Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Socrates (2018)

Socrates (2018)

socrates

Director (and co-writer): Alex Moratto

Cast: Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji, Caio Martinez Pacheco, Rosane Paulo, Jayme Rodrigues

After his mother’s sudden death, Socrates, a 15-year-old living on the margins of São Paulo’s coast, must survive on his own while coming to terms with his grief. – IMDB

During the Q&A session afterwards, director Alex Moratto talked about this movie as being a movie personal to him in memory of his mother. At the same time, he also talked about the partnership with Unicef Brazil to get this project to represent the youths in the Sao Paulo and surrounding areas while also having the camerawork and cast done through 16 to 20 year olds in the community in their program. Both are honorable reasons for this project to come to life. As with many of these types of passion projects, there is always an uncertainty to how they deliver. Socrates delivers really well.

Its hard to pinpoint how it delivers well because it feels like an journey for the main character Socrates as he embraces the different sides of him and his life as he deals with his grief for the loss of his mother which is literally the first scene of the film. Talk about casting a gloomy cloud over the audience. To be honest, as poignant as each of the unfortunate events that Socrates goes through they never quite feel like it pieces together in the plot of coming to terms with his grief at times. Everyone has a different journey in how they deal with grief however, Socrates definitely does take us for a ride through his troubles and everything that seems to go wrong all at the time especially the amplified feeling after his tragic loss.

A lot of the credit here goes to the actors here especially Christian Malheiros who delivers an outstanding role as Socrates. There is a quiet yet raw feeling to his performance that truly helps in here. The second aspect very awesome are how the camera moves and how it focuses as well as choosing when to blur and focus the scenes as well as capturing the location of where this is set. There is such a beautiful attention to how each shot accentuates each moment but how it is approached.

Overall, Socrates is a poignant journey which has its main theme somewhat get lost in the events that happens. However, its filming style and the raw performance by young actor Christian Malheiros definitely makes this one well worth a watch.

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Festival du Nouveau Cinema: The Guilty (2018)

The Guilty (2018)

The Guilty

Director (and co-screenplay): Gustav Moller

Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen, Jacob Lohmann, Katinka Evers-Jahnsen, Jeanette Linkbaek

A police officer assigned alarm dispatch duty enters a race against time when he answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman. – IMDB

Suffice to say that I know nothing about Danish films. The Guilty is a one location thriller which sets an emergency office dispatch who picks up a call at the end of his shift from an abducted woman. Right away, we can think about movies like The Call (review) but while the concept of it is similar, The Guilty stays true to its one location. Other than a few random conversations with his colleagues in the same office, the bulk of the film is through different phone conversations. Its also pretty much a one man show and a rather thrilling one at that.

The Guilty

One location is just a set up and because of it, it creates the mystery of the unknown. Who is on the other line? Are they trustworthy? What is happening on the other side of the screen? Being a thriller, it also adds the expected desire to decipher the twist as we grab on to as many details in the conversation and the nature of the conversation and the character reactions through the dialogue. A convincing voice cast and a compelling main character is essential along with a captivating dialogue and pacing of the events and reveals to create a hook. Luckily, The Guilty achieves that almost completely. It drops reveals and hints and at the same time, the abducted woman is a vessel to somehow understand our main character better as we see that he has some secrets of his own that he is trying to come to terms with. All these elements gives him depth and development. Just as the abducted woman also has another level of depth to be discovered and where do these stories compare.

The Guilty

With that said, Jakob Cedergren is fantastic in this. We see closeups and how he emotes. His feeling and emotions despite having no dialogue. There is so much strength and conviction to his performance that we believe in the urgency of the situation and the logic behind his actions. At the same time, we can’t neglect the voice work from Jessica Dinnage who voices Liben, the abducted woman as well as the the myriad of characters, especially the young Mathilde, voiced by Katinka Evers-Jahnsen.

Good thrillers are hard to come by. By staying to the one location and having a strong main cast and compelling character arcs and gripping dialogue, The Guilty does a lot of things right. Its not complicated and the twist might be slightly expected but buying into the characters makes all the difference here.

Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Mirai (2018)

Mirai (2018)

mirai

Director (and writer): Mamoru Hosoda

Voice cast: Moka Kamishiraishi, Haru Kuroki, Gen Hoshino, Koji Yakusho, Kumiko Aso, Mitsuo Yoshihara, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Masaharu Fukuyama

A young boy encounters a magical garden which enables him to travel through time and meet his relatives from different eras, with guidance by his younger sister from the future. – IMDB

Every festival I like to add in an animated film in the middle. Call it the desire to cut through the depth in a lot of indie films or just to have a fun little family friendly experience. Mirai was my pick for this festival. I don’t watch a lot of Japanese animation outside of festivals (except for rewatching classic Studio Ghibli films). Mirai is a cute and funny one. Its charm is in its story which talks about a little boy and his inner conflict of accepting his little sister’s birth and how her existence suddenly means sharing his parents’ attention and patience and love. However, it is wrapped up in a cute adventure that values siblings and family as a whole as he finds his way through imaginative sequences from different past family members that helps him understand how to be a big brother.

The imagination here is grounded in a magical world because it reflects the idea of a family tree and how its roots affects how Kun is now. As we dive into the stories of the other members of his family, there is a reality to his little trips like past characters or younger or older selves taking him for a trip like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol. It reflect directly to the challenges and each of these bring us closer to his meeting with the future Mirai who strives for his acceptance as well to prove that she is worthy of their sibling love and the importance of it all while also teaching him a lesson on being understanding of his parents as well. And the scenes of parents and their pressures set in some scenes filled with familiar parental turmoil.

For the execution and colorful appearance and cute and funny ideas packed with a little drama and positivity, Mirai is a fun movie experience for both adults and kids. It has an imaginative and magical aspect that reflects into an familiar reality for both parents and kids and siblings.

Festival du Nouveau Cinema: La Version Nouvelle (World Premiere 2018)

La Version Nouvelle (2018)

la version nouvelle

Director (and writer): Michael Yaroshevsky

Cast: Sophie Desmarais

A woman spends her days editing the film of an absent lover. – IMDB

Festival du Nouveau Cinema described this one as experimental and that is definitely the word that I would describe it as. The movie is obscure but there are bits that somewhat abstractly make sense. The story focuses around a girl played by our sole actress Sophie Desmarais as she edits a montage with things that her past or absent lover has left behind. Why is this person missing? No idea. Maybe its for travelling because of where the images come from. But its not important because the movie revolves around an undefined abstract Russian word and I suppose how her current state in life reflects it: solitude, loneliness, thought provoking.

la version nouvelle

La Version Nouvelle is extremely slow paced and voiced with interview montages and our actress only has voice over images and videos from travelogues. Cryptic and well meant to be deep and thought provoking. I saw this in a respectful way. I was confused on what it was trying to achieve but after a few days of reflecting and considering what the Q&A session from the director, I feel like a somewhat knoe what it was meant to do. The issue here is its abstract nature and its pacing and nothing really feels like it happens as we observe this girl.

While the story and the message could be executed better, there are qualities here. Maybe not enough yo redeem it as a whole but the framing of each shot is incredible with its depth as we watch this girl move around the house. Sometimes its at a distance and others she is off frame doing something else and oddly it works well. The travelogue images and snippets are also really beautifully done. While most of the time, I failed to have the depth that the girl feels towards it, they were visually stunning. At the same time, there was a lot of thought and detail in the sound design on the scenes and behind the snippets and images that elevated the scenes from the montage.

La Version Nouvelle

La Version Nouvelle is a hard one to talk about. On a technical level, its filmed really nicely but the movie is paced so slow and so abstract that it feels like everything is lost and might need to be paired with an ending Q&A to make sense of it all. Even then, my takeaway is the ambitious desire for the director to interpret a Russian word with such a uncertain definition is what makes it even harder to understand. If it means something different for everyone, the audience will be left feeling the same way and hence, I can only call this experimental. I am not at the level of deep thinking like the director so I don’t want to say its a bad film because its done well but there was a lack of enjoyment in its pacing and disjointed and emptiness for myself.

Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Burning (2018)

Burning (2018)

Burning

Director (& screenplay): Chang-dong Lee

Cast: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jeon

Eight years after Poetry, Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-Dong adapts Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s novel on the coded twists and turns of a love triangle. After a chance encounter with Haemi, a former girlfriend, Jongsu, a young courier, agrees to feed her cat while she goes to Africa. To Jongsu’s chagrin, she returns in the company of a mysterious, rich stranger, Ben. A powerful social message and bewitching lyricism lies behind this patient but fascinating thriller. It is an odyssey to the heart of uncertainty and it will haunt you long after the credits have rolled. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

First of all, lets clear the air that I have never read or heard of the source material that Burning is adapted from so there is no comparison to be made. What I offer is the film experience as a whole.

With that said, Burning is an intriguing story to say the least. Albeit, a slow paced, slow burning sort of film experience. The idea here is a really good one from its first act of our main character, Jongsu meeting again his high school friend, Haemi who he develops feelings for and ends up agreeing to feed her cat while she goes to a dream vacation to Africa. At the same time, he has a change in his life as he goes to take care of his father’s property and we slowly learn why as his back story unfolds bit by bit as well. Things change in the second act upon Haemi’s return with a new friend, Ben, an offputting yet social and rich young man. There are so many awkward and comedic moments that show off each of these characters. It also helps that the movie was generally in three or four acts. From meeting Haemi to Jongsu waiting for her to get back to their time spent with Ben and then Jongsu’s search.

Ah-In Yoo plays the young courrier Jongsu who seems very much like a wallflower. He doesn’t have a direction and follows around Haemi and easily follows others in what they do and doesn’t make a first move while he does find joy in some of the little things. He is a quiet and introvert character that we see have a decent amount of development throughout the film. On the other hand, Haemi is an odd ray of sunshine. She is expressive and very much an open book even in her weird obsession with her search for the hunger of the meaning of life and such. Which leads us to our final character and a familiar face, Ben played by Steve Yeun who I have never seen speak Korean let alone expect to be in a Korean film. His character is mysterious but its almost too obvious that he has something more because of just how he answers all questions vaguely. But there is a very great moment of reveal when things link together and that is what I liked about it.

Mysterious phone calls, missing crush and dark secrets are the basis of Burning. Its a character study set in the midst of a thriller. At some point, it gets a little blurry in the second half as the movie drags on for longer than it feels necessary. It feels like a tighter execution might have rendered it more fun to watch. That really is the one complaint I have of this film. The cast themselves do a fantastic job and the director takes great care in framing the shots and the details with lighting and atmosphere. All things I like to watch and see in films.

Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Ash is Purest White (2018)

The 47th Annual Festival du Nouveau Cinema has started in Montreal and will be around until October 14th. I’m not sure why I’ve never thought about joining into this one before but this year had specifically this film that I wanted to see so I took a look at the other movies and ended up joining in the fun.

Ash is Purest White has been making its festival route and maybe theatrical screenings in China. The word about it is almost all positive which has me incredibly excited and one of my top picks for this year’s Festival du Nouveau Festival.

Ash is Purest White (2018)

ash is purest white

Director (and writer): Zhangke Jia

Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Yi’nan Diao, Xiaogang Feng, Zheng Xu

A story of violent love within a time frame spanning from 2001 to 2017. – IMDB

Ash is Purest White is a movie that names itself as Jiang Hu Er Nu, which means in direct translation, Underworld’s Sons and Daughters. What seems like it is a crime and gangster movie quickly changes shape in its second and third acts.  Ash is Purest White is a slow-paced film that is essentially an epic romance that propels the life of a woman through a span of many years as she enters this world that she ends up being a part of because of her boyfriend. The story mainly revolves the perspective of Qiao, played by Tan Zhao where her boyfriend Bin, played by Fan Liao, only have scenes with her but rarely individual ones. At a runtime of over 2 hours, Ash is Purest White never feels like that despite its deliberate slow pace, in fact, it takes it time so that we get to know Qiao and her story and her emotions and especially  her strength and loyalty. Set in the beautiful outskirts of China in Datong in the Shanxi province, the cinematography also deserves a great nod as well as the fantastic soundtrack.

Ash is Purest White

With that said, the outstanding role here that definitely carries Ash is the Purest White is Tao Zhao. I’ve never seen her in anything else in my memory but she falls so beautifully into this role. Capturing her innocence and life in the early parts of the movie as she follows her boyfriend and supports him as he is the leader of his gang and fights off the opposing forces. There’s a loyalty and love here that binds them as individuals and makes their relationship strong. For a film to be carried by almost completely by one character is hard but Tao Zhao does it so fantastically. She has a strength to her character as she goes from her happiness of being under the protection of her boyfriend to when she stands up and sacrifices for him which changes her life around by then those things she learned from him becomes a circle and takes her to where she ends up years later when he needs her help. There is such a loyalty and commitment as well as regrets to their relationship that resounds.

Ash is Purest White

Don’t get me wrong though. As strong as Tao Zhao’s character is, Fan Liao’s Bin cannot be ignored. Even in his quiet expressions and his few words, he manages to show a lot of emotions. A sign of a great actor are in these skills. While his character might not be in a lot of the scenes in the second act for example. His character always has a presence in the other’s life and that is the power of this love story. However, there is something of a flip role as we see how both of their similar experiences has ended up with very different results. The debate in their character is what does “jianghu” does to them in some ways.

Overall, Ash is Purest White is a slow-paced romance that takes a fairly  unconventional route that brings about the loyalty, regrets of two people but their differences from what happens that changes them and also breaks them in some ways making them find and lose themselves respectively. There’s a perpetual aspect to their love even when they aren’t both on the screen. The story is crafted so delicately that it works to help us truly be bonded with these two characters. Even in two hours, it rarely feels like there are pacing issues but yet, every detail here is done to help the audience understand these characters and their experiences and think about it. There is a beauty and art here that is hard to ignore. Its one that might resounded to myself as I thought about it more and more.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Big Brother (World Premiere 2018)

Big Brother (2018)

Big Brother

Director: Ka-Wai Kam

Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Yu Kang, Mingji Lou, Fung Woo

Big Brother is an unexpected title in Donnie Yen’s filmography however, also one that he has been wanting to do. It is about education and sending the positive message that everyone can follow their dreams even those left behind and ignored by the very competitive Hong Kong education system. It only takes an honest and passionate educator to go beyond their duties to make sure their students go back on the right path. Playing as Mr. Chen, Yen’s role is one that marries the sparse but exciting action scenes that we have come to expect with a more profound dramatic moments focussing specifically on five of the students considered the losers in the “bad” class. His heartfelt performance has some comedic moments especially in the unorthodox way of teaching which fits incredibly well to this out of the box character.

Big Brother

While there are some cameo and supporting roles with more seasoned actors and actresses especially the Taiwanese actress Joe Chen as one of the teachers and Fung Woo as the ex-principal in an inspiring role as well, the five young actors are all first time actors. This decision is a smart one to keep their stories feel real and genuine.  While some of the stories feel dramatized for the movie, the reality is that in the Hong Kong society, their stories are common: alcoholic dad; Hong Kong born Pakistani origins; daughters feeling less important than sons and the high risk of the triad preying on high school students to get them to do their dirty work. For these young cast, they did a great job at each of their respective roles as they each had their own dreams which broke the barrier of the expectations of where they are from.

Big Brother

A lot of praise does have to go to assistant director turned director Ka-Wai Kam as he steps into the director’s chair a fourth time with this project. It is obvious that he has a lot of experience tucked away with the way he maneuvers his shots to capture the moments. He finds a way to add in the action seamlessly to a more dramatic film while not forgetting the focal point of reflecting how a flawed education system breeds the issues that are occurring and puts its focus on a few members to give these characters their well-deserved development and never making them feel disposable. Not to mention, the scenes itself speak for themselves and how these vibrant characters have connected with its audience.

World premiering at Fantasia Festival a whole two and a half weeks before its release in Hong Kong, Big Brother brings both heartwarming and heartbreaking stories about some very real and human everyday life aspects of the Hong Kong education system, the criticism towards its teachers and the society views of it all.  Add this to your collection of inspirational education movies like Freedom Writers, Big Brother might have some societal barriers to understand some of the finer details but its heart to bring a positive message and highlight the flaws in the current education system is one that needs to be addressed. It takes one person willing to go above and beyond to make a difference. It’s perfectly suitable for Donnie Yen. Big Brother is a positively inspiring movie that manages to tug at your heartstrings and cheer for following your dreams and paying it forward.