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|SHADOWS ARTHOUSE FILMS ’04|
On this page: FEAR & TREMBLING | HERO | RED LIGHTS
SOMEONE LIKE HODDER | THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE
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|FEAR AND TREMBLING [Stupeur et Tremblements]|
Writer-director Corneau captures the culture clash without soft-pedalling it for the audience. This is tricky, inexplicable stuff--Amelie is on her own, swimming with what appear to be sharks and trying to rationalise her lifelong hopes and dreams with what's really happening to her. And Testud creates such a remarkable, wonderful character that we stick right with her when things get seriously rough. With her pixie-like face, freckles and sandy-red hair, Amelie couldn't look any less Japanese, even though she speaks the language like a native. Meanwhile, the sleek Tsuji, bulldog-like Suwa and rotund Katayama add fascinating textures and meanings in their scenes.
This visual contrast is extremely clever, and Corneau and his cast make the most of it. There's lots of screaming and bowing and scraping, as well as a fair amount of fear and trembling; and the result on screen is often hilarious, then surprisingly touching. The relationships between the characters are complicated--impossible to predict or to fully understand as they intriguingly mix east-west patterns of behaviour, engaging us through the authentic characters. It's a delightfully entertaining film that actually manages to get under the surface and examine meaningful issues. It's also slightly reminiscent of two other films: a French film about another cheeky woman named Amelie, and Sophia Coppola's more melancholy examination of the same cultural territory, Lost in Translation. [12 themes, brief nudity] 13.Jul.04
Set a thousand years ago when China was divided into smaller kingdoms, it's about a lone fighter with no name (Li), who everyone calls "Nameless", who approaches the throne of the paranoid King of Qin (Chen) to tell how he has vanquished the king's three enemies--the assassin Sky (Yen) and the murderous lovers Broken Sword and Flying Snow (Leung and Cheung). But something in the story piques the king's curiosity, and as he begins to ask questions, Nameless is forced to admit that he's bent the truth a bit.
Director Zhang and cinematographer Chris Doyle tell this story in an outrageous visual language; each sequence employs a specific colour--red, blue, white, green--with costumes, sets and even natural scenery blending in an otherworldly but also strikingly down-to-earth way. The numerous fight sequences, on the other hand, are not remotely down to earth! They're in the Crouching Tiger style: floating, soaring, thrusting, intelligent, in tune with the elements, deeply poetic. And of course all of this is in service to the story and characters, giving us insight into the people and their passions, their sense of duty and sacrifice, their longing for peace in their land.
It's a finely detailed, deeply involving story. Each character comes vividly to life through each version of events as we see them from various sides (and indeed in various colours). And the cast's introspective, subtle performances work beautifully with the film's graceful sense of movement and the fiercely relentless fighting styles. Several scenes linger long in the memory--Cheung and Zhang's autumnal battle in the woods, Li and Leung's floating fight above a mountain lake, Li and Daoming's evocative clash amid falling curtains. And there are also scenes with casts of thousands, as well as intimate moments of brainy conversation and detailed interaction, all building to a breathless conclusion that unveils the film's message in a powerfully meaningful way. In a word: Gorgeous. [12 themes, violence, innuendo] 29.Jul.04
|RED LIGHTS [Feux Rouges]|
Antoine and Helene (Darroussin and Bouquet) are a frazzled couple who, on the hottest day of the year, are driving to the opposite end of the country to collect their two kids from summer camp. Tensions are high and patience is short. Antoine keeps stopping for shots of whiskey, and during one break Helene abandons him, leaving a note to say she's taking the train. What follows is a wrenching odyssey as Antoine tries to catch up with Helene's train, then has a scary encounter with a stranger (Deniard). But even this doesn't prepare him for what he discovers next.
Kahn captures a sense of modern chaos so perfectly that we never doubt this couple--they love each other and yet can't stand to be near each other, simply because life has become so unbearably stressful. Delays, traffic jams and other urban annoyances combine to push them to the brink ... and then the (somewhat contrived) events that follow push them right over the edge, where they finally approach a sense of perspective.
Darroussin and Bouquet are excellent--we can identify with both of them, laughing in recognition while seeing details that give us insight into these people, their reactions and potential actions as well. As their relationship is strained to the breaking point, we really feel their sense of cynicism, paranoia and fear. And then the writers exploit that with a chilling plot twist that seems to come out of nowhere to jolt us awake (like Catherine Breillat's A Ma Soeur or Gaspar Noe's Irreversible). What follows is astonishingly gripping and moving, especially an extended scene in which Antoine uses the phone to sort out what has turned into a fiercely unsettling mystery. This is a film about rash decisions and sudden events that can change life in an instant--for good or bad. Or maybe bringing good from bad. [15 adult themes, language, violence] 15.Jul.04
|SOMEONE LIKE HODDER [En Som Hodder]|
Telling the story completely from Hodder's point of view keeps the tone fairly light, even when it's dealing with rather significant issues. The characters are all vividly well written and played by the cast--each is a bundle of idiosyncrasies, and we're not sure if this is how they really are or how Hodder sees them. But it doesn't matter at all when it's this enjoyable ... and telling. Meanwhile, Hodder's escalating quest is nicely paralleled against the more down-to-earth issues he's facing at home and school: serious things that really get under our skin, because we can see how important they are, even if Hodder can't.
The film is also full of revealing little details--small adventures and characters who are annoying, wacky, charming, surprising. We are completely drawn in to the way Hodder seems so oblivious to the cruelty all around him, returning love and compassion for all the spite he is given; the way Hodder gets a little crush on virtually every woman he meets is both sparky and sweet, as is his banter with the fairy ("You've been chosen to save the world!" she says, to which Hodder replies, "Can you come back next week?"). He's a naive innocent, and yet also bravely willing to go against the grain. And in winning over the people around him, he gets us too. [PG some innuendo] 26.Jul.04
|THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE|
Despite the intricate convolutions and sharp dialog, the plot isn't terribly surprising or meaningful; it's a romantic comedy after all, so we know how it'll end. But the script is witty enough to keep us watching. Sorvino plays it with a charming twinkle in her eye that helps her get away with her vaguely unconvincing transformation into a man. She has real chemistry with her three romantic leads--essential for the film to work on any level! Kingsley takes the broad approach, mugging shamelessly as the thinker who dismisses love as irrelevant then falls head over heels. Shaw is wonderfully hilarious as always, combining camp desperation with endearing romanticism. And Rodan is fine as the pretty boy who must confront things he never knew about the world--romance and treachery, to name two.
Peploe (aka Mrs Bertolucci) directs the film in a relaxed style that actually makes the period setting and costumes feel incidental (no mean feat!), while focussing on the characters. With its limited cast and singular setting, it feels like a play, and Peploe draws on that idea intriguingly. Unfortunately, once the premise is established, the script goes through several cycles that feel repetitive--we've got it, can we move on? There's also very little subtext, besides a couple of weak nods at the Age of Enlightenment. As a result, the film drags badly in the second half, despite the increasing complications of the plot and the expanding charm of the cast. [PG adult themes and situations] 12.Jul.04
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall