Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bridging East & West

West is West (2010, UK, Andy DeEmmony)

East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling’s overused line held true in the absorbing East is East (1999) when George Khan (Om Puri) failed to instill Pakistani values and traditions in his British born children. However, West is West shows that it is indeed possible to bridge East and West provided one has the right teacher and the right book, which in the film happens to be Kipling’s Kim.

West is West takes place a few years after the first film and once again depicts an authoritative George Khan. George’s ways have led all his children, except his youngest son Sajid (Aqib Khan), to leave home. Sajid is tired of getting bullied at school over his Pakistani roots and clashes frequently with his father. After yet another painful episode at school, Sajid insults his father’s heritage. George is shocked by his son’s behavior and decides that the only way to salvage Sajid is to force his son to live and study in Pakistan. George tells Sajid that they are going to Pakistan on vacation in order to visit his elder brother Maneer Khan (Emil Marwa) who left England more than a year earlier. Sajid only learns the truth about his trip after they arrive in Pakistan and is understandably upset. However, a wise sage, Pir Naseem (Nadim Sawalha) comes to the rescue and takes Sajid under his wing. Pir treats Sajid with respect and answers all his queries calmly. The fact that Pir explains the importance of traditions to Sajid wins the young boy over because Pir’s ways are completely opposite from George’s methods. George never explained why his children must follow certain rituals but instead always demanded that everyone obey him without question.

Pir also manages to broaden Sajid’s perspective so that the boy can better mesh his Eastern origins with his Western life. A simple example from Pir explains to Sajid why his father acts the way he does. Pir describes a scenario where he encounters a cobra on his usual way home one day. He questions whether he should continue along the path and risk getting bitten or seek an alternate path to get home. Through this example Pir explains to Sajid that the alternate path is a method to adapt to a different culture and a way of surviving in a foreign land. George never adapted to British life but tried to live his Pakistani life in England and continued moving in the only path he knew.

Sajid is not the only one who goes through a transformation or coming of age process. George is also forced to face his own values and old life. George left his wife and children behind in Pakistan when he moved to England and instead of returning back, he married again in England and had more children. He continued to send money back home in the belief that he was being a good man. However, he neglected his first wife and family, leaving them to endure a life of hardship and struggles. George returns back home after a period of more than thirty years to face his first wife Basheera (Ila Arun) and her wrath. She rightly blames him for abandoning her, especially since she was only fifteen when she got married and was forced to tend to the fields and look after the kids on her own. George is responsible for ruining Basheera’s life but he is also to blame for making life difficult for his second wife Ella (Linda Bassett). Ella is forced to concede that she spent her life trying to force her children to be more Pakistani than English while George himself abandoned his family back in Pakistan. There is a tender moment in the film when both wives sit face to face and even though neither of them can communicate in the same language, they are able to recognize each other’s misery. Puri’s character is constantly frustrated and abusive but unlike a sinister villain, his character comes off as a man caught in a war of traditions. He acts the way he does because he believes it is his duty to enforce the “right” cultural values on his children but in West is West he finally realizes that his ways have alienated him from both his traditional Pakistani and English lives at the same time. George’s behavior was always seen as hypocritical in the first film and that point is emphasized in West is West again, where it is pointed out that he changed his name from Jahangir to George and married a British woman, despite wanting his children to be Pakistani.

George may be a fictional character but his plight is similar to that of countless other immigrant stories. Millions of immigrants moved to new lands through the 1950’s to 80’s with a snapshot of values from their homelands. While their homelands moved ahead and adopted newer values, the immigrants kept their beliefs alive despite being surrounded by a differing set of values. The lack of satellite tv and internet meant that the immigrants had limited information about the changing values of life back home but instead continued to live in their new country with traditions and beliefs which were now frozen in time. Such a way of life may have been acceptable for the parents but it created struggles for their children who were born in foreign countries. East is East and West is West are just two examples of films that depict the cultural clash between first generation immigrant parents and second generation Western children. Even though many films exist on this topic, director Andy DeEmmony and writer Ayub Khan-Din manage to ensure their work is still engaging and contains a warm heart. Ayub Khan-Din had also written the first film and as a result, he is able to provide continuity with the characters even though the second film has been made more than a decade after East is East. It is credit to the returning actors as well that they are able to recreate the same persona from the first film. Om Puri deserves a lot of accolades for presenting his angry character with the same energy even though he picks up his character after a long gap. The new actors perform their parts quite well, especially Ila Arun and Aqib Khan. Arun is well known to fans of Indian cinema for her amazing vocals as a playback singer but she also sometimes plays small roles in Indian films. West is West gives her a bit more screen time than what she normally gets and this allows her to shine. Aqib Khan turns in a commendable performance in his debut film. At the start of the film his character is angry and constantly on edge as one would expect of a teenager, but as the film progresses, we see growth in his character and he matures to care for those around him. He even plays matchmaker for his brother and chases his brother’s dream woman in a hilarious sequence.

West is West contains the same style of humor that made East is East a pleasure to watch but this new film has a calmer core than the first film and that is solely because of the character of Pir Naseem. Pir’s warm smile and philosophical words takes the sting out of any anger that Sajid has. The story may not be new but the presentation and quality of acting manage to make this a pleasurable film to watch.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spotlight on Chabrol

Claude Chabrol’s unexpected death in September 2010 meant the world lost a core director of the French New Wave. Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette are now the last remaining Cahiers du Cinema New Wave directors although Alain Resnais, Agnes Varda and Chris Marker remain from the Left Bank group. Chabrol started his film career during a rich period in global film-making through the late 1950’s and 1960’s when mesmerizing films emerged from all corners of the globe. Incredibly, Chabrol remained a prolific filmmaker throughout his career, directing more than 50 features. Chabrol directed his first film in 1958 (Le Beau Serge) and last in 2009 with Inspector Bellamy, meaning he had a staggering average of one film per year over a span of half a century. Not only was he a key filmmaker, he was also a film critic who helped champion other filmmakers via Cahiers du Cinema.

The seven films selected for this spotlight start a decade after Chabrol’s first feature and thus fall outside his New Wave period:

Les biches (1968)
La femme infidèle (1969)
Que la bête meure (1969)
Le boucher (1970)
Juste avant la nuit (1971)
Les noces rouges (1973)
Nada (1974)

In A History of the French New Wave, Richard Neupert notes:

Le beau Serge and Landru mark the beginning and the ending of Chabrol’s contributions to the New Wave proper.....
His first eight films helped make a New Wave, but film enthusiasts had to wait five years, until Les biches and La femme infidele (both 1968), for Chabrol to help truly remake the commercial French Cinema. page 160, second edition.

Adultery & Murder

Adultery is present in four of the seven films but in three of these films, cheating on a spouse is directly connected to committing a murder. In La femme infidèle, Charles (Michel Bouquet) kills his wife Hélène’s (Stephane Audran) lover in a gush of anger while in Les noces rouges the wife (Stephane Audran) and her lover conspire to kill her slimy husband. In La femme infidèle, Michel Bouquet plays the husband who was cheated upon but in Juste avant la nuit his character cheats on his wife (Audran) with their neighbour’s wife and kills his lover in a fit of resentment during a S&M episode.

Que la bête meure features an obnoxious husband Paul (Jean Yanne) who cheats on his wife with her sister but that infidelity is not the reason for Paul’s murder. At the film’s start, Paul runs over a child and drives away leading the son’s father to track down Paul for revenge.

Murder as a battle for Identity

Jean Yanne’s character Popaul/Paul commits gruesome murders in Le boucher where he plays the title character who cannot curb his inner demons. Popaul is not portrayed as a calculative serial killer but as a man who kills whenever his dark self takes over and pushes him to commit the sinister crimes. One side of his personality yearns to be helped and saved while his darker side forces his hands to drive the knife into his victims.

In Les biches, Frédérique (Stéphane Audran) invites a young street artist (Jacqueline Sassard) into her Parisian apartment and tries to seduce the young woman. The young woman never reveals her name so Frédérique names her Why. Frédérique takes Why to her villa outside the city and surrounds her with luxury in order to woo her. When Why pretends to show interest in Paul (Jean-Louis Trintignant), Frédérique gets jealous and pounces on Paul herself. Initially, Why is not taken with Paul but after Frédérique dates Paul, Why wants Paul as well and craves a threesome but Frédérique purposely keeps Why at a teasing distance. The sexual atmosphere that Frédérique creates results in Why losing her identity so much so that she starts dressing and talking like Frédérique in the belief that will allow her to win Paul. Eventually, Why realizes that she will always be a double unless she eliminates Frédérique to fully assume her physical identity.

Arrest as a release from guilt

In Les biches, no guilt is associated with the murder but in some of the other films, the main character is tormented by their reckless murders. Michel Bouquet portrays this guilt with a cold precision in both La femme infidèle (as Charles Desvallees) and Juste avant la nuit (as Charles Masson). In La femme infidèle Charles is relieved to be apprehended so that he does not have live a life of lie. Charles murders his neighbour and best friend François Tellier’s wife in Juste avant la nuit but is tormented by his guilt. He confesses his crime first to his wife Hélène and then to François. Incredibly, both tell him to forget the incident and move on. At first, François’s forgiveness seems to relieve Charles but eventually his guilt possesses him. He makes up his mind to turn himself in but is prevented in doing so by Hélène who cannot bear the humiliation of seeing Charles behind bars.

In Les noces rouges, Lucienne Delamare (Stephane Audran) and Pierre Maury (Michel Piccoli) appear to get away with the perfect murder when they kill Paul Delamare (Claude Piéplu), Lucienne’s corrupt political husband. However, Lucienne’s daughter suspects wrong doing and writes a letter to the police which mentions her mother’s affair with Pierre. That letter leads Lucienne to accept her guilt and give herself up along with Pierre.

Political games & backstabbing

There is a tiny element of political manipulation shown in Les noces rouges where Paul Delamare (Claude Piéplu) is shown to be a shrewd politician who is willing to use people around him as pawns. Paul wants to use his mayoral position for personal profit and is even willing to allow his wife to have an affair with Pierre as long as Pierre assists in Paul’s profitable ways. However, Nada is the only true political film out of the seven which depicts a violent clash between police and a terrorist group over a hostage. The film also shows the sly political games that exist within the various arms of a government that can lead to back room deals and public scapegoats.

Familiar actors and names -- Charles, Paul and Hélène

Stéphane Audran was married to Chabrol from 1964 until 1980 and is the leading star in five of the seven films. In each film, her character is given a slightly different look but it is in Les noces rouges that her character is finally unrecognizable mostly because of her brown hair. Her character is named Hélène in three of the films. In four of the films her character has a passionate love affair whereas in the fifth film her character plays a quiet obedient housewife who stands by her husband even after he cheats on her and commits a murder.

Michel Bouquet gets a similar first name of Charles in La femme infidèle and Juste avant la nuit because both characters are cut from the same cloth of guilt and inner turmoil resulting from murder. Jean Yanne’s character is called Paul in both Le Boucher and Que la bête meure but his character is not entirely similar in the two films, which is why in Le Boucher his character is given an alternate name of Popaul. Claude Piéplu’s character of a corrupt politician in Les noces rouges is strikingly similar to Jean Yanne’s character in Que la bête meure, so it is not surprizing to see Claude Piéplu’s character is also named Paul. Interestingly, Michael Duchaussoy’s character who seeks revenge for his son’s killing in Que la bête meure is also named Charles and Paul's sister-in-law is named Hélène. A character of Paul is also found in Les Bitches but in that film the character is a passive observer of sexual games in between two women.

Dominique Zardi and Henri Attal get varying roles in five and four of the seven film respectively. Both get the most screen time in Les Bitches but after that, their roles get smaller yet both are easily prominent and recognizable in their few minutes of screen time. Zardi and Attal are also found in Juste avant la nuit, La femme infidèle and Nada with Zardi getting an extra appearance in Que la bête meure.

In closing...

Que la bête meure offers the most twist and turns in the planning and execution of a calculated murder. Charles wants to avenge for his son’s murder and plans for a long painful suffering of the murderer. Armed with an accurate theory about the criminal’s identity, a stroke of luck leads Charles to the killer’s sister in law Helene. Charles seduces Helene to get to Paul but once he meets Paul and his family, he realizes that everyone despises Paul, including Paul’s son. What follows is an elaborate game where even the son is involved in the killing of his father, thereby completing the murder cycle.

Chabrol was an admirer of Hitchcock and labeled a French Hitchcock by some for his use of similar motifs of murder and mystery. However, the films in this spotlight show that Chabrol was a bit more subtle than Hitchcock in his murder films and handled the turmoil and crime in a calmer manner. The killers do not panic after they commit their crime and none of them run away. So when police want to find the murderers in La femme infidèle and Les noces rouges, they simply go their homes and arrest the criminals with no fuss. Also, like Hitchcock, Chabrol uses music effectively to alert of impending danger but unlike in Hitchcock’s films, the music in Chabrol’s films is not heightened and does not draw too much attention to events.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Genie Awards 2011: Best of Canadian film

It is not surprizing to see that Denis Villeneuve's Incendies is one of the main winners at this year's Canadian Genie Awards, winning 8 awards in total. Barney's Version is the other big winner, with 7 Genies. It is remarkable that these two films won 15 out of the 19 awards eligible for fictional features, with The Trotsky winning two Genies. The Golden Reel Award for top grossing Canadian film at the box office in 2010 went shockingly to Resident Evil: Afterlife. Both Incendies and Barney's Version did not get a proper Canadian theatrical release until January 2011 but even if they were released in 2010, it is hard to imagine either of them grossing more than the $7 million that Resident Evil: Afterlife took in. In fact, Resident Evil accounted for 21% of the total Canadian revenue at multiplexes. One would not consider Resident Evil: Afterlife as a Canadian film but in this day and age of co-productions, the line does blur. Last Train Home, another Canadian co-production, won best documentary.

Full list of winners:

Best picture: Incendies
Direction: Denis Villeneuve, Incendies
Original screenplay: Jacob Tierney, The Trotsky
Adapted screenplay: Denis Villeneuve, Incendies
Lead actor: Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version
Lead actress: Lubna Azabal, Incendies
Supporting actor: Dustin Hoffman, Barney's Version
Supporting actress: Minnie Driver, Barney's Version
Art direction/production design: Barney's Version
Cinematography: Incendies
Costume design: Barney's Version
Make-up: Barney's Version
Editing: Incendies
Original score: Barney's Version
Original song: Already Gone (The Trotsky)
Overall sound: Incendies
Sound editing: Incendies
Documentary: Last Train Home
Live action short drama: Savage
Animated short: Lipsett Diaries (Les Journaux de Lipsett)
Claude Jutra Award: Jephté Bastien, Sortie 67
Golden Reel Award: Resident Evil: Afterlife

Incendies also had the honor of winning best Canadian film at the Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary International film festivals. Hopefully, all these awards means that more Canadians will bother seeing this film in its current limited theatrical run and eventual DVD release.

Popular award shows rarely get things right in awarding the best film, so it is good to see that in Canada a truly worthy film won the top prize. Overall, 2010 was one of the strongest years for Canadian films in recent memory. Besides Incendies, here are some of my picks for 2010 Canadian films which are worth a look:

Curling (Denis Côté)
Heartbeats (Xavier Dolan)
Taylor’s Way (Rene Barr)
Small Town Murder Songs (Ed Gass-Donnelly)
Fubar II (Michael Dowse)
A Simple Rhythm (Tess Girard)
Scott Pilgrim vs the World (Canada co-production, Edgar Wright)
Splice (Canada co-production, Vincenzo Natali)

Splice would have made my best of 2010 year list if the film had not gone overboard in the last 15 minutes. Still, the film deserves to be seen for the many interesting ideas that it contains. Plus, Splice never lets the viewer get comfortable with the material and constantly tries to unsettle its audience.

Fubar II was completely shutout from this year's Genies but the film is enjoyable and has a good heart. Seeing the first Fubar film is not a prerequisite for the second film but it does help in outlining the humor style and the characters. Also, Fubar II won the audience award at last year's Calgary International Film Festival and was easily sold out well in advance of its screening.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Copa America 2011: Venezuela

Entry #2 of the 2011 Copa America Film & Book Festival.

Book: Chronicles of a Nomad by A.A. Alvarez
Film: El Don (2006, José Ramón Novoa)
Bonus Film: Araya (1959, Margot Benacerraf)

Chronicles of a Nomad sheds a light on certain aspects of Venezuelan life in the late 1980's and early 90's such as corruption, political power games, the rise of Hugo Chavez and the banking crisis. Also, the book lays out the cultural jolt that an immigrant experiences upon arriving in a new nation by describing travels across three countries -- Venezuela, US and Greece. However, this self-published work could have certainly benefited from an independent editor who would have made some obvious corrections, helped trim some excess and provided a tighter framework. Example: another pair of eyes would certainly have caught the missing 'not' in the following line of a chapter's opening paragraph:

After Al Gore was elected president of the United States and George W. Bush entered the oval office, it started to rain on our little parade and apparently the country’s sweet economy was made of sugar; and it started to dissolve very rapidly.

El Don is the story about a person’s rise to power and eventual downfall due to political and criminal elements. A proper description of the film is marred by the fact that the DVD copy of the film was without any English subtitles. Still, I was able to grasp bits of the overall structure due to the presence of familiar cinematic characters in the form of omnipresent television reporters, gangsters, and corrupt policemen and politicians. The presence of subtitles would not have elevated the film to a higher rating as the low budget production contains substandard technical aspects (cinematography, sound, editing) and melodramatic acting.

The most memorable aspect of El Don is the presence of Édgar Ramírez who turned in one of the best performances of 2010 in Carlos. Ramírez does not have the main role in El Don but plays Alvaro, a young sidekick with an easy going appearance. Alvaro, who has long hair, wears blue jeans and is always chewing gum, is an ocean away from the smooth talking well dressed Carlos. It is only near the end of El Don that Ramirez's character shows a strong yet negative side in one scene thereby allowing one to draw a faint line from El Don to Carlos. Of course, Édgar Ramírez did not jump to Carlos directly from El Don but instead had multiple roles in films such as The Bourne Ultimatum, Vantage Point, Che: part One before landing up in Carlos.

Margot Benacerraf's Araya depicts the struggles and rhythms of workers who toiled for centuries working in salt mines in the Northern part of Venezuela. This 1959 black and white film contains many beautiful images but unfortunately they are ruined by non-stop narration, which ends up getting repetitive because the filmmaker chose to not let a few minutes go by in silence. The audience is always kept at a distance because at no point do we ever hear the workers talk in their own voices. The film could have certainly benefited from less narration and more use of local sounds and voices, thereby letting the audience get a closer look at the workers.


Normally one points to certain mistakes made by a filmmaker or an author when one comes across a disappointing work. However, in this case, I feel a bit guilty in the disappointing film and book picked. This is because I wanted to pick entries that represented each country very well in this Copa America spotlight. Also, since the Venezuelan soccer team usually finishes bottom of their group, I had hoped to find a book and film that ensured Venezuela had a decent showing. As things stand, both the Venezuelan book and film are on course to finish bottom in the 2011 Copa America Film & Book festival. One cannot imagine the Venezuelan soccer team to do much better in Argentina at the Copa America as they are in Group B alongside Brazil, Paraguay and Ecuador.

Monday, March 07, 2011


Lourdes (2009, Austria/France/Germany, Jessica Hausner)

Religion is a divisive element in the human race. It causes wars, divides families, heals and saves people while also leading them down a destructive path. There are struggles over whether God exists and then over which religion is the true path to salvation. Reincarnation is not accepted universally nor is the promise of afterlife. Yet, a majority of the human race still holds faith in some form of religion or God. Then there are those who do not believe in God but believe in an entity of some kind that holds sway over humans. The various faiths may differ but they are still united in their belief towards an omnipresent yet unseen force. The only substantial evidence comes in the form of a miracle, a sign that a higher power does indeed exist. This sign could be an act of a statue accepting a form of human devotion (example: the drinking of milk by Ganesh statues) or it could be an unexpected healing of a person.

Jessica Hausner’s film takes place in Lourdes, a place where millions flock every year to either get healed or observe a sign from a higher power. If people's intentions for making a pilgrimage to Lourdes is a selfish need, then it is inevitable that the small town will be buzzing with gossip and anticipation. The film shows that gossip spreads like wildfire because everyone believes they have an equal chance to get healed. One would expect a dedicated religious person to have better odds of observing a miracle but there are no rational answers as to who can get healed. In Hausner’s film, even the priests are forced to concede the often repeated statement “God works in mysterious ways”. As a result, each and every person who heads to Lourdes believes that a miracle is within reach.

The main character of Lourdes, a gentle and smiling Christine (played perfectly by Sylvie Testud), does not hold any bitterness in her heart, even though she is confined to a wheelchair. Christine also does not let her limited mobility get in the away of making various trips around Europe. Her conversations indicate that she often travels on pilgrimages and cites Rome as her favourite on the basis of the Italian capital’s cultural superiority over Lourdes. Christine has feelings for one of the male officers accompanying them on their pilgrimage trip but those feelings are only one way until Christine is touched by a miracle. The unexpected miracle brings some delight in people around Christine while arouses jealousy and distrust in others. The distrust arises because a miracle is portrayed to be like winning the lottery -- once someone is cured, then no one else can win the life changing prize on a particular trip.

Jessica Hausner brilliantly presents her film with dry wit and humour. The pilgrimage events are depicted documentary style while the script gently pokes fun at the beliefs, rituals and certain egoistic people seeking a miracle. The film does not openly satirize the characters but instead allows audience to derive their own sentiments. Such a vague and open ended presentation of faith and belief brings to mind the style of Todd Haynes’ Safe and Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine, two films that also present events in a straight forward manner while subtly eliciting laughs at the expense of people who blindly buy into someone else’s beliefs.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Spotlight on Christopher Doyle

I have often chased down films either by a particular director or country for the better part of the last decade. The only exception to this was from 2005-06 when I looked for films that cinematographer Christopher Doyle worked on. Ofcourse, Doyle is no ordinary cinematographer but is one of the top 2-3, if not the best, director of photography working in any film industry around the world. He is best known for his work on Asian films, especially his associations with Wong Kar-wai. In fact, it was Wong Kar-wai’s films that first led me to Doyle's vibrant and fascinating palettes. However, what really drove me to start hunting down other Doyle films was his work on Fruit Chan's Dumplings segment in 2004's Three...Extremes. The Dumplings segment was easily one of the best lit and shot films I had seen that year and that short forced me to seek out other Doyle filmed works. The quest led me to Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's hypnotic and mesmerizing Last Life in the Universe which naturally led me to the director's next film Invisible Waves. In the few years between 2002-2006, it appeared that anything that Doyle shot was worth seeing. Hero was a visual treat, 2046 was a seductive follow up to the cinematic treasure In the Mood for Love while The Quiet American was a brave political film made in a time of "us against them" policies which left no room for reason or diplomacy.

After Invisible Waves, I eased off on the film hunt and instead dove into various regional, directorial and soccer themed spotlights. Interestingly after 2006, Doyle also moved away temporarily from Asia to work with M. Night Shyamalan (2006's Lady in the Water), Gus Van Sant (2007's Paranoid Park) and Jim Jarmusch (The Limits of Control, easily the best American film of 2009). A perfect opportunity for a Christopher Doyle spotlight would have being in 2006 when his more famous and precious works could have been captured in a single umbrella. As a way to make amends, I decided to finally have an overdue spotlight on Christopher Doyle and use the opportunity to catch-up on some of his previous works which I missed, especially his directorial debut Away with Words which formed the starting point of this 5 film series.

In order of viewing:

Away with Words (1999, Hong Kong co-production, directed by Christopher Doyle)
Happy Together (1997, Hong Kong, Wong Kar-wai)
The White Countess (2005, UK co-production, James Ivory)
Ondine (2009, Ireland/USA, Neil Jordon)
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002, Australia, Phillip Noyce)

Images, Identity and the ocean

It is not surprizing to discover that Doyle's directorial feature debut is a film rich in visual language. The film does not do away with words as may be indicated by the title but instead the words do not provide a means to enjoy the film. Trying to depend on a narrative driven by dialogue will not lead to a satisfying feeling regarding this film. Instead, one must allow the stunning colors and unique point of view camera angles to form a guide through the film's flashbacks and loosely arranged sequences. The reason that dialogues are not a key ingredient in the film is because the film's three main characters are in a foreign land unable to communicate their feelings or thoughts accurately for variety of reasons.
Asano Away With Words
Asano is a Japanese who finds himself in Hong Kong and is unable to speak the language while Kevin is an Englishman whose drunken episodes lead him to forget his surroundings (including the street name where he lives) thereby getting arrested by the police on a frequent basis. Kevin's girlfriend is also an outsider and tries to form a bridge between Asano and Kevin yet she is adrift in her own sea.

The interactions between the three form the crux of the narrative while Asano's flashbacks of his childhood provide the film's visual strength. Asano loves the sea and not surprizingly his memories are often associated with water. Throughout the film, different camera angles give a sense of the joy that Asano experiences as he mentally makes his way towards the sea. So the camera rushes down the path towards the sanded beach eventually pointing at the rich blue water. One of the film's most unique angles involves seeing the perspective from a tire racing down the street.
Tire Away With Words
Away With Words

Note: Away with Words is co-written by Tony Rayns, the brilliant Asian film programmer responsible for ensuring that the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) unearths promising works from Asian filmmakers around the world every year.

A different affair in Buenos Aries

A steamy affair, love, break-up, agony and seductive music. Welcome to life, Wong Kar-wai style. However, unlike other Wong Kar-wai films, the setting in Happy Together is not Hong Kong but is instead Buenos Aries and the love story involves two men, Lai (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) & Ho (Leslie Cheung). The sexuality of the characters does not matter too much as the relationship issues and arguments portrayed in the film apply universally to both men and women. As a result, the film forms a case study of a broken heart and the misery that loneliness can sometimes bring.
Buenos Aries
Happy Together starts off in rich black and white before switching over to color around the 20 minute mark. There are 2 moments of color spliced in between the black and white footage and one of them has to do with the dreams of Lai's quest to head to Iguazu Falls. The journey to the world famous waterfalls ends up becoming a defining marker in the relationship between Lai and Ho. The two get lost en route and never make it to the falls while their fight during their drive starts the process of a gradual break-up. Even though Lai and Ho's relationship is shown to be turbulent and has endured many previous split-ups, the fallout from the long car drive is more serious. The film then depicts the sorrow that engulfs a broken heart. A person with a broken heart cannot enjoy anything around them, no matter where they are. In one case, it appears that Lai is asleep during one of the most fierce and noisy derby games in the world -- River Plate vs Boca Juniors. Only a person gripped by depression and misery could sleep in such a hostile environment.
Happy Together
Happy Together Boca River game
Boca River game

In another case, Lai attempts a common therapy for misery -- alcohol. Naturally, Quilmes is on display as it is the popular beer available around Buenos Aries, or where ever an Argentine soccer game is played for that matter.

The real star of the film ends up being Doyle's camera which injects life in a familiar tale of love & anguish. The camera pushes and prods in confined spaces ensuring that dullness does not fully descend onto the work. A few personal favourite sequences involve the soccer game that employees at the restaurant indulge in during their breaks. The camera ensures the audience feels like another player in the game, trying to play the ball and even receive a pass. In one instance, the game is heard without any background noise but in another case, music blurs out the sounds of the players and the camera slows down to give a poetic look at Lai in the foreground while the sun and the players occupy the background.
War, Love and a perfect bar

The White Countess is set in 1936 Shanghai against the backdrop of an impending Japanese Invasion and a World War. Although, one would not know much about the political situation in the world if it were up to Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) as his dream of a perfect bar/club is a place where politics is left outside and patrons can mingle freely without their ideologies. The sentiment is noble and at first it succeeds in attracting clientele to his new club. However, as the threat of a Japanese invasion increases, attendance in the club declines. A Japanese businessman Matsuda (Hiroyuki Sanada) suggests that Todd Jackson needs to slowly introduce some political tension in the club that would then influence more people to attend. Matsuda’s words ring true but by the time the crowds return, the invasion is on the doorstep leading to a mass exodus of people from the city.

The film tries its best to keep any politics elements off the screen which results in a work free of any tension and appearing quite sterile. The dramatic exodus at the end feels at odds with the film's overall calm rhythm and comes too late to make a difference to a movie that produces no lasting sentiments.

A mythical tale dressed up in reality

The enchanting selkie. The lady from the sea. Full of beauty and mystery. Although in modern day, such a lady would arouse more distrust than enchantment. Neil Jordon takes a mythical celtic tale and adds a layer of present day political sentiment about distrust of emigrants and foreigners.

Christopher Doyle's camera perfectly captures the grayish skies and always rain tinged atmosphere that exists in a small Irish town. Interestingly, Doyle came to this film after having worked on M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water, which was a different take on a mythical mermaid tale.

The long journey home

Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on a real life story of three young Aboriginal girl's journey to return home to their mother from the correction camp they were placed in by the Australian government. The camps were created to separate mixed blood children (white & native) from their parents in a government backed experiment meant for the “good of the people”.

The film is a worthy yet rare return for Doyle and Noyce to their native Australia to shoot a film. Doyle’s camera captures the sheer vastness and heat of an unforgiving Australian landscape perfectly.

Auteur theory

The films in this spotlight show that Christopher Doyle has the ability to work with multiple directors in different countries and still provide the necessary look to assist in the filmmakers varying visions. In this regard, the films are a perfect example of seeing an auteur theory at work as the same DOP produces vastly different results depending on who the director is. For example, nothing about The White Countess gives a clue that Christopher Doyle is the DOP as the film looks and feels like a Merchant Ivory Production. On the other hand, Happy Together feels like a Wong Kar-wai film even though it is shot in a completely different continent and culture from other Wong Kar-wai films. A director may be the final authority in the film’s final vision but he/she does depend on a good DOP to achieve their unique vision. It is hard to imagine a Wong Kar-wai film without Christopher Doyle’s creative camera movements in tight quarters.