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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fribourg International Film Festival - Day VII Report

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

Yesterday I saw my final two International Competition films and since the prizes will be announced later today I thought I would chime in with my own predictions.  I will post my favorites at the conclusion of the week but if I were a betting man I would wager on Historias Que So Existem Quando Lembradas (Brazil, Argentina, France; 2011) for the top prize, the Regard d’Or, and Lucky (South Africa, 2011) for the public prize.

I also had the great pleasure of interviewing Countdown (South Korea, 2011) director Huh Jong-ho yesterday morning.  We chatted for nearly an hour and went over a range of fascinating topics.  It will take me a little while to transcribe our conversation so I plan to publish the piece on Monday.

Honey Pupu
(Taiwan, 2011)

Dir:  Chen Hung-I

Honey Pupu is one of the most singular works to be screened this week at the FIFF.  Its take on the modern world is fiercely original and it employs a dizzying array of different formats and techniques to recount its philosophical and energetic tale of how people’s identity is shaped and disrupted by the world’s virtualization.

Vicky is a radio hostess who is searching for her lover who has disappeared.  She seeks the help of a number of young people she has encountered through social media with names like Cola, Assassin, Money and Playing.

Chen’s film combines gorgeous and whimsical cinematography with other techniques such as a futuristic platform for social media and photography.  His film features a terrific soundtrack which quickly oscillates from classical pieces to modern electro music without missing a beat.

Disappearance and the fear of the loss of identity are the crucial themes of Honey Pupu.  Much of the film references the alarming evanescence of the bee population which may or may not be because of the increasing amount of radio waves being given off by our mobile devices.  In turn the film seems to ask whether these mobile phones and laptops are contributing to the evaporation of our personal identitys within an increasingly more complex society.

Honey Pupu will not be to everyone’s taste but it was definitely a highlight for me this week and I think it is a rather important film.  I am curious to see what Chen will do next but also what other films will do in the future as they try to tackle the same slippery contemporary notions of the self.

The Last Friday
(Jordan, U.A.E.; 2011)

Dir:  Yahya Al-Abdallah

My 12th and final International Competition film was a nice, thoughtful and respectable affair that while never dull was admittedly a little slow and not always engaging.  The Last Friday is the debut feature from Jordanian director Al-abdallah.

A divorced father needs to undergo surgery in four days but needs the money for the operation which is ill-afforded by his day job as a taxi driver in Amman.

Ali Suliman is marvelous is the lead role.  He has precious little dialogue and he ambles about almost lazily but his performance is very nuanced and he succeeds in so saying so much with so little.  The cinematography is another strong point of the film, very well composed and taking full advantage of the city’s dry, sun-drenched climate, it is one of the film’s greatest assets.

It’s also nice to see a film from the Middle East which isn’t too politicised, it is a film about a man rather than the society he lives in which makes it rather unique and refreshing.  Not to mention that it is a rare opportunity to see a Jordanian film.  The Last Friday probably won’t walk away with the event’s top prize but it is nonetheless a worthwhile film that I would cautiously recommend.

(Switzerland, 2011)

Dir:  Georges Schwizgebel

This extraordinary short was presented before Tatsumi and was made by Georges Schwizgebel who programmed a section of the festival dedicated to some of the most creative animation being produced in the world today.

Romance follows a man as he wakes up and makes is way to the airport and onto a plane where he sits beside a beautiful stranger.  The film’s soundtrack features a magnificent Rachmaninov track which perfectly complements Schwizgebel’s beautiful film which swirls through tableaus as though in a dream.  The style of the animation resembles late eighteenth century European painting and is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on screen.

I highly recommend this short to anybody, an exceptional work that deserves to be seen.

(Singapore, 2011)

Dir:  Eric Khoo

Following Schwizbegel’s magnificent Romance was this biography of manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.  Director Khoo intersperses the narrative of Tatsumi’s life with five stories which bring to life some of the artist’s work.

It is incredible and powerful but more than anything it is a great approach to the biography film.  It celebrates its subject and succeeds in exploring his life and work in equal measure.  The result is almost profound and rarely do I watch a film about a real person I was not familiar with beforehand and come away with a sense that I knew who he was all along.

Tatsumi’s stories are captivating and devastating.  They explore the darkest recesses of the human psyche and as harrowing and dour as their effect can seem, I was invigorated by the experience.

Khoo’s film demonstrates what can be done with animation, a genre that is increasingly producing intelligent work for adults around the world, not just in Japan.  Tatsumi was one of my favorite films of the festival and I am eager to explore more from both Khoo and Tasumi following this week.

Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy
(Hong Kong, 2011)

Dir:  Christopher Sun

My last film of the day is the only one of the week that I knew full well going in how awful it was going to be.  It was a midnight screening which meant nothing else was playing and having been confronted so often with it on Twitter I felt I should see it for myself.

Sex and Zen 3D has gained notoriety for the being first 3D erotic film, though such a claim seems dubious.  It is a B-movie that revels in titillation and theatrical bloodlust and is really no different from other films with the same aims.  It is sometimes creative in its gore and goes to great lengths to throw disgusting things at our faces with its so-so 3D effects.

Thirty minutes is really all you need with this film and it’s certainly not the story that’s going to keep you in your seat.  There’s little point in my criticising this poor and exploitative production but one thing that should be mentioned is just how long it is.  At 123 minutes it stays well beyond its welcome.

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  1. Honey Pupu, as I expected, sounds awesome. Really hope this will screen in London sooner rather than later... perhaps there is hope for it at the Taiwan Cinefest coming up later this year.

    Romance sounds intriguing, and I see we agree on Tatsumi. Not sure how much I would want to read Tatsumi's mangas though - one or two, but then I think I'd would need to take a break and read something lighter in between! But I am very interesting in his autobiographical manga, A Drifting Life, which formed the basis of Khoo's film.

    1. I'm sure Honey Pupu will get a decent amount of exposure, so I imagine it will hit London before long.

      Tatsumi's work does seem kind of tough but I'd love to see how those stories compare to Khoo's interpretations and yes I am also very curious about A Drifting Life!