Monday, October 19, 2015

Movie No. 57 (2015): 1001 GRAMS

1001 Grams
Director: Bent Hamer
Cast: Ane Dahl Torp, Stein Winge, Laurent Stocker
In Norwegian and French, with English subtitles

Marie works as researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Weights and Measures, where the delicate (Norwegian) prototype of a kilogram is kept. Her father, who is also a scientist in the same field, is supposed to attend an international seminar about the kilo, (to be) held at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in France. However, due to bad health he can't. So, Marie takes his place instead and tags along with her the prototype, which must be handled with utmost care. Over some significant running time of the movie, Marie goes back and forth Norway and France, all the time the prototype with her. In this course, she meets a former researcher at the BIPM who does gardening and recording chirping of birds on his spare time. Then a minor accident happens putting the integrity of the prototype to risk.

Marie is depicted as a very neat person. Shots of the way she works, the way she deals with others (co-worker, father, friends, and new acquaintances), and where she lives are indication of her being composed. It appears everything she does is calculated: the frequency of her trips to her father's house, weighing her food, staying on just one side of the bed (suggesting she used to have someone sleeping beside her), etc. Realizing this makes me suggest that the prototype is a metaphor for obsession to references. What is the importance of weight to men? Marie, in one important scene, even quotes "Life's heaviest burden is to have nothing to carry." That question and Marie's quote seem to be the thesis of the movie.

The framing of the movie also appears calculated, reflective of the movie's theme. The cinematography is topnotch, one thing that's easily noticed. Ane Dahl Torp (as Marie) gives an excellent performance, using only her almost stoic face and body movements most of the time. I am almost convinced that even her movements are calculated (in a good way). 

A movie of this kind is rare.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 19, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Movie No. 56 (2015): STILL THE WATER

Futatsume No Mado (a.k.a. Still The Water)
Director: Naomi Kawase
Cast: Nijiro Murakami, Jun Yoshinaga
In Japanese, with English subtitles

Close-up of cresting waves against dark horizon as backdrop, long shot of still water on rocky shore, close-up of a goat being slaughtered, in-your-face shot of locals in what looks like a celebratory or ritual dance, the discovery of a naked man floating on the shore, dead. This is the series of scenes that open the movie. Then we see the two main characters (Kyoko and Kaito), both in high school uniform, among the curious crowd who witness the fishing out of the dead man. Kaito looks concerned, Kyoko indifferent. All these happen in a remote Japanese island frequented by typhoon. This sets the tone of the narrative, which turns out really interesting.

In the succeeding scenes, we see that Kyoko and Kaito have their own worries. Kyoko's mother is dying, thus her separation anxiety. Kaito's mother is a single parent; he despises her lechery. Kaito and Kyoko have a special bond that's hard to describe. But we see how their own worries almost prevents the bond between them to transform into romance. The movie's strong point is on the way it shows things happen, characters developed, and conflicts resolved. It effectively connects in a poetic fashion the events shown in the opening scenes to the crucial scenes and revelations in the latter part of the movie.

Watching the movie makes me feel like reading a well-written essay on love, death, and acceptance, with the movie's musical score in the background. That music kind is unfamiliar, but it blends well with the scenes. In fact, it enhances what the scenes try to convey.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 18, 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Movie No. 55 (2015): CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart

This feminist character study is centered on the professional relationship between a successful international actress (Maria Enders) and her personal assistant (Val). While in transit to Sils Maria, where Maria Enders is to accept an award on behalf of the director who made her famous twenty years ago in a play called "Maloja Snake," they receive the news that the director has just died. Now, Maria Enders is asked to be cast in the revival of the play. In the original production she was Sigrid, young woman who drove her boss Helena to suicide. In the revival, Maria Enders will play Helena. This is what drives the narrative, which flow like the "snake," which is a cloud formation that creeps over the valley of Sils Maria on certain occasions. The hesitation of Maria to do the revival, the rehearsals that somehow mirror the relationship between Maria and Val, and Maria's disdain over (or identifying with) the young but controversial Hollywood starlet who will play Sigrid are driving forces of the flow of the narrative.

The movie is charged with strong performances. While Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders has always been reliable to tackle complex and layered character, Kristen Stewart as Val is surprisingly good.

Some may find this movie talky. In my opinion, this may be the technique used (i.e., effective writing) to get a closer look at the characters and their back stories. It worked for me.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 8, 2015

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Movie No. 54 (2015): MOMMY

Mommy (2014)
Director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon
In French, with English subtitles

"Mommy" is an interesting story about a never-say-die widow, whose nickname is Die, and her teenage son (Steve) who has ADHD. The mother-and-son relationship is semi-turbulent, but they always mend occasional bouts of heated verbal exchanges, because they love each other. Then a neighbor enters the picture during one incident. In no time, the neighbor becomes part of their system, who becomes the equalizer. Together, the three forge an interesting relationship. 

This character study will surely linger. I like the way it depicts ADHD as a cry for help and not much as a behavioral disorder. It's mother's love and random kindness of stranger that are under scrutiny in a world where people are indifferent. 

I was quite bothered by the films aspect ratio: it's square, probably 1:1. Then, at a little more than an hour of running time, Steve ceremoniously makes it wider via a cinematic gesture of opening a curtain to reveal a wider stage during a scene where the three are having real fun, oblivious of the world. Then the aspect ratio would occasionally shift from 1:1 to full screen and back depending on the mood that the narrative wished to portray. Impressive.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 4, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Movie No. 53 (2015): EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Si-Hung Lung, Kuei-Mei Yang, Sylvia Chang, Chien-Lien Wu, Yu-Wen Wang
In Chinese/Mandarin, with English subtitles

Mr. Chu, a widower, is Taipei's best chef. But, due to his age, he's starting to 'lose his taste buds.' He has three grown-up daughters, all living in his house. The eldest, who is practically an old maid, is a chemistry teacher, a Christian, and is cynical about men after a failed relationship in the past. Daughter number two is a successful airline executive who has fixation on maintaining amorous relationships with men who can't commit. The youngest is a promiscuous college students who gets pregnant. 

Mr. Shu never fails to cook for Sunday dinner where everyone is required to be present. They don't talk much; food is their way to communicate. But important announcements always occur during Sunday dinner. It's in this way we get to know them. It's in this way they get to know the goings-on to each family member. I don't want to detail every event and scene, but all I have to say is that the movie cleverly and effectively used food and the dining table both as a common ground and battle ground. There's one funny scene in one of the dining gathering that makes the movie have a sharp turn leading to unexpected conclusion. 

The movie was the second movie by Ang Lee that got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. During the preceding year, The Wedding Banquet was nominated, too. His third movie to be nominated was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which eventually won the award in 2000.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 2, 2015