Back from a trip to South Africa, performing with the Surialanga dance company, Smitha Radhakrishnan finds that sometimes the greatest custodians of traditional Indian culture might not be who you'd expect.
Eclipse's new Fallen Women DVD box set chronicles a lesser-known, but certainly not lesser, Mizoguchi.
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APA catches a fraction of this year's Pusan International Film Festival. Part Three includes reviews of Sell Out!, Firaaq, and Ocean of an Old Man.
Skip to our individual reviews:
12 Lotus (Royston Tan)
All Around Us (Ryosuke Hashiguchi)
Exhausted (Kim Gok)
Firaaq (Nandita Das)
Forever the Moment (Im Soon-rye)
My Magic (Eric Khoo)
Ocean of an Old Man (Rajesh Shera)
Plastic City (Yu Lik-wai)
Routine Holiday (Li Hongqi)
Sell Out! (Yeo Joon Han)
Service (Brillante Mendoza)
Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Trivial Matters (Pang Ho-cheung)
Winds of September (Tom Lin Shu-yu)
For our overview of the festival, the market, and the city -- as well as some thoughts on Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day -- click here.
dir: Yeo Joon Han
One of the most overpowering and underreported parts of middle class culture on the Malay peninsula is its love-hate relationship with corporate hierarchies. Director Yeo Joon Han brazenly attacks this absurdity, along with Malaysians' mixed feelings about British accents, in his first feature-length film Sell Out! (also spelled $ell.Ou7! for the digital generation). What appears to be a simple commentary on the effects of corporate interests on art and originality -- personified by product designer Eric Tan and his exorcised dreamer (both played by Peter Davis) -- turns into a complicated condemnation and celebration of high art, low art, corrupt medical practices, soy beans and the unwitting hilarity of Malaysian English. It's every kind of movie: an art film, a musical, a parody of filmmaking itself, a widescreen karaoke session (people in the audience at the Pusan International Film Festival actually sang), and inexplicably, an infomercial.
Sell Out!'s hardly-believable dialogue and over-the-top acting are to be forgiven, not least because Yeo himself appears in the first scene to apologize for these shortcomings. He plays an arty film director who shows up in the nude to an interview with TV host Rafflesia Pong (Jerrica Lai). Pong spells out the criticisms of naked Yeo's film: the poor acting and awkward dialogue, she points out, are purposefully masked by distracting subtitles. So it's always possible that Sell Out!'s weak moments are entirely on purpose. And if the one-liners of FONY Electronics' corporate bosses become repetitive, don't fret. The cast will distract you with a song. In the end, corporate interests win out, but it turns out even the suits can be a work of art.
dir: Nandita Das
Firaaq is a story that takes place over 24 hours and follows the intersections, both beautiful and painful, of the lives of several ordinary people in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujurat riots. Tagline: "A work of fiction, based on a 1,000 true stories." It reads a bit like Crash with tablas. While the in-your-face poignancy of Paul Haggis' film won over the Oscar judges in 2006, it sure did rub critics the wrong way. Where Haggis faltered, however, first-time director and Nandita Das (best known as an actor in independent films such as Deepa Mehta's Fire) shines. Firaaq is a deeply moving film without melodrama, a violent film without violence. It's not any easy task to tell a story of religious tension and communal violence, and it is a particularly daunting task to address those subjects beyond stereotypes and still have it resonate with an international audience. (Even with five separate screenings of the film in Busan, an empty seat was hard to come by.) Firaaq's portrayal of the riots explores the depths of bitterness and the bigotry, both innocent and purposeful, that comes with people's inclinations toward self-preservation.
A classical musician, a battered Hindu housewife, the upperclass mixed-religion couple, and the gravedigger: each character has the potential of becoming an easy trope, but is rarely oversimplified. Among the most penetrating of the many characters is the Muslim wife of a rickshaw driver whose home is burnt down by unknown perpetrators. In her justifiable paranoia, she unduly accuses her Hindu best friend of being an accomplice to the crime. It is a quiet, gradual deepening of feelings and regrets. While Haggis used cars as the thread to link his stories together, Das uses a little boy, the poster child of the film. He is the innocent witness and the protagonist, an elegant character to portray the powerlessness of individuals in the face of the mob. Firaaq will be the opening film of New York's South Asian International Film Festival on October 22nd.
Ocean of an Old Man
dir: Rajesh Sharma
The website of Ocean of an Old Man takes a really long time to load. But if you want to understand the feel of this art film, it's a good place to start. Indeed, this film takes patience. But it is very tempting nonetheless. Rajesh Sharma's debut film was produced in Pune, India, while post-production took place in Busan with support from the Asian Cinema Fund. It was, however, shot entirely on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The islands are a place whiche recently became known in the West because of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, particularly because of a striking image of a man shooting at a relief helicopter with a bow and arrow. Ancient cultures and small villages survive on this chain of islands, along with a major base for the Indian Navy. A film shot here, using local children for the cast, makes the location the strongest character. Tom Alter gives a dedicated performance as the children's school teacher, an old man of few words who deals with death and loss by refusing to leave an island being evacuated. But it is the old man's prodding relationship with the ocean, which gives the islands life and then takes so much life away, that is the central storyline. Sharma certainly spends a lot of time with the ocean, capturing its colors and movement and studying it the way a bereaved old man might. The film sits in between death and life, without a clear sense of beginning or end. But even if the feeling of an old man bereaving comes across strongly, the unyielding artistic silences,close-ups, and shots in the dark make it difficult to fully invest in the story.
Date Posted: 10/17/2008