Sunday, October 08, 2006

Focus Knack Festival Preview, Ghent

Yesterday I had what must be the filmday of my life: I watched four movies in one row that were all without a doubt extremely good movies, albeit each for another reason.

Bliss [Shen Zhimin, 2006]

A deeply touching Chinese movie about the lives of an extended family in China's early capitalist age, today that is. Poverty, unstable economic conditions, disease, death, crime and the difficulty of all relations concommitant with those conditions : the great themes of everyday life are treated with great feeling, dignity and respect. A 'little' movie, as they say, but with an emotional power that, these days, only Asian cinema seems able to capture. Impressive also because it shows the devastating effects of wild capitalism on the Chinese land- and cityscape. A beautiful film about the ugliness and problems of everyday life, it leaves, at the end, a ray of hope, by showing to which lengths people will go to make a better life and preserve their humanity.

The Queen [Stephen Frears, 2006]

The undisputed star of Frears' movie about the reaction of the British royal family to Diana's death is Helen Mirren, who incarnates Elisabeth II with such verve that she even succeeds in copying the Queen's walk. James Cromwell (as Prince Philip) and Michael Sheen (as Tony Blair) are brilliant too, as is, to be honest, the rest of the cast. A very funny film, too, that gives an insight into the often other-worldly views and behaviour of priviliged people. The scenes where Elisabeth quietly humiliates Blair during their bi-monthly face-to-face are mightily funny. Yet, despite its criticisms, the portraiture of the royal famlily is never cruel. The ironic message seems to be that even royals are mere humans.

4:30 [Royston Tan, 2006]

Probably the first Singaporean movie to reach the European screens is one of the best movies I've seen in quite a while. The very simple story treats about a boy who is left alone by his businesswoman mother in their apartment, only accompanied by a Korean lodger. Their relationship, since they do not speak each other's languange, is completely wordless. Difficult at first they slowly are drawn to one another, developing a silent friendship. The film is very minimal, using the slightest possible means a maximal effect. Themes like loneliness, the anonimity of big cities and the difficulties of growing up without much support are suggested rather than elaborately worked out. In the end you do not learn much more about the nature of the exact relationship between the two protagonists, but I garantuee that a lot of scenes will be haunting your thoughts for days to come.

Brick [Rian Johnson, 2005]

Brick, a very original film noir pastiche, is also one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long while. It deploys typical film noir techniques like the loner anti-authoritarian detective, the femme fatale and an outrageously complex intrigue, but at the same time perverts them by setting the film in a Californian high-school and filming it, in contrast to most film noirs, mostly in broad daylight. The pace is lightspeed fast and the bombardment of surreal jokes lasts until the very end. Very good movie, especially when you consider the double fact that there isn't an actor in the movie that you've heard of before and that it clearly has not cost a dime. I recommend you will laugh your head off.

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