Sunday, January 16, 2011

I want my underwear to be handwashed

The Housemaid (2010) - Im
Plotwise, this remake of the old Korean classic doesn't rise above Lifetime channel movie of the week - a naive young woman getting a job at a super rich family mansion as a housemaid, sexually being taken advantage of by its handsome head of the family, gets pregnant, forced to have her baby aborted, takes revenge.

But under Im Sang-soo (President's Last Bang)'s direction, the film becomes a sly take on class a la Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoigie. It starts out with a random suicide of a girl in a busy neon and glass night where fashionable young people hang out. The difference of their young carefree life and people who serve them is shown in a very effective handheld- documentary style. Our heroine Eun-yi (adorable Jeon Do-yeon), a lowly restaurant worker is seen trying to get a peek at the fresh corpse. She is not frightened or sad, just curious.

I don't have to mention anything obvious here - the power play involving oral sex, the importance of male in Korean household... The thing is, everything, from set design, framing to acting, is just flawless. Im's robotic precision is counterbalanced by Jeon's good hearted, if not naive Eun-yi and Yun Yeo-jong's Byung-sik, the all knowing, eye-rolling, head of the caretakers. Despite all the fabulous looking people in the film, the middle aged Byung-sik, whose lifelong servitude to the obscenely rich family which make her a conflicted character, so much fun to watch.

Im saves the grotesquery of the wealthy to the last minute. But the build up (to the not so subtle climax and ending that can be read as slapdash) is so engaging and understated that it only amplifies the brilliance of Im's precision filmmaking.

Art of Seduction

The Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009) - Oliveira
The film starts with a distraught young man on a train, telling his hard luck story to a stranger next to him about his pursuit of a young blonde he first saw across the street from his office window. All the shots are so static and dolly movements so careful, as if not to disturb stuffy, dusty interior that feels like an old antique shop.

In its 64 minutes running time, time in The Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl is subjective - we see snow covered ground outside the train window in the beginning, green scenery by the end. The clock tower is missing arms but chimes away nonetheless.
Oliveira creates a richly layered parable about unattainability of perfection with beguiling Catarina Wallenstein as highly fallible example to the notion of ideal romantic muse. The problem I had with it is that its enigma disappears once you take the film as a parable. And the ending is very unsatisfying. Directed when he was 101 years of age, however well put together this film is, you can almost smell the old man's musk.

Mice that Roared: Dustin's Top 10 Films 2010

I don't know about you, but for me, 2010 was a really lackadaisical year for films. My movie going/viewing experience wasn't as vigorous as last year (and I say this every year- I guess I really am not seeing as many as before). Mainly small films and documentaries dominate the list. And here they are:

*Click on titles for reviews*

1. White Material - Denis

2. Film Socialisme - Godard
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3. Exit Through the Gift Shop - Banksy

4. Never Let Me Go - Romanek

5. Winter's Bone - Granik

6. Black Swan - Aronofsky

7. Marwencol - Malmberg

8. Non ma fille, tu n'iras pas danser/Making Plans for Lena - Honoré

9. Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo
- Oreck


10. The Housemaid
- Im


Honorable mentions: Dear Doctor - Nishikawa
The Runaways, Bare Essence of Life, Alle Anderen/Everyone Else, Altiplano, Milk of Sorrow, Les Regrets, Turn It Up to 11, Missing Persons...