Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Perfectly Round Red Floating Object (and its hypnotic power!)

Le Ballon Rouge (1956) - Lamorisse

It's so simple yet so captivating and beautiful. You can't simply look away from the perfectly round red balloon for a second. I won't even investigate as to how Lamorisse achieved wrangling the balloon. It's pure magic. Yeah, that's it.

Although I would recommend seeing this on the big screen, you can view its entire 34 minutes on youtube:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Monday, March 28, 2011

Goliath killed his girlfriend?

Summer of Goliath (2010) - Pereda

The film starts with our unseen filmmaker interviewing bunch of kids in gorgeous close ups. Among them is Oscar, a handsome, sullen teenager. Everyone calls him Goliath because he is said to have killed his girlfriend. The details of Oscar's story from the testimonies are somewhat fuzzy. And so begins Summer of Goliath, a part documentary, part narrative, surveying the psycho-geography of fractured, violence ridden family lives in the small mountainous village in Mexico.

Summer of Goliath
's a grittier Mexican version of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. But it lacks humor and the spirituality of the Thai film. Nicolás Pereda takes the 'poetic' way to tell these impoverished people's lives where you are forced to live side by side with your mortal enemies, who have killed your loved ones.

Goliath's strength lies in the revealing interviews with its real village subjects. When it switches to the narrative side with Teresa Sanchez with her sad sack stories of woman being abandoned by her cheating husband for a younger woman, it falls apart. Her abandonment issue seems extremely trivial compared to the enrapturing beginning segment of the film.

With its 74 minutes running time, Summer of Goliath doesn't give you enough time to contemplate on what it means to be living in fear and anger, where drug wars and corruption are everyday occurrences. Still, with long takes and hand-held tracking shots and doc/narrative hybrid, Pereda seems to be cultivating his own voice.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Circle of Violence - Broken Loudly

Incendies (2010) - Villeneuve

A mother's last wish sends her adult twins Jeanne and Simon to Lebanon to find their father and a brother they never knew existed. The story cuts back and forth btwn the present and Nawal Mawan (Lubna Azabal)'s harrowing story of how the country's civil war btwn Christian nationalists and Arabs in the 70s killed her Arab refugee lover and tore her world apart.

Resembling a Greek tragedy, this 'circle of violence must be broken' parable is too heavy-handed to be taken to the heart. Azabal's performance is amazing and there are some great photography work to speak of, including the Radiohead accompanied opening. I really wanted to see this more than anything else at this year's ND/NF. But for me it was a major disappointment.

Price of Being Cool

The Social Network (2010) - Fincher

Fincher's at it again. He single-handedly banished consumerism from earth with his slick masterpiece Fight Club. With The Social Network, he destroys the idea of Being Cool with equally ultra cool dialog. He really has his fingers on the pulse of youth of today. Just how long he can keep up with these soulless reflection is anybody's guess.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Raise your voice!

Microphone (2010) - Abdalla

Watching Microphone now, which is basically a love letter to Alexandria, is all the more poignant considering what's been happening in Egypt for the last few months. Director Ahmad Abdalla succeeds in capturing the essence of the youth culture in the Egypt's second largest, cosmopolitan port city. This film was first conceived as a documentary- shot on HD with a small mobile crew. Then it later evolved into a narrative starring the TV/film superstar Khaled Abol Naga (who also serves as a producer) while keeping the small scale filmmaking intact. It features some of the best underground musicians and graffiti artists the sun drenched bustling Mediterranean city can offer.

Khaled comes back after 7 years of living overseas. He finds that his old flame no longer wants him, his father non-communicative after his mother's death and himself not knowing what to do with his life. While working at an advertising firm and wandering around the city, he encounters many young street musicians, artists and tech-savvy skaters. Collecting underground music becomes an obsession for him. He teams up with the local college film students who have been working on their thesis project about the street culture, and tries to organize a show.

The music is outstanding, Abdalla gives an ample time to each real performers (notably Massar Egbari, Y-Crew, Mascara, Soot Fel Zahma and Nossair) to express their thoughts through their diverse musical forms - hip-hop, metal, rock, etc. Some music reflect their discontent of the government and some connect with the other theme of the movie - love and heartbreaks. The disjointed breakup scene of Khaled and Salma is present throughout the film.

As Khaled and crew work on going over the hurdle that National Art Council set up for them, it becomes apparent for all to see that the old folks who are in charge will always embrace the old and never give a chance to the young generation to voice their opinion- there is a funny bit where a weaselly art council member announces that he decided to go for a friend of Umm Kulthum (perhaps the best known traditional Egyptian singer, born in 1893) instead of Massar Egbari for one of the government sponsored concert.

It's a bittersweet, elegiac film fluidly put together with the colorful, vibrant backdrop of Alexandria. It is a very portentous film, as the one of the characters in the movie says, "You move on, but live each day with a little bit of sadness."

Microphone plays as a part of ND/NF 2011, 3/29 8:30pm at MoMA and 3/31 6pm at FSLC. For more information and tickets, please click on ND/NF 2011 website here.

Minced Meat

The Set-up (1949) - Wise

An aging boxer, Bill 'Stoker' Thompson (Robert Ryan), who is always one punch away from...greatness, feels good today in Paradise City. It don't matter that his fight is not the top billing (it is the last fight of the day actually), that his manager is taking bribes from a gangster named Little Man for him to take a dive, or that his girlfriend is having a second thought about staying with the man who just might easily be turned in to a human hamburger. No, he feels he can take his young opponent, really.

The Set-up reminds me of this quote by Johnny Caspar in Miller's Crossing:
It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?

Robert Wise creates a smoke-filled, sleazy, unglamorous, two-bit boxing noir. Citizen Kane-esque cinematography by Milton Krasner is just marvelous to look at. Fight scenes are realistic and crazy intense, amateurish and not stylized at all- no wonder Scorsese is a big fan of this. Fun to see Stoker's mood changing one minute to another, as he witnesses the joy and misery in fellow meatballs battling it out where paying spectators chant "KILL HIM!" from all four corners of the ring. Ryan, looking like a hero from Bellows' painting, slogs through a hellish fight, then being subject to the fury of the gang. Just how much of this can a man take? A great tight noir.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I, Clonius

Never Let Me Go (2010) - Romanek

This allegorical tale of clone farm where kids raise up to be organ donors in a quaint school setting concerns three friends - Ruth, Tommy and Kathy. From early on, they know their fates are sealed and that they are just going through motions until their time comes. But it doesn't stop them from hoping that there is some kind of deferment for couples who are really in love, if they can prove that they have souls. Even Kathy (Carey Mulligan), the wisest of the bunch buys into this last thread of hope.

It was Kazuo Ishiguro's appropriation of this hope with young love that really spoke to me when I read the book. And it's carried out beautifully here by Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. It is Garfield's performance as wide-eyed, vulnerable Tommy that really shines.

I had a lot of reservations seeing this Ishiguro adaptation, but am surprised how much it moved me. The little girl narration that annoyed me so much in the book is all but gone. Alex Garland's script reduces it to the bare essential of the book - pain of growing up where you learn that love is not enough to save you. Charlotte Rampling as a cold Headmistress and Sally Hawkins as a conscientious teacher in their small roles are also great. Only quibble I had with the film is giving the dates in the beginning, making the film squarely set in made-up land which was unnecessary.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Story of Oh: Revival of Madame Freedom at KAFFNY 2011

Madame Freedom (1956) - Han

Context is everything. Picture this, this film was made only three years after the end of the Korean War which devastated the country. The literal translation of the title- Madame Freedom doesn't really carry the sexual connotation of the Korean one. This domestic melodrama of a comely housewife of a stoic professor having (an) extramarital affair(s) has no nudity, not much sexual innuendo (unless you count skate waltz as one) and only some well orchestrated smooches, but this was the fifties in Korea! Scandalous!

Swooping dolly shots and crane shots are pretty impressive actually, comparable to any Japanese film in that era. there are some delicious dance numbers at the dance hall. Kim Jeong-rim's Mrs. Oh, with her wide face with tiny features is the typical Korean beauty and fits well in the role of conflicted naive woman of changing times. This simple morality tale was surprisingly progressive and quite good.

It's a pity because Madame Freedom showed the great potential of the Korean cinema to come (there are similarities with Japanese New Wave) in the 60s through 80s . If it wasn't for military government's censorship, the Korean cinema in that era could've produced world class cinema. Too bad.

*This was the KAFFNY 2011's Opening Night Selection with live score by DJ Spooky with cellist Okkyung Lee, violinist Sean Lee and electric violinist Eugene Park. Interesting experiment commissioned by Korean digital art center Nabi.

For more information, please check out KAFFNY website

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Korean Diaspora: Dai sil Kim-Gibson Retrospective at KAFFNY 2011

KAFFNY 2011 is hosting the first retrospective of Dai sil Kim-Gibson, the pioneering Korean woman documentary filmmaker as a part of their 5th Annual film festival. Varied in length, 5 of her docs feature Korean experiences overseas. Anthropological, yet highly personal in her approach, her films always examine the human cost of such dislocations and give voices to the voiceless.
She will be at the panel discussion The LA Riots 19 Years Later at the festival with the acclaimed African American director and her frequent collaborator Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep with Anger).

Both Sa-I-Gu and Wet Sand tell the aftermath of the LA Riots from Korean women's perspectives. Filmed ten years apart, these films re-examines the meaning of American Dream. The title Sa-I-Gu refers to the date (4/29) of the LA Riots in 1992, when much of the South Central LA was engulfed in flames after the acquittal of 4 white police officers whose beating of Rodney King was caught on tape. Many of the Korean businesses were burned to the ground while Bel-Air was protected by the National Guards. Filmed not long after the riot, Sa-I-Gu tells how the media portrayed the riots as borne out of Korean American vs. African American feud, totally ignoring decades of neglect in the poverty and violence stricken South Central. Many who were interviewed feel disillusioned about American Dream. If anything, Korean American community have become more class conscious.

Motherland finds Kim-Gibson in Cuba where there are healthy number of Korean-Cubans. During her stay with a retired Korean-Cuban female professor of Pedagogy, the matriarch of a large family and of the same age as Kim-Gibson, the filmmaker reflects on her own rootlessness, her increasing alienation from the US- her capitalist/imperialist adopted homeland.

Then there is Silence Broken/Korean Comfort Women. A searing documentary about Korean women's sexual servitude under Japanese army in WWII. With compelling interviews and testimonies, it tells how one woman came forward to break the silence after 60 years.

For more information and tickets, please visit Dai sil Kim-Gibson Retrospective at KAFFNY 2011

5th Annual Korean American Film Festival Preview

*Programmer of KAFFNY 2011 Hosik Kim in front of Chelsea Cinema on 23rd Street, Manhattan

In its fifth year, the 2011 Korean American Film Festival New York (KAFFNY) is bigger than ever. While mainly showcasing films that illustrate Korean American experiences, this year's program is as diverse as it is ambitious in its scope. Highlights include the first ever retrospective of Dai-sil Kim-Gibson - the pioneering Korean woman documentary filmmaker, Psychohydrography - a high-res 15,000 still image experimental film by Peter Bo Rappmund, Red Chapel - a Danish mock-doc comedy in North Korea, and The Boat - a Korean-Japanese co-production making its international premiere. There is an outstanding assortment of short films, too. For its opening night, they are reviving the Korean classic Madame Freedom (1956) with live music accompaniment by DJ Spooky. The festival runs March 17-20th.

For more information and tickets, please check out KAFFNY website

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not too fragile

Curling (2010) - Côté
Jean-François (Emmanuel Bilodeau), a shy middle aged divorcé and his twelve year-old bespectacled daughter, Julyvonne (Philoméne Bilodeau) arrive in the snow swept small town near Quebec. For some reason, JF is deathly afraid for his daughter's safety: he won't let her go to school or interact with anyone. Even when he is out working at a local motel and a bowling alley, he rather wants his daughter inside the house alone all day, studying by herself. Something must have happened prior. Julyvonne's mother is in jail. "The girl is retarded. There is nothing in her eyes!" yells the mother at JK in the visiting cell.

Treading somewhere between Fargo and The Sweet Hereafter, Curling is all about keeping in mind what's left out of its rather simple narrative while watching it. The film's full of loose threads that don't lead you anywhere. Our father and daughter keep to themselves with their blank faces, doing their daily routines, thus obliterating their rather scary surroundings.

Working under scruffy Kennedy, the owner of the bowling alley and Isabelle, his goth-girl cousin, JF/Moustache (as he is called because he dons a thick one), slowly lets his guard down and lets his daughter hang with the local crowd a bit. Julyvonne finds her own darker Alice in Wonderland-like adventure in the frozen forest near their house populated with a tiger and frozen dead bodies. Their actions are at times strange and unorthodox, but it's in their damaged stares that speaks volumes.

Unlike Fargo, which is a tightly written, ultimately soulless genre exercise, Curling, even with all the oddities, is much more humanistic. It demands audiences to invest in JF and Julyvonne's lives because you care for them by the end. The real life father-daughter team (Emmanuel and Philoméne Bilodeau) does an amazing job conveying their damaged characters' fear and resolve through their silences. The film's not all dread though. There are many humorous moments (including the curling fantasy scene) and unexpected tenderness throughout. Winner of the Best Director award at Locarno Film Festival 2010, Curling is written and directed by a French Canadian director Denis Côté. Anchored by the down-to-earth performances from his two leads, Côté skillfully balances the film from going too quirky or too dark. It's one of those films that will linger in your head for days.

Curling plays as a part of New Directors New Films series at MoMA and Film Society of Lincoln Center. For more information and tickets, please click on this link

Monday, March 14, 2011

Psychohydrography: Peter Bo Rappmund Interview

[Psychohydrography, a high-res, time-lapse HD project surveying the Los Angeles water system; from the Eastern Sierra Nevada to the LA river to the Pacific ocean, is truly one of a kind visual & aural experience. I had an opportunity to meet with its Director Peter Bo Rappmund who was in town for the Documentary Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art screening back in February. ]

*Many thanks to Dave Kim at KAFFNY for arranging the interview:

Can you tell me a little about your background?

I am Korean American- my mom is Korean and my dad is of German descent. I lived all over the Western US: Wyoming, North Dakota, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and California. I did undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado and was originally learning business. I changed to film studies after discovering that Stan Brakhage was teaching there. I was at CU before and after he passed away. It felt like a time of transition in the film school. The South Park guys, who had also gone to school in Boulder, were becoming quite famous and most of my friends seemed to be interested in narrative filmmaking. Still, there was a small group of us who looked towards the avant-garde. I actually didn't do a film for a long time after getting my first degree. When I went back to school, I went for music. An adviser told me that I should check out CalArts (California Institute of the Arts). I eventually landed there and met many great people along the way. I ended up graduating with degrees in Music Composition and Film.

And that's where you made Psychohydrography?

was my thesis project that I worked on for 2 years. I shot it mostly alone. Sometimes my wife would come out with me but mostly it was just me and my dog.

The Music and sound are an integral part of your film. How important was the music for this project?

Yeah, I did record the location sound and used it throughout. But the music at the end (the Pacific ocean segment) is where it all came together for me. I showed it to some people before it was finished and they really responded emotionally to that part with the music. So I decided to make the arc of the film with that ending and kind of worked back and changed the sound design. Visually it had more cohesion after I did the last part. I realized that I could tie together more with the sound and not rely so much on each image butting up against each other. I ended up telling what's going on through the sound.

There is certainly a rhythmic quality throughout. Can you tell me about the process?

I was shooting with a DSLR camera (Nikon D90) with an intervalometer attached to it. Whenever I wanted to change the speed of the timelapse, I could manipulate it with a button. It's definitely a time consuming process, and you have to be actively engaged the whole time. In creating the layout of the film, I went to Costco and developed the stills and would use these for something like a storyboard. The photos are like fashcards that I can flip through sequentially. Psychohydrography was originally closer to two hours, so it was a very big stack of photos. In terms of non time-based media, I also looked to a lot of photo books and comics to study sequencing.

You mentioned Stan Brakhage. Are there other filmmakers who influenced you?

Phil Solomon, Betzy Bromberg, Charlotte Pryce, Thom Andersen, they all had a big influence on me. Jack Chambers' Hart of London is one of my favorite films. Also, thanks to Phil Schrader's Transcendental Style in Film has been critical to one aspect of my filmmaking.

The film reminded me a lot of Ed Burtynsky's photographs and the documentary, Manufactured Landscapes.

Yes. I didn't get to see that film until I finished my own project. I appreciate a lot of Burtynsky's work.

It also reminded me of James Benning's work.

Yeah. I did show it to James Benning (who teaches at CalArts) and he had an interesting reaction to it at first. (laughs) I think he has very strong principles about filmmaking. And I can't imagine he would ever use time-lapse. The aesthetic of my flm doesn't involve the slick type of time-lapse, not like something you'd find in Baraka or Koyaanisqatsi. The timelapse goes with the theme of water and its transient nature. I'm sure you noticed the flicker watching the film. Each shot being comprised of many single frame images, there are inevitable aperture issues. I have the control to correct this, but sometimes I would leave it to instill a more organic feel.

Watching it on the big screen (MoMA screening) was such a striking experience. Where do you go from here? There will be Blu-ray DVDs made?

It's such a high-res image, it really doesn't do justice when it's compressed to DVD format. Blu-ray is better of course. It did play at some festivals and hopefully will get more chances to be seen on the big screen. It will also be playing in the Gallery setting (White Box Gallery, NY). It will be interesting to see how people react to it.

I hope it gets to play on the big screen more often. It needs to be seen that way.

PSYCHOHYDROGRAPHY preview 1080P from Peter Bo Rappmund on Vimeo.

KAFFNY 2011 opens this Thursday!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011


The American (2010) - Corbijn

Anton Corbijn's film is as precise as its title character Jack/Edward(George Clooney), a weapon maker/assassin in Italy. There is a Once Upon a Time in the West on TV in Italian cafe where brooding Jack drinks his 'Cafe Americano'. It's quite clear Corbijn is paying tribute to its Ford - Kurosawa - Leone/Melville, West/East/West genre borrowing by masters. The American has a very un-American feel to it. It has the mood of Le Samurai and other yesteryear's fatalistic brooding noirs of 'I just died in your arms tonight' variety. Corbijn trades fedoras, raincoats and jazz clubs in for no nonsense, undeniably American George Clooney in a minimalistic quaint European city setting. There are some effectively tense scenes throughout. Unlike its ominous title, the film is a completely subtext-free genre exercise.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

View from the Hill

Putty Hill (2010) - Porterfield
Tempted by the trailer and Ebert's four star rating that I actually went and bought a ticket to see it in one of the worst, smallest theaters in NYC, Cinema Village (the film's 2 week theatrical run ends there tomorrow). What disappointment!

White-trash-teens-in-the-American-heartland genre has been hi-jacked by the likes of Harmony Korine and American Apparel ads (if there was one before that) and never got a chance to prove itself worthy until the last year's Winter's Bone (in btwn, there was the promising David Gordon Green but he realized he was just bullshitting and went on to be a successful mainstream comedy director). But Korine made an indelible stain on the white wall and many impressionable young emo film students followed his footsteps to achieve that ethereal, slightly naughty, last white hope- the hidden treasures of the poor whites' culture that would very much like to be passed as 'art'.

Family and friends are gathering for the funeral of Cory, a young man who died of drug overdose. The unseen director, or the 'outsider' is heard asking questions. When did you last see Cory. Where do you live now. How long have you been away... Shot unimaginatively threadbare on HD and criminally underexposed with natural non-acting and painfully mundane conversations, Putty Hill feels completely vacuous.

The main problem for me is this: why go on all the trouble exposing the emptiness of these people's lives if you really care about them? Why show that they lead sad, boring lives? What's the point of recording this ultimately fake grief/non grief? Being non-judgmental is one thing, mistaking naturalism as profundity could be a big waste of time for moviegoers.

One guy walked out in the middle of the screening and I had a strong urge to follow him to the exit but I didn't. There, I goofed again.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Notes on Uncle Boonmee

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) - Weerasethakul
A ghost, a monkey spirit with glowing red eyes and a talking catfish all inhabit Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. This disjointed and time transcending narrative follows Boonmee at his farm in the Northeastern region of Thailand, as he encounters the ghosts of his family and is himself serenely waiting to die from kidney failure.

With his usual languid pace and long takes, the famed Thai director weaves personal memories and a latent political commentary into a gentle contemporary folklore. With its deliberately low-tech filmmaking, Uncle Boonmee playfully alludes to the genre conventions of Thai TV melodramas which Weerasethakul recalls from his childhood. Memory is an essential theme in his films, informing the storyline as well as the director's creative process.

As a part of Weerasethakul's multi-platform art project, Primitive, the Thai-Lao region's tumultuous history figures into Uncle Boonmee and the collective memories of its people. The landscapes themselves are characters in his films; caves play a significant role, figuratively and metaphorically, in Uncle Boonmee as well as in Tropical Malady (2004), illustrating the process of reincarnation. Uncle Boonmee is expression of an artist whose ingrained Buddhist philosophy and formative experiences which have shaped him into who he is.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is independent filmmaking at its best, without gimmick or pretense. The recent accolades on the film reminds us that there still is room for such a personal filmmaking in this day and age and I'm grateful for it.

Read my interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul