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MWFF Day 1

The MWFF was officially launched today with a quick 24hr long visit by Maggie Cheung (please check out some press conference goodies here)and the premiere of A World Without Thieves (Dir. Xiaogang Feng, China, 2005). Tonight’s presentation of the film was reserved for the lucky few who were given a precious ticket. Luckily for festival goers, they could attend a special screening of the film in the morning along with the regular journalists. Unlike most previous years, the 10AM screening of the opening film at imperial theater wasn’t sold out however. Most of the tickets were sold but many empty seats could be seen throughout the theater.

At this point it’s hard to tell whether or not the attendance of the festival has declined since there was only one public screening, but it’s probably not a good sign for the festival whose financial problems were reported in a local newspaper just a few days ago. We’ll see.

In the Mood for (Gay and weird) Love
relationships are at the center of many films at the festival this year. It’s funny to look at how as soon as you step out the Hollywood system many films deal with that strange thing called “re-la-tion-ships”. Surely Hollywood produces a bunch of romantic comedies every year and couples are featured in many films, however foreign and independent films bring this a step further. A recent example coming straight from the US Independent market is The Woodsman.

The very intricate relationship between a pedophile and his new girlfriend forces you to challenge your preconceived ideas about the characters and their counterparts in society. Not bound by cheesy romantic conventions, independent and foreign films often explore new alternatives to force us to alter our conception of so-called normal relationships…. and Himiko’s House and The Bow are very good examples of this tendency as they also share several similarities in the way they both exploit twisted relationships between young girls and old men.

HIMIKO’S HOUSE (Isshin Inudo, Japan, 2005) is more precisely about a relationship between a daughter and her dying gay father. Asian comedies, especially Thai cinema, have a certain fascination for overtly gay characters and for people whose masculinity is challenged. Himiko’s House, although funny throughout, takes a different and more serious approach. I must admit that the first time I saw the ‘queens’ in the nursing home I found them rather annoying and freaky, like the young daughter who wants to stop any future involvement with the nursing home as soon as she sees someone wearing a pink robe on her first day there. The look on her face is absolutely priceless at that time. However, as the film unfolds and as we learn more about the characters, we gradually start to like them and understand them. For that, the film works very well and it challenges the viewers on their first opinions of the characters.

Kim Ki-Duk plays along the same grounds in THE BOW (Korea, 2005). The relationship in this second film is between a young woman and an old man who allegedly saved her 10 years ago. Since then, he kept her on his fishing boat, away from any contact with the civilized world, except for a few fishermen who periodically rent the boat. At first, the relationship seems to be normal under the circumstances. The love seems to be reciprocal and the old man seems likes quite a nice guy; he’s the kind of guy you’d like to have as a grand father really. This rather positive conception quickly fades away as we start to learn more details about the relationship.

Jealousy is his middle name and this will be rather problematic when the young girl will finally meets a cute boy of her own age. Quickly we start to despise the old man for what he’s doing to the poor little girl. Then, Kim Ki-Duk quite ingeniously forces us to reconsider once more our sentiments for the old man towards the end of the film. What if Kim Ki-Duk presented us with new elements that made us like the old man again? Could we change our mind again? By the end of the film we don’t know whether or not we should like the old man and this is one of the strength of the film. We are constantly forced to change our conception of things based on various elements gradually revealed to us during the course of the film. This is rather disconcerting but it surely is thought provoking.

* * *

This is often when we lose someone that we realize how much our relationship to that person was important. Frozen and For the Living and The Dead are two films that deal directly with the loss of loved one. In Frozen, two years after the disappearance of the main character’s older sister, she is still haunted by the need to know what happened. When police investigations wind down, Kath continues the search herself. She gets nowhere until she steals some surveillance TV footage of her sister on her final day. Visiting the spot where she was filmed, Kath becomes convinced she has found a gateway to another reality could still be alive. Obviously, those close to Kath are skeptical and they question her sanity. Are they begging her to stop searching for her own sanity, or do they have things to hide from her?

Unlike in the previous films I’ve talked about in which the spectator is quite active at changing his perception of the characters, here the spectator is faced not with complex characters but with complex symbolic elements that he decipher and interpret. Unfortunately these symbolic elements in the film don’t always work successfully, but nonetheless the film is still worth watching—although it’s rather depressing—and it would make up for a very nice companion film to the older Stormy Weather (Iceland, 2003).

For the Living and The Dead is probably not the funniest film to watch either. It’s rather sad, slow paced and depressing. However it’s a favorite of mine so far at the festival. For the Living and The Dead deals with a family who recently lost a son in a fire. As weeks pass, the family experiences months of grieving. They try to look to a brighter future in spite of their pain but it seems impossible for the parents to overcome the loss of their son. Grief and, more importantly, the inability to grieve, the differences between men, women and children and their approach to bereavement, and the predominant need among friends and acquaintances to carry on “as if nothing had happened”, are some of the themes explored in this film. The story based on a real Finnish family is poignant, especially considering that the real family on which the events were based closely collaborated the conception of the story.

In both films the characters seem to be stuck in a whirlpool. Unable to get out back to reality, they seem to get attracted more and more to the bottom of the sea (literally in Frozen). While the two first films I talked about the spectators were quite active because their judgment was constantly challenged, in Frozen and For the Living and The Dead it’s the exact opposite. Forced to sit back in their seats, the spectators have no other choice than to watch the characters of those films gradually drown, losing any grasp on reality. These two films will get stuck in your brain, and it’s then, much after you’ve seen the film, that you truly start to reflect on them and that you begin asking yourself questions.

Pictures courtesy of Pierre-Alexandre Despatis. (c) 2005.

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