Friday, October 30, 2009

SAIFF 2009: Manjadikuru/Lucky Little Seeds

Manjadikuru tells a bittersweet story about a family getting together for the funeral of its patriarch, seen through a 10 year old boy named Vicky. While the grown-ups bicker and wait anxiously for the deceased's will to be read in those 16 days of funeral rites, Vicky, his cousins, Kannan and Manikutty and a servant girl named Roja slowly strike up friendships and experience the magic of rural India that would last their lifetimes.

The film is full of contrasts: the complexity of the grown up world/family dynamics and the innocence of the children, old vs new, city vs rural, yet nothing is overtly black and white. Taking place in lush green Kerala, (Southwestern region in India) Manjadikuru is all about the colors, sounds and wonders of childhood. It feels similar to reading an Arundhati Roy story. The imagery is so striking you could almost smell it- be it children catching tadpoles in the pool or playing choo-choo train in the large, cavernous house, shooting down mangos from trees with a slingshot, collecting the shiny little red seeds on the ground, discovering an abandoned room full of dusty Marxist memorabilia that once belong to an uncle who abandoned his duty as the oldest son of the house to follow his ideals...

It is heartbreaking to see as Vicky learns firsthand that not everyone is equal; even though the Tamil girl Roja is around the same age as Vicky and his cousins, she is a servant and needs to work all day and is forbidden to 'mix' with Vicky and his gang. The scenes involving children secretly devising an innocent plan to have her escape from her servitude is perhaps the most touching moment from the film.

Manjadikuru unfolds like a good memoir. The intricacy and eye for details by the first time director Anjali Menon, from her own experience growing up, are just extraordinary. Some of the scenes are a little too sappy and the film goes on for a good twenty minutes too long. But along with Erice's The Spirits of the Beehive, Manjadikuru is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful films about childhood I've seen.

The screening of Manjadikuru was preceded by Andheri, a short film shot entirely in bustling Mumbai and tells a story about Anita(Anangsha Biswas), a live-in maid. There is an amazing handheld sequence in the bus full of people as Anita aimlessly tries to run away from her surroundings. The film and the performance by Biswas feel completely real and authentic. Great, sad little film.

Review at Twitch

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pokemon Nightmare

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I’m in love. I love looking at her falling asleep next to me. So trusting, so helpless, so care free. She trusts me enough and I am truly honored. I’d just look at her face, study her features- her bangs, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, chin…

She mumbles in her sleep: her expression that of fear and anger. This is not the first time I’ve seen her having nightmares. When I touch her to wake her up from her retched dream, she startles and screams even. I hate it when I add myself in her nightmares like that. She wakes up all distressed. She doesn’t want to talk about it. It’s probably something to do with her career, parents, zombies, a bully or clowns.

Then an idea comes to me: I should whisper something in her ear that will break the spell of her nightmares! What makes her laugh? I ask myself. I try to start a list of words that she'd find funny. I can’t ask her and discuss about it because it has to be unexpected. If I talked with her about it prior, any words that would be funny to her would get into her subconscious and be ineffective or worse, contribute to the nightmare that could be truly horrific. This is a tough task. Something silly, something totally non sequitur...

She is having a bad one. She keeps saying, “No…no…” Her face contorts in fear, shaking her head violently. This is my chance. I clear my throat as quiet as I can. I carefully brush her hair off of her perfectly shaped ear and whisper, “Pikachu, picka, picka...” in a high pitched cartoon character voice (granted my usual voice is a deep baritone). It takes about two seconds for her brain to register what is said (for me it’s an eternity). I can see the hint of smile on the edge of her lips. Her eyes open and she looks at me. Her smile gets wider and becomes a chuckle, then an uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. Then she kisses me. I’m just happy as a clam.

For Nicole

Reviving "The New Deal"

Wild River (1960) - Kazan *at Film Forum
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It's the New Deal era Roosevelt America. On with the new, out with the old. But Wild River doesn't play out like that. It's much more nuanced and layered. Chuck Glover(Montgomery Clift) is a young gov't lackey sent down to Tennessee to oversee the removal/buyout of the land that would be flooded once the newly constructed dam is up and running. Everyone but one Garth family, headed by a stubborn matriarch(wonderfully played by Jo Van Fleet) is left on a small island in the river valley. Like the others before him, Glover ain't gonna change the old lady's mind. She has her life invested in the land- her house, family plot, the memories. While making unfruitful attempts to persuade the old Garth and having hard times dealing with the Southern way of life(the Federal Gov't pays the same wages to blacks and whites which is unheard of in this part of the country!!), it's the lady's young widowed granddaughter Carol(Lee Remick) Glover has his eyes on. Like the wild river, you can't tame the human drama from unfolding. Young Chuck and Carol know that things won't work out between them but they can help falling for each other.

Acting in Wild River is top notch throughout. Clift uses his sensitive girlyman image to the fullest here against roughneck backdrop and Remick as a pale-blue eyed, young sexy widow in heat comes across as fully three-dimensional. There are some really heart breaking scenes(including Carol throwing herself into speechless Chuck) to truly funny scenes(like drunken Chuck going mano-a-mano with the lady Garth). The racial tension and violence are there but never venomous or cliché. Kazan might have been a rat, but he knew how to direct his actors. It's cinemascope color photography is beautiful. The optimism of the New Deal overtakes the Wild River but it still observes astutely the melancholy of time passing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Guttermouth

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Fuck! Anna Delvecchio screamed as she put her right foot on the break. The car abruptly halted and the rosary on her rearview mirror swung and hit her face. She avoided crashing into the SUV ahead of her. Even before she got a chance to let her sigh of relief, she was violently jerked forward- a man with his small van rear-ended her with a crack. The rosary lashed her face again. Thank god for the seat belt!

The first thought that shot up in Anna’s head was to get out of the car and go after the driver who just rear-ended her. Balls, always go after the balls- her ex-husband’s advice to fend off possible sexual deviants played again and again in her head like a Buddhist mantra. She looked down at her feet and regretted not wearing her heels. They could do some major damage to the balls. She changed from her nurse scrubs to her regular clothes, but forgot to change her shoes at the hospital where she’s been doing another twelve hours straight graveyard shift. She cursed her otherwise trusty white sneakers.

The man was big and thick necked. He saw Anna charging out of her car. He did the same instinctively. The traffic light changed to green and the SUV ahead of Anna took off. The honking from the others began. It was a morning rush hour. Anna didn’t care. She assessed the damage on her car. A big dent on the bumper. Her car insurance bill would go up undoubtedly. She didn’t have any more money to spare. The thought enraged her.

What the fuck? Are you fucking blind? She charged.

The man stepped back and found himself leaning against his van.

I’m sorry. But you stopped so abruptly-
You fucking rear-ended me. You fucking cock-sucker!
Hey, it ain’t only my fault. I saw you avoiding the other car and that’s why you break-
Do you know how much it’s gonna cost me? Do you have any fucking idea?

Honk, honk. Get the hell outta road! People in the back were getting impatient.

I’m sure the insurance company will take care of it.
You didn’t even slow down. You fuck! Her blind rage was still going strong.
I’m telling you ma’am. It wasn’t only my fucking fault!

Honk, honk. Move!

Shut your goddamn fucking mouth you piece of shit! You know how much I paid for this car? She directed her finger to her mint-condition blue Toyota. Whole fucking lot!

The man went back to his driver’s seat. Anna got a little scared for one second, thinking he was going for his gun. But he came back with a small writing pad and a pen.

Look at my bumper. Look at my fucking bumper!
Would you please calm down for a sec?
You fucking ruined my life, you fat ugly fucking faggot! You fucking bastard son of a butt fucking whore!

He dropped his pad and pencil to the ground.
The honking was deafening.

You got some mouth lady. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
Don’t bring my mother in this, you fat, ugly piece of-
You kiss your mother with that?

****

She quietly opened the front door. The house was dark and quiet, same as when she left last night. She threw her heavy tote bag on the couch. She directly went to the fridge and pulled out a beer can, opened it and took a long swig. Her face was still red with rage. She raised her cold beer against her puffy, tired red face. It felt good. She breathed deeply.

Anna tiptoed to a small room where her mother was sleeping in bed. There was a cross on the wall above the bed. Her mother's two best friend, Ginger(wheelchair) and Fred(oxygen tank) were near the window, soaking in morning sunlight.
Anna silently crossed herself before approaching her mother’s bed. She looked at her mother’s small face; sunken cheeks and full of wrinkles. She gently brushed off her mother’s curly grey hair from her forehead.

Hi, mom, I’m home.

Her mother was sound asleep and didn’t respond.
Anna leaned over her to kiss her on the forehead. She stopped.

Fucking asshole! Anna mumbled as she squeezed the toothpaste out of the tube on to her toothbrush in the bathroom.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Romance

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Hey you, said Haylee, nudging at my side. From the kitchen, she passed me a plate of grilled shrimp with yellow rice, beans, pico de gallo and guacamole through the service window. I felt very special because the shrimp dish was the most expensive item in the menu.
No not you. She pointed at Nile.
Oh gotcha.
Nile sat on the counter, her elbow on the bar, resting her head, looking nowhere in particular. A beautiful girl- tall slender figure, high forehead, long intricate dreads, furious eyebrows, humongous light brown eyes, long dignified nose and luscious lips made her look like the Nefertiti reincarnate.
Haylee, the short order cook of this burrito joint was from Hawaii. Because of her small stature and boyish looks, she was always mistaken for a Hispanic boy among the pre-dominantly Mexican co-workers. She’d lose her temper when people start speaking Spanish to her.
I don’t understand Spanish, comprende?

Nile was a flamenco dancer. Sometimes she came in for her shift in full costumes, drenched in sweat, still full of her infectious laugh and energy. We were all in awe of her, especially Haylee. Most of us wait staff were consisted of dreamers, trying to become dancers, writers, artists... in the big city. Even though we were all transients, interlopers just passing through the job to make ends meet, there was a certain camaraderie we shared. Nile was special though. There was an air of exclusivity around her that we common people couldn’t reach. It was matter of time she called it quits on being a waitress.

No, no. I can’t eat this, whispered Nile, shaking her head firmly while looking at me and the kitchen back and forth. I read it on her face that she didn’t want Haylee’s special attention anymore.
It’s not right.
I ended up eating the shrimp.

I was scribbling away in my note pad just as I am doing now.
You have a pretty handwriting.

I looked up.
What are you writing? Nile asked, just before the evening rush. Her beautiful eyes penetrating my soul. I had to look away.
It’s about a girl who swallowed a butterfly. I thought I heard her snickering at my response. I could tell that Nile was only half interested as I told her a story of a young girl who had a cold and had to be cooped up indoors:

She looked outside through the window enviously. There was a thermometer placed in her mouth. It was a beautiful bright summer day. The cloudless sky was bright blue and the flowers were in full bloom and the grasses were lush green. The girl wanted to be outside so badly. She climbed down from the sofa and put the thermometer in her unfinished bowl of chicken soup. She looked around cautiously and walked out of the house. The sun was blinding, she had to shade her eyes under her tiny hands for a while. Her barefoot first tested the top of the grass as if they were made out of needles, then she stepped in to the backyard garden. Birds were chirping and butterflies were fluttering about. She cautiously walked to the middle of the garden. She looked up. It felt good to be out. She then outstretched her arms as if to hug the sky and opened her mouth to take in all the energy around her and be rid of all her illness. Then a butterfly flew in to her mouth.


Nile didn’t get to hear the end of my story. We had to work. The evening rush was on.


To Haylee’s dismay, Nile quit the job a couple of days later without saying goodbye to anyone.
She didn’t say anything about me before she left? Haylee asked me.
No but she left this for you. I handed her a note. Haylee opened it. In a pretty hand writing, it said;

Don’t think that I didn’t notice you always setting aside the best food for me. I thank you for that. I’ll always think of you as my butterfly.

Love, Nile.

I’ll always treasure the smile on Haylee’s face that day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Hole

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Imagine this: you are a young writer, you are sitting in a cafe and this radiantly beautiful girl, Lucia(played by adorable Paz Vega), comes up to you and confesses that she's so taken by your book and is in love with you and wants to live with you while undressing you with her bright, intelligent, big brown eyes, what do you do?! WHAT.DO.YOU.DO?!

The film starts with a lush underwater photography, off the island of Malta- clear turquoise water, reeds swaying back and forth. Director Julio Medem has a great visual sense. With the sun drenched HD photography and all the intimate sex scenes, the film is just gorgeous to look at from beginning to end. It's too bad Medem's usual cosmic universe of coincidences and chance loses its steam and gets too schmaltzy. I couldn't buy into all the cleverly planned intricacies in the theme of losing oneself in the hole(plotholes, sexual innuendos, mother's womb, light/darkness, etc).

In the end, even with all the human drama, I found myself unmoved by the film. This is a typical case of 'what looks good on paper doesn't necessarily translate well on to the screen'. Too bad, beautiful actresses(Vega, Najwa Nimri of Los amantes del Círculo Polar, and smoldering Elena Anaya) are all wasted in the sappy script.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Day I became Filipino at 35 Thousand Feet

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In the corner of my eye I catch a gray furry thing moving. It’s a dog, the one that looks like Benji. I don’t know what you call that breed. It is kind of strange though. A dog can’t be here. I’m on the plane. Yet there is little Benji trotting down the aisle. It stops right next to where I sit. I peek down and find it looking right up at me. Hello, little doggy. With lightning speed it jumps up on my face. Wet dog smell. I can’t breathe. And before I do anything, it craps in my mouth.
“Are you Filipino?”
I open my eyes. To my right, there sits a comely little Asian lady, looking at me, smiling. I still taste you-know-what in my mouth. My back hurts. My eyes are all gooped up. I hate air travel.
“NO.” I say curtly, and close my eyes again. But I can’t go back to sleep. The jet engine is too deafening. I look at the lady again. She is still eyeing me expectantly.
“I’m Korean.” I say this while half covering my mouth.
“Oh.”

“Chicken or beef?” asks a flight attendant. As it is usually the case, the airline food is inedible.
“Chicken?” It doesn’t make any difference to me.
“Chicken,” says the Filipino lady.
“Oh, we are terribly sorry, we have only one chicken left-“
”Just give it to her.” I relay the tray to the lady. She is grateful.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me.” I say.
After a while, they come to collect the trays. The Filipino lady hasn’t touched her chicken. I haven’t touched my presumably beef meal either. We look at each other.

I nod off again. No Benji please. I hear someone crying. Am I dreaming? With this deafening whirring sound, I don’t even know where this sobbing is coming from.

It’s the Filipino lady. I shouldn’t be bothered with other people’s business. But the sobbing continues.
“Are you ok?”
She takes out a photo from her pocket and hands it to me. It’s a photo of a lanky young man in a military camouflage get up, smiling.
“It’s my son…he was in the army.” She wipes her tears with a handkerchief. “There was a helicopter crash and he was killed.”
Well, what do I say in this kind of situation? I really do not know.
“I’m so sorry.”
“He was about your age.”
All sorts of thoughts rush in. I get angry at the military for putting her in a coach seat of a crowded airplane. What the hell, she deserves better than this. She is flying over to the Philippines to her son’s funeral, for godssakes. I hold her hand for a while. She falls asleep. Poor woman.

I’m listening to the radio with a head set. Julian Lennon’s Salt Water is playing and I catch myself singing along. I look at the lady and she is looking at me. Embarrassing.
“You remind me of my son.”
Personally, I think there is no resemblance between tall lanky Filipino guy in the picture and myself. None. But what the hell, I sing along a little louder, for her to hear.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fruit porn:

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Lemon Plums. I'd like very much to touch those...plums

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Crab Apples Them bite-size, perky pink apples, mmm...

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Persimmons Look at those big...leaves

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Forelle Pears Raunchy

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Dragon Fruit Beautiful outside, freaky inside

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Rambutan Hairy and moist

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Seckel Pears Cute and tarty

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Pommegranate Dirty and messy

To be Continued...

And Happy Pumpkin Season Everyone!
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Smudge

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Come look at this. Elena Said.
There was a big black smudge on the white wall. Finger prints?
The whole palm print is more like it. She said. A hint of fear in her voice. Look! Look over here!
More smudges along the wall. What the hell is going on?
It was mid December. A short, 'in-between shows' time for the gallery. Because the walls and floor were bare, it looked even more humongous than usual.

This second floor gallery in the heart of Soho was at least a hundred times bigger than the tiny studio apartment Jodi shared with her boyfriend in Washington Heights. Ever since she started interning here as an assistant to the curator, she'd been daydreaming about living in the gallery. She’d imagine how she’d decorate this gigantic space into her own liking; a sofa right here, a bed aaaaaall the way over there near the windows, a TV stand in the middle of that beautiful parquet floor, etc.

As a former ballet student, Jodi felt a strong urge to dance around upon seeing the empty gallery. The space could’ve made a handsome dance studio. This must be what dogs feel like when they see a spacious grassy meadow. She thought.
It was decided that they would install security cameras to monitor the gallery. It turned out that nothing was stolen. But the smudges jangled Elena(owner/curator)’s sense of security really hard.

Jodi was on the ladder getting a box of documents from a closet. The box was heavier than she expected. With a skirt and high heels on, she was having a hard time getting down the ladder with the heavy box.
Do you need help with that?
Jodi looked down.
Don’t worry, I’m not looking up your skirt.
Some of the workers giggled from the floor in the corner. Jodi felt her face getting red. It was Adam, the foreman of the workers prepping the wall, at the bottom of the ladder.
Adam walked up the ladder.
Here, let me help you.

So Elena’s really concerned about those smudges, eh? Adam asked.
I guess so. Jodi answered.
Well, we will paint over it. No problem.
The wall painters were taking a break. All the staff were gone. Jodi was sorting through old invoices alone. Adam looked at his crew and back.
Alejandro says he saw you the other day.
Excuse me?
You live in Washington Heights? He does too.
Alejandro, eating his sandwich in the corner across the room waved his hand.
Oh.
You don’t hang out with the people here? I saw all of them going out together. Adam regretted asking this.
Don’t answer that. None of my business.

It dawned on Jodi that since she started working at the gallery, she’d never met a single person from it outside work. This question hung around in her head for days long after the conversation ended.
What a place, eh? So huge, you just want to run around. Makes you feel like a kid. He smiled.

There was a mechanical beeping sound. It took Jodi some time to figure out where it was coming from. It was the newly installed security camera recording system with the monitors in the office area. The red light on the recording machine was blinking and the tape was on eject position. As always, Jodi was the first one to get to work. She popped in the tape into the machine. The grainy green night vision footage from previous night came up on the screen split in four squares; the bird’s eye view of the gallery at night, and three other angles of different areas of the gallery. Nothing. She pushed the fast forward button. For a while there was no activity. Then there they were, Adam’s crew. The images were startling at first. Men gliding through the air with glowing eyes like ghosts. It took some time for Jodi to realize that they were rollerblading in the darkness around the huge gallery. They would bump into the walls and into each other, grabbing the wall with their dirty hands. They were all smiling, having the time of their lives.

This made her laugh. She quickly ejected the tape and put it in her bag while checking if anyone was looking. Then she put a blank tape in the machine.

She walked toward the windows. The soft morning sunlight was hitting her face. She looked back at the huge empty space. She took off her high heels and placed them neatly near her feet. Then she danced, twirled around the huge space all over. It felt great. Then she took a bow, directly toward the tiny camera on the ceiling. She thought she’d heard applauses coming from somewhere.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Call Number: PQ4809.A45.S3713.1993

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Press play to listen.

Jump

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I once saw a neighborhood kid jump off from the balcony of his second story house with two umbrellas- one in each hand. It was a bet. Of course, I betted on him not succeeding. It wasn't on whether he would die or not. Those were innocent times.
Twok! He walked away with a sprained ankle.
He grew up to be a successful restaurateur.

Lindsay was a sullen girl who worked at an office not far from mine. She was a grad student working as a receptionist. She always wore black. Her short hair was unkempt. Her blue-ish eye makeup made her look even sadder. One day, she jumped out of her twelfth floor dorm room window.
Twok! She didn't make it.

This is one conversation I remember having with her once, outside our office building during our cigarette break.

What happened to your eyes?

What this? She pointed to her small, angular face. Dark bags under her pale penetrating eyes.

I had two hours of sleep. I was out all night. She smiled sheepishly.

Dancing?

Danced, danced, danced the night away. She exhaled.

You gotta take care yourself. It's bad for your health.

It's good for your soul. She winked.

I never asked what her major was, what her aspirations were, her plans...anything.
I wonder what she could've become if she decided not to jump.

Radio Daze

Martin (1977) - Romero
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A surprisingly classy vampire(?) film by George Romero. The film starts out on a moving train where Martin(John Amplas), a cat like young man, attacks a pretty middle-aged woman. Unlike typical vampire, he uses a syringe full of sleeping agent. He is very clumsy at what he does too- woman goes down kicking and screaming. Martin lives under the watchful eye of Tada Cuda, an old religious Colonel Sanders look-alike who believes his cousin Martin is a damned soul, Nosferatu.

Once settled in, Martin sets his bright eyes on pretty, lonely housewives as his targets using his youthful looks. At night, he pours his heart out to an all-night radio talk show host(this is the 70's folks) who, in turn, calls him 'count'. The thing is, he's socially awkward and not really into 'sexy stuff'. Unlike movies, he says, "people don't let you what I want to do to them."

Set in once-a-great-steel-mill-town of Braddock, PA- the industrial wasteland, where the American dream had died, where only the old and superstitious are left, serves as another character.

There are some very well coordinated, effectively suspenseful scenes where Martin with syringe in his teeth, does a cat and mouse act in a big house with its inhabitants. Black and white flashback scenes are often gorgeous too.

One can read Martin as an early examples of socially awkward, lazy teen's existential angst film and it may as well be. Since we don't know if what he's doing is really for perverted kicks or out of necessity. By all accounts it is a very special film.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Black & White

NYFF screening of White Material was preceded by a short, Chicken Heads by Palestinian filmmaker Bassam Ali Jarbawi, a Columbia Univ. Film student. A film about a shepherd and his two sons in the Occupied Territories. Touching and beautifully shot.


White Material
(2009) - Denis *Q & A with director afterwards
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This may possibly be my favorite Denis film and a front runner for my favorite film of the year. Denis goes back to the colonial Africa and tells a story of a coffee plantation owned by a white family caught in civil war. Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), a matron of the family is perhaps a clueless, arrogant white woman, as she tries to hire fleeing locals to finish coffee harvest, oblivious to total chaos around her. But we are definitely not watching some helpless puzzle piece in an overwrought, meticulously planned Haneke movie. Vial is not quite the white devil. It's her ingrained sense of entitlement that makes her a curio as she refuses to leave and calling other whites undeserving of the beautiful land.

We are in the Denis territory and there are some amazingly blissful sequences- Maria riding a motorcycle on the dirt road, piles of child soldiers all doped up with pills and junk food spread out in the Vial house...just to name a few. Huppert fits perfectly in the white woman role. Her glaring whiteness is used well against the black continent. Isaach De Bankolé's Ché like rebel leader the Boxer, Michel Subor (The old man with the dogs in L'intrus) and Christopher Lambert as the deceiving husband, Nicolas Duvauchelle as the wacko son round up the elusive supporting cast. White Material is not her most abstract film yet Denis still manages to keep the film absorbing and enigmatic without ever being didactic or boring. It's definitely headier and feels more substantial than her other works. And the sense of freedom I feel when I watch a Denis's film that I like the most is still intact. It's invigorating.

Again at the Q & A session, people started asking stupid questions: What's her motivation behind such and such? Why the transition of her son? What's your motivation for making this film?
Denis was very gracious and answered each questions. I don't think about the motivations of the characters, she said. She comes across as a very thoughtful filmmaker. The most poignant question was about children who portrayed child soldiers. Denis told us the way she went about it: There was a school nearby the location they were shooting in Cameroon. She talked with the teachers and kids had to be trained as to how to hold the gun properly and whatnot. They were told the basic storyline of the film and all aware of what they were doing. She got amazing performances out of them.

Jamusch regular Isaach De Bankolé who worked with Denis previously(I can't Sleep, No Fear, No Die) and a young black actor, William Nadylam, who plays a charismatic Mayor in the film were present for the Q & A too. Good times.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Night with Cissé and Marty

Min Ye/Tell Me Who You Are (2009) - Cissé
*Conversation with Martin Scorsese afterwards
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First of all, on our short Italian man Marty. I gotta admit, regardless of how I feel about his films, I admire him as a true cinephile, as a preserver of old films, for his My Voyage to Italy series and for releasing Les Amants du Pont-Neuf in the US after 9 years since its debut.
Scorsese was so taken by Cissé's previous effort Yeelen, he invited Cissé and his actress Sokana Gakou to present his new film here at Director's Guild Theater in NY. It was touching and funny as Cissé recalled Scorsese emailing him that he was coming to Mali and when he told all his colleagues, no one believed him until the famous director showed up at their doorstep. Jovial and chatty, Scorsese comes off as a very likable, personable man.

Cissé's story is truly inspiring. The famed old Malian director couldn't get another film made for 12 years because of the lack of money and support. Min Ye was a true labor of love(everyone involved was paid a symbolic one cent to work on it because it was Cissé film. It was shot economically with small video camera.

Set in modern day Mali where polygamy is still rampant, Min Ye tells a story of a loose woman who has an affair and has to face consequences for it. Mimi(Gakou), a woman in her fifties, is having her fish delivered(apparently some kind of sexual innuendo in Mali), by her married(with two wives) childhood sweetheart. Her husband who has other wives and his children all grown up, is fed up with Mimi's deceits. He informs police of her adultery which is punishable by law in a society where 80 percent of the population is muslim. Mimi is not a likable character. She's quite obnoxious. She's regarded as a woman who can't help herself when it comes to men, like some sex starved teenager.

The film is an honest depiction of jealousy, lack of equality and imperfect people. It's not sentimental nor judgmental in any way(which is part of the problem of this film, at least to me). Some of the long dialog scenes prove to be exhausting(yes you can do very long takes with videos but come on!). Its visuals are not lyrical but rather economical.

Mimi, played by a full figured, first time actress(Gakou is a Mali news anchor woman), is a woman trapped by the society and equivalent of a tragic heroine from some Henry James/Flaubert novel. All she needs is a little bit of playtime herself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wonderland

Encounters at the End of the World(2007) - Herzog *rewatch
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Trailer
Antarctica attracts both knickknack of eccentric transients from all walks of life and passionate scientists. It's a perfect place for Werner Herzog, a filmmaker who is known for making films about extreme environs and extreme personalities. This being a Herzog doc, visually it's a treat- both under and over water of the wonderland that is Antarctica.

Herzog is obnoxious as ever, as he cuts in his subjects' rambling and narrates over them. He then asks a solitary zoologist nutty questions like, "Are there any gay penguins?", "Does insanity exist among penguins?" and cuts to a disoriented penguin walking briskly toward the inland, then he grimly points out that it's walking to its obvious demise. The thing is, I can listen to his cynical view(with his thick German accent) on the fate of humanity in the unforgiving nature, all day. It's music to my ears. It gives me hearty belly laughs every time.

Encounter is thoroughly entertaining. Herzog's music choices to go with otherworldly visuals are exceptional as always. It ends with one of the eccentric residents of the icy continent, forklift operator/philosopher saying, "through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself, and through our ears the universe is listening to its cosmic harmonies, and we are the witness through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory." Indeed.

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A Movie Night in Two Chapters

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{Adam}


I am going through DVDs that are in front of me. Something he says makes me stop.

“Really?” I say.

“Yep,” he says, “the rescue team didn’t get there fast enough to save her.”

He tells me his friend died in a hiking accident in the Shasta Mountains in California. She lost her footing while climbing up a rocky hill. The dead girl was a friend of his since childhood. Her family naturally saw it fit that he inherit her movie collection since he is a film student.

Awkward. I am rummaging through a dead person’s movie collection. I regret asking him so insistently as to why he was giving them away.

“I’ve combed through and taken what I liked already but I didn’t want to throw away the rest. So don’t feel bad,” he says, “she died doing something she loved.”

They are mostly Japanese animations and samurai martial arts movies. I understand why he brought these for me. He doesn’t like them but I do. He’s that kind of a guy.

Once I put up Your Preferred Way to Die poll in a web forum that I belong to. The choices were:

1. You go to sleep in a freezing place (Snowy mountains, South/North Pole, etc)

2. By rain of arrows

3. In a skydiving accident

4. Getting shot through the heart

People overwhelmingly chose 1. The second choice was 3 followed by Rain of Arrows. Nobody chose 4. I wondered why, I thought it was a fine choice as any other. But hiking accident in the mountains would’ve made a fine choice too.

He had to fly back to attend a Buddhist ceremony on the 49th day after her death. Apparently, the Tibetan Buddhists believe that after 49 days of transitional stage called Bardo, your soul will move on to another realm. The day was yesterday.


* * *

{Ellen}


He throws down a DVD case on the coffee table. I look up.

“What’s this?”
“It’s Izo.” He says.
“Yes I can see that.”

On the cover, there is a lone, dark figure standing in the middle, holding a long sword, looking away from us. Judging by the title written in oriental calligraphy, it’s a Japanese movie.

“Scoot over.”

I begrudgingly make room on the couch. He sits down soundly, puts his arm around me and pecks me on the cheek.

“Aw, you need to shave.”

He touches his face as if he just noticed the stubble on his face for the first time. He’s a goofball like that.

“Are we watching this tonight?” I ask.
“Do you mind?” He counters, while flipping the channel.

I check the back cover unenthusiastically. Images of violence and scary looking Japanese men.

“Well honey, I don’t know about this.” I say.

I like foreign movies as much as anybody. But it’s Friday night and we just had a nice dinner. I just want to vegetate a little on the couch without thinking too much. I look at him and there is his typical, I-want-very-much-to-watch-this look. He is a movie fanatic and I know that look. With a sigh, I give in.

“All right. But it better be good.”

We start watching the movie. And it’s terrible. Amidst all the blood and gore, I barely make out a storyline: Izo, the time traveling samurai, is the spirit of a medieval warrior who was tortured to death and now has to slash his way through salvation that may not come. It seems his soul can’t rest until everyone around him is dead.

After an hour of mounting loose limbs and heads by Izo’s blade, I’ve had enough. I turn to him to protest. Even before I open my mouth, I feel his hand squeezing mine. His eyes are still fixated on the screen.

“We will have some tea and cake after this.” He says without looking at me.

The movie is godawful. The splatter party continues until the very end. There is no resolution, no salvation, nothing. I’m seriously pissed off now.

“That was time well spent!”

He smiles and tries to hold my hand. I don’t let him.

“I’ll put water in the kettle.”

He takes off to the kitchen. I’m sitting there, my arms crossed thinking, no more of this foreign nonsense. He comes back with tea and cake. Then he tells me about the dead girl.

“So this belonged to a dead girl.”

He nods.

“And she moved on to another realm.”

Another nod.

“That’s good. Better than Izo’s fate.”
“Poor Izo.” He says.

I put the disc back into the case. And I ceremoniously put the DVD on our small DVD shelf next to our TV. Nice fit between Dawn of the Dead and The Thing. I look back at him. He’s sipping his Earl Grey.

“Let’s go hiking one of these days.” I smile.
“Let’s.” He smiles back.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kissed

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It happened in the school library during the finals.

How goes it?
Huh?
I said how goes it?
Uh, okay.
I found this on the floor here the other day.

She held up the silver necklace. At the bottom of its delicate silver chain, hung an amulet- a Chinese character for water.
She rolled her wheelchair deftly with one hand, toward me, for my benefit. I could detect a slight lilac scent as she approached. My eyes met hers. Those dark clear eyes. I could easily lose myself in them, I thought. Then I refocused my eyes on the necklace. I could feel my face getting red. My heart was beating fast and my throat was getting closed up. I felt dizzy.
No not mine. I thought I barely managed to say.

Oh, I thought it must’ve been yours. I don’t know why. I just thought you’d be wearing something like this. She smiled bashfully.

Beverly was her name. I’d seen her around in school. It was hard to miss her. She had long auburn hair and a beautiful, small, angular face. Half of her face was scarred and her voice was hoarse, as if she swallowed a fistful of sand. I didn’t know her back story at all. She could’ve been a victim of fire, disease…. I had no idea and didn’t really care.

The thing is, I had never been in love with someone before. She exuded certain vulnerability that brought this crazy strong maternal instinct out of me. The thought of her consumed my entire freshman year. I wanted to stroke her long strawberry hair, wanted so much to caress the scars on her face. I fantasized about lifting her up from her wheelchair and carrying her to a toilet when she needed to go potty. I saw myself devoting my life to her.

When my parents visited me during the first semester and asked me if I had a boyfriend yet, I couldn’t help myself but laugh. Thanks mom and dad, for not noticing my boyfriend-less, miserable high school years.

To my shame, it was her who talked to me first, not the other way around. I was born in March. So I was a Pisces.

Yes. It is mine.

I slipped onto her lap and before either of us realized what was happening, I kissed her.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bizarre Love Triangle

Cidade Baixa/Lower City (2005) - Machado
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A typical fatalist ménage à trois set in the slums of Rio, therefore, far more refreshing and vibrant. Deco(Lazaro Ramos) and Naldinho(Wagner Moura) are couple of childhood friends/young low lives squeezing by in the urban jungle called El Salvador. They give a ride on their boat a sexy girl, Karinna(Alice Braga of City of God, Blindness), who willingly negotiates the price with her body. Karinna takes a job at a sleazy exotic dance club and sells her body to fat ugly gringos while having steamy relationship with both Deco and Naldinho. Soon jealousy takes over them and rifts their friendship. Deco dabbles in boxing and is trying to go straight while Naldinho is still dreaming of small time crook success. Karinna is attracted to both of them and aware of her possibly destructive power she has over them. She's expecting a baby. What is she going to decide?

All three principal actors are very good: Lazaro Ramos, Wagner Moura and Alice Braga are all top notch portraying dreamers in the slum looking for better and quieter life. The energy and immediacy and color are just amazing. I just wished Machado focused more on naturally beautiful surroundings as much as he did on Braga's barely concealed breasts most of the running time.

Designer Korean Underwear

Something funny to share with you. God bless my mom. She's been sending me packages from time to time from Korea; books, magazines, pre-packaged food(instant noodle, dried seaweed, etc.) and clothes. My sister and brother said no to mom long ago. They have no use for them and would hate to see them go to waste, but I didn't have the nerve to say no. So things keep piling up in the corners of our already cramped apartment. Story of my life.

This time, she sent me a box full of underwear. If the idea of me still receiving underwear from mom from overseas isn't funny enough, the contents of the package made me and my wife laugh out loud.

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They came in this ominous black box. It reads: Lie Sang Bong, the designer's name. Apparently, he is a big shot in the world of fashion. He looks like this:

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Hmmm. I think I will go for Jackson Pollock look today.

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These are not too bad. I can wear these. Except I'm not Lie Sang Bong.

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These can be worn outside my jogging pants at night to deter the traffic.

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Peace, dude. Pass the doobies.

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At a glance, look like a harmless black pair. You can't really see in this picture, but have a see through front!

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These are THE PAIR I'd happen to wear when brought and exposed in the ER in case of accident. They'd say, "this man knew how to live life!"

Thank you mom!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Iron Maiden

La Nana/The Maid (2009) - Silva
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Raquel(Catalina Saavedra) has been working for the same Buenos Aires upper class family with 4 children for the last 23 years. She is a tough, no nonsense housemaid. From suffering a chronic headache and enormous house chores day in an day out, she has a fainting spell one day and her employer, Pilar, decides to hire another help. But Raquel is a little more than territorial when it comes to sharing her duties. It is hinted that she had another helper get fired.

After watching Headless Woman and reading about This film beforehand, I was sort of expecting another biting satire of Bourgeois life in the well to do Argentine society. Is it love she has for the family or is it that she is institutionalized after all these years? These questions turn out to be unimportant in the film. The Maid is more of a character study which is funny and warm without being coy or sentimental. Silva has an eye and ear for details and natural dialog that is very humanistic. Raquel favors the cute teenage older son of the family who is a chronic masturbator over the older daughter in college, of whom she sees as a threat(against what, we can only guess). All the tits and tats of domestic power struggle are often funny but not exaggerated.

After Raquel drives out 2 other 'competitors' with intolerable cruelty, she meets her match in Lucy(Mariana Loyola), a bespectacled younger woman with a winning smile and wholesome personality who is different in every aspect from her predecessors. They hit it off- uptight Raquel slowly opens up and we see her smiling. Lucy even invites her to spend christmas with her family in the country.

The Maid features one of my favorite movie endings in recent years. Slice of life that is both touching and real.