Monday, June 18, 2007

More on the SFF

I sat through my first theatre emptier last night. It was an austere Korean film called The Last Dining Table. It had a dedication to the Swedish director Roy Andersson and a friend says that provides an interesting entry into the sense that might be made of it. Little by little, with digressions and diversions, it builds a small portrait of life for just a few of Seoul's residents. Some of the behaviour is quite funny and it has some very curious sex scenes including one quite unique moment involving an old woman buying the services of a handsome cabaret performer. That isn't a scene I recall having any parallels elsewhere....Andre Techine's The Witnesses plays with a moment in (gay) history when the AIDS epidemic started and there was panic in both the medical profession and the gay community about just what was happening and what could be done about it. This is reflected mostly through the character of a gay doctor who sees it all up close and personal. Techine moves the story along at an almost breakneck speed as he charts the progress of the disease and the course of various relationships affected by the outbreak. I dont recall a film being made about this element of the epidemic at the time though some of the matters it charts were also the subject of Philadelphia....when I first saw Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates last year I was particularly repelled by what I adjudged to be a scene of violent rape. It occurs when the lead man Isa breaks up from his wife and starts prowling round his former girl friend mostly looking for sex. There's a lot of ambiguity. Does she let him into her flat or does he have a key. He's just there in a flash. Does she lead him on with knowing looks about what's coming? Why doesn't she scream? Is this all, as Manohla Dargis suggested in the New York Times, 'very frisky sex'. Some say yes but I'm not completely convinced but I'm told I'm going against what the director himself intended to convey. Moving past that the story of an older man and the younger wife who realises the relationship is impossible, notwithstanding all the hurt to herself the decision involves, is very good. The film however is not as good as the director's earlier Uzak/Distant or Clouds of May. In those films you think there is something more to get involved with than a portrait of a supreme male egotist. No doubt the portrait of the egotist is something intended to cut to the quick of Turkish male hegemony but watching a lying creep on screen isn't always the most edifying experience no matter how smart the film-making. I also didn't think Ceylan was as good an actor as the actor who took the lead in the other two films. His performance had a little too much of a mannered attempt to be audience friendly....the print of The 5000 Fingers of Dr T was yet another tribute to the art of restoration. A beautiful new 35 mm copy was on show. It had been done for Sony Classics after earlier material had so deteroriated that the film was often screened on TV in black and white. The wonderful number when the instrument playsers do an ensemble dance in the dungeon brought a spontaneous round of applause from the packed house in the State...having now seen Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon I can now say I've managed to catch all seven of the New Crowned Hope films commissioned or supported by Peter Sellars to celebrate Mozart's 250th anniversary. The enterprise provides more shocks and surprises than might have seemed possible and the fact that Sellars and his Executive Producers Simon Field and Keith Griffith went entirely to the Third World with their commissions is a tribute to their daring and courage and the capacuity to think outside the loop. The immediate thought of anyone but Sellars and his colleagues would no doubt have been to ask the world's most famous directors to do something and a list headed by, well you can nominate your top half dozen. Of course all would have submitted budgets that probably, for each film, would have consumed the funds expended on all seven that were eventually made. Not all did hit my buttons and one, Paraguayan Hammock tries the patience to an unbearable degree. It emptied the theatre pretty early on. Ghobadi's film is uplifting, joyous, a constant surprise and very musical even though we have to wait awhile for the full force of it all. In the meantime the story of a man and his sons travelling to Iraq to dramatise the liberation of the country from Saddam just constantly involves you in a way that several of the other more cerebral films in the series dont..... More later

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