Philly Fest Report: La Promesa, The Soup One Morning, Arahan

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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So, two days and seven films in the books thus far. Today started well with The Far Side of the Moon and two of the three later screenings were similarly strong but, alas, my string of quality film experiences here ended at five ... here we go ...

This afternoon was given over to Hector Carre's La Promesa, a fantastic, haunting little thriller with a truly unique central character. Veteran actress Carmen Maura stars as Gregoria, an aging woman trapped in a loveless, abusive marriage and longing deeply for the children she was unable to have. Her husband has nothing but scorn and the occassional fist for her, so why has she stayed with him for so long? A deep, deep rooted Catholicism that teaches that breaking the sacrament of marriage is a mortal sin. Eventually, however, an opportunity presents itself and Gregoria makes a break with her past and travels to a remote part of Spain under an assumed name where she takes on work as a nanny in a wealthy home. All seems well for her there as she becomes a surrogate parent for the largely neglected Daniel and she finally has the chance to indulge her long dormant maternal instincts but her religious mania is growing stronger, she keeps hearing strange voices encouraging her to commit violent acts and there are stories of a strange, haunted passageway through her new home.

The Promise keeps you guessing on a number of levels: what is real and what is not? Are Gregoria's visions legitimate or purely delusional? Is the house haunted or is it all in the mind? What makes it compelling viewing, though, is purely and simply Carmen Maura who turns in a fantastic performance that presents an entirely new protagonist for this sort of film. Who expects to find an aging Spanish nanny at the center of a tale of religious hysteria, paranoia, murder and revenge? The simple act of running otherwise standard genre fare through such an unusual character gives the material new legs and a new perspective. You'll certainly never look at the concept of maternal instincts in quite the same way again. Hector Carre fills the film with striking imagery - the crucified Christ falling off the cross and shattering on the floor was a favorite of mine - creeping dread and a mittfull of deftly turned jump scares to keep things hopping. TLA has picked up rights to this one, so it will be available domestically before too long ... definitely worth a look ...

Next was The Soup One Morning, a film that caught my eye purely because with its story of a young man struck by panic attacks on the train who becomes involved with a cult group it is clearly an attempt to deal with issues surrounding the Aum sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway. Here's what you need to know: The seats in the screening room gave me much pain and the film itself was not even remotely worth suffering through posterior stiffness for. This one is destined to vanish into the ether and be forgotten. A clumsy script, mounds of boring static shots, and unconvincing performances. Definitely the weakest film of the day and I'll go out on a limb and say this will be the worst film I see at the festival.

And, finally, Arahan. Yep, I've seen it before - it was actually one of the very first films I reviewed here at ScreenAnarchy - but never before properly projected and with an audience, and Canfield hadn't seen it at all, so the twin prospects of seeing it with a full crowd while introducing it to a friend was far too good to pass up. Verdict? Still fantastic. It looks great on the big screen, the humor still snaps and it plays fantastic too a crowd. Has someone picked this up here yet? They should ... it'll play huge to the Stephen Chow crowd ...

And now I sleep ...

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columbianApril 18, 2005 10:06 AM

I was at the screenings of both "The Soup, One Morning" and "Arahan", and I must say that while I often agree with your opinions, I think you are dead wrong about "The Soup."

The script was a deeply committed character drama, with some of the most intriguing and emotional scenes I have witnessed during this festival. The aesthetic of the film was secondary to the story, showing what we needed to see and not concerning itself with unnecessary flourishes that would break the film's stark realism. Here is a film that finally places importance on characters above all else. And the acting, in my opinion, was brilliant. The male lead was perfectly subdued, conveying a fear and resignment from the outside world simultaneously with the inner turmoil and conflict resultant from his "sickness." And the female was a perfect depiction of a committed, yet broken lover who despite all their problems wishes to save her companion. The scene were they argue over the purchase of the cult's couch was one of the most well written and acted scenes in any recent japanese drama. Also, I dont think that the fact that the screening room's chairs were uncomfortable should be something to hold against the film. Why is that something we need to know?

And concerning "Arahan," I would say that it is by far the worser film of the two, something of a Korean equivalent to "Pirates of the Caribbean" in terms of entertainment value versus actual substance. There were occassional flashes of subversive humor, but overall the film was completely inconsequential. I urge anyone who enjoys movies that require actual thinking to see "The Soup, One Morning", and not let it disappear into the ether.

Todd BrownApril 18, 2005 12:04 PM

I'm right there with you when it comes to encouraging people to see films that require thought, I just didn't buy the characters in the Soup at all. I found them very flat and wooden and found the general progression of things very simplistic and over-telegraphed. I did like the couch scene, though, and the later one where he locks himself in the bathroom, I just don't think they were nearly enough to save the film. To each their own, though .... but I was wrong about it being the worst I saw at the festival. Evilenko beat it today. That script is so bad I'm amazed it even got made ...

And, yep, Arahan is pure fluff, it's just damn entertaining fluff and there's nothing wrong with a straight up popcorn flick from time to time.

BrianApril 20, 2005 4:05 AM

For some 15 minutes into the film, I had a similar reaction with The Soup, One Morning - it felt very listless and I was feeling very drowsy - but it began to dig under my skin with some nakedly emotional scenes that were so intimate and real. It reminded me in some ways of VIBRATOR - a complete focus on a couple, in intimate claustrophobic surroundings, long silences, a real verite style of filmmaking - but instead of a slow relationship build this was a slow relationship breakdown. I ended up really liking this film and I noticed in reading about it afterwards that it has won a few fest awards - for whatever that is worth.