Film


Josh Mclane, Rachel Roberts & Mikal Saint George
Photo By Evan Sung

New York Film Festival @ Lincoln Center
October 1 - 17, 2004
16 Film Reviews


 



Pedro Almodovar’s
Bad Education
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Reviewed by Evan Sung

Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education” is the centerpiece film for this year’s New York Film Festival. Almodovar has certainly made a lasting mark on world cinema, and the film going audience has seen his style and voice evolve from the madcap comedies of “Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown” to his last two sublime offerings, “All About My Mother” and “Talk To Her.” “Bad Education” continues to develop Almodovar’s maturing voice, though never losing his absurdist comic style.

Almodovar returns to the cradle in “Bad Education” tracing the story of a film director, Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez), who is forced to confront his traumatic childhood past when a long-lost schoolmate shows up at his office. Enrique’s past takes the form of Ignacio Rodriguez (Gael Garcia Bernal) who arrives desperate for acting work and with a movie idea based on the two boys’ troubled past at Catholic boys’ school. The story centers on two schoolmates, Ignacio and Enrique, and the young, forbidden love that is interrupted and broken apart by the menacing Father Manolo. In the story, Father Manolo is in love with Ignacio himself, and expels Enrique on the pretense of stopping an immoral love between the two boys. Many years later, Ignacio has become a struggling drag queen looking for money to improve his body and support his drug habit. Ignacio returns to the school where he lost his innocence, and blackmails Father Manolo with the story of those long-forgotten years for the money he needs. Enrique, wary of his past at the outset, is immediately taken after reading the story pitch and begins immediately working on the film adaptation. Enrique casts Ignacio in the film and the two long-lost friends become lovers. But Enrique has difficulty recognizing in the needy and strangely coy Ignacio the young schoolmate he once knew and loved. As Enrique’s adaptation nears completion, he discovers that all is not as it appears. The real Ignacio has died three years earlier, leaving the identity of this new Ignacio a mystery. On the last day of the film’s shooting, the arrival of the real Father Manolo promises to reveal everything…

Clearly, Almodovar is not in search of narrative minimalism. Nor has he ever been. If his past earlier works owed a great deal to the melodramatic twists and turns of Spanish soap opera, “Bad Education” marries that tendency with the great film tradition of Film Noir. Indeed from the opening musical cues, the composer Alberto Iglesias pays homage to the insinuating, noir-ish scores of Bernard Hermann who worked famously with Alfred Hitchcock. The imposture and themes of mistaken and assumed identity also suggest shades of Vertigo, replacing Kim Novak’s Madeleine Elster with the blank figure of Ignacio Rodriguez. “Bad Education” introduces a strain of hard-boiled fatalism into Almodovar’s work that may surprise some longtime followers.

But Almodovar remains Almodovar, and expands here on the film-within-a-film idea he used to great comic effect in “Talk to Her”. Here Almodovar extends the idea considerably, showing us how Enrique envisions Ignacio’s story. All this narrative trickery and illusion serve to illustrate everyone’s tenuous grasp on their own memories of people, places and events. It’s a daring cinematic gamble which pays off in adding layers of texture and mystery, while never going so far as to confuse the audience. If anything, the film is so structurally rigorous and complex that it loses some of the vitality that Almodovar films are so well-known for. “Talk to Her” and “All About My Mother,” two films no less serious than “Bad Education,” still had the raw, roiling energy of emotion and drama and absurd comedy – who can forget the black and white film in “Talk to Her” of a miniature man entering a woman’s vagina? “Bad Education” asks us to feel moved by the plight of its characters, indignant at the abuse the two children suffered at the hands of the clergy, but there is an inescapable element of abstraction to the proceedings that perhaps prevents it from working itself into our deepest core.

Almodovar has said that he has been working on this film for 10 years, and that he made it to “get it out of my system, before it became an obsession.” Those expecting a roman a clef may be a bit disappointed. He has admitted that there are elements of autobiography in “Bad Education” but I think that it would be a mistake to read too much into that statement. In looking over the past two decades of work, there is little that Almodovar has not revealed about himself and his life in all its shocking, colorful, tragic, messy, comic facets. It is precisely that impulse to self-revelation that has always made Almodovar so compelling. Those who want to see a world-class filmmaker who continues to develop and innovate and challenge himself will be impressed once again by Almodovar.



Raymond Depardon’s
The 10th District Court: Moments of Trial
The 2004 New York Film Festival

In French, with English subtitles

Reviewed by: Stephanie Alberico

Raymond Depardon continues his exploration of the French judicial system
with his new film, “The 10th District Court.” This documentary depicts a
“day in the life,” of a French courtroom, following twelve different cases.
Depardon makes this return to the courtroom ten years after “Caught in the Acts,” his look at a civil courtroom, which won him the Cesar, the French Oscar.
Depardon, in addition to directing seventeen films, is also a world-renowned photographer.

Depardon was granted special permission to enter and film the inner workings of a Parisian courtroom. He documents the cases of defendants, who with charges ranging from driving while intoxicated to robbery, pick pocketing, and immigration law violations, are brought before a formidable judge, Michele Bernard-Requin. Depardon wanted all the participants to appear equally important, so he chose to film everyone at eye-level.

Depardon shows the viewer both sides of the courtroom - the serious side of the proceedings and the humorous interaction between the offenders and the judge. Judge Bernard-Requin is not afraid to reprimand these clever con artists. She controls her court in an authoritative and firm manner, leaving many of the defendants humiliated in the aftermath. This Judge has a real gift for getting the offenders to speak frankly, and in her courtroom, the truth is often revealed quickly. The offenders then desperately try to contradict what they just said and knit stories and excuses out of thin air.

”The 10th District Court: Moments of Trial” is a real-life documentary about real people. It gives the viewer a front seat in the all-encompassing drama that occurs daily in a courtroom. The film has a “reality-TV, Judge Judy-like feel,” but with a more authentic point of view. Although some of the defendants were serious offenders, other defendants were only in court because of their ignorance and stupidity. For example, one man is charged with harassment for calling traffic coordinators derogatory names.

“District Court” is a perfect look into the intricate work of a criminal courtroom and the difficulties judges face when trying to understand the pleading of defendants and the sometimes convoluted excuses for crime. And in a marked difference from the American court system, this documentary shows a court where judgments are often made based on a defendant’s passion, lifestyle, and intelligence - making some of the final judgments seem almost poetic.





The Holy Girl (La Nina Santa)
NYFF-An HBO Films/Fine Line Features Release
In Spanish, with English Subtitles
The New York Film Festival 2004


Reviewed by: Stephanie Alberico

Lucrecia Martel’s second film, “The Holy Girl,’ is a daring portrayal of young teenage girls and their sexual curiosity. Lucrecia Martel was raised in Northern Argentina and has made most of her previous films about her large family. And like her previous films, “The Holy Girl,” emphasizes the importance of friendships and family. The film also depicts the culture of Northern Argentina and how that culture deals with the idea of sexual liberation.

Amalia, the protagonist, is a semi-holy school girl, who leads a paradoxical life. She seems innocent, but she is abnormally obsessed with sex. Amalia (played by Maria Alche) is desired by the much older, prestigious Dr. Jeno. Dr. Jeno is attending a doctor’s convention and staying in the hotel owned by Amalia’s mother, Helena - a gorgeous retired actress (played by a Mercedes Moran). Amalia and her mother also reside at the hotel.

The story begins as Dr. Jeno (played by Carlos Belloso) rubs up against Amalia in public. This incident puts Amalia into a downward spiral of unhealthy obsession with her molester. She begins stalking him in a perverse and seductive manner. Amalia and her best friend share secrets about their discovery of sexuality. The character’s obsession with sex is in stark contrast with the hypocrisy inherent in the strictly religious environment of Catholic Northern Argentina.

The film continues as Dr.Jeno notices Amalia’s stalking. He also becomes uneasy, because Helena wants to have an affair with him. Dr. Jeno and Helena are practicing for a play that they will perform in front of the convention. Then Dr. Jeno’s wife and kids decide to come to the hotel to visit him and Amalia’s best friend decides to tell her parents that Dr. Jeno molested Amalia. It seems as though all secrets will be revealed and the doctor’s career will be destroyed.

Well, maybe not, because the film suddenly ends with a scene where Amalia and her best friend are swimming in the hotel pool. The film does not tie up any of the loose ends, and audiences are left to come up with their own ending. No conflicts are resolved, and no solutions are suggested.

At the press conference after the screening, Ms. Martel said, “I had no idea audiences (critics) had a problem with the ending,” Martel said. “I think it is a habit in Western culture to tie everything together and I revolt against that tendency.”

Martel also spoke at length about her choice to use the theremin, an exotic musical instrument, which is heard throughout the film. The first scene where Amalia is molested takes place in front of a man playing the theremin. “A theremin is an unknown instrument which seemed ideal to include in the film,” Martel said. “It is a cross between a scientific experiment and a musical instrument.” Martel said she thinks it is important to make people stop and look at the use of sound. Martel began her work on the film by deciding what kind of sound to use. She stated that the sounds she used reveal to the viewer her emotions and how she feels about her film.

Altogether, the film was intriguing and unusual. The actors were illuminating and their performances were eerie and perverse. Martel has created a picturesque film filled with scenes that are personally invading. The unique combination of sound and beautiful images gave the film an authentic portrayal of adolescence, innocence and innocence lost. It felt as though I knew the people in the film, and I was eager to be close to them. The characters made continuous, ill-fated mistakes, but I pitied them.


 


Zhang Yimou’s
The House of Flying Daggers
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Reviewed by Evan Sung

After the international success of “Hero” Zhang Yimou returns to his special brand of poetic kung-fu cinema (wuxia, if you please) with his follow-up “The House of Flying Daggers.” The film premieres at the 42nd New York Film Festival and stars the Ziyi Zhang (“Hero”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) as Mei, a blind soldier of the rebel outlaw army, the House of the Flying Daggers. Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Chungking Express) star as Leo and Jin, two police captains of the weakening Tang Dynasty trying to break up the House of Flying Daggers. The two captains plot to trick Mei into leading them to outlaws, but are soon caught up in competition for the heart of the beautiful outlaw, and caught in a tangled net of hidden loyalties, plots and counter-plots.

This is supposed to be a film review, but forgive me if it veers into shameless love-letter territory for the amazing Ziyi Zhang. Zhang Yimou was clearly impressed by the young Zhang, having promoted her from a supporting part in “Hero” to the tragic central role of this new film. “House of Flying Daggers” is a showcase of all of Ziyi Zhang’s many attributes. Aside from her remarkable beauty, Ziyi Zhang’s Mei is basically the toughest chick East of the Yangtze, and in her combat scenes Zhang makes Terminator’s Linda Hamilton look like a demure wilting blossom. Though small and fragile, Zhang commits to her battle scenes with a combination of ferocity and elegance. We take it on faith that this blind girl could naturally take on an army of soldiers without breaking a sweat. But her elegance is not only evident in battle, and an early dancing scene in a brothel, showcases a feline sensuality in her performance of traditional Chinese dance. And in one scene where Mei has her robe torn off her shoulders, the bare expanse of her porcelain-white shoulder could well be considered one of the more profound frames of World Cinema! Her shoulder alone could have triggered a Trojan War. If you haven’t gotten the point yet, the movie’s ALL about Ziyi Zhang.

And how do we know its all about Ziyi Zhang? Because we have two captains of the emperor driven to betraying their own cause and their own friendship, ultimately stabbing each other with swords on snowy mountaintops in her name. Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro contrast each other nicely, both believable as friends and comrades, but utterly different in character. Kaneshiro’s Captain Jin, is the free-spirited, skirt-chaser who tries to seduce Mei to get her to divulge the location of her rebel friends. Lau’s Captain Leo is the by-the-book and responsible, but his single-minded pursuit of the House of Flying Daggers may not be solely motivated by loyalty to the kingdom. In an amusing plot-development, one can imagine Lau’s identity-conflicted Captain Leo to be the 9th century ancestor to Lau’s role in this year’s “Infernal Affairs.” Lau has already proven himself to be a very subtle actor, excellent in these roles where motivations are multiple and unclear. Kaneshiro clearly has fun playing drunk in the brothel scene, flashing the Eastern equivalent of the Tom Cruise-patented mega-watt smile. Kaneshiro is charming but also traces the tragic arc of his character nicely, slowly building up layers of gravity and sadness as the film goes on.

The film is truly brilliant and to say that, as a film, “House of Flying Daggers” may actually excel “Hero” is no small claim, given that “Hero” had in its favor the phenomenal Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung and the peerless cinematography of Christopher Doyle. But here, Yimou takes the martial arts to yet another level, and the effect on the viewer is so visceral that you realize how rarely cinema moves us in that way. The thrill of seeing people perform acts of superhuman dexterity and power is completely unlike the numbing effects of Hollywood’s exploding computer-generated blockbusters.

This is not to say that the film is perfect. The tragic lovers theme has become almost par for the course in Asian wuxia cinema. And under the weight of all this suppressed longing, slow-motion, and plot twists and turns, the film itself starts to bend like bamboo, threatening to break and splinter. Still, the final battle is treated with a ferocity completely unlike the balletic wire-fu that we’ve been treated to up to that point. The heroes pummel each other, and cry out, and slash, and it reinjects the film with a shot of adrenaline and emotional intensity that refocuses everything.

This is only Zhang Yimou’s second wuxia film but he has already created an indelible style with two films that rely as much on story and character as they do on kicking ass in high-style. With a visual richness that becomes almost hallucinatory at times, and a great sense of grand scale as well as intimacy, Yimou sets the stage for the stuff of legends, and fills it with great actors, great action, and great romance. Oh, and did I mention Ziyi Zhang is in it?


KEANE
USA
The New York Film Festival 2004

Starring: Amy Ryan, Damian Lewis, Abigail Breslin
Reviewed by: Stephanie Alberico

A father’s sole duty in life is to protect his child. This film is about the failure of a father to fulfill that duty. Writer/director Lodge Kerrigan got the inspiration for his new film, KEANE, from his ten-year-old daughter.
“My daughter would often go off by herself and certain times I couldn’t find her,” said Kerrigan at the press conference following the screening. “This is what gave me the idea for the movie.” From this kernel of a premise, Kerrigan creates a beautifully enriched account of a crazed man whose daughter has been abducted.
The story begins months after that abduction. William Keane continuously stalks the Port Authority and Lincoln Tunnel, hopelessly searching for his daughter, as the film takes an in-depth look at the psychological toll such a kidnapping takes on a parent.

Damian Lewis, a British actor who also starred in BAND OF BROTHERS, portrays Keane. Lewis plays the difficult role of a grief-stricken, schizophrenic, pitiful father who wanders aimlessly around the city, drowning his sorrows in drugs and alcohol. Lewis is quite dynamic, especially since the first half of the movie centers on his performance: We are thrown into his character’s unsound universe of frustration, loneliness and despair.

Keane’s world is full of imaginary clues and the impossible evidence he amasses while searching for his child. Although he believes she may reappear at any moment, he vacillates between hope and wild desperation.
After one particular tantrum, Keane is shown lying on a patch of grass outside Lincoln Tunnel. This is a vivid scene full of striking imagery, with Keane looking like a small, helpless child wrapped in his coat and hood, lying on his side on a dewy patch of fluorescent green grass. This is one of the most graphically depicted scenes in the movie, not only a statement about Keane’s unmistakably childlike behavior, but an obvious cry for help in a world in which he feels powerless. This silent shot is rife with the near-spiritual innocence of a child.

Keane is then shown returning to the hotel where he’s been living. There he meets Lynn and her daughter, Kira. He lends Lynn some money so she and her child won’t be evicted from the hotel. In return for the favor, Lynn invites him to dinner.

Afterward, Lynn asks Keane to watch Kira (played by Abigail Breslin) while the mom works. Keane agrees and is given a second chance. The second half of the movie details the adventures of Keane and Kira. He takes Kira ice-skating and to McDonald’s, and helps her with her homework. He picks her up from school and comforts her when she asks pressing details about her own father. Then when Lynn does not return, it seems Kira will be abandoned by her mother, too.
Throughout their time together, Kira is oblivious to the psychological problems besetting Keane. Even when Keane breaks down emotionally, Kira is quick to tell him, “Don’t worry, I still love you.”

Then when Lynn returns to announce that she and her daughter will be leaving the hotel to find Kira’s father, Keane falls apart. No longer dealing with his own loss, he considers a crime of his own. Indeed, the next day Keane abducts Kira from school and takes her to the original scene of the crime, the Port Authority.
Kerrigan creates an amazing though melancholy tale, on one level telling us of the love and forgiveness of children, teaching us about the innocence and simplicity of a child’s heart--but more centrally focusing on a parent’s coming to terms with the worst kind of loss, the loss of a child. Kerrigan filmed on a low budget, and said it was challenging working out the logistics of the Port Authority. Because he could not afford to clear out public places, he shot the scenes with crowds of real people used as extras. “I felt it would add tension and a sense of reality,” Kerrigan said. “I love going in places I can’t control.”




Arnaud Desplechin’s
Kings and Queen
In French, with English subtitles
The New York Film Festival 2004


Starring: Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Devos, Catherine Deneuve

Reviewed by: Stephanie Alberico

The French are famous for their delicious croissants and pastries; but they are also masters at creating vivid stories about life and love. Arnaud Desplechin’s new film, Kings and Queen, is one example: This story about the hardships men and women face depicts the courageous manner in which they overcome such obstacles. Indeed, the way the characters transcend their conflicts elevates them to near-royalty status.

The film is separated into two parts: Part one tells the story of Nora (Emmanuelle Devos); part two portrays Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) and shows how their lives merge. Nora’s story is somber, recounting how she survived her lover’s suicide and giving an emotional account of motherhood while questioning whether or not she can raise her son, Elias, without a father.
Elias lived with his grandfather until his guardian became terminally ill. Once Nora’s father is diagnosed with cancer, she is forced to watch him die. The story combines comedy and tragedy, leaving this reviewer torn between laughter and tears.

The film also jumps back and forth between Nora’s and Ismael’s stories. A depressed, suicidal violinist, Ismael has been forced into a mental institution by his family and peers. His incredible though hilarious story allows the audience to follow him on a roller coaster ride of therapy sessions and hospital romance, garnished by his lawyer’s outlandish antics.

After both parties have been introduced, their separate storylines interweave. We learn that Ismael and Nora were once married; now Nora wants Ismael to adopt Elias, since he is her son’s only father figure. Shocked to find Ismael in the mental hospital, Nora nonetheless tries to convince him of her desperate need for help. Although Ismael’s plight is depicted lightheartedly, the story soon turns into a satire on the difficulties of life.

As the tale progresses, dark secrets are revealed. Nora takes it upon herself to put her father out of his misery. Afterward she dreams about her former lover, Elias’s father, and flashes back to the scene where he committed suicide—only, we learn that Nora actually murdered her lover. We also discover that Nora’s father has covered up her crime, and this tragedy has taken a toll on their relationship. On his death Nora’s father has left behind a note stating that his love for her had turned into pure hatred, that he despised her vindictive pride and blamed himself for making her the horrible woman she turned out to be.

While Nora’s life disintegrates, Ismael’s life improves; he has been released from the institution and decides to visit his family. Ismael is seen conversing with his father in his shop when three gun-wielding burglars try to rob the store. Ismael’s father beats two of them to a pulp, while Ismael quivers in the corner. Ismael’s father’s heroism symbolizes the strength and resolve that come with age, and we look up to him as if he were a king.

These kings have certainly met their queen. Although Ismael decides not to adopt Elias, Ismael and Nora work out their differences and decide to remain friends. Nora decides to remarry. She has prevailed over tragedy and sees the three new men in her life—Ismael, Elias and her husband—as an opportunity to start over. While there’s no fairytale ending here, the film does offer hope for the future.
The film ran two and a half hours long, but was worth the watching. Filled with brilliantly cast actors, it was touching and richly poetic, brimming with grief and desperation mingled with humor and exultation. I enjoyed it almost as much as a buttery, fluffy croissant.


 

Agnes Jaoui's
Look At Me
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Reviewed by Evan Sung

Filmmaker/Writer Agnes Jaoui's latest film, "Look At Me" comes to New York City on October 1st to officially open the 42nd Annual New York Film Festival. Only Jaoui's second directorial effort, this deft and perceptive study of characters skates along lightly but surely on the razor-thin line between comedy and pathos. Part of the success owes to the fine history Jaoui and her longtime writing partner Jean Pierre Bacri have in crafting complicated, human ensemble pieces that are both comic and sad, without ever becoming farcical or maudlin. "Look At Me" is another pitch-perfect effort from the duo.

The story centers on Lolita Cassard (Marilou Berry in her first film role), a 20 year old singing student, wrestling with her weight and self-image. Lolita is tired of longing for the affections of her celebrated, and barely-there father, the novelist Etienne Cassard (played by the brilliant comic actor and co-scenarist, Jean Pierre Bacri) and frustrated by a world which seems to have no time for a girl who does not correspond to covergirl ideals of beauty. Agnes Jaoui plays Sylvia Miller, a singing teacher to Lolita, and wife to Pierre Miller (Laurent Grevill), a struggling writer, plagued by self-doubt, who finds himself living the life of a successful author after meeting Lolita’s renowned father, Etienne. As for Etienne Cassard, he himself is suffering from a lengthy bout of writer’s block, as well as an acid-tongue that is all too ready to cut down his daughter, his 20-something girlfriend Karine, his subservient assistant Vincent, and anyone else within lashing range. Another newcomer, Keine Bouhiza, plays Sebastien, Lolita’s friend who accepts her for who she is, but finds himself taken for granted while Lolita swoons for another boy.

Each character is a refraction and reflection of the others, seen through the prism of self-doubt and envy. Like so many French films, this one is a talker. But this is no staid intellectual dialectical disguised as comedy. This is human fare, and we see ourselves all too readily in "Look At Me". Each character wrestles in their own way with the desire to fulfill their own idealized self-image, and each runs constantly aground of their own tendencies to trample others or be trampled upon. What is fantastic in Jaoui’s script is that none of the leading characters are the conscience of the film. We sympathize with Lolita’s plight, but she’s so wrapped up in self-doubt that she is blind to the kindness of her friend Sebastien, and incapable of reciprocating the friendship that her father’s girlfriend is so ready to offer. Pierre, under the tutelage of Etienne, forgets his friends and long-time editor, wowed by the glitterati of the publishing world that Etienne’s friendship opens up for him. Nor does Jaoui spare her own character, who is creeped out by the adulation of Lolita, but attracted by the prestige and power offered by the proximity to Lolita’s father. Jaoui has said that her interest was in treating power, “from the point of view of those who tolerate it, not from the bully’s point of view.” And its true that the only true bully in the film is Bacri’s Etienne, whose power and aura set the rest of the world spinning about. They inflict damage on themselves and each others as they try to emulate and ingratiate themselves into Etienne’s world.

Dark matter to be sure, but there is plenty of humor in this film too. And it is a testament to Jaoui and Bacri's comic instincts, because in other hands, such themes can quickly become self-righteous and indulgent. But Jaoui keeps it light, giving her cast plenty of comic scenes and lacing them with only just enough poison in someone’s dejected look or offhand comment, to speak volumes about the troubled waters running between the characters. Bacri does the shtick that he has honed to perfection, the irritable, incorrigible Frenchman, arguing with everyone, amazed by the stupidity which surrounds him. Though Etienne is likely the most disturbed of the lot, Bacri's wit and comic presence give him a glimpse of humanity. Even when Etienne admits to having walked out of Lolita’s first big singing recital, in his helpless shrug and daft attempts to win his daughter back by telling him how good the others said the recital was, we laugh and almost try to understand his point of view.

"Look At Me" is another successful entry in Jaoui's and Jean Pierre Bacri's continuing study of the minefield of human relations, and the petty foibles that make it both laughable and treacherous. Funny and bitter, "Look At Me" holds up a mirror to all of us. We laugh at the reflection, but we cringe a little bit too.


Ousmane Sembene's
MOOLAADE
The 2004 New York Film Festival


Starring: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Helene Diarra, Salimata Traore

Reviewed by: Stephanie Alberico

Ousmane Sembene's new film deals with an important social issue, delivering an eye-opening account of the brutal practice of female genital mutilation. Sembene mastered this controversial subject matter by finding an actual village in Africa in which to film. He scouted locations for thousands of miles until he found a village that still practiced female castration-and he did not change anything about his set.

The actors in the film are all real villagers, providing a highly credible backdrop for Sembene's fictional tale. During the filming, Sembene also convinced the villagers to abandon their horrifying custom. Thus Sembene is not only making films, but also changing society.

The plot gives the account of a woman who disagrees with this practice of female disfigurement, documenting her fight to stop it. In the storyline, six girls have escaped from the mutilation ceremony, and four seek out Colle (played by Fatoumata Coulibaly) for "moolaade" or sanctuary. Colle--who has already succeeded in protecting her own daughter, Amasatou, from being mutilated--resists the arguments of the tribe's elderly women and men, protecting these young girls at all cost.

Because of her resistance and stance for change, Colle is alienated from the rest of her tribe. The tribe believes no man will ever marry a woman who has not undergone female castration. Indeed, Amasatou (played by Salimata Traore) is supposed to marry the tribal chief's son, who has returned from Paris-but the tribe will not allow this union until Amasatou agrees to be cut.

Colle is also separated from her family, and her husband is forced to whip her in front of the whole village. At this climatic point, the younger women rally behind Colle and join her in her fight for change. The men try to isolate the women by confiscating their radios, burning these at the center of the village. However, this act serves only to further empower the women, making them more determined to fight the oppression they have endured all their lives and protect their daughters from mutilation and possible death.

While Colle is being whipped by her husband, one of the young girls slips away to find her mother. After the mother brings her daughter back and forces her to endure castration, the girl ends up dying as a result of her wounds. Following this tragedy, the women continue to challenge the men while chanting and dancing for spiritual enlightenment. Ultimately the young women force the elderly ones to give up their cutting knives, and make them promise to end the lethal tradition. Thus Colle and the women of her tribe emerge victorious, praising their gods for giving them the strength to effect change.

MOOLAADE also deals with the resistance of third-world countries to free-market globalization and the advance of Western civilization. These villagers fear change and cling tightly to their traditions, isolation, and religion. Combining elements of Islam, spirit worship, ceremonies, and song and dance, MOOLAADE comes alive to show the complexity of a woman's fight for freedom.

At the press conference following the screening, Sembene went into detail about the practice of female genital mutilation. He said there are an estimated thirty million women still in danger of dying from this barbaric custom. The practice still occurs in Egypt, Senegal, and many other parts of Africa. Sembene also said it was difficult convincing the villagers to allow him to shoot in their village; but after the filming, he found he had influenced the tribe to end their practice.
"Westerners cannot really rationalize what happens in other countries," Sembene said. "In Africa, we have our own way of dealing with things."

Ousmane Sembene is heroic in his filmmaking and also in his fight to stop female genital mutilation. MOOLADE is a beautiful account full of spirituality and hope, and Sembene is an inspiration to women everywhere for his courage and creativity.


 



Karen Yedaya's

Or (My Treasure)
The 2004 New York Film Festival



Reviewed by: Stephanie Alberico

Karen Yedaya wrote and directed her new film, "Or (My Treasure)," with the
hopes of getting back to the beginnings of cinema. This tale of a
prostitute mother and her daughter living in Tel Aviv told a shocking and
emotional narrative. It was a graphic story about the true horror of
prostitution. However, it also allowed the viewer to identify with the
relationship between a mother and daughter.

Ruthie, played by Ronit Elkabetz, is the mother of Or, played by Dana Ivgy.
Ruthie has been a prostitute for the last twenty years, and Or wants her
mother to stop working the street. She goes as far as to lock her mother in
their apartment.

Or tries to clean up her mother’s act and takes odd jobs to make money.
She washes dishes at a restaurant, collect bottles, cleans staircases and
sometimes goes to high school. The film follows the life of Ruthie’s
addiction to prostitution and the harsh realities of her dwindling health
conditions.

Or and Ruthie’s relationship is torn apart by Ruthie’s profession. Or
realizes her mother is heading for destruction and witnesses the grotesque
struggle her mother is put through daily. Or is psychologically torn
between choosing a life of prostitution or abandoning her mother and
escaping this extremely horrible life.

Many people look to sex for pleasure and release, but this film shows the
dark side of sex as being used for twisted, perverted power over a woman in
a society where women are second-class citizens. Women are viewed as
objects and this tale portrays a larger struggle for oppressed women in an
unstable political and social environment.

The movie is shot in a simplistic style with no special effects, music, or
hardly any editing. The filming was raw, less formatted than normal films
and included many long, still sequence shots. Photography influences the
shooting of the scenes and the unusual actions of the actors. The actors
prepared for the roles by talking for hours before shooting and viewing
documentaries and films before taping.

“I am disgusted with films made now,” Karen Yedaya said. “I feel they’re
too easy and haven’t moved forward [artistically].”

Yedaya said she wanted to make a film that was different from the typical
Hollywood blockbuster. She said she thought films today are too pretty, too
well filmed, too “hip” and therefore unrealistic. She said she wanted to
make a simple film about simple people. The director said she also has
bigger, social goals about prostitution and what we can do to help women who
are forced into this life.

“No woman would ever choose this kind of life,” Yedaya said. “They are
forced into prostitution for a reason.”

Yedaya said three reasons women go into prostitution are extreme poverty,
incest or rape, or following in their mothers’ footsteps. If a woman’s
mother is a prostitute, then the lifestyle is passed down from generation to
generation.

"Or (My Treasure)" is a sad and realistic account of a woman’s struggle with
prostitution and poverty. It will open your eye’s to social failure and the
worst form of slavery that exists today.




Alexander Payne's
Sideways
The 2004 New York Film Festival


Reviewed by Evan Sung


The 42nd New York Film Festival closed October 17th with a screening of Alexander Payne's wine-soaked "Sideways." Payne, who has made his name with comic but cutting satires of abortion ("Citizen Ruth"), politics ("Election"), and the obsolescence of the aging ("About Schmidt"), returns with his most successful film so far.

Paul Giamatti plays Miles Raymond, an oenophile, Middle school English teacher and unpublished novelist, whose two years of divorce have slowly turned him from plain neurotic to full-blown neurotic sad-sack. His only consolation now are his unopened bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc and his regular trips through wine country. Miles' best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is getting married in one week. As a gift to Jack and while awaiting word from his agent on his latest manuscript, Miles plans a week-long tour of California wine country, for sun, golf, and wine. Where Miles sees an opportunity for some good old-fashioned male bonding, Jack sees one week of getting laid as much as possible before the slow-death of marriage.

On their way, they meet up with Maya, a regular waitress at the Hitching Post, Miles' favorite local restaurant, and her friend Stephanie, to whom Jack is instantly attracted. As the week progresses, a delicate dance unfolds between Miles and Maya, both wine lovers, while Stephanie and Jack share days and nights of simple carnal pleasure. But things start to unravel for both couples when Miles lets slip mention of Jack's nuptials.

Wine country serves as the backdrop of this film, and wine itself suffuses every aspect of the film itself. In one painful scene, Miles gets himself drunk at dinner after learning that his ex-wife has remarried. As he staggers to the back of the restaurant to "drink and dial" as Jack puts it, the camera shifts in and out of focus, perhaps the most accurate cinematic representation of the feeling of inebriation I have seen. Wine is a powerful metaphor for these characters, all of them maturing, aging, on the verge of really becoming themselves, complicated, sometimes bitter. In one of the more moving monologues in the film, Miles explains to Maya his near-obsessive love for Pinot Noir. When Miles talks to Maya about the notoriously fickle and thin-skinned grape, we understand of course that he could easily be talking about himself as well. And Giamatti plays the scene with a disarming vulnerability that hints at the depths of Miles' terror to be with this woman he admires as well as his quiet wish that Maya tend to him with care and attention. Naturally Jack is the robust Cabernet in this equation, the jovial overgrown frat boy who goes with the flow and thrives in any situation. But Payne is not interested in simple dichotomies. All the characters have tangled pasts, and are doing what they can to survive, even if it means occasional self-sabotage. They are human, and Payne pulls no punches in showing us just how human they can be.

Thomas Haden Church is a rollicking surprise as Jack in "Sideways," considering his sitcom-heavy resume. He is boorish and likable and gives just enough signs of humanity so that we understand why this Odd Couple would have remained friends for so long. But, special attention must be paid to the nuanced portrayal of Miles by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti, widely acclaimed in American Splendor, does even better work here because he is not reined in by the rather one-note glumness of Harvey Pekar. Giamatti has room to move here, and gets to display all his talents, showing us why he is one of American cinema's most valuable character actors. When his heart is breaking we see a torrent of emotions ripple almost imperceptibly across his round fleshy face. His comic talents are on show as well, from wine-spurred flip-outs to a bizarre, stiff-armed "girly" run, that Giamatti confesses to be his own, and not some actor's invention. Payne has found in Giamatti the ideal embodiment of all the funny yet sometimes cruel truths that all of his films have spoken about America, our fears and foibles and doubts.

"Sideways" is a darkly sparkling gem of a film. Add to the brilliant Paul Giamatti, a uniformly excellent supporting cast, the beautifully photographed landscapes of Northern California wine country, and a jazzy score by Rolfe Kent that keeps the action buoyant and floating along, and you get a film of superior vintage: complex, mature, delicious.

 




Eric Rohmer’s
Triple Agent
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Reviewed by Jessica Cogan

You’ll wanna take it easy on the heavy food or drink before heading into legendary French filmmaker Eric Rohmer’s latest, TRIPLE AGENT. This flick requires your full attention as it snakes its way slowly through history lessons, political posturing and personal deception. The film (supposedly based on a true story) is set in the mid-1930s and follows White Russian general Fyodor (Serge Renko) and his wife Arsinoe (Katerina Didaskalu) who have immigrated to Paris. Fyodor is still involved in politics back home, but no one knows just how involved. And with whom. Is he a Nazi? A communist? A loyal Czarist general? All Fyodor’s friends and neighbors can determine, and with no subtle encouragement from Fyodor himself, is that Fyodor is powerful, secretive and politically insightful. People are forever asking his opinion and advice, and, almost without fail, he answers cryptically. Even his wife is held at arm’s length, something she comes to struggle with during the course of the film.

As a viewer, one never quite knows how to feel about Fyodor. Is he a harmless blowhard? A calculating opportunist? Or a delusional civil servant? Finally, Rohmer offers no straightforward answers for Fyodor or his fate. A brief final scene offers one possible explanation of events, but we’re never sure that it’s correct. Instead, the bulk of the drama exists between Fyodor and Arsinoe as she struggles to know her husband without becoming embroiled in the day’s politics.

TRIPLE AGENT is a slow-paced, idea-dense film. If you enjoy the twists and turns of a political and psychological thriller sans the action, you’ll like it. If you want a glimpse at a chilling moment in history in which the world’s citizens faced an uncertain future, get ye to the theater (or just look around you). However, if you’re looking for a film with characters to care about and a story that sweeps you up in emotion or action, I suggest looking elsewhere.



David Gordon Green's
Undertow
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Reviewed by Evan Sung

David Gordon Green’s third feature film, Undertow, screens next week at the 42nd New York Film Festival. Those who have seen his earlier films, “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls,” and expect the same kind of sensitive, visual tone-poems about Southern youth will be in for a shock, but ultimately reassured by the end of the film. Green makes dramatic departure the order of the day at least for the first half of this curious offering.

I can only imagine the response Green could have had after producing two beautiful, nuanced and strikingly beautiful films about young people in the south: run way the hell away in the other direction! In “Undertow” Green stays with the subjects closest to his heart, portraying the experience of growing up in the South. But whereas his first two films seemed like heightened, poeticized versions of everyday human sentiments, “Undertow” wraps its characters in the Southern Gothic trappings of a genre thriller.

“Undertow” sets a grim tone early on. We see Chris Munn (Jamie Bell), calling out a girlfriend, by tossing a too-large stone through her window. Her enraged father bursts out the front door, shotgun in hand, and a pursuit through the steamy marshlands of Georgia ensues. As credits roll, Green unloads an array of jumpcuts, zooms, and grainy freeze-frames straight circa 1972. Fleeing madly through the brush, Chris blindly hops a fence only to land on the other side, impaling his foot squarely on a rusty nail protruding from an old board. The viewer gets the distinct pleasure of watching Chris painfully stagger his way into the arms of the law with a rather large plank of wood nailed into his foot. To see Green employ the most recognizable cinematic techniques of the 70s seems gratuitous and, frankly, surprising from a director who has built a fine reputation on his own distinctive visual style. But there is no denying that the visceral opening sequence communicates a lot about the character of Chris, and the film to come.

Chris’ constant run-ins with law give no end of grief to his father, John Munn (Dermot Mulroney), who lives with his two boys, Chris and Tim (Devon Alan) in a secluded farmhouse in the woods. John does his best to raise his kids, but is overwhelmed by the rambunctious Chris, and worried about his frailer son Tim. The hermetic world of the three men is overturned on the day when John’s ex-con brother Deel (a menacingly unhinged Josh Lucas) shows up fresh out of the joint. Believing his brother has reformed, John offers Deel a place at the house, in exchange for helping with the kids and the work around the house. But before long, Deel is stirring up old family secrets and rivalries and he and John are engaged in an almost-biblical battle of brothers over an old story concerning a stash of stolen gold coins hidden away by their father. At stake are the fates of the two young boys, who manage to escape with the sack of gold coins. Chris becomes protector to Tim as they wander through the Georgia countryside, trying to find work, food and shelter, all the while avoiding their murderous Uncle Deel.

Of all of David Gordon Green’s films, Undertow may be the least consistent and the least successful, narratively speaking. But Green’s strengths still show through, his talent for directing non-professional actors, his firm commitment to portraying a South that goes beyond shallow accents and stereotypes, and his ability to represent a complex and honest portrayal of the emotional world of youth. His visual flair is still present as well, and there are images of profound beauty in this film. When Chris and Tim stumble on a lost gang of runaway kids, Chris meets Violet who joins the two boys and helps them in their odyssey. A shot of Violet skipping in slow-motion through pools of water is trademark Green. His cinematographer Tim Orr, who has worked on all of Green’s features has a sure eye for composition and light, and at times a David Gordon Green film can seem like a Sally Mann photo come to life. Green and Orr also depict a Southern landscape that has been abandoned by the modern world, and their camera lingers in the mud, the dirt, the graveyard of abandoned cars, and the rickety shacks of an impoverished community.

David Gordon Green is one of the young American filmmakers that are carving out a new and significant place for American cinema. Green has made his mark with two excellent films and Hollywood has clearly come a-knockin’. But Green is holding his ground, working with stars, but staying on course with his outsider methods, and staying true to that young indie filmmaker from the South.






Ken Burns’
Unforgivable Blackness:
The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
The 2004 New York Film Festival


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

I am not a boxing fan. In fact, before I saw “Unforgivable Blackness,” I had never watched a boxing match. But after watching this documentary, I can happily report that I am now a big fan of the documentary and the documentary makers (Ken Burns and his amazing crew) and I would really like to know who the Heavy Weight Champion of the World is right now.

Just in case I am not the only out of touch writer/reader, here is a brief history. Jack Johnson was the first black Heavy Weight Boxing Champion of the World, defeating Canadian Tommy Burns on December 26, 1908 to achieve the title. The racist boxing press of the time, however, would never fully cede the title to him because James Jeffries, the former champ, had never been defeated by Tommy Burns. Jeffries had simply retired leaving the question of whether Jeffries could have beat Burns unresolved. So after a two year search, during which the white boxing establishment desperately tried to recruit a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson, James Jeffries was persuaded to come out of retirement and fight Johnson in Reno, Nevada on July 4th 1910. There Johnson defeated Jeffries. Johnson then retained the title of Heavy Weight Champion of the World until 1915, when he was defeated by Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba.

Burns tells Johnson’s story starting from his humble beginnings in Galveston, Texas through his boxing triumphs until his defeat on a blazing hot day in Havana, Cuba. The story continues on until Johnson’s death in a 1946 car accident (Johnson crashed into a telephone pole while speeding away from a racist Southern roadside diner). Burns also follows the boxer’s private life, filled with the all racial and social problems of those Jim Crow times.

Using footage from old “fight films,” newspaper stories and interviews with contemporary writers, Burns has put together a fascinating film. After watching the film, I had to remind myself that I had not seen an actor playing Johnson. The only way I “saw” Johnson was through old photos, old fight films, his written words spoken in voice-overs and the images created in my mind by Wynton Marsalis’ amazing score. But saw him I did and what a magnificent man he was. Even in the old newspaper photos, you see it in his eyes, he looks out at you like he is saying, “Here I am, deal with it.”

Johnson was bigger than life, especially black life in 1910 America. He lived like one of today’s rap stars – beautiful clothes, fast cars and fast women (white women in his case). And by just being himself, doing what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it, he stirred up white America like a stick poked into a mess of hornet nests. But even when he was first forced into exile and eventually imprisoned for a year on trumped-up charges for violating the “Mann Act” (taking a white woman across state lines), he refused to kowtow. Leaving Leavenworth Prison, he is met by his latest white wife and together they speed away in a sports car.

Johnson refused to surrender to his racist environment. Afterwards at the press conference, the filmmakers all agreed that he probably was incapable of blending in. As Johnson himself said, “I was a brunette in a blond world, but I kept on stepping.” And at another time to another reporter, “Just remember, I was a man.” Go see this film and see Jack Johnson dance through his life the same way he danced through the boxing ring. Bravo!

“Unforgivable Blackness” will air on PBS on Monday, January 17 and Tuesday, January 18, 2005. The book about the series, Geoffrey C. Ward’s UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS: THE RISE AND FALL OF JACK JOHNSON is on sale at booksellers nationwide.

The “fight” team: Ken Burns, director and co-producer; Paul Barnes, co-producer; David Schaye, co-producer; Geoffrey C. Ward, writer




Mike Leigh’s
Vera Drake
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Mike Leigh has done it again. With his new film, “Vera Drake,” he has created another family, the Drakes, and this time they are “living” in the world of 1950’s working class London. And as is the case with all of Mr. Leigh’s others films, if you watch this movie, you will know the Drakes better than you know your own first cousins.

This beautiful creation showcases the genius of Mr. Leigh, who possesses superb casting skills, amazing talent and the dedication to exhaustively rehearse all his productions. According to press reports, before Mr. Leigh ever turns on a camera, he painstakingly creates a world, a universe and a family. He does this by first casting the film and then having a several month long improvisation/rehearsal process before he writes his script. And through this process, his stars become their characters - living breathing people with relationships, histories and untold stories that you can see in their eyes.

When you are watching a Mike Leigh film, the actors are so believable it is hard to realize that you are not watching some kind of spy camera documentary. And so it is with Leigh’s “Vera Drake,” a story about a 1950’s era char woman with a heart of gold who “helps out girls who are in trouble.” Vera (played by the incomparable Imelda Staunton) bustles through life helping people, dispensing cheer, tea, advice and a douche bag filled with soapy water.

In the first half of the story we follow Vera with her family - we see Vera bustling about London, calling on the sick and caring for her invalid mother. And when leaving one apartment she runs into a lost soul, Reg (played by Eddie Marsan), she promptly invites him to dinner as a possible suitor for her dumpy daughter, Ethel (Alex Kelly). We also see Vera working as a char in the homes of well-to-do middle class families. At one such home she see the daughter of the family, Sally (Sally Hawkins), who in a side story not seen by Vera, obtains an abortion through the method then available for women of means - visiting a psychiatrist and getting a “doctor’s note.” The film also shows the other house calls Vera makes, the ones she makes to scared young women, the house calls where Vera’s request for a kettle of hot water does not mean she is going to make a cup of tea.

In the second half of the movie, one of Vera’s “patients” becomes ill and the police come to arrest Vera. No one in her family knew that Vera was a backstreet abortionist and the rest of the film follows the family’s reactions, the resulting criminal trial and Vera’s imprisonment. Vera’s husband, Stan (played by Phil Davis), stifles his shock and stands by the woman he loves. Ethel’s sad-sack suitor, Reg (Eddie Marsan), comes through like a champ, resolutely supporting his new family-to-be. Ethel’s son Sid (Daniel Mays), who we see earlier trying to pick up loose women, is shocked and dismayed that his mother is killing “little babies,” with no realization that he himself might have had need for such services. But in the end, all the men of the family come around and support Vera. Because in the end, “Vera Drake” is a film about love, not abortion – about the love that Vera has for her family and for all lost souls and the love her family has for her. Bravo!

Starring: Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Phil Davis, Peter Wright, Adrian Scarborough, Heather Craney, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Ruth Sheen, Helen Coker, Martin Savage, Sinead Matthews, Fenella Wollgar


 

The Eighth Annual Views from the Avant-Garde
Curated by Mark McElhatten and Gavin Smith
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Two full days of avant-garde films.
Hm. Which to choose, which to choose.
Ooooh! Oooooh! Oooooh!
I know! Ask me!!!!

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore

Glad you asked. If you have time for nothing else, see the preserved Kuchar Brothers films on Saturday the 16th, at 9:15pm. If you’re like me, and you’re drawn by camp and the bizarre, you will love this program. These films are all silent, by the way. Oh. And did I mention John Waters will be there hosting the event? No I am NOT kidding.


George and Mike Kuchar (back in the day)

“The Kuchar Brothers gave me the self-confidence to believe in my own tawdry vision”
– John Waters

PROGRAM 5: MIKE AND GEORGE KUCHAR PRESERVED
Sat Oct 16: 9:15
with special host John Waters
Sylvia's Promise George Kuchar, U.S., 1962; 9m
Born of the Wind Mike Kuchar, U.S., 1962; 24m
The Thief and the Stripper George Kuchar U.S., 1959; 25m
A Town Called Tempest George Kuchar, U.S., 1963; 33m
Total running time: 91m

I missed Sylvia’s Promise because I was late. What. Sue me.


Born of the Wind 1962 - 24 min
Mike Kuchar


Donna Kerness in "Born of the Wind"

“A tender and realistic story of a scientist who falls in love with a mummy he has restored to life…2,000 years a mummy couldn’t quench her thirst for love” – George Kuchar

Of the three films I watched today, this was definitely my favorite.

Born of the Wind tells the story of what might possibly go wrong when one decides to transform a mummy into a pleasure toy and devoted wife. As we should all know by now, mummies tend to ignore the importance of discerning right from wrong, which eventually will threaten said mummies’ survival.

Born of the Wind has an aesthetic 60’s tongue-in-cheek quality somewhat similar to original Star Trek episodes. It is a science fiction thriller/fairy tale with moments of laugh-out loud bizarreness. This film is fucking awesome. Although I tend to fall in love with anything that makes me feel like I just dropped acid.


The Thief and the Stripper 1959 – 25 min
George Kuchar

“An early film, depicting today’s youth…raw and brutal” – George Kuchar

The Thief and the Stripper tells a Jewish tale of a married painter who falls in love with a stripper who falls in love with a thief. All under the watchful eye of their nosy neighbor, Edna the Yenta, who likes to wear a lampshade as a hat.

This film is harsh. It’s rough, dirty, gritty, and painful. But it’s really funny.


A Town Called Tempest 1963
George Kuchar

“What happened that afternoon that left a town in shambles, its people in search of a God?” - George Kuchar

In search of a God, indeed. This film takes place in Kansas, inside a home of a dysfunctional family. The parents, unable to understand their son’s seemingly unhealthy fascination with destruction and architecture, attribute his dorkiness and anti-social behavior to the fact that perhaps he just needs to get laid. The son, sent to a prostitute to “fix” his problems, bores her to exhaustion during an exhibition of extensive architectural knowledge. In the midst of discussing structural support beams, a tornado hits their town. The son gets his revenge on his intolerant family, the prostitute embarks on a series of dichotic life-changing events within minutes aided by a habit and a hand grenade, and a young horny catholic girl subsequently discovers the true meaning of spirituality that would make most rock stars proud. Curious? You should be. It’s fucked up. And funny.


Hung Sangsoo's
Woman is the Future of Man
The 2004 New York Film Festival

Reviewed by Stephanie Alberico

“Woman is the Future of Man,” written and directed by Hong Sangsoo, is a quirky film about three old friends who wish to relive their past. The film is set in the world of winter and focuses on a past love triangle.

Hunjoon (played by Kim Taewoo) returns to Seoul to look up his old college
friend Munho (played by Yoo Jitae). The opening scene shows Hunjoon
trekking up a snow-covered hill to meet Munho at his home.

Munho is now a respected college professor and Hunjoon is returning from
the U.S where he is now a filmmaker. The film proceeds to flash back on their
respective lives and the different paths they have taken. However, both Munho and Hunjoon have one thing from their past that they share, a woman.

When Sunwha (played by Sung Hyunah), is introduced, we see her in a younger version as Hunjoon’s girlfriend. When Hunjoon leaves for film school in the U.S., intending to be gone for many years, Munho comforts the devastated Sunwha. Nature takes its course and Munho and Sunwha soon develop a relationship.

All three characters meet to try one last time to return to the past they are longing to relive. This meeting takes place at a meal where they have a long conversation. This conversation is awkward, giving an improvised almost documentary feel to the film. In the end however, this attempt at reunion proves to each of them that the past may be revisited but not rewritten.

Creative symbolism plays a big part in this film’s exploration of sexual
and emotional turmoil. The first scene of the movie is one of the most
symbolic. Munho invites Hunjoon to walk onto the first fresh snow of the
season. Hunjoon proceeds to do so, but walks only a couple of steps before retracing his steps. The footsteps are a symbol of the film’s lesson. Sangsoo wants to point out that we can only go so far into the past before we are forced to retrace our steps.

Another scene toward the end of the film shows Hunjoon running away from Sunwha down a hill. These two contradicting scenes of Hunjoon ascending and descending a hill mark the points in the film when he tries desperately to return
to his past and then when he leaves it, never to return.

Woman” is a film about how it is impossible to change the past. In the end, the characters realize that even thought they may have wasted the magic of their younger years, the past cannot be revisited and is better left behind.


 


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