Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) Redux

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I managed to see the following works at this year’s BIFF (2013):

1. Vara / 2. The Book / 3. Tomogui (도모구이) / 4. The Story of an Old Woman / 5. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears / 6. Nagima (had to come out in the middle) / 7. The X / 8. Blue is the Warmest Color / 9. The Nightingale / 10. The Sea / 11. Rough River, Placid Sea / 12. Pascha / 13. Snowpiercer / 14. Toilet Blues / 15. 3x3D / 16. Ticket / 17. Chunhyangjeon (춘향뎐) / 18. Concrete Clouds / 19. 1001 Apples / 20. That Thing You Love / 21. Seopyeonje (서편제) / 22. The General / 23. Kaebyeok (개벽)

Genuine discoveries I made at the festival: L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps (2013) by Forzani/Cattet, and The General (1998) by J. Boorman. Stephen Brown’s The Sea was mysterious and engaging, but I couldn’t afford a second-viewing because of my already packed schedule.

My write-up below couldn’t be put into my Senses of Cinema coverage because it’s basically a rant. Read if you’re bored and having nothing else to do.

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In spite of my determination to watch films not screened at other festivals already, I had to bend my rule to make room for two films as they were unlikely to receive a wide-release in Korea–Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winning La Vie d’Adèle (the film’s English title being Blue Is the Warmest Color, a rare case in which the translated title is far more fitting than the original), and the experimental omnibus feature 3x3D. I first heard about Kechiche’s film a few weeks prior to its Cannes screening, and ever since then I somehow managed to dodge incoming words and rumors about the film. For readers who have not seen it yet, let me simply mention that it is well-worth watching the film in its uncut version without preconditioned judgments. This tour de force in cinéma vérité, beginning and ending with the enchanting sound of the hang drum, plunges the viewer into the life of Adèle, played by the eponymous actress Adèle Exarchopoulos. As implied by its English title, there is a gradation of blue in almost every frame of this film: smoke in a mass demonstration, strobe lights in a nightclub, the surface of the ocean, the wallpapers in Adèle’s room, and, of course, the hair of Emma, played by Léa Seydoux. These gradations of blue constitute the wide range of emotions running through Kechiche’s film. And the much-talked about explicit sex scenes, which I was blissfully unaware of before watching the film, have their firm place within the film, and I suspect that one reason why these scenes have produced unease among some viewers (other than the simple fact that it is a male director standing behind the camera) is that they tread an ambiguous line between mythic and realistic representations of sex. That is all I can say for now, but I hope that the film finds more viewers without being harangued by critics’ rants.

3x3d

3x3D, a collection of three short films commissioned by the Portuguese city Guimarães, was one of the more challenging and exciting films in the festival selection. In 3x3D, Peter Greenaway, Edgar Pêra, and Jean-Luc Godard each provide a short reflection on what 3D can do for cinema. Greenaway takes the viewer on a tour of Guimaraes (“Just In Time”) and Pêra delivers a hilarious segment on the history of cinematic spectatorship (“Cinesapiens”). Godard’s “Les trois desastres,” which comes last in this omnibus feature, was, if considered solely by itself, the least memorable. It should not surprise anyone that Godard laments both digital and 3D cinema. But filmgoers should expect nothing else from Godard who is now more than just a filmmaker; he represents one of the most important moral and political voices in the history of cinema, whipping filmgoers and filmmakers alike with his lacerating works that never give into ideological or aesthetic compromises. Only when his short segment is considered as an extension of his Histoire(s) du cinema does it gain its true significance.

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One film that caught me by surprise was The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps), whose intriguing title, as well as a clip from the directors’ previous work Amer, persuaded me to make room for it in my schedule. A maddeningly jolting, ambitious, phantasmagoric, and erotic work co-directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, the film follows a very minimal plot: a man, Dan Christensen, finds that his wife has disappeared all of a sudden and attempts to discover the truth behind the mystery. Christensen soon finds himself taking on a long-winded journey through a mysterious apartment, a living organism housing bizarre contraptions and sketchy tenants. A variety of literary, cinematic (most notably the Italian giallo tradition, characterized by its stylistic excess and violence), and other influences lurk within the film. In particular, scenes of surveillance, obscure dialogues, mysterious phone calls from a creepy old lady, unexplained torture, Christensen’s seemingly futile journey to find “a certain Laura,” and female sexual awakening all reminded me of Kafka’s best works. But I should emphasize that the parallel is a loose one, Kafka’s landscape being distinct from the filmmaking duo’s in its heightened sensual quality–the smell of cigarette smoke, the sound of flesh being pierced, the touch of glass shards on a bare-naked body, and the sight of an absurd world seen through a kaleidoscopic camera. Inevitably, more than a few viewers will find the work too indulgent. A local critic writing for the BIFF’s daily magazine found the work both completely lacking in structure and excessive in its surrealist images, concluding that it is only interesting as an heir to the giallo tradition (Review Daily No. 3). Suffice it to say that it is a rather unfair criticism in several ways, as the film does indeed have an overall structure and rhythm that becomes arrested and punctured by fascinating interruptions. In fact, the film oscillates between different modes and tones–narrative/non-narrative, pleasure/pain, dream/reality, comic/serious–and it is the unease created by this oscillation that I found completely absorbing. Will the film reach a wider audience other than the usual arthouse and midnight-film crowds? I find it difficult to stifle my hopelessly naive answer–only time will tell.

For the full coverage on Senses of Cinema, here. Merci.

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