Wednesday, 29 April 2009

David Lean Retrospective at the Cinematheque

Starting yesterday and continuing until May 17th is a 13 film program of David Lean films at the cinematheque. This includes most of Lean's directorial output, the only missing films being his first, In Which We Serve (1942, co-director with Noel Coward), 1952's The Sound Barrier, and 1954's Hobson's Choice. Given the epic nature of Lean's cinema, this is a fine opportunity to see many of these films in the theatre. I'm looking forward to trying to see The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958), one of those "great" movies that I still haven't gotten around to.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

TREELESS MOUNTAIN (Kim So Yong, 2008); WENDY AND LUCY (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)

I saw two films at the Women's Film Festival over the weekend, one really great, another OK but slightly disappointing. Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy is a formally elegant independent drama about a young woman (played by Michelle Williams) on her way to Alaska for a job. Her car breaks down in Oregon, and she gets arrested for petty theft after stealing food for her dog. The rest of the narrative focuses on her search for her dog over the next couple of days. The narrative is both ordinary and yet highly dramatic and compelling, and Reichardt's style here is both properly distanced and sympathetic to the character's plight. Wendy and Lucy is part of what A.O. Scott has dubbed "neo neo-realism" in American indie cinema, and I generally agree that the presence of these films dealing with the working class is desperately needed at the moment. Wendy and Lucy offers an example that these films can also have a strong aesthetic grounding, which will be key to the ultimate success of this movement (if it is a movement at all). You can find Scott's piece here, as well as Richard Brody's less favourable take on these films here.

I find myself agreeing with Scott and disagreeing with Brody on Wendy and Lucy, but Kim So Yong's Treeless Mountain, which Scott also mentions, seems to me much less distinguished. It is here that I agree with Brody about the need to go beyond a superficial realism. Kim's story about two young girls who are left behind by a mother who can no longer support them is a compelling one. It is the flip side to Wendy and Lucy, if that film were told from the perspective of Lucy. But this might be part of the problem with the story, or at least Kim's approach to it. While the two young girls perform fine, there are limits with what can be done with child actors on a dramatic level. This is especially true when the style is mostly concerned with a basic illusionist approach. Kim never really establishes a strong visual approach to the material, and as a result the film meanders and instead relies upon the capturing of natural imagery to attempt to add a reflective tone to the work. I never found the approach compelling and engaging, despite my interest in the story and material.

The festival continues until Thursday.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Upcoming: Women's Film Festival (April 9-16)

Next week marks the 11th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul. Most of the screenings, if not all, have English subtitles, and include many Korean films as well as a few international selections. There are also discussions and a conference associated with the festival. The full schedule is available here. I attended a few screenings and the conference last year and found the festival very well organized and foreign friendly.

Among the notable films that I've heard good word of mouth on include:

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda, 2008)
Treeless Mountain (Kim So Yong, 2008)