Saturday, 30 May 2009

LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL (Hong Sang-soo, 2009)

Over the last week I have seen Hong Sang-soo's new film twice. It is a typical Hong film in many ways, and does not really branch into new territory. But it is still a very entertaining and fascinating work, and provides much to think about in terms of his overall oeuvre.

First, the plot. I won't go into great detail about the story, but it is important to note the dual structure at work. The film begins with an intertitle, "Jecheon Summer 2008", and follows the lead character, Director Ku, and his experience at the local film festival (where he is a judge). This takes the first 52 minutes of the story. There is then a second intertitle, "Jeju Island, 12 Days Later". After his bad experience in Jecheon, Ku goes to Jeju to give a lecture on his films at the university of an old friend. As can be expected with Hong, the second story has parallels with the first, with situations and dialogue deliberately repeating themselves.

As can be guessed by this brief plot outline, this is a very self-reflexive film, even by Hong's standards. Nearly all of Hong's films feature artists, and some even have filmmakers as leads. But the director Ku in this film is the closest example yet of a Hong surrogate. Like Hong, Ku has a certain reputation as a talented director, but he is not commercially successful. During his presentation to the university students, someone asks him why he makes the films he does, suggesting that he is wasting his time since nobody watches or understands them. Ku's defense of his films could used to describe Hong's cinema as well. Ku says that his films have no clear messages and no beautiful images. Instead, he gathers pieces of life together and makes them into one, trying to get the audience to see afresh without fixed ideas. The student responds by stating, "you are not a film director, you're a philosopher". She clearly means it as an insult, and Hong seems willing to concede the point while nevertheless making it clear that he cannot make films any other way.

The connections with Hong's other films are abundant, although there is less of a link with his most recent feature, Night and Day, which I think is Hong's best so far. The immediate comparison for me was Turning Gate because of the focus on a single male protagonist and the split narrative, in which incidents reoccur in the new situation. There is even a reference in the dialogue to that film's most memorable scene. Ku is asked about a bruise on his face, and he replies that he got into a fight after looking at a girl's legs. In Turning Gate, the lead character almost gets into a fight for the same reason. There is also a strong resemblance to Woman on the Beach in terms of its structure, its lead actress (the great Ko Hyun-Jung), and especially its ending (which is likewise on the beach). In many ways, it makes more explicit the critique of idealism that has run through Hong's films. My only small complaint would be that there seemed a lack of progression here, especially compared to Night and Day and even the recent short Lost in the Mountains. For me, it had some of the same quality of my least favorite Hong film, Tale of Cinema, in which he had to take a step back before moving forward. But on the plus side, Like You Know It All is a much more entertaining work.

In terms of style, the editing here is the most spare of all his films except for Woman is the Future of Man (and possibly Night and Day, which I haven't had a chance to time). The ASL is roughly 78 seconds, and is even longer in the second part of the story:

Jecheon section: 52 minutes, 44 shots (ASL: 71 sec)
Jeju section: 71 minutes, 51 shots (ASL: 84 sec)

Long takes dominate, but so does mobile framing. The combination of zooming and camera movement is quite extensive here, and I would wager that it is the highest percentage of mobile framing of all of Hong's films. Here, again, the comparison with the heavy use of the initial zoom in Tale of Cinema seems appropriate. Despite the high ASL, this is a very different film than Woman is the Future of Man, which I have described before as Hong degree zero. In contrast, this is a highly expressive film in terms of camera rhetoric, relatively speaking of course. One wonders if Hong will continue down this road, or offer up another variation. One stylistic decision that did intrigue me is the use of off-screen sound, in particular the sounds of sex, vomiting, and crying. Like in his other recent films, sex is not presented explicitly in visual terms. But it does dominate the sound design, forcing the audience and the characters into an ambiguous position. This is especially true near the conclusion, which contains a use of off-screen sound I'm still pondering.

Watching the film twice in a week, a second viewing was perhaps too close and has caused me to underrate it. But even on first viewing, these minor reservations were present. I did enjoy it a great deal the first time, which may have related to seeing it with a large and appreciative audience. Another way in which this is a self-reflexive work is one that may be lost on most non-Koreans: the many number of famous actors in some supporting or near cameo roles. There is a playful postmodernism at work here that is not usually present in Hong. With this film and Night and Day, he has proven he can entertain a local audience. But unfortunately his reputation is such that it seems unlikely he will ever have any significant box office returns. Thankfully, that is unlikely to deter him from producing more movies.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Hong Sang-soo Retrospective

Starting today and continuing until next Wednesday (June 3rd), Miro Space theatre in Gwanghwamun is showing all of Hong Sang-soo's films, although only a few with English subtitles. The schedule is as follows:

With English subtitles:

The Day a Pig Fell in the Well May 29th 8:30pm, June 2nd 1:30pm
The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors June 2nd 8:30pm
Woman on the Beach May 31th 1:30pm

Without subtitles:

The Power of Kangwon Province May 30th 1:30pm, June 1st 8:30pm
Turning Gate June 1st 1:30pm, June 3rd 8:30pm
Woman is the Future of Man May 29th 1:30pm
Tale of Cinema May 30th 8:30pm
Night and Day May 31st 8:30pm, June 3rd 1:30pm
Like You Know It All May 29th-June 3rd 11:00am, 6:00pm

Miro Space is located close to exit 7, Gwanghwamun subway station, line 5. The website is here.

Monday, 25 May 2009

PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati, 1967)

On Sunday, I made my first trip to the cinematheque in a couple of months to see Jacques Tati's Playtime, a film much beloved by cinephiles and now considered to be Tati's masterpiece. Although I had read a great deal about Tati, I had never seen one of his films, one of the bigger holes in my cinematic viewing resume. Playtime certainly lived up to its reputation for me, and getting to see it in a great print on the big screen was undoubtedly a huge reason why. Because of the style Tati employs, it is almost impossible to fully appreciate this film on DVD. There are two more screenings of the film this week: Wednesday at 5:00pm and Saturday at 7:00pm. I highly recommend the experience if you have the time and opportunity.

What makes Playtime such a special work is its complete uniqueness, both in terms of narrative and style. It is difficult to classify or even describe the plot. There is a lead character, Monsieur Hulot, played by Tati himself and the hero of many of his features. But the story is much more about a day in modern Paris than anything else. We begin at an airport and follow a group of female American tourists into Paris, where we see them, Mr. Hulot, and others deal comically with the modern Parisian architecture and space. The second half of the story takes place at night, mostly at a newly opened restaurant that gradually collapses as the night eventually turns in to dawn. At this point Hulot and one of the American women say their farewells and the film concludes.

There is little else really like it, although in stylistic terms it does conform to much of what I admire in cinema. There are a number of very long takes in which the full space of the frame is used. Tati gives the viewer a great deal to look at and examine, a mise-en-scene to explore and investigate. Many times during the screening people were laughing at things I didn't notice, simply because it is nearly impossible to catch everything on one viewing. The freedom provided the viewer is what makes the movie so special and so beloved by cinephiles. It is here that form and content are so inseparable. Tati's style is itself an ideological statement, an empowerment to the viewer to create a world along with the filmmaker. The viewer is challenged as much as in any other modernist cinema, but the film is still true to its title. It is the most playful, most easily enjoyable of experiments, a film that makes you want to explore it even more and to invite others along for the journey. I'm planning on seeing it again on Saturday, and have no doubt that a new experience awaits.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

THIRST (Park Chan-wook, 2009)

Park Chan-Wook's newest film is his exploration of the vampire mythology, a subject with a vast cinematic heritage. It has such a vast history that it can be difficult to re-imagine such a tale, but for the first hour of the film Park succeeds admirably. However, its second half is not nearly as impressive and the cliches begin to mount, not only in relation to other screen vampires but in its reliance on other genres as well.

The main problem with the narrative is the excessive amount of plot. The film moves fairly quickly and jams a great deal of action and story into its over two hour running time. But this had the effect of making the film seem extremely long and rather tedious. Too much of the action, especially in the second half, seemed rushed in order to simply give the audience the plot information it needed. As a result, all of the richness and texture that Park had created recedes and maximum stylistic overdrive comes to dominate.

The story begins with the main character, a priest, being infected with a virus that nearly kills him and turns him into a vampire. The man then has to try to live ethically with this "thirst", which is also a clear sexual metaphor, as is often the case in vampire stories. The fact that he is a priest only adds to this. He has a strong desire for the married daughter of a family whose son he has saved, and this relationship takes over the narrative. This is disappointing because for the first half, Park's characteristically striking images and his take on religion had a real beauty, and a subtle exploration of religion and human desire could have, and seemed like it would, develop. Unfortunately, the plot turns noir-ish, with a femme fatale leading the hero to murder (there's even a reference to Murnau's Sunrise). With this turn, the narrative lost its appeal for me, and Park's style likewise became unhinged and rather action-movie formulaic.

Park has frequently been torn between mainstream and art cinema approaches, and occasionally finds the perfect mix, as in Old Boy (2004). But with his last two films being rather unsuccessful commercially, Park has seemingly tried to make a film that could appeal to both tastes. The result is the opposite of the hybrid success of Old Boy: it is unlikely to appeal to either the lover of mainstream action films, such as his most popular film Joint Security Area (2000), or the fan of his more idiosyncratic efforts, such as the great Lady Vengeance (2005). This is not to say that the film is bad. It is still a good film overall and worth seeing, and for many other directors it would be a major accomplishment. But after seeing how good Park can be, and especially after seeing the first half of a near masterpiece, the result is unsatisfying.

On a more positive note, I saw Thirst back-to-back with Hong Sang-soo's new film, which was much better. I'm going to try to see it again this week and will write a full review then.

The Auteurs Website

The website the auteurs features streaming video of a number of great films, all for $3 each. The films that are availabe depends on your viewing region, but in Korea there are well over 100 films by many noted auteurs, such as the Dardenne Brothers, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Alexander Sokurov, Philippe Garrel, Jafar Panahi, Jan Svankmajer, Laurent Cantet, Gregg Araki, Jia Zhangke, Francois Ozon, and others.

Also, there are four free films available, the first restorations undertaken by Martin Scorsese's World Film Foundation:

The Housemaid (Kim Ki-Young, 1960) (South Korea)
Dry Summer (Metin Erksan, 1964) (Turkey)
Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambety, 1973) (Senegal)
Transes (Ahamed El Maanouni, 1981) (Morocco)

I saw The Housemaid at the recent Jeonju film festival and it is well worth checking out. I'm going to try to see the others soon, as well as some of the other films on the site, many of which are difficult to find, especially in Korea.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

New Hong Sang-soo and Park Chan-wook films (with subtitles!)

The new films You Don't Even Know (Hong Sang-soo, 2009) and Thirst (Park Chan-wook, 2009), both of which are playing at the Cannes Film Festival, are apparently being shown with English subtitles at the CGV Yongsan, at least according to their website. Very exciting news, since subtitled Korean films in theatres remain rare, and even more importantly a chance to get an early look at the latest from two great directors. I'm going to try to get to both this week.

Here are the times:

You Don't Even Know Fri, Sun-Wed 11:45am, 5:05pm, 10:30pm; Sat 11:30am, 4:50pm, 10:15pm

Thrist Fri, Sun-Wed 9:00am, 2:20pm, 7:45pm; Sat 8:45am, 2:05pm, 7:30pm, 12:50am

Monday, 11 May 2009

UPCOMING: Jacques Tati Retrospective

A Jacques Tati retrospective is coming to the Seoul Cinematheque on May 19-31. All of Tati's six feature films will be shown:

Jour de Fete (1949)
Les Vacances de M. Hulot (1953)
Mon Oncle (1958)
Playtime (1967)
Trafic (1971)
Parade (1973)

There are also a few Tati shorts. No information yet on English subtitles, let's hope for the best.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS (Hong Sang-soo, 2009)

Hong Sang-soo's 30 minute short Lost in the Mountains is one of the finer pieces in his uniformly strong output. Although Hong apparently made short films as a student, this his first officially released short film (at least that I am aware of). One advantage for Hong in making a short film is that many viewers come in with an awareness of his typical style and subject matter. As a result, he can perform some variations that give the work added meaning for those familiar with his output. WARNING: spoilers ahead.

In plot, this is a very recognizable Hong film: a writer drives from Seoul to Jeonju to visit her friend. She calls her former professor and lover and spends the day with him. She then discovers that her friend is also involved with the professor. Very upset by this revelation, she invites her ex-lover, another former student, to join them. A night of drinking and sexual pairings concludes with the four coincidentally meeting the next day. But despite this superficial resemblance, this short has Hong exploring new material.

First, this is one of the few Hong films in which there is a clear lead character, and the first time that this character is a woman. In this way, it feels more like a follow-up to Woman on the Beach than to his last film, Night and Day. Also, for the first time in his films (at least that I can recall), there is a voice-over narration. This makes it his most psychological, closer in tone to Turning Gate, the only other Hong film with a clear protagonist. This combines to make this the most overtly emotional of his films; in fact, compared to the other films, it has a nearly melodramatic feel. This may be connected to the short form; it is as if all the plot of a typical Hong film has been compressed down into this 30 minutes, and as a result has a higher percentage of emotional peaks. One could speculate that this is why the voice-over is used: it provides a kind of narrative economy, that Hong then integrates into the type of story he wants to tell. There is a self-reflexive moment in which he calls attention to this limitation, in which the lead character says that she wants to write something short. For Hong, this time constraint allows him to deal with very familiar material in a heightened register.

The style of the film is both consistent with his other films, with a number of familiar long take compositions as well as many uses of the zoom lens. But the editing is also quicker than any of his films since The Power of Kangwon Province in 1998. There are 45 shots in a 30 minute film, making the ASL roughly 40 seconds. 1o of these shots occur both at the beginning and the ending, a rhyming 5 shot sequence of quick cuts of the hotel district of Jeonju. But even without these shots, the style is more dynamic than usual, not only in terms of editing, but also in relation to camera movement and zooms. This seems to parallel to overall tone of the piece, which has a greater momentum and urgency than other Hong works.

One could see all this as a negative, as Hong having to compromise his style and subject matter to fit unnaturally into this small box of time. I may agree if not for the film's magnificent ending, certainly the most progressive of Hong's career. The scene consists of the four characters confronting each other, with the two male characters in particular locked in an absurd and hypocritical battle of words. Although the scene is very funny, it is at the same time frustrating. We have to stand by and watch this hypocrisy because proper Korean social manners forbid the characters from pointing out the obvious. And because the emotional level of the film is already so high, it creates a strong desire to say something, almost to yell at the screen. And then, the lead character fulfills our wish, finally calling the characters on their lies and leaving the scene. She gets into her car and exits. The liberation of the moment is unmatched in anything else Hong has done. Hong is typically seen as a rather apolitical filmmaker, but within the personal politics of his films, this is his most overt statement.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Overview of JIFF Film Critics' Masterclass

I was able to attend all of the films of the JIFF masterclass, although only one of the lectures themselves due to language or scheduling. Raymond Bellour selected two excellent French films: Philippe Grandrieux's A Lake and Chris Marker's Level Five. Grandrieux was chosen by Bellour in relation to the film magazine Trafic, founded by Serge Daney. As Bellour writes in his introduction:

"If I had to define Trafic in terms of its refusals, they would be positioned at two extremes: on the one hand, the facilities that are far too common in journalistic criticism, and on the other hand the closures of traditional academic writing."

"Parallel to a continuous reflection on the great works on cinema ... we have always chosen to support - by asking them to participate, whenever possible, in the life of the magazine - a certain group of filmmakers, including (naturally) experimental filmmakers."

"So it is that, personally, I find myself engaged in a defense of the films of Philippe Grandrieux, which seem to me as essential as they are controversial."

What interests Bellour in Grandrieux is his attempt to use his story as a "laboratory for expression"; in other words, to explore the purely sensational elements usually confined to the avant-garde. A Lake is a great example of this. The story of a family in an isolated setting and the effect of an outsider on this dynamic is compelling itself, but does little to convey the actual texture of the work. As Bellour states, Grandrieux's style is founded much more of the "physical relation of the camera to its objects." Nevertheless, the story certainly maintains importance here, even if it is at the service of sensation (as opposed to the reverse relation of sensation at the service of story which defines most cinema). The very extreme starkness and primal nature of these relationships provides the cinematic technique with its maximum impact.

Bellour's second film choice is a very different work, Level Five, a film essay by Chris Marker revolving around a video game about the Battle of Okinawa. Bellour opens his introduction to the film by asking and answering a question:

"Why, in order to speak today of Chris Marker in the course of a film festival, and within the privileged framework of a Masterclass, do I choose to present Level Five (1996)?"

"Because this film, the last of his cinema films strictly speaking, is for that very reason the one in which we see the best way to inscribe the mutations which cinema has undergone - in a career that is singular out of all others, and within which cinema has always been submitted to paradoxical pressures."

As is usual with Marker, he combines aspects of documentary with a story-line, in which we see an actress deliver a video diary to the director (Marker himself, although this is also a role). Thus the film turns into another Marker essay on the nature of moving images and their relation to social reality, especially memory. But it is also, at the same time, a very powerful about war, and it is this aspect that interested me more than the mediations on the computer. This is precisely because it never feels like a tradtional documentary. It creates a distance, much like the characters have, because of "game" space created. But gradually this fades away, climaxing in film footage of Shigeaki Kinjo discussing his own murder of his family under government decree. The impact of this moment has been created by Marker's structure and his multiple forms of visual imagery, and it makes as powerful a statement for the impact of cinema as one could create.

Another essay film was chosen by Richard Porton for his discussion of "anarchist realism": WR: Mysteries of the Organism. This is a film I've been interested in seeing for many years but had never gotten to, and perhaps becasue of this it was not as intriguing as a hoped for. The film is very enjoyable and fun, and has a kind of anarchist quality that Porton discussed in his talk (which I unfortunately could not attend). However, it is as an "essay" film that it is rather weak, especially compared to a figure like Marker. To be fair, this may be because the ideas Makavejev is dealing with often come across as ridiculous. It is to Makavejev's credit that he himself realizes this, but it doesn't make the opinions on display any more provocative.

The only lecture I was able to attend was Adrian Martin's discussion of the career of film critic/painter Manny Farber, titled "Creative Criticism." Martin begins by outlining two types of criticism: (1) explanatory, descriptive criticism that offers a reading or interpretation of the film, which the critic treats as a finite object; and (2) creative criticism, which aims to recreate, remake or extend the film in a new way by working in a new medium (usually writing, but now visual media as well). There are overlaps between the two (as Martin mentioned, Raymond Bellour is one example), but one of the earliest practicioners of the later form is Manny Farber.

I am quite familiar with Farber as a critic, particularly through Greg Taylor's book Artists in the Audience, which Martin doesn't mention but which makes a similar argument about the critic as artist. What was illuminating for me about Martin's lecture is his presentation and discussion of Farber's paintings in relation to his criticism. On the major points drawn out by this comparison is how Farber, in both his criticism and painting, was most interested in the edges of the frame. Many of Farber's paintings have little activity at the center, instead placing most of the action on the perimeter. Likewise, Farber's approach to criticism and the films he admired shared this same dislike of centered framings. In general, most of what is most appreciated and enjoyed by the mass audience bored Farber, which is what made him one of the first cult critics. Farber did not care for the novelistic or theatrical; what he wanted were multi-suggestive films and images, a rich world of experience. Not stories, but worlds. Things like plot solving actions and character psychology were not important. What makes a film engaging are the digressions that give the world its richness, as well as the presence of performers with a presence or aura: "interesting people doing interesting things". This is what made Farber so distinct and so influential. And while I personally like those influenced by Farber more than Farber himself as a writer, Martin's lecture was a very passionate appreciation, as well as a great introduction for a Korean audience (Farber has still not been translated into Korean, although a few pieces are coming out soon apparently).

To accompany his lecture, Martin chose Maurice Pialat's 1974 film The Mouth Agape. This was my favorite film of the festival and makes me want to track down more of Pialat's films in the future. I had previously only seen his 1985 film Police, which failed to make an impression, but The Mouth Agape is quite astounding. The plot revolves around a woman who is dying and how her family, especially her son and husband, deal with this situation. Due to subject matter and even the time period in which it is made, I thought of Ingmar Bergman's 1972 drama Cries and Whispers. This is because other than subject matter, it is hard to imagine two films being more different in approach. In contrast to the heavy expressionism and symbolism of Bergman, Pialat concentrates much more on a realistic approach.

Now, when I describe the film as using a realistic approach, this does not mean that Pialat is not obsessively shaping this material. Rather, he is shaping the material to achieve a much more authentic world. This is why Martin chose the film to use in conjunction with Farber; not because Farber wrote about this film, but because this film has such affinities with Farber's interests in cinema (also, Farber was an admirer of Pialat's 1991 film Van Gogh). Pialat wanted to record something interesting between actors, and often made his actors uncomfortable and filmed a great deal in order to achieve his results. He also worked his material heavily in the editing process. The Mouth Agape was originally over four hours long and had a much different plot and story, with a greater emphasis on the character of the son. The film he creates is just 83 minutes, but yet is in no way a reduction for the sake of plot clarity or simplicity. Rather, the conventional rhetoric of drama and artificiality is avoided. Pialat is concerned with the edges of the story. Not with the mother and her suffering (although this is shown and presented in quotidian and disturbing detail), but with how the other son, his wife, and the father continue to live their lives, in some ways not noticably affected by the event. Pialat is concerned with creating and presenting a believable world, in which the house itself, which is also a small shop where the father works, is in many ways as important as the characters. As a result, the emotional force of the drama that is presented is enormously heightened. Although I had not heard of the film before the festival, I now think it is one of the great films of the 1970s.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

2009 Jeonju Film Festival Overview

I attended this year's Jeonju Film Festival and was able to see 15 films over the course of just over 4 days here, probably the highest volume of cinema going in one week for me personally. Obviously, with any large festival, my experience was limited, but overall the festival was strong, if not as exciting as last year's (it is hard to top Satantango).

Of the films I saw, I would rank them as follows:

5 stars

The Mouth Agape (Maurice Pialat, 1974)
High in the Mountains (Hong Sang-soo, 2009)

4 1/2 Stars

Level Five (Chris Marker, 1997)
Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
A Lake (Philippe Grandrieux, 2009)
Butterflies Have No Memories (Lav Diaz, 2009)

4 stars

The Housemaid (Kim Ki-Young, 1960)
Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain, 2008)
WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Dusan Makavejev, 1971)
Goodbye Solo (Rahim Bahrani, 2009)

3 1/2 stars

A North Chinese Girl (Zou Peng, 2009)
Moonlighting (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1982)

3 stars

Koma (Kawase Naomi, 2009)

2 1/2 stars

Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1971)
The ESP Couple (Kim Hyung-joo, 2008)

Unlike last year, I did get a chance to see a number of newer films, of wildly varied quality, as is to be expected. The ESP Couple was my least favorite, although still mildly amusing. Poor writing and rather broad farce sunk an interesting premise. A North Chinese Girl was at the opposite scale, an exercise in Asian minimalism that felt, unfortunately, like just that, an exercise. The film was enjoyable for me because I prefer long take cinema and the film had a promising opening, but it never came together. The final shot, in its own minimalist way, was just as heavy handed as any mainstream action film.

There were two newer features I quite liked. The American indie Goodbye Solo is an intriguing variation on Abbas Kiarostami's A Taste of Cherry, but told from the perspective of the cab driver. The film creates a vivid and unique take on the immigrant experience in America with very few of the cliches. The central relationship is not entirely convincing, but overall the story achieves an understated but resonant impact. Another fine film is Tony Manero, a Chilean drama set during the Pinochet era. The lead character, Raul, a small-time thug, becomes obsessed with Saturday Night Fever and John Travolta's "Tony Manero". This is set against the backdrop of political oppression, in which Raul's behaviour is reflective of the predatory nature of authoritarian capitalism and the American popular culture that accompanies it. Many other films would have turned the basic premise into a disarming comedy, but Larrain is not interested in a simple celebration of consumer culture. The style is at times overblown, but overall a small yet socially astute drama that deserves a wider audience.

My favorite new film was this year's Jeonju Digital Project, in which three directors are asked to make a digital short film for the festival. Hong Sang-soo's film was especially great, and I'll try to write a full post about it shortly. But also very strong was Lav Diaz's Butterflies Have No Memories. The story concerns the hostility felt by the former workers of a goldmine, a resentment that reaches a climax when a former resident, now a Canadian, comes back to visit. The ending of this short uses the form to make a moral statement: the act of passive resistance by one of the characters literally turns the plot of a feature genre film into a 40 minute piece calling for a move forward for the characters and Filipino society. The weakest of the three was Koma by Kawase Naomi, which had some images and threads of intrigue but yet remained too obscure and mystical for my taste.

The director spotlight this year was on Jerzy Skolimowski, whose oeuvre I was unfamiliar with. I saw two films, on the basis of which I am not overly enthused to see more. Moonlighting was the better of the two, a pretty good satirical drama about illegal Polish workers stranded following the declaration of Marshal Law in Warsaw in late 1981. Deep End, from 1971, has not aged well. Its absurd take on a young boy coming of age in London offered nothing that many other films haven't done better, and its truly odd and bizarre ending left me cold. It is strange enough that I probably won't forget it, though.

In addition to many contemporary Korean films, there was also a Korean film retrospective. I was able to see the recently restored 1960 melodrama The Housemaid by the now acclaimed auteur Kim Ki-Young. A heavy stylized drama with a sexually charged plot, it resembled nothing like the traditional reserved classical melodramas from the 1950s. It even contains a framing device in which the same actors comment on the story that we watch. It concludes with the husband directly addressing the audience in a mock warning about the dangers of young women to married men. Kim's heavy-handed style serves to further the distanciation of the audience from the story world, so that the drama is always symbolic and heightened rather than resembling any type of realism. The reality that interests Kim concerns the desires and repressions underlying the traditional Korean family unit.

I'll write about the films of the JIFF Film Critics' masterclass in a separate post. Overall, like I mentioned at the opening, a fine festival this year, although with a weaker retrospective than last year's focus on Bela Tarr. The festival was busier this year, partly because it coincided with some Korean holidays. It certainly does take advanced booking to see the films you want (or any films at all if you wait til the weekend). But the festival still remains committed to the love of cinema itself over the more business centered (and larger) Pusan festival, and is certainly an event I will not miss as long as I am here.