Tuesday, September 23, 2008

CIFF Notes -- Day 4

Sometimes our reactions to movies are similar to how we behave when we meet people. There are some people we take an instant liking to -- within a few minutes of meeting the person, we could be chatting like we were old friends. And then there is the flip-side to that behavior. There are some people we not warm up to and no matter what the other person does, we may never see eye to eye. One could say that at times our preconceived notions and prejudices come in the way, but no matter how much we try, we just cannot mesh with some people.

I had such reactions to the two films I saw yesterday – one that left me cold, while the other charmed me easily.

Day 4, Sept 22

Two films seen:
I am from Titov Veles (2007, Macedonia co-production, Teona Strugar Mitevska)
Wonderful Town (2007, Thailand, Aditya Assarat): 10/10

I am from Titov Veles didn't work for me. Even though the production values were top-notch and the cinematography was very good, I just couldn't get over how the film was purposely trying to include a few elements to appeal to the audience – the few nude scenes of the lead actresses (and who plays the narrator), the sexual sequences, the dreamy shots with a vague biblical reference or the lovely overhead shots of everyday objects.

On the other hand, I was completely as ease just a few minutes into the Thai film Wonderful Town. The movie, set in the southern Thai town of Pakua Pak which was hit hard by the Tsunami in 2004, is a tender love story between a Bangkok architect (Ton), who comes to the town to work on a new beach resort, and Na, the owner of the hotel that Ton stays in. The film has a steady rhythm that is maintained no matter what happens. The scene could be a kiss or even a deadly crime, but everything takes place in the established dreamy and peaceful framework. Everything in the film exists in harmony, be it the haunted house, the construction of the new resort, the empty hotel, the isolated beach or even a road-side garage. The town is empty, almost a ghost town, where everyone knows each other. Yet this loneliness never feels oppressive but just a natural cycle of life.

Notes: As it turns out, Ton is the only one staying at the hotel as it is off season for tourists and most of the visitors stay in the expensive hotels near the beach. The isolated hotel setting reminded me of another Thai film, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Invisible Waves, which was set in Phuket. Even the film’s leisurely mood and dreamy feel made me think of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s work. The resort construction is almost an inverse of Jia Zhangke's Still Life. In Still Life, we see buildings taken apart while in Wonderful Town, we see a resort being constructed from ground up. Just something haunting about seeing a building’s skeleton. In Tsai Ming-liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, we also see an under construction building but I never equated that building with the one from Wonderful Town. Maybe because in Wonderful Town we see sideways view of the empty resort while in I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, we see the empty building from within, either from a higher floor looking downwards or from the ground floor looking up. And finally, the scene where Ton and Na enjoy a quiet moment in the lush green field made me think of the peaceful picnic that the characters in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours take.

Opposite feelings

I saw both movies with two cinephile friends and it was interesting to note their reactions to the two films. They both didn't mind the first one and one of them liked it more than the second one. But for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to feel the same about I Am From Titov Veles. I find it interesting that my least favourite film of the festival so far and the one I liked the most were separated by a 30 minute interval.

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