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Wang de Shengyan (2012)
An art-house historic epic
First of, since 'The City of Life and Death' and 'Kekexili' I have become a fan of mainland China director Lu Chuan. I did not know about this film but somehow, through indirect references, I found out about it and decided to purchase a DVD to see it.
And a good thing I have a DVD, for I needed to watch it more than once to truly grasp the gist of the film. The story line is based on a piece of history in the period of around 200 BC, toward the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is a story of allies turned mortal enemies, trust, mistrust, and the deadly outcome when a woman, here a queen, got involved in the King's decisions.
There are no epic battles and brutal action here, although there are a couple of scenes of torture and execution. The plot and pace are both slow. So I can see why many people will not like it. But if you have the patience, this is a visually impressive film that told a complex story. DVD is the best medium as you can pause, backtrack or watch it for a 2nd or 3rd time to fully understand the plot.
Cìkè Niè Yinniáng (2015)
Another great film from Director Hou
First off, I saw a DVD version of this film, so I did not have the luxury of enjoying 100% of the beautiful camera work that comes with this film. Second, I am a fan of Hou's work so my view may be biased.
Having said that, this is one slow, meditative martial art film, totally unlike other martial art films such as Ip Man. The camera pans very slowly, and most of the time the sound track is quiet. Words are sparsely spoken. Fighting is infrequent and short: as in Kurosawa's samurai films, the fight is settled quickly, sometimes with the defeated unhurt but walking away because he/she realizes that defeat has been the outcome.
Both the camera work and the settings are exceptionally well done, providing a visual feast. I understand the films was shot in Taiwan, mainland China and Japan, although I couldn't tell which was which.
To conclude, while knowing some people would find the film too slow and boring, I enjoy it a greatly. Characters are many and the plot is not easy to follow. That means at least a second viewing is required. Glad I have the DVD!
Tian zhu ding (2013)
Another great piece of contemporary cinema from Direcoter Jia
Since I viewed 'The World' and 'Still Life' from director Jia ZK a few years back, I have become a fan of this 6th generation film director from China. In this film he explored the ugly side of China, amid its prosperity (at least for some), GDP growth and blatant capitalism. It is about the contrast between the average person trying to make a decent living, and the corrupt officials and bandits that got rich quick. The film contains 4 stories, loosely linked together. Corruption, prostitution, social injustice, stressful lives of migrant workers in the World's Factories in the southern part of the country are all the issues explored and exposed here. Gosh, I am glad this film was allowed to be made by the Chinese government. I bet Jia's international fame has something to do with it.
All in all, I enjoyed the film greatly. I once worked and lived in China for a number of years so the stories relate to me quite easily. For now, I hope Jia can continue to do his work, with the freedom and liberty that he has so far enjoyed. I look forward to more of his work.
Le démantèlement (2013)
For the love of his adult children
This film from Quebec is a quiet family drama, and requires patience to appreciate. Not much happened in the film except for Gaby, an ageing farmer close to retirement, attending to his live stock, 24x7.
His has two adult daughters living in the city, who seldom visit him. But when one of them got into financial trouble, Gaby made a tough decision to help her out, thus throwing his regular and regimented life style into turmoil.
The film depresses me in the sense Gaby was clearly taken advantage of by one of his daughters, but still made the sacrifice willingly, without considering the impact to his remaining years.
This is a well acted film for those who enjoy family dramas, and are interested in gaining an insight to farm life in Quebec.
Linhas de Wellington (2012)
More of a human drama than a war film
I watched this film, all 150 minutes of it, from a DVD I received from FilmMovement. Apparently this film, a European production, is hardly known in North American.
At 150 minutes this is one long film, and if you expect to see epic battle scenes you will be disappointed. The story centres around the English and Portuguese armies retreating, with many civilians, from the advent of the Napoleonic army. There are many characters involved in several sub-plots, and three languages (English, French and Portuguese) are used in the dialogues. One can get confused easily.
Despite its flaws, I find the film watchable for the settings, for the costume, and for certain portions of the human dramas depicted. And forget about the presence of the two big-name French actresses referenced in the credit. Both Isabelle Hupert and Catherine Deneuve appeared in an inconsequential scene for less than two minutes.
La balsa de piedra (2002)
An interest take on something hypothetical
Of course the Iberian peninsula can never be physical separated from the European continent. At least not until the end of the world anyway. But this films by director George Sluizer tells a story based on this impossible scenario. Not credible and silly you say, but once you push aside this critique the film actually is fun to watch.
The protagonists are two women and three men, augmented by the presence of a dog. There is human interaction among them, and love, and isolation. You can tell only Europe will produce a film of this nature. I have watched it twice over a course of three years and enjoyed it each time. I will recommend this film to lovers of international cinema for sure.
Ilo Ilo (2013)
A Pleasant Surprise
I can't recall when was the last time I saw a film from Singapore, a country known for trade and finance but definitely not its film industry. So for all intents and purposes this is my first exposure to a Singaporean film.
For the first 10 minutes I didn't quite know what I was into, but as the film progressed I began to catch the gist of it - a low-budget, family drama around person-to-person connections. That fact that the back-drop was the financial crisis in the 90's is not important. The story can happen now with a small change to the back-drop.
Acting was good by all. The story was well told. It is a film with no 'villains' as such, but a good drama around a middle-class family in Singapore. 'Ilo Ilo' reaffirms my faith in low-budget, low-visibility, independent films that can be high in quality.
I am just glad to have stumbled onto a DVD copy of it. Well done!
Un balcon sur la mer (2010)
A Moving Story of Romance and Childhood Love
I am sure some of us still have, on occasion, flashing memory of our childhood love subjects. We can be adults and settled into a homely life style. But if your memory is still robust, a trip to the past is common - especially if you are getting older.
"Balcony on the Sea", a name which I prefer, is a top-notch romance from France. It blends mystery with a love story, and with a the plot which is very credible and moving.
Both Jean Dujardin (of 'The Artist' fame) and Marie-Josee Croze are great in their leading roles. Director Nicole Garcia's steady and conventional directing is perfect to tell this tale, with flash back to childhood life in Algiers. I also find the ending subtle and satisfying. Highly recommended for those who yearn for a good romance story. Meanwhile, I will try to seek out more work by this director.
Elsker dig for evigt (2002)
An Excellent Film by Susanne Bier
I have never been a fan of Dogme style film making. To me it means jittery frames due to the use of hand-held cameras, little background music, and often grainy images. But 'Open Hearts' is one big exception.
The story is about forbidden love. There are plenty of miserable people in this film and yet there are no 'bad' people here. Mads Mikkelsen delivered one of his strongest performance by portraying the tormented lover. He was a good man - a practising doctor, a caring father and husband to his children and wife. Yet he fell in love, madly and beyond his control, with a younger woman who was traumatized by a recent accident. I can totally relate to his agony and sentiment - not being able to remove her from his mind every single waking minute, while fully knowing his obligation to his family.
The film concludes without offering a feel-good ending, as life often does. I was left to think about it, and to muse over the dilemma faced by the characters. It made me think for a long time.
I strongly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys European cinema. And if you are a romantic, you should not miss it.
Gözetleme Kulesi (2012)
A Small Gem from Turkish Cinema
When the film started, with protagonist Nihat slowly making his way to the remote outpost as a guard, part of a forest fire monitoring team, I wasn't sure what I was into. However, as the film progressed the plot became clear - two people, Nihat the widower and Seher, a young woman trying to hide an unwanted pregnancy, crossed their paths in the remote, mountainous part of Turkey. Both wanted to get away from the rest of the world to get over a personal trauma. The misty scenery was beautiful to look at, the acting was solid, and a child-birth scene was so realistic it became disturbing.
In my view 'Watchtower' is at par with 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' in terms of what contemporary Turkish cinema has to offer. Both were great films. And they played a key role in converting me to a fan of Turkish cinema. I highly recommend this film to anyone who seeks an intelligent drama, one without a big budget, CGI effects, violence or sex.