Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tribeca V: Foreign language flicks part one

The Promise

Directed by
Chen Kaige

Mythological films area hit-and-miss affair. A lot of myths don't make all that much sense evenwithout the cultural hoo-ha which tends to make things even worse. Now Iread somewhere that this film was based on a genuine ancient myth and elsewherethat it wasn't, but the whole thing is so weird that it still might be.

Thefilm takes place in the age of myth “when the world was young and gods andhumans lived together.” We meet young Qingcheng(Guan Xiaotong), a young ragamuffinlooting a battlefield of food and clothing. She's captured by young Wuhuan(ShiLei), who agrees to let her out of the trap she's fallen into if she agreesto be his slave forever. She agrees, and as soon as he lets her out, shebonks him on the head and runs off, taking the food with her.

Nowto us modern westerners, little Q did the right thing, as promises made underduress, like being caught in a trap, aren't legally or morally binding, especiallyone like that, but to the ancient Chinese, this was a horrible faux pas.

As Q is walking on the stones crossing a lake, she's confronted by
GoddessManshen (Hong Chen), who rewards her by not only informing her of her mothersdeath, but offering her a life of wealth and riches, the only condition beingthat she's going to lose all her lovers. Q readily agrees.

Cut to20 years later, we're in the middle of the war between the army of the kingdom[of what, we're not told], and the evil duke of the north, who it turns outis a grown up Wuhuan(Nicholas Tse), his opponent is the great General Guangming(HiroyukiSanada), master of the crimson armor [which was the title of the film fora while], who's tactic is to steal an army of slaves [okay, bought, but thedealer(Qian Bo) is immediately conscripted as part of the gang], and havethem run over by a massive hoard of stampeding bulls.

The tactic works,but only because one of the slaves, Kunlun(Jang Dong-Kun) is a superherowith the power of lighting speed. This impresses the General, who offersto make him his personal slave. Since Kunlun doesn't know any better, heagrees.

Then Wuhaun sends a supernatural assassin named Snow Wolf(LiuYe) to kill the great General, but is defeated by Kunlun, who dons the crimsonarmor at his master's order and goes off to save the king(Cheng Qian) fromWuhaun's army. But the army is enthralled by the grown up Qingcheng (CeciliaCheung) striptease, and that confuses Kunlun, who kills his majesty in orderto save Q, who's hanging by her fingernails from the roof.

The mistakenidentity romantic comedy plot is combined by the Joseph Campbell Hero's Journey®one and we've got a relatively perverse romantic quadrangle.

Thisisn't nearly as good as it claims to be. The plot is hackneyed, the actingis good, but not great, the CGI is mediocre, and the fighting-while-suspended-by-wireschoreography is kind of boring. This is purported to be the most expensivemovie ever made in China, but it doesn't look it. Unless you're really intochopsocky, don't bother.

Brasilia 18% (Brazil) - International Premiere.

Written and Directed by
Nelson Pereira dos Santos

This might be called “The Case of the Hallucinating detective.”
Isn'ta detective, he's a coroner, called by the Brazillian government from hispractice in LA in order to identify a body that might be a a famous missingperson that would make it a lurid murder case.

We meet Dr. Olavo Bilac(Carlos Alberto Ricelli) on the plane, which is about to land at Brasilia's airport,and here he starts to hallucinate visions of his dead wife Laura(Bruna Lombardi),who as this film is Brazillian, is stark naked. He's met at the airport byhis sister(Laura Lustosa) and the head coroner(), and he's taken to see thecorpse, and is informed that the DNA doesn't match that of the victim, EugeniaCâmara(Karine Carvalho), who may or may not be actually dead.

Butthe powers that be want Eugenia dead and want the body to be declared hersin order to cover up the scandal, which, Eugenia, who is both a major moviestar and a fearless government investigator, had been threatening to be madepublic. The guy accused, Augusto(Michel Melamed), subscribes to this theory,but Congresswoman Georgesand Romero(Malu Mader) is willing to give up hervirtue to Olavo in order to convince our hero otherwise.

Unfortunatelyfor him, Eugenia telepathically contacts our hero and he's convinced she'salive. The whole thing is silly as hell, but in Brazil, there's lots of corruption,so who knows? However, the supernatural element really takes away from thepolitical corruption angle. It could have been better, obviously, but it'sstill a lot of fun in spots.

Men at Work (Kargaran Mashgoul-e Karand) (Iran)

Written and Directed
by Mani Haghighi

Comedycomes as much from situation as from character, and that's why it's so popularon television. One doesn't expect such things from Iran, where the governmentis not known for it's sense of humor, or even tolerating it in others.

Butthis is Mani Haghighi, the Woody Allen of Persia, who's previous films havebeen banned by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and still managesto get his stuff financed. Good for him!

There's no real politicsor blasphemy here as we meet four rich friends returning from a skiing tripin the mountains surrounding Teheran stop for a pee break and come upon alarge monolith, which they vow to vandalize and overthrow.

In otherwords they decide to move an immovable object, and the rest of the worldcomes to watch them in this absurd and impossible task, well, not the world,actually, but wives, girlfriends, strangers and the occasional old man witha donkey show up and either try to help or critique the project, which becomes more and more difficult to achieve.

We discover bits and pieces ofthe lives of the original four as they plow ahead with their quest. The jokes work, and the acting is great. This is farce at it's finest.

The Mist in the Palm Trees (La Niebla en las Palmeras) (Spain) - International Premiere.

written and directed by
Carlos Molinero and Lola Salvador

Avant-gardefilmmaking is one of the hardest of genres to do. The reason is that mostof the tricks have been done already and almost always done better. In general these so-called “experiments” are horrid. There's no entertainment valueusually, and what you get is boring acts of masturbation that gives the audiencea headache.

Only very rarely does a film of this type appeal to anaudience of normal people, and those are the ones that the snooty are mostlikely to reject and thus never see the light of day at even film festivals.This is almost unique in that this is actually GOOD.

Lola Salvador'sfather was mythical to her. Both her parents died when she was very young,but her father, who died in the second world war, was special. He was a physicistwho may have been asked by both sides to work on their nuclear bomb programs.

Sowhat she and co-conspirator did was to construct a narrative as to what happenedto him, using old photographs, home movie footage, and stuff she found invarious vaults and waste dumps to create a dreamscape of a soul caught inlimbo, slowly losing it's grip on the life it once lead.

Also, there'shome video footage from the 1980s and '90s, where Ms. Salvador goes to Havana,Cuba, where she grew up, and Spain, France and Germany to search for theremains of her father's life.

They also add things like title cards,to make parts of the film flow like an old silent film. The effect is striking.That the stock footage and home movies are rotting away is for once a positivething, as gives an impression of memory and consciousness fading into nothingness.It's far more beautiful than it has a right to be.

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