A JOURNEY BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH

(While the filmmaker Carol Salter is about to go to Shanghai International Film Festival to present Almost Heaven, it is a good opportunity to introduce this brilliant documentary film again.)

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“Almost Heaven” – a tender coming-of-age documentary about young undertakers at a funeral home in Hunan Province.

Like many teenagers who have to move to urban areas for work, 17-year-old Ying Ling left the village where she grew up to become an undertaker at one of China’s largest funeral homes in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. While training to qualify, she lives in the shared dormitory and learns from the elders (who are in fact only a couple of years older). The documentary’s focus on undertakers and its frank depiction of dead bodies on screen are doubtless unusual, but at no time does it feel disrespectful or inappropriate. There are even some moments of humour, which may well turn out to be the most memorable of this year’s Berlinale. For example, at one point Ying Ling’s classmate is lying on the undertaker’s table, playing the role of the corpse during a practice funeral. Half-way through the ceremony, the initially silent “corpse” suddenly opens his mouth to jokingly complain that his face has been rubbed for too long and that his arm was not massaged affectionately enough. The abrupt “revival” of the dead and the “corpse’s” witty remarks cause the audience to burst out laughing. This is precisely where the film’s magic lies; for all that it pays due respect to death, it equally celebrates and appreciates the joy of life.

It is impressive that the British filmmaker Carol Salter managed to obtain permission from the funeral directors and their clients. In a documentary which elegantly handles some of life’s most difficult themes, we see how an extended machine arm lifts a coffin upwards to the ceremonial room, as if reaching up into celestial space; how funeral readings are rehearsed; how different families express their feelings; how prices are negotiated next to the deceased, and how undertakers attempt to kill mosquitos with an electric fly swat. We also get to see close-ups of the deceased, including shots of their toe nails being trimmed, their faces being made up, their arms being wiped and their hair being combed. The film also provides close-up shots of living bodies, with Ying Ling asking obsessive questions about her colleague’s extra-long eye lashes and the ritualistic putting-on and taking-off of plastic gloves.

I discussed this film in great detail with my fellow film critics after the press screening, and we were all happy to admit that we had wept during the film. It is difficult to explain our tears. Maybe it is because the film struck a chord in our hearts when we saw the departure of loved ones? Or perhaps we are not used to contemplating the mortality of our bodies and existence on earth? Almost Heaven juxtaposes life and death, and it seems as if we’ve almost forgotten that this is also how nature presents life to us.

(Originally published on Goethe Institut)

Interview with Joanna Hogg about Exhibition (2013)

With her third feature film Exhibition, acclaimed British director Joanna Hogg explores new possibilities of film space. A surreal drama about a couple trying to sell their London townhouse, the film moves towards a less linear narrative structure to give audiences more freedom of interpretation.

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The interplay between exhibition and exhibitionism, as well as between the process of envisaging an art installation and film as an art installation is especially interesting in Exhibition. Would you like to say a little bit more about that?

JH: Actually the idea of the film as an exhibition came later on when I was editing. I never find the title for my film until much later. When I have a little bit of distance from it, I can see or start to see what it is and what it has become. The fact that this film was about this play between between exhibition and exhibitionism became more clear to me when we were editing. Up until that point I was focusing on the idea of the house, which is like a gallery space too, as a container for all the ideas, the dreams and the memories, the life of this married couple.

The house is a very interesting setting in Exhibition. D wears clothes in stripes of different kinds all the time and in a way the house is like a prison but at the same time it is their relationship which is imprisoning sometimes. What do you think about the house?

JH: Both a prison but also a haven, it’s also a place to escape to and to feel safe in. I was always interested in the idea of the house and the story being inside-out. The idea of stripes came less from the idea of the prison because they are horizontal lines rather than vertical ones. It’s more that she was becoming part of the house, as the windows blinds are horizontal. It’s almost like she is becoming part of the architecture and she disappeared into a house. But yes, it is also a prison and she was trying to leave the confines of the house.

Her body movement and interaction with furniture and objects play into that as well, as she interacts a lot more with furniture and objects than with her partner…

JH: In a way she is in a relationship with the house. That’s an easier relationship for her than the relationship with her husband, which is more challenging, as she exposes more of her self than with her husband. With the house they sort of melt into each other, and they become the same thing. I was always interested in the story about the three characters, or maybe you could even say one character, the house. The house is the main character, the main idea, and everything else exists within that.

What is different from your previous films is the fact that you used a lot of dream and recollection images in Exhibition, which are like ghostly presence in the house and which intrude into their reality.

JH: Yes, this was something I was experimenting with for the first time. My other two films, in a way, are just on one level of the reality. Here I was challenging myself to work with, first of all, the less linear structure, but also to incorporate dreams and memories. It was the house itself that sort of provided me with the idea or was the springboard for those ideas. I was interested in not just presenting dreams as you often have in the dream, where you have a dream sequence but having more of a confusion between what’s dream and what’s reality. In a funny sort of way the two previous films, **Unrelated** and **Archipelago** kind of seem more real but actually this [Exhibition] feels like a more realistic depiction of my own life or how dream is life in some level and how one is constantly dreaming and remembering but is also in the present moment as well. So it is a more accurate representation of that somehow. For me it is more realistic.

 As you are using more dream images in Exhibition, does that change your relationship and the film’s relationship with the spectator in a way?

JH: Yes it does. What I discovered is that it is more challenging for the audience to enter that space and to understand it, so I often have a response, such as “I sort of don’t get it” or “I am kind of not in there”. But I also have the opposite response, which is audience who really understand it and get it. They either enter into the space or they don’t. There doesn’t seem to be a mid-way point. That’s interesting, as right now I am in Lithuania presenting all three films and I am observing the different responses to each film. For example, for the Q&A for Unrelated and Archipelago, especially Archipelago actually, everyone wants to stay for the Q&A. With Exhibition, half of the audience left. I have to accept. That’s just how it is. I don’t think that necessarily tells me that I should go back to making films like Unrelated and Archipelago but I am just dealing with something more challenging. But because it is less linear as a story and there’s less of a story, I mean I think there is a lot of story in Exhibition personally, but I think the audience finds that more difficult to sort of see it. Yes I am not disheartened by that but just accept that there is a different kind of response to each film. Despite that I want to continue exploring different ways of not just telling stories but depicting how I observe life to be.

Is that the direction which you want to go for your next project?

JH: It’s really hard to say. At the moment I am working on a story set in early 1980s and it’s quite a personal story and in fact, there is quite a lot of events in it, but I am not necessarily going to talk about these events in a linear way, but I am not necessarily going to continue in the direction of where Exhibition has gone to. I don’t know because I am writing it and like to challenge myself, so I might find myself in a very different direction. I might find this new film will have a very strong narrative. That’s not because I am looking for that, but it might just naturally come out from these memories I have, this period of time that I want to depict.

You are exploring women’s sexuality in such a subtle way which is difficult to be seen in male filmmakers’ works. What do you think about the role as a female filmmaker in a male-dominated industry?

JH: It’s important that there should be more female filmmakers as there is a tiny percentage of them at the moment. It’s important to me to explore themes that are personal to me, maybe not just as a woman but as a human being. I definitely found in the reception of my films, especially Unrelated the first one, which was dealing with a kind of taboo subject in a way, which is the menopause. I found definitely certain male audience members finding that difficult or finding that in some way that’s something they don’t want to look at or think about. I am aware that there is a sort of limitation in this kind of subject from a male point of view. I have to say that I think less about being a female filmmaker now than when I was directing television. That was an issue in an everyday way, where I was often working with male crews who clearly had a problem with the woman telling what they wanted. That was continually a problem working in television series, so in a different world. Having done that for 12 years, I came out of that, determined to create my own world of filmmaking where I could choose who worked with me, who the crew members were, who the cast were. To feel safe in an environment of my own making. It’s less a problem now so I think about it less. I only think about it in a more political way in terms of how many women assist men in making films, and I want to encourage more women to find their own voices, less in the way in a way that I am actually touching myself. Like I say, I am protecting myself from that.

(A shorter version of this interview was published on Exberliner.)

 

 

 

 

Interview with Li Ruijun about River Road (2015)

It was announced today that Li Ruijun’s Walking Past the Future was selected by Cannes film festival’s Un Certain Regard. I like his previous films, including River Road in Berlinale 2015’s Generation and was very impressed with his wise words: “For me, life is good as long as there is enough food and a roof over my head. Life is simple.” Here I dug out the interview, hoping that it would be some inspiration to people.


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Interview with Li Ruijun: For Chinese film maker Li Ruijun, running after the money is a sure way to extinguish originality. He explains what motivates him to continue making independent films. 

What are the origins of “River Road“?

I had wanted to shoot this film since 2009. Even in Gansu Province, a lot of people are unaware of the autonomous county in which 14,000 Yugur people live. I came from a town near the Yugur region, and there has always been a lot of interaction and understanding between us. Immediately after the script was written I had trouble finding funding. It so happened that the following project, Fly with the Crane, required less funding, so we shot it first. Fortunately the producers of River Road were very supportive and understanding. They felt that certain films should be made even if the costs might not be recovered. We finished shooting River Road around October 2013 and completed post-production in September 2014. I had decided that a Yugur story must be told in the Yugur language. I asked officials at the Cultural Bureau’s Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation to help me find a village that had done a good job of preserving the Yugur language. I found a school with 400 Yugur students, but only four boys could speak some Yugur. We thus had very limited choices in terms of casting. We spent a while working on the kids’ accents and acting. I recorded elderly Yugur people reading the dialog in order to help the kids to learn it by heart. Their accents were subsequently corrected according to the recording. It also took some time to train the camels, since nowadays people use tractors instead.

How did you decide to use the work of the Iranian composer Peyman Yazdanian on your soundtrack?

Originally, I wanted to ask the composer who wrote for Fly with the Crane to do another soundtrack for me, but then I decided that Peyman was more suitable. It is nice to add an international element and break away from our habit of looking for local composers. It works well because there are similarities between the Iranian and Yugur peoples, especially in terms of culture and music instruments. We worked on the music with Yugur music and culture in mind. For example, the main theme of the soundtrack is based on a traditional Yugur lullaby. There were only two lines in the lullaby, and its melody and pronunciation sound exactly like a traditional Hungarian lullaby. It conveys the feelings of a mother comforting her child, which are corresponding to the feelings of the two kids searching for their home and their mother in the film. We rearranged it and then recorded it with traditional Yugur music instruments. The result was very satisfactory.

Was it necessary to conduct a lot research on the culture and history of the Yugur people for making this film?

I already understood how Yugurs live today, but I did a lot of reading and research in order to understand how they lived in the past. The man who plays the grandfather in the film is a genuine Yugur. He used to work as an official in the Cultural Bureau when he was young. Now he is retired. Although he is more than 70 years old and suffers from some health problems, he has been very supportive of the film. I asked him to point out inaccuracies in our mise-en-scène so that we could correct them. He told me before shooting began that we were very courageous for expressing what he always wanted to say. A lot of people are afraid of displeasing people, so they prefer hypocrisy to truth. He felt that River Road was especially truthful.

The ending of the film is very powerful.

This is an ecological parable. Industrialization in China is going very fast. The film ends with the two kids’ disillusionment. This is the problem that their generation will face. Human beings have always thought that we are changing and forging the world. Now, however, air, water, and earth are seriously polluted; many species, cultures, and languages are on the verge of extinction. When the speed of disappearance is greater than that of creativity, or when the environment is so polluted that people cannot live in it, all creativity becomes meaningless. Since antiquity, China has been the country with the greatest environmental awareness. Our philosophical system is based on harmony between humans and nature. This means that human beings peaceably co-exist with nature. Yet now everything is driven by economic development and we are sacrificing our ecosystems to develop our economy. It is totally not worth it.

What kind of reactions did you get?

Apart from actors and festival audiences, nobody in China has seen the film. We are planning to release it in June. This film is too solemn and not dramatic enough for Chinese audiences. It is not a film people can watch while munching on pumpkin seeds and drinking coke. Nowadays a lot of people do not want to spend time thinking or switch off their mobile phones to read a book. Too few people are making this kind of film, so I feel a necessity for me to persevere. If 50-60% of filmmakers were making such films, I would immediately switch gears and start making commercial films. Since more than 90% of filmmakers are making purely entertaining and commercial films, I feel like doing something more artistic and cultural. I would like to let the small portion of audiences who want to watch such films know that someone is still doing it. These films still exist like a small torch which I do not want to see extinguished.

What is your view on Chinese mainstream films?

Lack of originality. Most of them are just following trends. When youth films are selling well, investors all go for youth films for a few years. In my view the charm of cinema lies in diversity and creativity. Herd behaviour is killing creativity. The producers refuse to spend time and energy on a creative script. They only want to finish films as fast as possible and start earning money. This is harming the film environment and industry.

Did you get more support for your future projects after participating in international film festivals?

Participation in prominent film festivals attests to the work’s quality and the filmmaker’s ability. It is also a basis for trust. Yet for films such as River Road, it actually does not help that much. Film festivals are mainly places where audiences can watch the film and we can interact with them. It is also an opportunity to see what other people are doing and attempt to sell the film to countries in the region where the festival is hosted, so that investors won’t lose too much money and will want to invest again.

How do you strike a balance between idealism in filmmaking and daily necessity?

I think this is very easy. Since I decided to make this kind of film, I do not plan to make much money or lead a luxurious life. No one is forced to do this kind of film, and we have to take full responsibility for the consequences of our decisions. For me, life is good as long as there is enough food and a roof over my head. Life is simple.

River Road director Li Ruijun was born in Gansu Province. Since graduating from Communication University of Shanxi in 2003, he has directed four feature films, which have been featured and awarded at several international film festivals. In 2010, The Old Donkey was screened at the Deauville Asian Film Festival and the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Fly with the Crane was shown at the Venice International Film Festival and won Best Director at the Brasilia International Film Festival in 2012. In addition to appearing at Berlinale 2015, River Road was also shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

 

(Originally published on Goethe Institut Online Magazine)

Interview with Sebastian Koch (Nebel im August)

Long-established as a screen and stage star in Germany, Sebastian Koch was catapulted to wider attention in 2006 with the global success of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Oscar-winning The Lives of Others. He’s become an increasingly familiar sight to international audiences in recent years, with roles in Hollywood hits like Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, and TV smash Homeland, the most recent series of which was shot and set in Berlin. His latest film, out this week, is Kai Wessel’s Nebel im August. Based on the 2008 historical novel by Robert Domes, it’s the first major feature to directly address the Nazis’ Aktion T4 programme of involuntary euthanasia. Koch stars as physician Werner Veithausen, whose monstrous actions are challenged by brave 13-year-old Ernst Lossa (Ivo Pietzcker).

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Y: What was the most important element which attracted you into this project Nebel im August?

S: It was important for me that we actually searched to create a bridge between what happened in the Nazi period to today. For my role I wanted to show a man who believes in this matter not only for nationalistic reasons, but also for scientific reasons. The theme of “racial hygiene” was a socially relevant in the later 19th century. What people were discussing about was to increase positive hereditary traits and reduce negative ones. That was a social issue that people discussed about, and the Nazis have taken up the concept. And then in the 30s, Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases (Gesetz zur Verhütung Erbkranke Nachwuchs) started – the wording itself is already so absurd. And then the abortion was legalised, and then “racial selection” started, with which only the Aryans are preferred. This is a topic that people has always been preoccupied with and which still has resonances today, in terms of prenatal diagnosis which would more or less accurately diagnoses Down syndrome or other disabilities. These are very positive things. It is rather the way in which it has been implemented that worries me because it is very often the doctors who is there to advise on termination of pregnancy. We were filming with disabled children on set and spoke with their parents, who told me that when they were informed about the diagnosis, they were advised to terminate pregnancy, but they still kept the child anyway. They all said that they would have made the same decision again because the magic of these children is very inspiring and life is intensified with their presence. That brought me think that it is so important for the family to be able to decide on their own according to their respective considerations without pressure from outside, instead of letting the doctor take decisions for them. This was the main point for me to make this film, as well as to present this very friendly person who believes in the cause and the role of a monsters who is not visible as a monster. This makes it spooky, weird, and complicated, because evil is not immediately recognisable.

Y: You mentioned the disabled children on set. How was your experience working with them?

S: That was incredibly fun and they are great people. The Down syndrome children are so natural and express emotions so directly. They truly have the magic. They have the talent of feeling something and expressing what they think immediately, which we have lost while growing up. In the beginning there was a great level of caution and hesitation in the way people worked with them on set, but it was gone after a short period of time when mutual understanding was established. It was a very pleasant experience indeed and was great fun.

Y: The film deals with a very difficult subject matter. What was the atmosphere on the set?

S: The subject matter of racial hygiene turned into a murder weapon is a very cruel topic. On set it was very hard but also very loving because these disabled people were ‘part of the game’. We were there together to work on an important film in the best way we could, and we created a very warm, friendly, loving and also humorous atmosphere on set.

Y: How did you prepare for the role? Did you have a special reading material?

S: I read around the whole historical period in order to know the background well. The crucial factor is how far I would portray such a character, who in German we would say is “verrückt” although in English it is just “mad/crazy”. From the root of the word “verrückt” is someone who diverted and transgressed, but at the same time he has his own logic of reasoning and hence does not feel guilty at all. As an actor it is so exciting to work on this logic and to portray him as accurately as possible. When Veit Hausen invented this e-diet which deprived people of nutrients and hence starved them through the diet, this terrible invention from his logic was a great success because he felt that it made people suffer less and have a painless death. This perverseness was the work which I have to do there.

Y: Was it challenging to portray the complexity and subtlety of the audience’s gradual realisation of what Veit Hausen was really doing?

S: I tried to bring in some disturbing feelings in subtly, so it sometimes feels alarming and worrying, but only subconsciously. I find it fascinating that it is the child Ernst Lossa’s soul and clear eyes which upsets him so much that prompted him to commit his first murder which could not be justified in his own logic. It is all because Lossa is the one who endangers the entire system by bringing people food and trying to rescue them.

Y: The readers are also interested in your participation in Homeland and Bridge of Spies. Can you perhaps tell us a bit about it?

S: Working with Spielberg was an incredible experience. He has managed to establish an atmosphere and space that is so private, intimate and creative on set, where everyone is completely free to try things out. He likes working with the same people, and the team took me in with open arms. At the same time the work is placed within this great Hollywood scale. Everything that happens in front of the camera within the frame was done with artistic freedom and a lot of intimacy, which I really loved. And then there was the book. The Coen Brothers of course have a wonderful sense of humor which wanders in between lines. And then Tom Hanks has the magic of absorbing everything and transporting everything. The combination was fascinating.

Y: Do you have some insider tips for expats in Berlin? Favorite movie theatre?

S: I am a private person. If I tell you my insider tips, they would no longer be private. So I’m always careful. I like the Zoopalast which was recently renovated, Moviemento recently, Astor Lounge, which was formerly the Palast, which shows beautiful films. I also like the cinema on Kantstrasse cinema very much. The Saal 1 with the balcony is beautiful. It is as time had not passed, and everything stayed the same way it was. The Delphi is also great, and International on the Karl-Marx-Straße is an especially beautiful cinema.

Y: Is there any role in particular you would like?

S: I never had a dream role. I am someone who checks out what is offered to me, in what situation I am, what suits me, and what I feel like at a particular moment. For example, I never imagined that I would play such a role as in Seewolf. And then this offer came and I needed to build up muscles. It was great fun. So I usually go for what is right for me at the moment, what is fun, and what story that needs to be told. In Bridge of Spies I did not have a great role, but I knew that the film has something special and had to be a part of that.

Y: Do you have more plans to play in English?

S: That happens all the time. Like I said, I do not plan so much. I’ve done a film in France, but haven’t done a film in France and in French for 12 years. I think it would be great fun to do it again. It’s fun to shoot in English because it is a great film language. Playing in German is a totally different thing. So, for example, my voice is much deeper when I speak in English and higher when I speak in French, interestingly. The feelings are totally different.

(The shorter version of the interview was originally published on Exberliner.)

The Book Launch Event – Mosaic Space and Mosaic Auteurs

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On Wednesday 5 April we officially launched my new monograph Mosaic Space and Mosaic Auteurs: On the Cinema of Alejandro González Iñárritu, Atom Egoyan, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Michael Haneke, which constructs a model of mosaic, extending our focus beyond narrative strategy to approach the trend of diverse multi-strand films across genres, nations and filmmaking contexts since the late 1980s.

The book launch went very well. Neofelis Verlag did a wonderful job organising it and coordinating with Volksbühne Pavillon in Berlin Mitte. It is a cosy and intimate bookshop with its own distinct character. The turn-out was really good, with the audience being genuinely interested in the subject and actively engaged with the discussion.

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It was such a lovely evening with films, thoughts, friends, laughters, discourses, drinks – everything that defines a good life for me.

https://www.neofelis-verlag.de/english-books/mosaic-space-and-mosaic-auters/

Kikujiro (1999) by Takeshi Kitano

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Made by Takeshi Kitano in 1999 and having entered the Cannes Film Festival in the same year, Kikujiro was subsequently remade into a Tamil-Indian film Nandala (2010) by Myshkin. After more than one and a half decades, it still seems timeless both in terms of aesthetics and subject matter. Third window films‘ Blu-ray release of Kikujiro, side by side with Hana-bi (1997) and Dolls (2002), is a delightful appearance indeed.

Young Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) finds himself all alone during summer vacation while all his classmates leave town for the holidays with their parents. The grandmother, being his only family, is busy at work. Stumbling upon a piece of wrinkled paper with a scribbled-down address, Masao sets out to see his errant mother on his own. After the local bar owner kindly sends her no-account husband Kikujiro (played by Takeshi Kitano) to come along as an escort, this unusual duo embarks upon a road trip and gradually forms an ambivalent father-son, uncle-nephew, or friendly relationship. Immediately after departure, Kikujiro (named after Kitano’s gambler father) loses all the initial funds in a bicycle race, so they resort to hitchhiking, walking, and waiting for a bus that never shows up.

At first sight Kikujiro might seem to be diverging from Kitano’s trademarked gruesome violence, but it does continue with his playful cross-genre practices and the archetypical Kitano persona in many ways. Kikujiro is to a certain extent Kitano’s projection of his absent father, amalgamated with Kitano’s oddball but amiable antihero persona – macho but empathetic, flawed yet humane. Violence has been downplayed to keep in tune with the film’s general heart-warming tone, although it still lurks at every corner of the society under the forms of paedophiles, bullies and yakuza, contrasting with the benignity of other marginalised characters like punks, jugglers, street performers and tattoo masters. Reaching beyond the genre of crime drama, Kikujiro is deliberately discordant and disconnected in its interweaving of a series of episodes punctuated by Masao’s drawings for his summer vacation diary due at school on opening day. The snippets vary between family drama, manga, fantasy, crime drama, comedy, social commentary, cheap gags, and surrealism; at times the tattoo figure on Kikujiro’s back is transformed into a devouring and sexually threatening demon, whereas in some other snippets of physical comedy, the punk falls into the mud and Kikujiro is hit by a car which refuses to stop for hitchhikers.

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The lack of uniformity enables experiments, lightheartedness, and absurdity. Kitano indulges himself, even more than in his other films, in playing with time and space. The duo’s prolonged stay in bicycle racing is stretched into several sequences of betting and racing from differentiated camera angles; at the deserted bus stop, they go through different moments of role-play, disguising, and delinquency, even to the extent of a slapstick. The camera playfully whirls around with the movement of a car wheel, or zooms out to reveal dramatic irony or surprise, whereas editing joins together repetitive and slightly divergent scenes to build up suspense. The ending sequence on the beach unites all the oddball characters who have been marginalised and abandoned by mainstream society. The vegetable vender shared a blue tent. The chubby punk takes Kikujiro by bike to his alienated mother’s old people’s home. They are dressed up as sea creatures or fantasy characters, with fish scales drawn on the trunk, watermelon patterns on the face, or pointed ears on the head. In this extended episode games are no longer used a means to reach a goal during the road trip, but an end in itself. These subcultured people are immersed in games of dice cup, stop light, swinging Tarzan, and a watermelon-head version of piñata. They might be considered the unfit and the absurd in regulated society, but on the beach they are all given a voice and the right to reject all responsibilities of the adult world.

And blue is the warmest colour. It is the colour of the tent, of Masao’s backpack with angel wings, of the sky and the sea. The new Blu-ray version renders colour contrast sharper and sunlight brighter, highlighting azure water, red Hawaii shirts, and green trees in the Japanese countryside. Though at times over-sentimental, Kikujiro is a film through which we are given the impression that we can peek into the inner world of Kitano.

(originally published on Film International)

Jiao You (2013) by Tsai Ming-Liang

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In Jiao You (Tsai Ming-liang), Tsai explores the plight and beauty of the economically underprivileged family and looks at the striking discrepancy between high rise buildings constantly being constructed and a group of people who cannot afford even the cheapest rent. The film embodies a pure cinema of sight and sound, of feeling. Playful with narrative time, Tsai’s gaze is calm and patient as always. He features long shots and elaborately detailed mise-en-scène. The father that Li Kang-sheng plays lives in a squat with two young children. The kids, seemingly joyful and unworried all the time, spend their days traversing woods, chasing each other along a golden beach and scavenging in big supermarkets. People brush past without noticing them, apart from the lonely supermarket manager played by Lu Yi-ching. In an extremely emotional shot, the father stands at one of the busiest intersection in the Taipei City in heavy rain, holding advertising signs for luxury condominiums in order to obtain a pitiful wage. His yellow raincoat is so strongly blown by wind that it becomes shapeless and wrinkled. Fighting with the extreme weather conditions, Li starts reciting a well-known poem of the poet of the Tang Dynasty Li Bai, and then he sings it. In this long take, we witness a rarely seen contemplation on the inner world of the middle-aged jobless man, who is a lonely shadow ignored by the whole city and drifts along as if he were invisible. In Tsai’s vision of the post-prosperity era in Taipei, poverty and misery are so striking but so hypocritically disregarded that it almost seems like an exotic fairy tale.

(originally published on Film International)