You may well remember this one. Almost exactly a year ago, The Belated Birthday Girl and I spent two weeks in Japan, and while we were there we wanted to catch some local cinema. The posters for the just-released Blood And Bones featured Takeshi Kitano's unmistakable mug, so that made the decision of what to see much easier. Obviously, there was no concession to an English-speaking audience in the way of subtitles or such, so there was a whole other level of interest added - how easy is it to follow the story of a film when you can't understand a word that's being said?
At the time, the film seemed surprisingly easy to get a grasp on, and seeing it subtitled one year on just confirms that: the main thrust of the story is pretty much as we deduced, it's just the minor details that are now apparent. Names, for example. Yoichi Sai's epic adaptation of Yang Seok-Il's novel covers sixty years in the life of Kim Jyombion (Takeshi Kitano), starting with his emigration from Korea to Japan in the early twenties. The film's narrated by his son Masao (Hirofumi Arai), who tells us early on that "my father blocked my life at every turn." It's nothing personal: Kim treats everyone like dirt, thinking of nobody but himself. As he builds himself an empire, starting with a fishcake factory and moving into high-interest usury, any family and friends that get in his way are generally beaten to a pulp.
As I said in my original review, Blood And Bones works for a non-Japanese speaking audience because it's full-on melodrama, dealing in wild extremes of love and hate - well, mostly hate - that don't require much verbal explanation. This time round, the verbal explanation we get does unfortunately point up how relentlessly grim the story gets. (Though not for a creepy bloke sitting in front of me, who giggled at pretty much every occasion when Kim hits a woman.) The power of the story carries it through its less credible passages, and even the longeurs I complained about originally don't seem to be such an issue any more. Because I'm no longer struggling to make sense of the visuals, it's easier to appreciate the main strengths of the film - Takeshi's towering performance (giving the tiniest possible glimpse of humanity under Kim's monstrous exterior), the fine support he gets from the rest of the cast, and Taro Iwashiro's lush romantic score.
6.15pm: Workingman's Death
Michael Glawogger's documentary consists of five short films, each looking at a different type of hard manual labour from around the world. In Ukraine, we follow a group of miners so desperate for work that they've taken over an abandoned mine for themselves. In Indonesia, we see the men who carry huge buckets of sulphur from the volcanic mines, dodging endless tourists with cameras along their route. In Nigeria, the location is an enormous open-air slaughterhouse where live cattle and goats are converted into roast meat in two unpleasant stages: in Pakistan, it's a shipbreaking yard where the risk of you falling from a high place, or having several tons of steel fall on you, is always present. The final section looks at steelworks in both China and Germany, and wonders out loud how the role of work will change in the future.
You'd suspect from its title that Workingman's Death intends to document the decline of society's more unpleasant jobs. In practice, it's only really the final section that addresses this: the rest of the movie oscillates between celebrating the people who are prepared to do the work, and showing you just what a cushy number your job is by comparison. Thanks to a camera crew with balls of steel (headed up by Wolfgang Thaler), Glawogger is able to put the viewer right in the thick of it: crawling along a two-foot high passageway with the miners as they attempt to find a coal seam, or running behind the Nigerian meat-carriers as they cart pairs of goats on their heads through a hellish inferno of dying animals and roaring fires. But it's the sheer physical danger of the Pakistan ship-breaking section that's the most visually stunning - Glawogger gets three cameras in exactly the right spots to cover the workers as they slice the entire end of a ship off in one go, and the result is a jaw-dropping piece of spectacle that reminds you what special effects used to make you feel before we all got bored with them.
Despite its modish intertitles and eclectic John Zorn score, there's something very old-fashioned about Workingman's Death and its desire to show us aspects of the world we haven't seen before. It's the sort of territory that would have been covered in the old days by a theatrical short subject, or more recently by a television documentary. Certainly in the latter case, television companies simply don't have the cash available these days to make documentaries on this scale, not when they can knock off a home-grown reality show for a fraction of the cost. I suspect it's only the combination of a large number of co-production companies and the prospect of theatrical release that have resulted in this film getting made at all. But I'm incredibly glad that it was.
9.00pm: Spying Cam
Two men are sitting in their pants in a sweaty hotel room. The older one is Kwon (Yang Young-Jo): the younger one is just known as K (Chu Hun-Yup). They've been in there for several days now, with just a camcorder, a cellphone, and a copy of Crime And Punishment to keep them amused. The hotel staff who bring them all their meals inevitably start speculating about what's going on. Who are the two men? Are they lovers? Are they hiding from someone? Or are they waiting for someone else? K suggests they make a movie with the camcorder to pass the time: Kwon says it should be an action movie, as a film that just consisted of two people talking in a room would be boring and stupid. Hmmm...
You suspect Beckett probably got it right with Godot: when you set up a mystery like this at the very beginning of your story, and invite the audience to work out for themselves what's going on, it's a good idea to not blow the solution too early, if at all. Writer/director Whang Cheol-Mean handles the initial claustrophobia of the hotel room superbly, using tight digital camerawork to show the two men repeatedly getting in each other's faces. The slow opening out to include other characters is also cleverly played. But eventually, Whang loses his nerve and has to move the story outside that single location - from that point on the movie meanders horribly, as all that tension is rapidly frittered away. To his credit, he still has a few cards up his sleeve after that, and not all of them are on the table by the end. Not entirely successful, then, but an interesting oddity: Whang should have ignored Kwon's advice about two people in a room, though.
Notes From Spank's Pals
The Cineaste - Nothing to do with Almodovar’s erotic gorefest of almost the same title.
The film starts with washed-up hitman Julian Noble, brilliantly played by Pierce Brosnan, painting his toenails bright maroon with a booming soundtrack of The Jam’s A Town Called Malice (yeah!….. worth going to see just to hear that).
Well - it’s probably a bit unfair to say it’s all downhill from then on, but the rest of the film really is an anticlimax. There are one or two moments of humour, one or two great one-liners, but overall the plot’s too flimsy, the dialogue rather silly at times, and it just didn’t quite come together as a good comedy.
Brosnan brilliantly plays the part of Noble, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, would-be womanising, ever-so-slightly unhinged and ever-so-cynical murderer. But we never find out much about him, or why he does what he does, or who he’s working for. He arrives in a hotel in Mexico City, and meeting a visiting American businessman, they strike up an uneasy and very unlikely friendship. But there’s insufficient plot, and the dialogue sometimes is banal and ludicrous, and sometimes I felt director Richard Shepard was just inserting padding just to make the film last long enough. In the Q & A afterwards he said he got the idea for the film from Sexy Beast. British films about gangsters and hitman. Oh dear….oh dear oh dear oh dear. I just wish he hadn’t told us that.
Stuart Pearce Fanclub - Following directly on from Dogville this is the second of Lars Von Trier's American trilogy, with the final film Washington slated for release somewhere in 2007. Thus a convoy of Grace, her father, and assorted gangsters, having shot up Dogville, are now travelling South through Alabama.
Probably worth noting the personnel changes now, with the part of Grace (formerly played by Ms Kidman) now taken by Bryce Dallas Howard (the blind girl in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village), and her father being played by Willem Dafoe (as opposed to James Caan). Like Dogville the whole movie is played out on an open plan theatrical type set, is narrated by John Hurt, and is concluded with Bowie's Young Americans.
Somewhat by accident the convoy stumble across a share cropping plantation, whereby a young black woman begs Grace for help to prevent a whipping being administered to one of the black plantation workers. Having put a stop to that, Grace is incredulous to discover that the workers are still treated as slaves, some seventy years after slavery was abolished. The root of this being the matriarchal plantation owner, Lauren Bacall, and her family of heavily armed overseers. However the shock of Grace's and the gangsters' arrival leaves the Matriarch in such awe, that she keels over and dies. Thus Grace makes it her divine mission to give these slaves the same freedoms that the rest of America enjoys. Thus with the aid of daddy's gangsters the overseers are disarmed (although in the event only a couple of old rifles are found), and now the former plantation slaves are given a legal stake in the future of the plantation. Grace's father soon moves off, but leaves Grace a handful of gangsters to ensure the success and security of the project, as well as his best contract lawyer.
Suffice to say it's all a recipe for chaos, theft, murder and anarchy, with the community proving that they are not yet ready to survive in the open world. Yet even though it is painfully obvious that she has failed, Grace finds the community are not prepared to let her go, and will use force against her in order to keep her around and in charge of them. Well I am sure you will have twigged by now that this film is not about racism or slavery at all, but is of course an allegory for America's involvement in Iraq, and the unholy mess both countries now find themselves in.
Moving back to Bryce Dallas Howard, I actually think she does a better job in this role than Kidman did in Dogville. Something never quite stacked up previously with Kidman's passive put upon nature suddenly turning rottweiler at that movie's conclusion. In this, however, Bryce Dallas Howard comes across as far more believable as the well intentioned gangster's daughter, who isn't averse to using daddy's methods and men when the occasion demands.
Anyway, I have long held the opinion that Lars Von Trier is the best director in cinema today; nothing here forces me to revise that opinion.
|<-Back to Sunday 23/10/2005||Return to LFF '05 Index||Forward to Tuesday 25/10/2005->|