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Inland Empire (2006)
Fact # 1: Lynch is a genius and one of the very few filmmakers who have reached the point of image-perfection (others include Terence Malick, Kim Ki-Duk, Herzog, but also Wong Kar- Wai and maybe Nic Roeg)
Fact # 2: I found Mulholland Drive completely comprehensible; in fact it is my all time favourite film (together with Kim's Bin-Jip), with Blue Velvet close on its heels and Lost Highway a bit further down the top 30. I saw MD 5 times the week it came out.
Fact # 3: I *never* walk out on a film *ever*, but watch the thing till the very last closing caption.
Fact # 4: After a considerable time of viewing Inland Empire, I glanced at my watch (bad sign in itself), saw we were 2 hours in and so had 1 more hour to go. I didn't hesitate, but got up and out of the theatre.
Tons have been written about this film, so I'll keep it short: Rabbits dates from 2002.
What do I mean by that:
1 - The fact that it's utterly incomprehensible (well, maybe not totally, but hey) does not bother me, nor the fact that it's artsy - even though I think Lynch should stop meditating.
2 - What *does* bother me is that he does not seem to be able to choose. He discovered the hand-held camera. Cool. He's created the most cut-up story ever. Cool. But (a) somehow he doesn't seem to be able to combine the two; (b) he seems to have little confidence in it himself. Some of the shots work, like the dancing scene. Some shots work with the hand- held. But sometimes he uses his old filmic language with the hand-held, and it DOES NOT WORK. It gives the impression that what you're seeing is actually the evolution that Lynch's style has undergone in the past 5 years, without him being able to take position. Emblematic to that problem is the fact that Rabbits-parts are included, which include Mulholland Dr actors, and which dates from 4 (four!) years earlier, filmed in his "moving painting" style.
In short: I had the impression that Lynch has evolved, and that this would have been a great film if he'd been honest to himself and keep only the radically new bits, instead of keeping everything in, leading to an inconsistent hodgepodge.
Maybe it's telling that in last year's DVD-issues of Lost Highway (or was it MDr?) he actually *explains* part of his storytelling technique. For a master of the non-explaining, this is an omen. Lynch should burn his old pellicule and start from scratch. Try to amaze himself with something he doesn't already understand.
My Blueberry Nights (2007)
Disappointing, not just because of the script, but because it fails to convey what it wants to convey
It was a pleasant evening at the cinema, but I cannot call this a good film. Several reviews have come up with many valid remarks, such as: - Norah Jones doesn't act very well (but more on that later), especially compared to her co- stars - The script is not only clichéd, but very uneven (also more on that) - The dialogue is god-awful and the accents aren't very well done
THE IDEA. So, about Norah Jones' character. It's bland, completely flat, yes. But I think in a way that's the point. The whole point of the film is that, though she claims in the end to be someone different, she's about the *only* thing constant in the film. There's also a snippet of dialogue referring to that, as Jude Law says somewhere "I think you've changed, but maybe it's just me". And indeed, *he* has thrown away his keys, but *she* still wants her blueberry pie. WKW wrote the film around Norah Jones after hearing her songs, and I think we should take this literally: she *is* the eye of the storm. In the beginning she perceives herself as the storm, then she sees she's the eye... In the end, she doesn't change, it's the world around her. Note also how very often she's just *not* the main target of the scene.
This lack of actual change is a *very* good idea, as we've come to get used to films where characters go through all these hefty changes and developments - as if people change, ha! The first problem is: it was WKW's *only* good idea. The second problem: he doesn't pull it off.
THE ACTING. Another problem is, this is a tough one: you actually want an actress who is able to portray someone who feels they are changing, but who actually *aren't*! Someone who is the eye of the storm, but without being completely absent. Unfortunately, this is too much for Norah Jones, who depicts an eye of the storm that is so non-existent, that one wouldn't know what there is that can or cannot change. I mean, from zero to zero over zero, that's not much.
THE SCRIPT. But even so, I've seen much worse than Jones. The one to take the blame is the lame and clichéd script. Dialogue can be cliché, Tarantino makes it work. But this script! (a) It's next to non-existent (b) It's unbalanced, as you only get a road trip feeling once she's going to Vegas. This might be deliberate though, as seeing her take the bus would actually give viewers the impression she's taking initiative, but as WKW wants her to be the eye of the storm, she cannot be shown to take deliberate action. Interesting, and a real challenge for a script writer. Unfortunately, no good solution is found for this. In any case, the two stories (Memphis & Vegas) have too little movement to give a road movie feel, but still seem to pass too quickly to really stick. Though Archie's a fantastic character. (c) It's... well, I didn't think I was going to have to say this... a look at the west by an outsider.
WKW and GREAT WEST. What I mean by (c) is that, and I could be biased, but there it is: I have the impression that WKW took some classic American Movies images, and tried to piece his Great West film together. But he doesn't get beyond clichés, he doesn't seem to get what really drives the idea of road movies, meeting people & their stories... it's all part of the Big Romantic Illusion, of which he is no part, seemingly. Now, the turning inside-out of the person-is-changed-by-the-stuff-she-sees romantic idea is brilliant... but apparently they did not have what it takes to drive that point home. Maybe WKW had too much respect for the clichés of the West. Don't know, but I can't shake the feeling that he rubs his film style against these ideas he doesn't fully grasp and tries to make his point, which gets lost in the rubbing, as at no point you get the impression that one injects the other with something fresh.
Pity, WKW has three films in my top 20. Where's the time of Fallen Angels, when story and story telling were in complete osmosis.
Per edit, I'll add a general remark. I fear that WKW "rubbing" his film style against the story is a bit the consequence of him being too evolved as a filmmaker, and he sticks to his screen language, where in fact he should've let go. When WKW got stuck in his crisis whilst filming Ashes Of Time, he chose to completely set the project aside and open himself up so anything that came. The result was Chunking Express and its brilliant side project Fallen Angels. Those were so brilliant because his perspective was *open* - you get the feeling that he lets the story dictate how to use the camera, and at the same time lets the way he uses his camera determine how the story is told. But over the course of his career, culminating in the Mood For Love/2046 diptych, he has sharpened that diamond to perfection where a certain way of filming fits a curtains story. Unfortunately, this means that you're up a cul-de-sac. He needs a new paradigm. And he didn't do/dare that here. PS: I had the same feeling with Lynch's Empire, where I felt like Lynch was onto something new in terms of filmic language, but just couldn't bring himself to completely abandon his old style.
Is this the man whose life we're supposed to envy?
OK OK, it might be hard to put the entirety of a man's life in one film. Traditionally therefore, biopics focus on one or two significant parts in the subject's life. Now, Byron was a "my week beats your year" fellow, which makes selecting parts that are representative even harder. Furthermore, just as Byron's poetry is inseparable from his life, the man's life itself must be seen as a whole. Lifting parts out is not only not showing the whole picture, it's showing a different picture altogether.
Now, in short my review comes down to this: supposedly, Byron was indeed the "my week beats your year" prototype, a guy who lived so intensely that he indeed did more in his 15 or so active years than most do in an entire lifetime. True, he had setbacks and was a victim of the time and social setting he lived in - but in the end, this dude is supposed to be the prototype whose life we'd all want to lead, no? Well, I did NOT, at ANY moment, want to live the life depicted in this film. So it gets 3. Not for being so badly done (which, direction-wise, it more or less was), but more importantly for missing the point entirely in a flat plot.
Some more detail. Well, to over simplify things, a Byron bio should have two distinct episodes: 1. Post-first Europe trip: England and his rise to fame + marriage / 2. His life abroad. Now, the important thing is that the SECOND part should be at least as important as the first. Not only was it a lot longer, but the most significant change in Byron took place then. Furthermore, it's where he created his best works (Don Juan, the Vision of Judgement etc. - all the stuff that makes him *really* unique in English literature).
Instead, in this film (a) Byron's life never comes across as even remotely entertaining, (b) it only gets *worse* after he leaves England. They did two good jobs: first, they started at his return of his Europe trip (though a bit more of the actual trip would have been welcome as a prologue), second, they chose an angle, and they chose his incestuous love for Augusta (who is rather perfectly cast). The problem with this last thing is that they never let it go. True, Byron remained strongly attached to Augusta for the rest of his life, but, especially as he was such a mood swing person, the fact that his letters reflect that does not mean that at other times he might not have completely enjoyed life.
Anyway, the first part of the TV film should have ended with him leaving England. There's no doubt about that. The thing is: once abroad, a life of debauchery began (with the infamous Geneva period), but in Italy Byron also discovered a new life, both for his poetry (inspired by Italian comedy), already in Venice, and for himself when he found the Contessa Teresa Guiccioli and moved to Ravenna (afterwards, at the request of Shelly, with Teresa, to Pisa). In other words, he was also *liberated*. His mind and life opened up (and not only in the decadent sense), while England's closed further as it fell into the gravitational pull of the Victorian age. True, freedom was Augusta-less, but this bitter-sweet freedom tastes sour in this film. We see a lonely, bored snob getting older.
I mean, hell, Byron never thought much about his poetry, except when he finally found his own voice in Don Juan! Apart from poetic and romantic developments, his relationship with Shelly (and the down-break) should have been more documented. Also, it is in Italy in Ravenna that he gets involved with politics and revolutionary ideas. This is important, as it shows that the decadent romantic and ultimately escapist language and person of Childe Harold is changing into the more planted-in-life realistic and lighter passion of the language and person of Don Juan. Life and work are one. True, still a bit naive, but it's what got him to Greece! And the whole thing came full circle in Pisa, where Shelley's revolutionary spirit further ignited the spark. Missolonghi wasn't the bored snob suddenly looking for some action. It was the insights in Italy (the Gambas) stirring him into action. It can be a symbol for the man looking for some ancient-style battle excitement while the rest of Europe becomes fixed in the clay of modern reason and conservatism. But it wasn't just that, there was a true inspiration behind it. Meanwhile, Byron wrote massive amounts of Don Juan. True, his end is a bit sad, but it's not like he's worn out. THAT is the essence of Byron's life: he may have had some strong emotional attachments (2: Augusta and Teresa), but EVERY time he managed to reinvent himself truly. Meaning that he wasn't 'less' at the end of his life - no, he'd made a physical and mental JOURNEY that, at the time, few people were prepared to make.
I wonder. Why is it that so often the second period in Byron's life is overlooked? Because it had less obvious conflicts, as the man was finally coming to his own? In focusing our attention on the frustrated England years fraught with scandals, we show ourselves to be not much better than the English aristocracy at the time, which Byron so despised, and which, despite the fact that he had no choice, he *willingly* fled in 1816, to find a world that was modern and liberal enough to let him find the voice that would make him the first romantic plainspoken language poet and evolve from a self-obsessed snob to a passionate man moving onward with a cause.
All comments are true, make up your mind. It's not misogynist though.
Watch out for the spoilers beneath!
OK, so first part: all comments are true... or at least some. An overview, evaluation, and some additions which I saw nobody mentioning. Does it have scenes that are so graphic you need to be moronicly drunk or firmly dead to be able to support them? Yes. Is it amazing what they did with a budget that was next to peanuts? Yes. Is the acting good? Yes, the two leads carry this one. Even though the directors can shoot a scene, it's the acting that lifts it above the rest from image to image. Do they manage to get the atmosphere across? Yes. In fact, that's all there is, since the actual script couldn't have been beyond 1 A4. Still, I think its brilliant they start off with one of their strongest cards, the razor blade in the belly thing. It's so shocking you, frighted out of your wits, wonder what the directors will be serving you next. In this way, to go along with the 'folding' theory about movies, (originally by tedg on this site, stating that movie quality depends on the degree to which what happens (to the characters) in the movie, story- or emotion-wise, is identical to what you experience as the movie-viewer), you're left in the same position as the women. They don't know what atrocities are planned for them, and we don't know what more we'll be made to watch. But we *know* what is possible. Simple trick, but it is well done and holds the movie together as a whole. On the whole, a pretty impressive feat, by all parties involved.
But, on the other hand, there is stuff that could've been done to make it more realistic, and make it stick more (its realism is the key): (A) I'm not a doctor (well, I am, but not a medical one *grin*), so I wouldn't know, but it seems to me that the razor blade in the belly is utterly impossible, as (a) it would cut the intestines, which would be difficult to mend, (b) cutting the abdominal muscles like that would make it nearly impossible to stand up and it would take a big gap to make the guts spill, (c) the only solution would be to put it under the skin, or at least to have a vertical slit, cutting the softer tissue between the two main abdominal muscles. Call it nitpicking, but centuries after Vesalius, this stuff seriously tests my suspension of disbelief, and makes me flip towards laughter rather than fear. (B) Same goes for the cutting of the tongue, but that's necessary I think (see below). (C) Indeed, the make up of the actresses is pretty ridiculously solid. OK, it's symbolical as she looks better when she's psychologically stronger, but this is not a symbolic film as it goes for realism. So be consistent. (D) Yes, ample opportunities to escape present themselves, but even fear of killing someone doesn't account for their hesitations; especially the tongue-cut girl would *not* have stopped at a couple of blows. (E) Now, slightly problematic for me is the ending, as I think it's probably brilliant but cannot be too sure. Part of the horrifying aspect is the sudden knowledge that the guy has kept the daughter for 40 days, too. But I wondered why, apart from shock, the daughter doesn't call out to mommy. Now there was blood on her face and, since the tongue-cutting suggests the maniac only knows one way to shut somebody up, this suggests that he cut the 6 year old's tongue out (yeah, it takes all kinds). This way, the ultimate cruelty makes sense: she's blind and her daughter is mute, so *never again* will she be able to either hear (daughter can't) or see (mother can't) communication from her daughter. She has her daughter but then again she has not. Problem is I don't know for sure whether the girl's tongue is cut out, which means it's not well-filmed there.
Apart from this, it's not your usual misogynist flic as the pain is real and felt and there's no excuse. You can think what you want about the rather cheap (and dumb) analogy to your typical macho pig keeping his women under his thumb - I think it isn't so much a message, as a vehicle to make it more realistic and the maniac more scary (just a guy who spent too much time over the SAS survival guide). I see it, if anything, as a perverted and reverse take on all those movies showing an hour of domestic bliss before violently ripping it apart in the last 30 minutes.
So, make up your mind. Watching it doesn'st make you a pervert loving to see a woman scream, as this film doesn't revel in that. It does make you a sicko wanting to see people getting viciously maimed and hurt until they're really - broken. Come to think of it, it's actually reality TV! Anyway; very well done but some obvious things would need to be better to get this from an 8 to a 9. A 10 is too far away as much more could've been done with a more in-depth script trying to avoid the usual victim-maniac psychology pitfalls.
Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (1986)
Probably Miyazaki's best, as it displays all his strengths
Listening to the soundtrack at the moment, the images come back with a vividness that makes my longing for a dry eye very strong (in order to be able to type this). I've seen it twice thus far, and I should be ashamed for having seen it *only* twice.
I've seen all Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli films, and they are invariably nothing less than masterpieces (except maybe for Nausicaa which was, even in the non-cut up version too premature compared to the nec-plus-ultra manga). Still, their strength sometimes becomes their weakness, as they tend to get too naive/positive (Chihiro), or, with more nuance, a bit too explicit/moralist (Mononoke). At least, compared to for example the other Ghibli master Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies / Only Yesterday / Raccoon Wars). But not this one.
In Laputa, Miyazaki pours all the brilliant storytelling that tellers of tales have gathered and perfected over the ages, combined with a bit of morale, but nicely interwoven with not only a completely transcendental atmosphere, but also with the humor and amusement of for example Totoro. Every single main character is perfectly portrayed with their doubts and fears and their qualities that help them overcome difficulties. The pacing is so perfect that I know of nothing except a black hole that would be able to exert such a gravitational pull on your whole being. The story sets out as an action flic with mysteries hinted at, but when the girl falls from the sky, unconscious, floating with the stone, and the main theme kicks in, you get a glimpse of the grand mystery you're about to uncover, but the story then settles and gradually, over a number of carefully selected scenes of action and serene beauty, builds to an unforgettable climax of melancholy, hope, beauty - like, following days of sombre gloom, finally seeing the horizon on a clear morning, knowing the path walked, seeing the distance ahead, but smiling at the mere fact of being able to catch a glimpse of it.
It is so like an exploding white light in your skull that if by the time the credits start rolling you have kept your eyes dry and your mind numb, you should see a therapist.
Despite the fact that technically-image-wise some more recent Miyazakis might be more overwhelming, this to me remains his undisputed masterpiece. If you take a fraction of a second to realise that this was made back in 1986, you can only come to the conclusion that Hayao Miyazaki is a genius like a star that appears only once every 200 years. This of course has been suggested before, but to me this is his only film that can, on its own, fully illustrate that simple fact. If you miss this during your lifetime, you'll die with a huge gap - which would be a pity, as the coffin costs the same.
Superb anime series, gets a bit uneven at times but delivers 100%
So, your classic story - man vs machine. More particularly - man falls in love with found machine and, behold, it's vice versa.
I stumbled upon these series by accident on the french MCM channel; the french dubs are perfect (Chii is exquisitely dubbed), but after a few episodes I got me the subbed originals - and found out that MCM messed up the episode sequencing. Content-wise this isn't problematic since the first two thirds of the episodes are quite stand-alone. Still it's exactly this that makes the series dip after a while, and you get the idea that they were just making it up as they went along. The underlying storyline (who/what is Chii, what will happen between Hideki & Chii) gets hinted at once in a while, but all in all the first half of the series focuses on the problems that arise when Hideki tries to educate his persocon Chii and the embarrassing situations Chii gets her prude master in, all in your typical "harem" anime setting.
The main thing is: it's so well-done! The first say 8 episodes are often hilarious observations of masculine fears and obsessions as we get to know Hideki's thoughts every step of the way. Through the parts of the comic-in-comic (Chii reads a favorite comic that seems to be especially designed for her and is a key element the overarching story) you occasionally get the idea that more is about to come.
Of course, you can't keep Hideki as constipated throughout and as the often sexual jokes wear out, the series drifts towards fan-servicing with unfortunately pretty sexist undertones (not that I care). At that point, despite the fact the the manga script lay there waiting to be developed, the series seems a bit lost, and the build-up of tension between Chii and Hideki comes to a halt, as do the other plot lines (Hideki and Yumi...), culminating in the low (plotwise) or high (imagewise *grin*) of #14, where all characters spend a day at the beach. Apart from seeing all babes in bathing suits (yeah I know they're drawn figures, but cut the imagination some slack), you're left wondering when they'll get on with it. This wondering is only augmented by the following two episodes where Chii is hardly seen and the plot focuses on Shimbo and the Sensei...
***Spoiler-laden paragraphs below***
But in fact (though you only find out later) this is where they (finally) start developing the actual story about relationships between man and machine, and what machine is/can be, what it means to be human. These eps. 15-16 are the first part of this topic, where it's seen from the (negative) human side only. The story-telling is raised to a significantly higher level. It's a bit of a mystery why the next 2 episodes again seem to fall to the earlier level, and nothing much is added, except for a hint at what the plot will turn out to be.
But, in episodes 20-26 suddenly the stakes are raised and we get an entirely different anime, with all the depth and beauty that we've come to expect from this Japanese art form. What makes a machine a machine, a human human, what is love, what is the function of memory... you get it all. The density of each episode is a zillion times higher than that of the first ones, and suspense is gradually built up. And then of course there's the final two episodes where a lot of questions are answered and the series DELIVERS. Home run! Considering the end credit song had changed midway to the very melancholic Ningyo Hime, I expected the worst, and indeed initially it does end up the way 99% of man-machine-love films end up: it cannot be (I think this has its roots in the ancient beliefs that relationships are merely there for procreation). But, lo and behold people! it does not end this way. Love DOES conquer all and after a series of emotional lefts and rights in the final episode, you get positively uppercutted by the rare 1% solution: the relationship between man and machine is a fact. Relationships without procreation are allowed. Bingo this is heaven.
***SPOILER ENDS - but don't look an inch upward from this line***
So, despite the fact that the series seems a bit lost in the middle, the absolutely charming and hilarious first third plus the final third with its deep issues, superb plot and magnificent denouement make this series a solid 9 for me. I would have given it a 10, but it is a fact that the whole could have been better 1) had they from the start opted for a continuous story (like the final eps) with the story lines more mixed like in the manga, rather than more or less separate episodes focusing on one topic or even gimmick, 2) had made a better mix of humor & drama and developed the Chii character a bit better (like in the manga). Though this might be easier to achieve in a full-length feature, in which the story would benefit from being chopped from 8 to 2 hours. Obviously, this would leave Chii-o-files gasping for more, but still:
People from TBS: make this into a full-length feature!! Presto!!!
O, and don't forget to have a box of Kleenex within reach once you start on the final episode...
PS: if you buy the DVD's (6+1 bonus), disc 1 and 2 are really worthwhile (though 2 has quite a bit of sexual/sexist fan-servicing), while disc 3 may be the least interesting. Disc 4 is where you get a first glimpse of how good the series will get, and discs 5 & 6 are simply must-haves. Beware that the 7th disc contains just 3 summaries (eps 9, 18 and 27), plus a 5-minute extra called Chibits.
Woohoo Miki rulez!
OK, you have to like Pinky Violence films, or at least be able to see the humor of it, or just want to get your hands on anything by the master of Japanese sexploitation, Norifumi Suzuki. As it goes for me, I just want anything with Miki Sugimoto in it. If I may be just a wee bit sexist about this: she has every protruding body part stuck in exactly the right corpo-topographic position.
But anyway, it has been argued that this film (the 4th in the Sukeban-series, aka Girl Boss or Onna Bancho, and the final one to be directed by Suzuki) takes itself a bit too seriously compared to its predecessor (Sukeban Guerilla). And this is true (now that I've seen Guerilla). Still, it takes less time to get to top speed (whatever that is in these exploitation films) than that one, and some scenes are really well-shot. Although I abhor the woman-betraying-guy-who-means-it-well type. F*#% it, the guy should just get a serious beating woman! Where's the sukeban spirit here?!
So quite OK, but for exploitation-fans only. But Miki Sugimoto is great, though there are a couple of other flicks that do her more justice.
ps: the torture-while-in-chains is almost a carbon-copy of the one in Guerilla; and, for that, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is still the better one.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Boy, this stank
Basically, yesterday after I'd seen it, I was still moderately mild to this film, but in hindsight that was probably due to the welcome air conditioning in the theater, when outside it was a blisteringly hot late spring day (so I actually enjoyed every minute inside). In fact, apart from some visuals and the set design, this movie was not only bad, but completely superfluous, for these reasons: The plot is next to non-existent, something which does not necessarily lead to a bad film, but here, what *is* contained in the plot is (a) mind-numbingly bad dialogue, (b) a historically completely inaccurate storyline, (c) uninteresting characters, (d) uninteresting, inconsistent and sometimes completely obscure plot 'developments'. An still...
Still, those four points would not necessarily make it the disaster it is. The disaster is here: is completely fails to even *hint* at what the atmosphere at the time of the crusades must have been like. I mean, the whole of it is steeped in western romanticism and something which tries to sell itself as idealism, but which is, in fact, just squeamish political correctness. This PC is necessary, because the romanticizing makes it look more contemporary than it is. And, true, some current political problems do have its roots in the same idea of 'posessing the ultimate truth' that inhabits monotheistic religions. But why not stick to history. For, in fact, there are lots of deeper analogies as well as differences between the machinations at the time of the crusades and what goes on nowadays. In fact, religion as religion, ironically, plays only a minor part in it. It's religion as a means of mobilising the masses as an army ready to kill and die for a power-hungry elite.
In all, there's too much individualism going on in the film, and you never get even a glimpse of the whole picture. Yes, it is true that in the dark middle ages the Muslim culture, though cruel as practically all ancient cultures, was more refined than the European one (due to circumstances). And yes, what went to fight in the Holy Land were often a bunch of outlaws and adventurers, sinners, and religious fanatics (a bit like the earlier gulfs of emigration to the Americas and Australia, come to think of it :-). But in all fairness, it was a pretty brutal time then. And all these high ideals and stuff, that just drowned in the murk of complex political en demographical plots that this movie not only fails to explore, but which it pretends even never existed.
O yes - and they DO spell e-ve-ry-thing out for you. Good grief Hollywood, we can think! PS If you want a cool epic battle movie with some completely absurd individualism and pretty idiotic behavior, but which actually manages to entertain, see Musa (The Warrior) by Sung-su Kim (Korea, 2001). At least is goes, without holding back, for full-fledged romanticism and does not try to rewrite history as a politically correct story of noble white and black men.
Surprisingly beautiful film, not just your typical horror flick. The lead is great!
*** first & last paragraphs are without spoilers ***
At first sight the story's your pretty basic demon possession thing (P is the transliteration of the Thai word for Ghost). What made the film stand out however was the setting. The whole thing is seen from the perspective of an innocent girl forced to leave the countryside to look for money in Bangkok, where she loses touch with her past as she gets caught up in the Thai sex industry - and goes downhill (some have suggested a metaphor for drugs, but I think there are various paths leading downhill in the Thai sex industry). She refuses to accept her fate however, but her energy flows to her dark side, which soon darkens just a deeper shade of red...
More specific (***massive spoilers down here*** - for a summary go to the final paragraph) :
The opening scenes in rural Thailand where Aaw grows up in all innocence learning witchcraft from her grandmother are really full of supernatural promise in the nature of the place itself. It also sets the main character well - she's considered a freak by her peers, but fails to really rise above it, which makes her vulnerable to herself - shown by the fact that she's angry when pushed in the mud, after which a demon tries to grab her in the water; or that, when older, she scares three small kids spying on her (nicely mirroring what's about to follow). In order to pay for her sick grandmother, she has to move to Bangkok before she manages to complete her witchcraft skills. In other words, the classic - all power, but no strong enough will yet.
The action moves to the P Bar in Bangkok, where some of the most painful scenes take place, as Aaw gradually loses her old self - she is given a new name, Dau; she loses her virginity. Awkward to see, where Paul Spurrier plays the virgin loving sex industry white (very convincingly). The scene is brought so tenderly and subdued that it is all the more hurting. Very well done too (helped by the soundtrack) is the first floor show in the bar, which Spurrier manages to film in an entirely non-erotic way, but instead making the dancing poles look like a jail in which the women are meat. In fact, the whole film at this point could well be a social commentary thing with some very good cinematography.
Things for Dau then take a turn for the worse as she starts to use her magic on whoever hurts her, starting with Spurrier who gets punishment in a very fitting way. Next however is her rival at the club. Her "accident" is really great. Some good gore though very little is shown. But Dau fails to respect three sacred rules to obey when one uses black magic, thus opening her heart to... evil! - thereby gradually losing her final bit of self. The fact that her first error occurs when she acknowledges her feelings for her roommate Pookie (also a very good actress), is rather dubious I think.
Then the film loses a bit of the atmosphere that set it out from your usual ghost flick, as Dau turns into a straight vampire (actually a phii borb - a classic organ-eating Thai ghost) and goes butchering white sex tourists and whoever stands in her way - some nice gore at times, and organ-diving might become a national sport. The beginning of it, where it's still unclear whether it's real or not, is well done, but towards the end, while the film never loses momentum, the story seems a bit lost. Especially the final solution reminded me of the original Exorcist, i.e. the exorcist dies himself, and the real salvation is brought by someone letting the demon go inside and then killing herself.
The end is rather depressing - she's alive, but without demon all her rebellion against her situation is gone and the final scene shows her doing a genuinely erotic but soulless floor show - Aaw gone forever and Dau to live the miserable life of meat for sale. What I found a bit disturbing is (though this certainly couldn't have been Spurrier's intention) that the whole film can be seen as "try to resist the fate the Thai sex industry has installed for you just causes a real mess, so you'd better keep that demon calm and accept your karma and swing around that pole". It depends on whether you look at the Barb possession as being Aaw's rebellion or rather her path downhill.
*** End of spoilers ***
But don't be mistaken, this is a very good film (despite being maybe a bit less imaginative towards the end) with some exquisite acting by unknown actors. Especially the lead, Suangporn Jaturaphut (in her first role!) is simply a revelation. It's definitely worth your theater visit, with its well-told straightforward story and beautiful images - and if that's not enough, just go to check out Suangporn.
Ki-Duk is getting very close to becoming my favorite director
This is my fourth film by Ki-Duk Kim (after Spring, Summer... / The Isle / 3-Iron), and he scores one minus (The Isle, despite stunning cinematography), one very good (Spring), and two absolutely magnificent. Despite the fact that I liked 3-Iron just a bit better because of the more straightforward story and consistent way of story telling, Samaria comes very close.
I'm not going to spoil things for you, but I'd just point out that this is yet another highly symbolic film, so much in fact, that this second (symbolic) level is probably more easily understood than the basic story. Not that it's complicated, it's just that story and meaning are not as closely interwoven as in 3-Iron, where the overlap between the two made possible an ambiguous reality that led to sublimation. Here, it takes a while for the two levels to touch.
The feeling following 3-Iron was that of reaching an asymptote - only the infinite was beyond. In Samaria, you feel like some serious stuff happened but what's done is done and the road lies open. We're at a starting point, which is not quite zero but feels like it. Well now, you can hardly call that a spoiler 'cause I hardly understand it myself. But you'll see what I mean after seeing it.
The story, which seems to start out as something different that what it turns out to be, must be one of the most poignant symbolic depictions of the point at which a parent has to let his/her kid go and realise he/she's not needed anymore - or not like before. Also, silence, without being as overwhelming as in 3-Iron, plays an important role. In 3-Iron, good stuff happened because of silence; here, a lot of not so good things happen because of it, but some good things can happen in spite of silence. The ending can be very sad or neutral or have the potential for hope, if you choose my story interpretation. But who am I?
What? Still reading this? - off you go to the video store. Chop chop!
Note: does anyone realise just how brilliant Kim Ki-Duk is when shooting indoor scenes?! Framing, camera movement, light - you name it - sheer perfection.