Day six and another four film day. I’ve actually managed to stay awake for all 16 of the films I’ve seen so far, but this writing them up at the end of the evening is the worst part. Still, I must put my thoughts down or I’ll forget these films, so here are some more reviews. Today I’ve visited Japan, South Korea, Tunisia (again) and Georgia.
37 Seconds (2019) [Japan]
This film, which has been picked up by Netflix so hopefully will get seen, is a bit of a weepie, though not because of tragedy. In fact, god forbid this might seem like a ‘young woman overcomes adversity’ story — except insofar as she’s trying to deal with her family (and specifically her mother), which it turns out represents its own form of adversity. The fact that the protagonist Yuma (Mei Kayama) happens to have cerebral palsy is of course central to her life and it’s an important part of a lot of what happens, but in some ways it’s not central to this story. This is as much about finding one’s independence free from one’s childhood home, about negotiating this with your family and finding your own voice and way of being in the world, and that’s really what Yuma is doing. She’s an accomplished manga artist who is more or less exploited because of her situation (by a particular callous young woman). It could probably be slotted into a fairly familiar (overfamiliar) format, and the tears do flow towards the end, as a lot of family truths are uncovered. Yes, some of them do rather stretch credulity, while some of the friendships seem rather more convenient to the plot than to reality (and issues of money are sort of sidestepped a little), but it’s all in aid of a story that doesn’t feel gross and exploitative, and that feels like something of an achievement.
Director/Writer Hikari; Cinematographers Stephen Blahut and Tomoo Ezaki 江崎朋生; Starring Mei Kayama 佳山明, Misuzo Kanno 神野三鈴; Length 115 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT3), London, Monday 7 October 2019.
우리집 Woorijb (The House of Us, 2019) [South Korea]
Like the same director’s The World of Us (2016), adjectives like “sweet” and “gentle” jump to mind, as once again she deals with a group of children finding their way in the world. Hana (Kim Na-yeon) is introduced in the midst of one of her parents’ enormous rows, which she is trying her best to quell, to no avail. As the film goes on, we see how they are splitting apart but from her perspective, and there’s a particular poignancy in the way this is captured, as a sort of pool of unformed emotions takes shape in her watchful eyes. In trying to get away from them, she falls in with a pair of girls a little younger than her, who have a family but one that rarely seems to be around (I don’t think we ever see them), and together they form a bond which is again threatened by the parents. It never really feels the need to do much more than just witness these girls’ friendship, and though the drama is big, the stakes within the film — because it’s focused on such young children — is fairly small, which is why it seems so gentle even amongst the arguments and the changes the girls have to endure.
Director/Writer Yoon Ga-eun 윤가은; Cinematographer Kim Ji-hyun 김지현; Starring Kim Na-yeon 김나연, Kim Si-ah 김시아; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT2), London, Monday 7 October 2019.
نورا تحلم Noura Tahlam (aka Noura rêve, Noura’s Dream, 2019) [Tunisia/France/Belgium/Qatar]
At the Q&A following the other Tunisian film I’ve seen at the London Film Festival this year (the excellent deadpan comedy The Unknown Saint), the director related a story about one of his few professional actors grappling with the underplayed comic style of his film, and how the actor didn’t understand what he was being asked to do, and offered instead to go big, do some shouting and crying maybe, some “real acting”. Well, I thought about that while watching Noura’s Dream, and it very much better fits a mode of film that the actor in question would probably have understood — it has its roots in the more full-blooded melodramatic style of the Italian (or, more region specific perhaps, the Egyptian) cinematic tradition. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of great depth and poise, for lead actor Hind Sabri as the title character does a lot of great work, but as with the Moroccan film A Son, it’s telling a story that touches on harsh anti-adultery laws, and so a lot of the time her character is buffeted by forces (patriarchal forces, to be blunt) which are well outside her control. It’s a fine exposition of male-centred power structures, and could certainly have been a lot more bleak, though there are some punishing scenes that take things in dark directions at times. Still, it’s anchored by Sabri, who pulls the whole thing along nicely.
Director Hinde Boujemaa هند بوجمعة; Writers Boujemaa and Laurent Brandenbourger; Cinematographer Martin Rit; Starring Hind Sabri هند صبري; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Monday 7 October 2019.
და ჩვენ ვიცეკვეთ Da Cven Vicekvet (And Then We Danced, 2019) [Georgia/Sweden]
Calling this, as I’ve seen some places do, the Georgian Call Me by Your Name feels more than a little misleading (and not just because I didn’t hugely like that film). It’s tender and it’s heartbreaking at times, but so are most love stories. So let’s not call it that, because this is very much its own thing: a film about two young men, training to be at the very highest echelons of traditional Georgian dance, who fall for each other. There’s something about the sweaty exertions of a dance rehearsal that just feel like the natural setting for this kind of story, and you know that our hero Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) might be that way inclined as soon as you see the way he reacts awkwardly to his apparent girlfriend Mary (Ana Javakishvili), who is surely the most attractive woman in all of Georgia. Mary isn’t stupid though, as indeed are very few of the characters in the film, given they have eyes and it’s plain to see the way that Merab gravitates towards his dance class’s newcomer Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). It’s their relationship that forms the core of the film, particular in a number of setpiece dance sequences — and the one set to Robyn’s music could easily have lasted ten times as long — with the big stumbling block being the attitudes of the older generation of Georgians. The film celebrates, indeed revels in, traditional Georgian culture — the sights, sounds, food and music of Georgia all plays a big role in the film — but traditional Georgian society doesn’t get quite such a glowing write-up, and at one point the lead character’s brother exhorts him to get out for his own sake. Still, along this jagged path, there’s some truly glorious stuff, most notably the dancing. Such dancing.
Director/Writer Levan Akin ლევან აკინის; Cinematographer Lisabi Fridell; Starring Levan Gelbakhiani ლევან გელბახიანი, Bachi Valishvili ბაჩი ვალიშვილი, Ana Javakishvili ანა ჯავახიშვილი; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at Empire Haymarket, London, Monday 7 October 2019.