will take place on April 3rd.

This film has already finished its festival run but it’s still worth checking out:

The Insult (L’insulte)

Lebanon has no shortage of problems. Once hailed as a synthesis of East and West (its capital, Beirut, was known as the “Paris of the Middle East”), the country has been bogged down for decades in internal ethnic strife that has spilled into politics, a protracted civil war and multiple wars with Israel, and high public debt. It also has a refugee problem, first with the Palestinians, who, it’s estimated, make up ten percent of the country’s population, and more recently with the Syrians who have fled their country due to the civil war there. Not surprisingly but perhaps sadly, there is little sympathy for them coming from the Christian Lebanese community who see their Muslim neighbours as the cause of their country’s economic and political problems.

Writer-director Ziad Doueiri’s (THE ATTACK) film, Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, THE INSULT, is a fictional tale of two men, one, a Christian Lebanese, and the other, a Palestinian refugee, who cross paths one morning in a suburb of Beirut. Tony Hanna lives with his pregnant wife, Shirine, in a modest apartment just down the street from his car repair business. Their neighbourhood is undergoing redevelopment and Shirine would like nothing more than to move someplace quieter. Tony, though, will have nothing of it. His garage is there and this is where they will stay. Yasser Salameh is a foreman working on one of the construction projects on the Hannas’ street. After Yasser instructs his workers to fix Tony’s leaking drain pipe without the man’s permission, the two men get into an argument where Tony insults Yasser and Yasser punches Tony, breaking two of his ribs. The matter only escalates when Tony’s condition worsens, sending both him and Shirine to the hospital a few days later. Now Tony wants justice, not just for him and his family but for all the Christians in Lebanon who are angry over what they believe the Muslim Palestinians have done to their country.

Sometimes playing like a mediocre episode of TV’s LAW AND ORDER but with a few good surprises along the way, THE INSULT is an interesting portrait of identity and ethnic relations in this troubled and complicated corner of the world. To us outsiders, we may struggle to see the difference between these two groups but to them it’s all too apparent.

This film will open commercially here later this year.

Have a happy holiday! Next Thursday is a public holiday here (Ching Ming/清明節) so I’ll be doing my radio review by phone.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, March 29th at 8:30 am HK time!

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