28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – COMPETITION AND ASIAN FUTURE
28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – COMPETITION AND ASIAN FUTURE
ALL THREE OF US / NOUS TROIS OU RIEN (France, Kheiron)
Not many of us will notice until the end credits rolled that ‘All Three of Us’, is a sort of tribute from the comedian-actor and rapper-turns-director to his parents. Tells the story based on his father’s life – played by Kheiron himself – through long struggle of Iranian people during the Iranian revolution, from tyranny of Shah’s regime to Khomeini’s dictatorship, who served his time in Iranian prison and then reunited with his wife and their baby-boy in a tenseful exodus to Paris to build a social community, Kheiron portrayed the gritty part of their political history with a fun and offbeat comedy, without ever losing the film’s dramatic power.
What felt special was not only how it resembled what ‘Life is Beautiful’ and ‘No Man’s Land’ has done to their dark background of each histories, even with many of laugh-out-loud satirical dialogues, but more, Kheiron built this tale of love, family and bravery with a parallel views to another struggle and oppressions beyond issues of social activisms in Paris’ northern outskirts. Leila Bekhti also gave a wonderful performance as Kheiron’s real life mother, Fereshteh, sweep the screen with his natural beauty, and also Gerard Darmon and Zabou Breitman, played her parents along wityh the movie’s strong POV of hope and positivity.
BORN TO BE BLUE (USA – Canada – UK, Robert Budreau)
There’s not quite a lot of something called ‘jazz movies’ although last year’s ‘Whiplash’ might already widened the way to the genre – as Miles Davis’ biopic starred Don Cheadle will come out next year, but as one of the competition film in this year’s festival, Robert Budreau’s Canadian ‘Born to be Blue’ was sure something to look at. Before Tokyo, the movie, which soon will be released internationally by IFC Films, was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
Carved a piece of Chet Baker’s (Ethan Hawke) downhill career beyond heroin abuse, financial loss and public disgrace, the movie started off in the late ‘60s where Baker – in an Italian prison, got an offer from the Hollywood producer in a movie role. Over a flashback that explained his top of career in the mid ‘50s, playing in Birdland, called as the inventor of West Coast swing and the No. 1 trumpet player on the DownBeat reader’s poll, hated by some East Coast musicians including Miles Davis (played by Kedar Brown), Baker then threw himself to lots of groupies and even drug addictions. Now hoping his to get his career back, not only trying to make the movie – with Jane (Carmen Ejogo), his real life girlfriend who was also playing the female lead – works and overcome his addictions to pull himself back together after an event that caused a bad damage to his mouth by drugdealers, Baker stage a comeback from small bars to one final live recording gig, with the trust from Jane and his reticent producer, Dick Bock (played by Callum Keith Rennie), also Dizzy Gillespie (Kevin Hanchard).
The most interesting part of ‘Born to Be Blue’ was it’s not played like a straight-forward biopic. Also featured one of Ethan Hawke’s finest performance in his acting career – doing his detailed trumpet fingerings and did his own singing, too, Budreau surprisingly came with a different approach to portray Baker’s parts of life events pieces by pieces, mixing factual and mostly fictional events. Not only different, on the deepest layer, the movie tells a story of a musician struggling with addiction, a chance to comeback beyond a sort of sexy romance and overall, the spirit of jazz through movie-in-movie style of storytelling, which made the movie even more interesting.
Carmen Ejogo also plays an important part to make ‘Born to be Blue’ felt stronger as a sexy and romantic love story. Playing a composite of all the women in Chet Baker’s life, Ejogo steals every scenes she’s in with impeccable depths and elegant beauty.
To jazz cravers, the part of David Braid’s rendition of Chet Baker’s works also one of the film’s most wonderful highlights. Collaborated with Canadian trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, Braid wasn’t only re-composing the music, but in depths, communicate the struggle of the injured artist which was the central theme of Budreau’s idea. Just like jazz, the movie improvises. It might be a metafiction of Chet Baker’s life, but also captured the spirit of his remarkable legacies, and overall, jazz.
FOUJITA (Japan – France, Kohei Oguri)
Being a biopic of famous Japanese artist/painter Tsuguharu Foujita, the only one that considered part of the ‘School of Paris’ by his relationship with such legends like Picasso and Modigliani. Mixing up European style and Japanese ink techinques in his paintings, Foujita also famously known by his female nudes paintings, ‘Foujita’, helmed by Cannes’ 1990 Grand Prix Winner veteran director – auteur Kohei Oguri from ‘The Sting of Death’ serves like an obscure art itself.
Started off as a sort of grand East – West joint production biopics that also featured Ana Girardot (as European model Lucie – whom he called Yuki/snow and later explained his style of delicate white shadows in his paintings) and Timothy Spall, the film took its dramatic turns when Foujita returns to Japan from realism to an obscure surrealism to portray Foujita’s artistic visions – now wearing the uniform of official Imperial painter – in a great and darker change to his painting style.
Nevertheless, Jo Odagiri’s wonderful transformations to resemblance Foujita’s self portrait with round glasses, ‘60s pony haircut and Hitler’s mustache, and Miki Nakatani who played his long life Japanese first wife Kimiko were something to be noted along with Hiroshi Machida’s dreamy-like cinematography.
THE GIRL’S HOUSE / KHANEYE DOKHTAR (Iran, Shahram Shah Hosseini)
‘The Girl’s House (Khaneye Dokhtar)’, Iran entry in the Competition was also quite an important film to look at. The 2014 Iranian production, directed by Shahram Shah-Hosseini, marked the continuous banning of film in Iran over sensitive topics. Over the premise of the death of an Iranian bride-to-be that unfolds like a mystery by her friends investigations, the film deals with important issues that still facing Iranian women over the dark truth of traditional Islamic society.
Featured a natural yet strong performance from Hamed Behdad and Rana Azadivar, the film plays like most Iranian films, simple yet meaningful with values over its dialogues, also posed a very big questions. It highlights a tragedy that might be specific to Iranian or Islamic thoughts, that touched a sensitive area of suicide, virginity and sins, but carries a universal message of how a life, or rather, the end of life, affects all who are left behind.
GOD WILLING / SE DUO VIOLE (Italy, Edoardo Falcone)
Won the 28th TIFF Audience Award, the recent Italian box office champ that also gave director Edoardo Falcone the Best New Director Award at Italian Oscars, tells a story about the conflict of a father to his son.
The life of successful and skilled but also self-centered and arrogant surgeon, Tomasso (played by Marco Gialini), also an atheist, was put on the line when his medical student – son, Andrea, confessed that he wanted to be a priest. And not only that, his wife and his daughter also choose the same way of religious Catholic life. Confused and horrified, Tomasso then goes undercover to strike a charismatic priest Don Pietro (played by Alessandro Gassman) who he believes as the brain behind this situations.
The best thing in ‘God Willing’ is Edoardo Falcone’s structure to build a chaos comedy that already has a strong father to son and family premise. Although serves as a light comedy, the credible casts, witty dialogues and comedic play never left the depth of its conflict behind. It’s easily speak and emotionally resonates to any audience.
THE INERASABLE (Japan, Yoshihiro Nakamura)
It is quite unusual that a horror movie selected as the entry in the Competition Section. Having Yoshihiro Nakamura’s (‘The Snow White Murder Case’) return to J-horror after ten years, ‘The Inerasable’ seems like breaking a barrier that might lies over this year’s special focus on the diverse works of Japanese cinema. The movie itself indeed contains a deep social context on the Japanese culture than just an eerie horror show; where most people in Japan still believe that the properties renting or buying might has a thing with its previous history, mostly if it’s related to mysterious deaths and uneasy spirits.
Told with the first-person narrator style, a horror novelist (Yuko Takeuchi) who also did house-hunting things with her husband, bumped into one of her fan, Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), an architecture student, also a member of the college mystery club, who asked her to investigate a strange noise from the bedroom of her apartment.
Pulling its interconnected twists and mysteries one after another, the film which based on a bestselling Japanese novel by Fuyumi Ono, was actually a bit slowburn as a J-horror although took its typical characteristic with strong female characters and cultural myths. Atmospheric but rarely scare-off the audience, ‘The Inerasable’ played more as a mystery that requires solving than a horror story that needs to be endured, just like Nakamura said. It has depth and differences, which in some ways – good, but might be not the one many people wish for as a straight-forward horror show.
LAND OF MINE (Denmark – Germany, Martin Peter Zandvliet)
Tells a different WW2 story that put its narrow focus between two men as a compelling thriller to depict much more greater anti-war message, ‘Land of Mine’ shared a not very well known history about millions of land mines buried as a Nazi’s legacy on the western coastline of Denmark. After the WW2, The German POWs in Denmark, mostly teenage boys, were sent to defuse these land mines. During this unavoidable deadly mission, Danish Sargeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller) starting to bond with one of the boys, Sebastian (Louis Hoffman) as his compassion takes over his anger and command.
Unlike any other WW2 dramas, director Zandvliet built ‘Land of Mine’ as a war thriller in distinctive ways. Gripping and suspenseful, without ever losing the depth of its anti-war spirit, ‘Land of Mine’ also offered a really strong chemistry and powerful acts by Møller and Hoffman who used effectively as the centre of the film. The great landscape shots by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen (Zandvliet’s wife) is something to be noted, with taut film and sound editing, too.
NISE – THE HEART OF MADNESS / O CORACAO DA LOUCORA (Brazil, Roberto Berliner)
This year’s TIFFTokyo Grand Prix Winner, ‘Nise’ is a moving story about a real life Nise da Silveira, Brazilian female psychiatrist who gave her everything confronting a conservative, male order in the mental-health establihsment to reformed more humane ways to the abusive electroshock therapies through paints, dogs and love.
In director Berliner’s hands and mostly – a powerhouse performance from Brazillian-owned famous telenovela actress Gloria Pires, ‘Nise’ comes with total appeal to portray triumph, bravery and humanity over a solid script that captured the source’s strong spirits. Yes, it was a classic against-all-odds journey of a humanity heroine, also filled with cliche – typical black vs white characters in its overall storytelling, but never once losing its emotional, and artistic achievements.
SAYONARA (Japan, Koji Fukada)
Dark, pessimistic and also depressing, Koji Fukada’s ‘Sayonara’ which adapted from a stage play by Oriza Hirata, the founder of Japan’s Seinendan Theater Company who developed one-act plays for Osaka University’s Robot-Human Theatre Project with robotic scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro, tells a story between a sick young South African woman, Tanya (played beautifully by Bryerly Young) awaits death and Leona, her android companion in Japan’s post apocalyptic set.
But the most interesting thing in this melancholy-moody and statically-dreamy film, in Fukada’s way from ‘Hospitalite’ and his 2013’s TIFF entry in Japanese Cinema Splash section, ‘Au Revoir L’ete’, that many said has a subtle resemblance to Eric Rohmer one that felt so weird at times, is it’s the first film co-starred a real android named ‘Geminoid F’. While Irene Jacob, who also starred as Tanya’s mother has only a brief appearance. It might be a bit too experimental for some audience, but also strike a thought of another real android appearance in the future cinemas.
THE CRESCENT MOON / MENCARI HILAL (Indonesia, Ismail Basbeth)
Helmed by Mira Nair’s nephew, fashion photographer Ishaan Nair in his directing debut, and also co-produced by Irrfan Khan, ‘If Only / Kaash’ (not the same titled 1987’s Mahesh Bhatt’s film) is a contemporary Bollywood love tale. Starred their young up-and-coming actors Varun Mitra, Nidhi Sunil, Kavya Trehan and special appearance by Kalki Koechlin, ‘Kaash’ tells a story of Aadil (Varun Mitra), a young photographer who got frustrated by his relationship with Samira (Indian model – Nidhi Sunil), a Bollywood starlet on the rise, and then sets a journey from Mumbai to Gujarat to meet his free-spirited internet girl Khushali (Kavya Trehan).
Exploring endless possibilities, as Ishaan Nair said in the press release, in a tale of modern love, ‘Kaash’ plays more like an independent Bollywood movie in every ways, including the short – but tempting appearance of their indie queen, Kalki Koechlin. Though at some points the influence of Mira Nair looks obvious, but helming its debut, Ishaan mostly came out with his own cinematic style. The chemistry between its three leads works wonderfully well, Savera Mehta’s score, too, and although the ending felt a bit rushed, ‘Kaash’ nevertheless depicts modern realisms, more intimate and deeply sensual explorations we might be missing from many Bollywood’s mainstream movies.
LAZY, HAZY, CRAZY (Hong Kong, Luk Yee-sum)
Produced by Hong Kong indie actor-producer-director Pang Ho-cheung (‘Beyond Our Ken’, ‘Isabella’ and ‘Aberdeen’) and directed by Luk Yee-sum, writers of some Pang’s films, ‘Lazy, Hazy, Crazy’, the winner of HAF Awards at the Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum in March, might look no more than a cliché coming of age – youth drama with Category III rating about three girls who work part time as prostitutes.
Though so, starred Ashina Kwok in her promising debut and controversial topless scene, Fish Liew (‘Doomsday Party’) and Koyi Mak with brief performance from J-gravure idol Sola Aoi, too, there’s something different in Pang and Luk collaborations as both award-winning Hong Kong’s indie heavyweights. Being treated differently, not fallen into any ’90s Category III cheap erotic movie hole, the film is artfully crafted – mostly over ambience, and using its mildly erotic touches relevantly with what Luk’s script needed, which if not any deeper and might be sexist to some women audience, but contains intimate looks at Asian youth nowadays. A fun, sexy and different coming of age – erotic feature filled with necessary naughtiness.
STAIR DAD / MERDIVEN BABA (Turkey, Hasan Tolga Pulat)
This year’s TIFF Turkish entry in the Asian Future section, ‘Stair Dad’ offers a family dramedy about a dad, Mr. Fazli (played by Haci Ali Konuk), who is recognized as an economically inadequate father and ineffective person in his society. Losing his family, he’s trying to get them back with the purchase of an old truck, which in the aftermath served help to many people.
While the idea of common – everyday heroes in the family might sounds really interesting for a comedy, ‘Stair Dad’, unfortunately not giving any justice to most of its one dimensional characters. Though it might be meant to show a glimpse of their local culture, but the script mostly builds its empathy only for the titular character, while leaving any characters around him has none. Still fun, but not as great as the premise sounds. (dan)