Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bangkok, Tehran & France

I finally caught up with three films I missed at film festivals over the last 2 years. In 2005, I opted to not see the late show of Citizen Dog at the London International Film Festival after I was saturated with a packed day of films on the festival's final day. And in 2006, I skipped Offside and The Page Turner for lesser known films confident that these two films would eventually find distribution in North America. So the wait is finally over...

Citizen Dog
(Thailand, 2004, Director Wisit Sasanatieng)

: Rating 8/10

Thai director Wisit follows up his colorful 2000 film Tears of the Black Tiger with another inventive color saturated adventure. The core of Citizen Dog is a tender love story between two simple minded people (Pod & Jin). But around these two unique characters are several eccentric characters with Yod (Pod's finger buddy), Kong (the dead motorcyclist) & Muan (self declared Chinese princess) to name a few. There are plenty of surrealist images in the film along with over the top hilarious scenarios -- gut busting ghosts, a grandmother reincarnated as a gecko, a smoking alcoholic teddy bear, an 8 year old obsessed with shoot em up arcade games, a comic book soap opera couple that comes to life and a mysterious Italian white book.

For the first hour, the film turns up one surprize after the other. But after 60 minutes or so, the movie falls flat and all the cuteness just seems like a drag. Still, the breath-taking visuals make it a worthy trip. The calm soothing narration of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe and the recent Ploy) gave the movie an earthly fable like feel. The musical numbers are funny at first but are tiring near the end. In cinematic terms, the closest comparison to Jin's character is probably Amélie as both females are quirky and unique in their own way.

(Iran, 2006, Director Jafar Panahi)

: Rating 7.5/10

Jafar Panahi makes interesting films that look deep beneath the surface of Iranian society. His last movie, Crimson Gold, was a perfect film that highlighted class differences in Tehran by focusing on the story of two pizza delivery men. In Offside, he tries to look at female soccer fans who are not allowed to watch games in the stadium along with the men. The interesting story idea asks plenty of questions about women's status in a male dominated society but the film is not as strong as his previous efforts. A lot of the scenes feel contrived and forced, missing the natural smoothness from Panahi's previous works.

Still there are plenty of magical moments in the film -- the nervous expression on one of the girl's face as she tries to sneak into the stadium, the passion with which the guard narrates a running commentary for the girls who are held in custody & the moment when we finally see the beautiful green soccer field is mesmerizing. The best part of the film is the last 15-20 minutes where the camera highlights the emotions and expressions of fans who are delighted at Iran's qualification for the 200 World Cup -- there is very little dialogue and we can see unscripted human emotion on display.

The Page Turner (France, 2006, Denis Dercourt): Rating 9/10

It is stressful for a young child to perform in front of 5 judges but the task becomes more difficult when one of the judges does not give the performance their full attention. This is what happens to young Mélanie when Ariane, a judge & respected pianist, signs a fan's autograph in the middle of Mélanie's audition. Prior to the interruption, Mélanie was hitting all the right notes but she goes completely off key after Ariane's distraction.

Years later, a grown up Mélanie conspires to take revenge against Ariane. The film's title refers to the role that Mélanie occupies in her revenge but the full extent of her plans are truly chilling. Her precise expressions give an idea as to what Mélanie is thinking as she sizes up every situation to fit within the framework of her overall scheme. Both Déborah François & Julie Richalet (junior Mélanie) give pitch perfect performances in their portrayal of the quiet yet calculative Mélanie.

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