Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Supreme Male Gaze posing as a Sweet Love Story

The Handmaiden (2016) - Park
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Park Chan-wook made name for himself creating one elaborate psycho-sexual set piece after another. He never shied away from over-the-top garishness or so called social taboos. But in the age of highly scrutinized sexual politics of the 21st century, he is walking a tightrope with The Handmaiden, an abashedly male gazed lesbian wet dream guised as a sweet lovestory. But we will see if it gets a pass on political correctness just because it's a subtitled foreign arthouse flick.

My takeaway is that it's a way over the top comedy bordering on (albeit lavishly done) lesbian porn-- how do I take the lovelorn/lusty expression of young Kim Tae-ri, as she protrude her tongue to lick her lover's vagina (the scene was repeated twice for viewing pleasure) from an angle that can only be described as pussy POV?

Park transports a Victorian era set novel Fingersmith, about a young but not so innocent heiress bred to recite pornographic writings in front of rich aristocrats, arranged by her perverted uncle who is set to marry her and a couple of low-life swindlers trying to trick them out of her fortune, into Korea under Japanese rule. But he consciously skips all the geopolitical implications and nationalism of that era in favor of cultural superiority which is completely hypocritical (remember incest in Old Boy?): as we advance with the story of seduction, fake marriage and triple cross into tentacle porn in the third chapter, we are already thoroughly exhausted by graphic scissoring and 69ing and an almost rape, the outrage over reciting pornographic novels doesn't really land its intended punch in the gut. Park's mechanism here is as usual, so elaborate and opulent, it's almost too rigid to embrace it fully. It's a fun movie. But its veneer is too shellacky, just like Wes Anderson's pastel colored papier maché doesn't do it for me.

Boy in Red

Don't Call Me Son/Mãe Só Há Uma (2016) - Muylaert
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What's concerns more to a teenager -- a family or personal identity? Anna Muylaert (Second Mother)'s new Brazilian drama, Don't Call Me Son, examines this conundrum and finds a good balance in an astonishingly swift 82 minute film.

Pierre (Naomi Nero), an eyeliner wearing 17year-old High Schooler is first seen flirting and making out with both sexes in a night club. His trousers are on the floor, revealing he is wearing a g-string and garter belts. He paints his nails and plays guitar in a rock band. He tries on lipsticks and dresses secretly in his tiny room.

Pierre lives with his busy single mom, Aracy (Daniela Nefussi) and his younger sister, Jaqeline (Lais Dias). But one day, their normal lives get turned upside down when Aracy gets arrested for child abduction. It turns out Pierre was stolen from his crib 17 years ago and his biological parents were searching for him ever since. Through well-meaninged, but ineffectual social workers, his well-to-do real parents are anxious to reacquaint with him and make up for lost times. It turns out Pierre, now Felipe, has a brother Joca (Daniel Bothelho), a well-adjusted, normal kid who seems a little lonely.

At first, the interactions between the real parents, Gloria (again played by Nefussi) and hot-tempered Matheus (Matheus Nachtergaele) and Pierre/Felipe are polite and awkward. But after the teen moves in to their opulent house, they realize that their long lost son is not what they imagined him to be. Gloria's constant mommying and pampering and Matheus' frustrations with the effeminate nature of Pierre/Felipe soon boil over.

There is a hilarious scene at the mall concerning Pierre/Felipe trying out clothes while Gloria, Matheus and Joca look on. The parents pick out clothes for him to try on - polo shirts and slacks, the usual stuff teens would wear. He comes out of the dressing room in a black and white, skin-tight frilly dress. They think it's a joke or perhaps a rebellious teen angst statement-- haha funny, now change back to your polo shirt. But Pierre insists the dress is what he wants and they will buy it for him.

The film's original Portuguese title is Mãe Só Há Uma- There Is Only One Mother. But even though Daniela Nefussi plays both mothers, the film’s focus is exclusively on Pierre. Nero, with his good looks and natural performance, is magnetic as a teenager who is finding himself as an individual.

Don't Call Me Son doesn't dwell on nature vs nurture or rely on cheap sentimentality. The film doesn't even try to make any big statement on gender equality or social justice. It focuses on a young man who is very comfortable with his identity even though his life has become chaotic. But he's not a helpless victim who's unsure about his place in the world. And he also has a great, caring heart.

Beautifully acted and superbly written, Don't Call Me Son is a little gem of a film that needs to be seen widely.

Don't Call Me Son, has a two week exclusive engagement at Film Forum in NYC, starting 11/1.