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Thirst, Ceci est mon sang

ThirstBak-Jwi
Park Chan-wook :: South Korea :: 2008 :: 2h13

Sang-hyun (Song Kang-Ho) is a modern catholic priest. He is both rational and motivated by a selfless desire to help and to do the right thing. He volunteers for a risky medical experiment to find the cure for a deadly virus, in which he ends up receiving donor blood from an unknown source. He miraculously survives the virus, but the blood transfusion changed him, strengthened him even. Unfortunately, the flip-side of his new strength quickly becomes apparent, when he realises that to stay healthy, he needs to drink human blood. He has de facto become a vampire.

Sang-hyun survives his affliction without compromising his integrity, too much. But along with his craving for blood, came his lust for carnal pleasure too. From there it does not take long for his eyes to fall on the young Tae-Joo (Kim Ok-bin), married to a mildly retarded childhood friend of his. Treading with tenderness and care, he manages to seduce her. Tae-Joo, who was practically living as a family slave, reawakens as a femme fatale, challenging her lover well off the right path. The film swings from dark humour to sexy and from absurd to scary and all that in an aesthetically rich environment. Thrist is a great new twist on the vampire theme, even if it wonders off a little at times. It is funny to note that the marketing boys also had a tough time placing the film.

The French release poster has Kim Ok-bin’s character hanging upside-down from the Priest’s neck like a bat, exposing a lot of rosy hued skin in a darkness. It is a pure aesthetic, with a clear sensual feel, which has a “mainstream” look, as if the film plays down its foreign-ness and its originality to attract its audience. It is immediately visible that Sang-hyun is a priest, offering the intrigue. Any doubt you might have is taken away with the title “Ceci est mon sang” which has a religious ring, and the merit of mentioning “blood”. The film is actually more original and more horror laden than the poster would suggest.

Thirst Korean poster

Notice the difference with the Korean poster. It is as a scene from a faded film, where the female character’s near-panic is contrasted with the male character’s more controlled fear. The two characters are in full view, almost filling the entire poster, although the twist that Sang-hyun is a priest remains hidden. The two characters are white with a fear of something external, even though, on closer inspection, it is Sang-hyun himself who has blood on his lips! Although such an existential fear is not really the subject matter of the film, the poster does suggest fear and blood in old-school cinema. This is not only an accurate description, but also targets the audience who would most appreciate the film. If it is you, do not hesitate – Thirst is a great film.

http://www.thirst-lefilm.com

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog MillionaireSlumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle :: UK, India :: 2008 :: 2h

Jamal (played by the British actor Dev Patel) grows up in the slums of Mumbai, scavenging the dumps till a wave of religious violence turns him into an orphan. Together with his ruthless brother Salim and the equally orphaned little Latika (the acting debut for the beautiful Feida Pinto), they are swept along by a Dickens whirlwind of poverty and crime. Jamal and Latika loose sight of one another with Jamal launching himself into everything he can think of to find her back.

Jamal’s character is the only one who is somewhat worked out, curiously enough, for a 2 hour movie. He dominates the story, driven by his determination to find Latika, but in the face of the ugly world, takes on a permanent detachment, a stoic unaffectedness by the events around him. His detachment helps him protect himself, and his sanity. Living on the fringe of the criminal world, he plays at times the petty criminal and at times the victim. As an audience, you want him to get out of this miserable circle he finds himself in, but Jamal is too busy just surviving too occupy himself with some kind of exit strategy.

The cruel world in which the characters find themselves is no surprise coming from director Danny Boyle. He has made a name for himself with violence in film, having started his big screen career with the morbid Shallow Grave and the exceptional cult classic Trainspotting. In both films, the violence serves the dark humour, with the latter film taking on memorably surrealist dimensions. Slumdog Millionaire could certainly have used more dark (or other) humour to ease the tension away from the violent reality in which the characters are placed, to lighten up the whole adventure.

None the less, Slumdog Millionaire is clearly intended as a feel-good movie, in the tradition of British romantic comedies: with love portrayed as a matter of destiny (rather than, for instance, as something that is developed) against all odds. These odds, are uncharacteristically the bath of violence  and cruelty which keeps the youngsters apart. There is no mistaking the ‘blockbuster’ signature with plenty of reminders (recap images) for an audience supposedly not paying attention. I half-heartedly recommend the movie for having been set in Mumbai and for putting Dickens into the 21st century, but equally regret that the movie could not provide a little more. Mumbai changes around the characters but unfortunately the formula films, like this one, change too little.

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/slumdogmillionaire

Time

TimeTime

Kim Ki-duk :: S. Korea :: 2006 :: 1h37

Ji-woo has been with his girlfriend See-hee for two years. When she sees him looking or talking to other girls See-hee feels over-whelmed with a jealousy and a fear that their love is over. He assures her that it is not, but she can not be convinced. In her mounting fury, she convinces herself that he is no longer interested in looking at her. Then one day: she’s gone, leaving Ji-woo heartbroken.

Lost, Ji-woo does not know what to do with his life. With his crude friends they roll themselves into Seoul’s singles’ merry-go-round. When he finally meets a girl he likes and could fall in love with, he gets a note from See-hee announcing her return. Bizarrely enough, when she shows up in the café, she is masked with a photo of her own face covering her own. The heartbroken Ji-woo does not know what to feel in the confusion staring at his love. See-hee masks a secret and a reborn jealousy but this time not of others but of … herself.

The funny and challenging movie addresses a interchangeability issue, based on a premise of human superficiality, but unfortunately misses its target. Most of the blame is to be carried by a badly written script which looses the actors and the audience along the way by its lack of credibility. Far fetched ideas can be a real pleasure to watch, but deviating from human understanding, as this plot does, leaves us nowhere. Even if at first we can manage to muster enough sympathy for Ji-woo to deal with his loss, a little further into the film it is just no longer tenable. The impossibility of  the plot soon flips over onto See-hee who can no longer be human. I do not see how this film could have been saved other than just going back to the drawing board. A pity, considering the originality of the project at the outset, when Kim Ki-duk was no doubt sitting at a café table laughing about the idea with his friends…

Official Website

Still Life

18757118.jpgSanxia haoren

Jia Zhang Ke :: China :: 2006 :: 1h48

Coal miner San-Ming arrives in the southern Chinese town of Fangje looking for his estranged wife and daughter, whom he has not seen in sixteen years. With an address in hand, he is taken to the rivers edge and told the house lies somewhere below the waves. The disappointed San-Ming remains none the less undeterred to track them down amongst the construction sites and rubble which characterize the town’s ever changing face.

In parallel, we follow Shen Hong, a nurse looking for her husband who has set up life in the town, with the help of an archaeologist friend. She is more sheltered from the harsh conditions facing people like San-Ming, but in the misery merry-go-round of displaced persons, she is no exception. The combination of the two tales take us along this moving portrait of a mutating China.

This town of Fangje lies on the route of the Yangtze river, which is being dammed up in the mega project of the Three Gorges Dam. The protagonists’ lives are but specks in an ocean controlled by a huge, seemingly other world of bureaucracy. The director does not hesitate to throw in allusions to Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, or or a Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and even surreal elements to capture the absurdity of the lives-crushing-machine of a state as it rolls in the name of progress. But, peculiarly enough, it leaves behind the characters. They serve the great purpose of the state, but they merely act out the motions, subjected, without emotions, without change. A unique long stare into the tragedy of the world’s most populous state.

The Bubble

187725201.jpgHa-Buah

Eytan Fox :: Israel, France :: 2007 :: 1h57

A Romeo and Julliet story set in a contemporary turbulent war-torn Israel. Noam returns to Tel Aviv from his tour of duty at an Israeli checkpoint, to meet up with his friends Lulu and Yali in the little bubble of their lives. His mild indifference to the harsh reality of his country’s predicament recedes even further into the background by his meeting of Ashraf. Their budding love story is none the less weighted down by the perpetual violence which ends up blowing up in their face.

At times the tale is as light as a television series, at times accurate and funny as a cinema masterpiece, and at times awkwardly messy in its construction. We can forgive some of the incredulous lightness as the movie is sufficiently strong elsewhere, but the last half hour submerges the audience in a rush to completion of themes which exceed the scope of the film, or should have received due attention. This last theme is that of the cycle of perpetual violence.

There are much better films about the spiral of violence, both set in Israel and elsewhere, but here it is seemly thrust into the story. As a backdrop to credible twenty-somethings trying to make something out of their lives, a little oblivious of the world around them, leaves enough impact promote a ‘peace’. But instead we get to know the charming and somewhat introverted character of Ashraf well enough to understand that his frustrations do not lead to the ending the director has in mind for him. An ending which is clearly supposed to bring home the message of the spiral of violence.

On leaving this impressive film, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the depth of the troubles . The inconsistency of the script and a weak key turning point scene near the end do not ruin the film, but it does render it un-quotable as a cultural reference. A shame, but the director Fox is on the right track.

Official Website

La Cité Interdite

Curse of the Golden Flower

Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia

Zhang Yimou :: China :: 2006 :: 1h54

An epic Shakespearean drama unfolds when characters with nerves of steel and the agility of phantoms clash in tragic blood-stained events cloaked by a stunning, tranquil beauty. A spectacular experience of old school theatre in a modern aesthetic.

Set in the Tang dynasty, 928 AD, the Emperor returns from battle to the forbidden city, as a Macbeth avant la lettre. Plunging himself fearlessly into his strained relationships with just about all the members of his court, he assumes full responsibility for the role he is entrusted to. A role draped in the understanding that all movement is but strategy in the chess game of the imperial power struggle, a game at which he is a ruthless master.

The Emperor’s unabridged display of the worst power has to offer is contrasted with the frustration, loyalty and anger harbored by his wife and sons. The characters are all so theatrically surreal with their emotions amplified to a large-than-life scale that it should have crippled them out of any action other than desperation. But they manage, and are convincing enough to carry you along with their descent out of the honorable. They are surrounded by the impressive but cartoon-style choreography of Chinese battle scenes we have become used to, of expert anti-gravity elf-like soldiers caught up in the cinema matrix.

A captivating and engrossing depiction of life in the forbidden city as it lives in the imagination of generations passed. Along the sidelines of the tale, you will be offered a palette of colors which are breathtaking, coloring the extravagant palace, dressing the characters and demarcating the fairy-tale scenery. Many reasons, as far as I’m concerned, to pass the threshold into the realm of the Forbidden City.

Official Website

La Vallée des Fleurs

Valley of Flowers

Nalin Pan :: France, Germany, India :: 2004 :: 2h

A mystic love story which originates high in the Himalayas amongst the 19 century silk routes. When Jalan (played by the beautiful and enigmatic Mylène Jampanoï) lays her eyes on a bandit leader Ushna, who is working through a personal vendetta against the world, she falls crazy in love. Her determination to win over the renegade Ushna, who is still rough along the edges, pays off. Their love story takes on epic proportions as they are lunged through a Buddhist inspired reality.

If you are expecting a tale like the director’s previous film Samsara, then think again. Where the first movie traced buddhism in the real world, as you might expect from a cosmopolitan director sharing his life’s time between France and India, this second tale is completely anchored in mythology. It deviates from the rational norm to explore with a poetic license and beauty.

The Valley of Flowers in the movie is presented as the Nirvana they aspire to reach through their love, but their progress through space and time works out differently to their expectations. A rebellious recklessness and denial of the temporal mortal life leads them into a pain and suffering for their love. The movie becomes too cryptic for my Western eyes, unfortunately, but that did not dispel the pleasure of implication in their ordeal.

It is curious and uncustomary to watch a tale which seems fit for an epic poem. The temptation to interpret the film alternates with just enjoying the sheer stunning beauty of the film. There are ‘imperfections’ scattered around which could have been worked away with a little more editing, but never mind that. Do not hesitate to enroll in this escapade if you have a chance, it is worth it.

www.valleyofflowers.com

NB Book in advance – playing in too few cinema’s in Paris to match the public demand.