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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day V Report


Ongoing reports on the 26th Fribourg International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering all week.


Short Films from the South and the East


These twelve short animated films, ranging from 2002 to 2011, were selected by the Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel.  As with any screening which offers a mix of short films, it is inevitable that some of these twelve shorts are wonderful and others are altogether bizarre and abstruse.

My favorites were Chainsaw Maid (Japan; 2007), a crude zombie claymation that is hilarious and infectious, and The Employment (Argentina; 2008), a wildly inventive and morbidly amusing look at the debasement that we subject ourselves to on a daily basis as employees.

My least favorite was A Clockwork Clock (China; 2009) though I must admit that I just couldn’t understand it.  It was a very artistic piece that was also the last on the program.  Following eleven varied short features I found it hard to focus on it.

I also enjoyed the Korean short Camels (2011) from Park Jee-youn.  It was a very clever work that examined the puzzling aftermath of a relationship.

On the whole I was glad to discover an inventive group of shorts, some of which employed a dizzying array of modern techniques (Luis, Chile; 2009) or brought to life interesting parables (The Old Crocodile, Japan; 2005).


Fable of the Fish
(Philippines, 2011)


Dir:  Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.

My second Filipino film of the festival, Fable of the Fish was a much more satisfying experience than Cuchera (2011), which I saw during Day III.  It was a low budget effort that was filmed in an environment filled with filth and refuse, inhabited by people living in the most insalubrious conditions imaginable, and yet it was also whimsical and loving.

Lina and her husband have just moved from the province to the slum, a squalid locale that seems to be built out that garbage heaps that surround it.  Lina falls pregnant and bears her child during a typhoon.  However her offspring shoots out of her straight into the water, she has in fact given birth to a fish.

Alix’s film builds itself around this fantastical event but it is played straight and the world it takes place in is very real.  People spend their days trawling through the hills of trash in the humid heat and fill their shanty homes with faded and damaged religious iconography.

Christianity is a very large part of the narrative.  The characters are obliviously devout and at one point Lina utters the fascinating paradox, regarding the birth of her water-bound progeny: “Sometimes God chooses to make a mistake.”

There are a lot of ideas swimming around Alix’s thematic narrative such as impotency and the difficulty of accepting a child who isn’t normal.  I also quite liked the cinematography which was never beautiful but very cleverly found its way around the story’s rundown neighbourhoods.  If you can go along with Fable of the Fish’s simple but odd central conceit, you will find a lot of food for thought.


Cut
(Japan, Turkey, South Korea, United States; 2011)


Dir:  Amir Naderi

Amir Naderi’s Cut , a dark love letter to cinema, was a breath of fresh air which was infinitely more successful in examining our fascination with the medium than last year’s Oscar-prized The Artist and Scorsese’s Hugo, both fine films which in my eyes amounted to little more than technically splendid homage to the filmmakers’ respective influences.

Cut burrows a lot deeper as it seeks answers to the question of ‘what is cinema?’  It also features the most impressive list of cinematic references that I think I’ve ever seen on screen.

The story is simple and drawn out.  It unravels in exceedingly familiar milieus; starting with a frustrated filmmaker, Shuji, who decries the systematic commercialisation and decline of his trade and then sees him thrown into the age old genre story of a man who must pay off a large debt to the mob inside 12 days following his brother’s death.  How does he raise the money?  He becomes a punching bag and that’s about it as far as the story goes.

For a film that stretched a bit over the two-hour mark, there isn’t much plot and yet there is so much to feast on, including a dizzying array of clips that are displayed throughout.  Every night Shuji literally bathes himself in film as he lays on the ground while his projector caresses his battered body which classic cinema, ranging from Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964) to Fellini’s The Nights of Cabiria (1957), John Ford’s The Searchers (1957) and Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari (1952).

He also holds classic film screenings in his rooftop abode, beginning with Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924) which becomes a fascinating film within a film within a film as we watch an audience of Japanese cinephiles gaze at Keaton as he runs through a theater and jumps into the film on screen.  Shuji also shows Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) and Shindo Kaneto’s The Naked Island (1960).

The film is a glorious and yet very dark celebration of cinema.  We revel in these dazzling sequences projected before us while during the day Shuji visits the tombs of the great triumvirate of Japanese film (Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi), lamenting the death of great cinema.  Throughout he takes beating after beating, all in the name of his passion.

Cut is an impressive co-production coming from four countries, directed by the Iranian Naderi (The Runner, 1990), and featuring Japanese actors in a Tokyo setting.  It was also co-written by the great Japanese filmmaker Shinji Aoyama (Eureka, 2000).  The big question is where does this film or its makers fall within the pantheon of great cinema, that, as Shuji blares out on his megaphone to a disinterested public, should seek to blend entertainment and art?  Shuji presents The Naked Island and during its intro explains how at that point Japanese cinema was internationally renowned for its gorgeous cinemascope features.  We then watch a clip of a woman transporting water that has painfully been brought from the mainland and then trips as she scales the barren island that is her abode.  We then cut to Shuji getting beaten in the bathroom of the gangster’s lair.  No cinemascope here, just gritty and shaky digital camerawork.  A tacit acknowledgment of the evolution of cinema?

Is Cut an entertaining and artistic film?  I thought so but it is also highbrow and will likely hold far more appeal to lovers of classic and international cinema.  A formidable and exhilarating work and a must for film lovers.




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