Sunday, August 22, 2010

Apart Together "Enjoyable, that's about it"

Wang Quan'an's latest film Apart Together, which screened at Berlin and Sydney Film Festival festivals this year, attempts to look at the historical and political fallout from the 1949 civil war in China by rooting it firmly in personal family drama.

The story unfolds in 1980s Shanghai when Liu Yangsheng (Ling Feng) comes from Taiwan in search of the Yu-e, the woman he left behind there 30 years ago. His wife has recently died and he hopes to take Yu-e back to Taiwan with him. But, as we know the course of true love never runs that smooth and Yu-e is torn by her love for Liu and the loyalty she owes her common law husband. In the end she sacarifices her happiness for his.

It is a beautifully told film and the performances are lovely and subtle. Like a lot of Asian cinema much of the dramatic tension happens around the dinner table. Don't go to this film hungry. Seriously, you have been warned!

The film as a whole though is like $5 steak and mash, it always seems fulling, but in the end is never really that satisfying. Wang brings in the historical context, but fails to really explore it. Leaving those of us not in the know about China's civil war with barely a snapshot of what happened. He also introduces the story lines of supporting characters(like the granddaughter about to break up with her boyfriend)at pivotal moments in the main narrative, jolting you harshly away from the main story and for no discernible reason. Then to top it off he annoyingly doesn't return to these smaller stories. What then is the point in mentioning them in the first place?

So if $5 steak's your thing,go for it. Personally I would rather have the banquet.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Snowman - "A moving personal story"

The Snowman is a moving personal documentary, about Jimmy Graham, an excellent and experienced climber who went to Antarctica with 'Operation Deep Freeze' in the 1970s to train scientists in survival skills on the ice. Three months later he arrived back agitated and paranoid. He said that he had stumbled onto an illegal American nuclear site and that the CIA had given him a chemical lobotomy. He descended into madness. Unable to cope with his frightening behaviour, his wife fled with their two children.

Thirty years later, Jimmy's daughter Juliette, brings this heartbreaking family tragedy to the screen and in the hope of finding the father she has lost. The personal telling of this story is everything. No matter what your family dynamic you can't help but feel touched by this film. It resonates with deep sadness about what had been lost. The loss of a husband, friend and father. The loss of time. The loss of sanity. It is an amazing testament to this family that they allowed an audience to view them warts and all, through hard decisions and difficult moments. They seem to come out the other side a little stronger, wiser and certainly closer.

The only thing that was missing for me is that we never really know, what, if any mental illness Jimmy has. There is some reference to him being vaguely diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago, but no mention of whether he is now receiving medical help. He certainly seemed to have very lucid moments during the film. Was he on medication? Perhaps it doesn't matter, but for a family suffering and mind diseased, would it not make sense to find out as much as possible about the condition and any possible treatments? The almost total omission of this bothered me.

That aside this film shines a light on what it is like living with mental illness and provides us with a beautiful portrait of a loving family struggling for answers. It has deservedly been nominated for an AFI award.

Honey - "Slow but beautiful"

This Turkish, subtitled film is not for everyone and frankly if you want action forget it. It is a slow creep to the finish line, but not an unpleasant one. That is, if you can manage to stick it out to the end. At the Sydney Film Festival screening I attended at least a ten people walked out and that's an apparently 'world film' savy audience.

is the story of a young boy who is so shy that he can speak only to his father (whom he obviously adores) and only in a whisper. His father, encourages him gently and the little boy does slowly begin to blossom in small ways.

The father makes a living as a bee keeper in an isolated part of Turkey. The film opens with the father attempting to climb an extremely tall tree to retrieve honey from a hive he placed there earlier. In the attempt he falls and is killed. The film then flashes back to tell us more about this man and his son. I understand the reasons for showing the death a the beginning, though I would question the wisdom of it, as I spent the whole film waiting for this to come and when it does come, it feels rather anticlimactic. But maybe that was the point? It is also tragic for the boy because not only does he lose a father, but also the only person in the world he would talk too.

On the plus side, the film is beautifully made and the boy little is so engaging and heartfelt that he carries the film. There's very little dialogue and but lots of soul. If you can stick with it, it's worthwhile.