Around the World in 5 Films
THE TREASURE will complete Calgary Cinematheque’s cinematic journey across 5 continents in just 5 films. All 5 films are part of the Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series which kicked off with the Brazilian film SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY before traveling to North America with Alex Ross Perry’s QUEEN OF EARTH. Africa was the next stop as British director Ben Rivers’ THE SKY TREMBLES AND THE EARTH IS AFRAID AND THE TWO EYES ARE NOT BROTHERS focused on the beautiful and rugged Moroccan landscape. Asia was next as Hong Sang-soo’s RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN touched down in South Korea. Finally, the 2015/16 season will conclude with a European stop as Corneliu Porumboiu’s THE TREASURE takes us on an incredible hunt to uncover some precious Romanian treasure.
The 5 films in the 2015/16 Contemporary World Cinema series contain a mix of films from rising masters and established auteurs. The first film in the series, SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY, marked the feature film debut of André Novais Oliveira who has already established a signature style with just three short films and one feature. This style features a remarkable blending of documentary and fiction. In SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY, André Novais Oliveira acts in the film along with his parents and brother and all four use their real names in the film. However, the four of them are not playing themselves but instead are acting within the framework of fiction. Still, SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY is constructed like a documentary, giving attention to tiny details about life and relationships. The close bond between the family members results in scenes which flow effortlessly allowing audience an intimate look at the characters. The everyday sounds that are allowed to flow in the frames recalls Kleber Mendonça Filho’s NEIGHBORING SOUNDS but André Novais Oliveira has crafted his own unique path by opting to show a different side of Brazil from other Brazilian films. The setting of the film in the suburbs of Belo Horizonte showcases a Brazil that is not seen in cinema along with characters that don’t make an appearance in Brazilian films. Finally, the selection of the lovely music makes SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY a beautiful poetic film about life, love, death and everything in between.
The second and third films in the series contained works from Alex Ross Perry and Ben Rivers, two exciting and talented filmmakers who have carved their own place in world cinema with just a handful of features.
Alex Ross Perry has not settled for an easy path in his filmmaking journey and has tried to push the boundaries with his films while staying true to independent filmmaking roots. His previous films don’t prepare one for QUEEN OF EARTH which is far darker than his other works. However, there is a very smart progression compared to his previous two films, in terms of the depiction of relationships and also usage of dialogue. In THE COLOR WHEEL, Perry examined relationships between two siblings, neither of whom appear to have any friends. In LISTEN UP PHILLIP, Perry showed the relationship between two people who are dating. With QUEEN OF EARTH, he looks at a relationship between two friends, something he has not examined before. Also, this film has much less dialogue than his previous movies. THE COLOR WHEEL is a dialogue-driven film while LISTEN UP PHILLIP has plenty of voice over narration which lets viewers listen in to the character’s internal thoughts. However, in QUEEN OF EARTH, the dialogue is limited and audience don’t get to listen to the voices in the characters’ heads. Instead, audience have to understand their state of mind by their expressions and body language. This combined with the film’s score and the cinematography gives the film an intense horror/psychological drama feel.
Ben Rivers’ THE SKY TREMBLES AND THE EARTH IS AFRAID AND THE TWO EYES ARE NOT BROTHERS is a fascinating multi-layered structure that draws inspiration from Paul Bowles’ writing. The structure of the film is a nod to what Bowles managed in A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard where Bowles found a common thread to link 4 completely different stories together. In the SKY TREMBLES, Ben Rivers has constructed a film which links together multiple works including a short story, a short film, some documentary footage and an art installation. All these works are seamlessly stitched together in a linear manner. Rivers has managed this by alternating one aspect of Paul Bowles’ short story A Distant Episode. In the short story, the main character is a professor. In the film, the main character is a film director. This change allows Ben Rivers to find a common thread to link the different elements. This is because at the start of THE SKY TREMBLES, we see the filmmaker Oliver Laxe, scouting for locations in Morocco and attempting to complete a gruelling film shoot. Laxe is a real filmmaker and the scenes we see are actual footage from his upcoming second feature. And then at some point in THE SKY TREMBLES, Oliver Laxe stops shooting his film and steps into Paul Bowles’ story, resulting in a series of remarkable events.
The final two films in the Contemporary World Cinema series are by Hong Sang-soo and Corneliu Porumboiu, two established auteurs who are among the best Contemporary world film directors working right now.
Love and relationships are two common elements found in Hong Sang-soo’s films with food and alcohol being vital to his film’s flow. Characters often gather at a social gathering where lots of food and alcohol is to be found. Alcohol is a key ingredient in his films, particularly the drink of soju which serves as lubricant in allowing the character’s true feelings to be revealed in a natural manner. In his last few films, Hong Sang-soo has used repetition as a powerful device. He has either shown the same event from different perspectives or repeated the same segment with slight variations. All these elements are found in RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN which is divided into 2 films, shown from different perspectives and with slight variations. Each film has its own title with the first film called ‘RIGHT THEN, WRONG NOW’ while the second film is ‘RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN’. The alternate titles and the unfolding of events allow audience to select which film they prefer, and in a way, the audience selection also shows the manner in which they prefer to live their own lives.
Corneliu Porumboiu has directed five feature films, one of them being a documentary, yet all are stellar films that have garnered critical acclaim and multiple awards. Porumboiu announced his arrival on the world stage a decade ago when his feature film debut 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST won 2 awards at Cannes 2006. That debut contained two elements that have become part of his signature usage, history and humour. Porumboiu has found a unique way to examine Romania’s history with a brilliant usage of humour. In Porumboiu’s hands, scenes which contain characters reading from a dictionary, filling forms at a police station or watching TV become riveting scenes which are infused with humour and provide valuable insight into human nature. Porumboiu has been adding layers to his films since his debut and is constantly looking for new ways to expand the frame of cinema. This is highlighted by THE TREASURE which contains his signature elements of humour and examination of Romanian history but is also a twist on a fable, while providing a key commentary on the modern financial crisis. In just a single effortless sequence, Porumboiu shows some individual decisions that were at the core of the financial crisis. However, Corneliu Porumboiu uses that scene to kick-start a sequence of events resulting in an entertaining cinematic experience.
The 5 films of the Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series made their international debut at various film festivals in 2015. All are among some of the best films of 2015 but these films are competing in an ever-decreasing cinematic space. The regular theatrical release schedule in most North American cities continues to be dominated by commercial studio films while independent Canadian and foreign cinema struggles to get screen time. If a city does not have a Film Festival, a Cinematheque or an Arthouse cinema, there will be few chances to see independent and foreign films in a cinema. This is where the Calgary Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series is vital as it showcases some of the best films from around the world, works that would normally be never seen in this city. After just two seasons, the Calgary Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series has depicted smart works by directors from Brazil, Canada, Iran, Mexico, Philippines, Romania, South Korea, Taiwan, UK and USA. There are many more talented auteurs from around the world to be discovered, some of whom will be featured in next season’s Contemporary World series.