Melbourne 2013 Dispatch, Day 4: Metaphors, Bittersweet Romance And Thrilling Violence
Today started just before the evening, during the weekday I have a lot of actual life stuff to do (I know right!?) so I will be focusing on the three films I saw today in some greater detail.
We begin with the languid Greek drama cum statement on the financial crisis in the form of a narrative The Daughter. I then moved on to a societal and positional commentary film of another ilk altogether with the crowd pleasing but extremely bittersweet offering of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. After all these statements and emotions I was relieved to end the night on a pretty straight forward note with West Bank set action thriller Omar.
The Daughter concerns a daughter of a man (a father who has run away from his responsibility), she has been abandoned by him, free to roam and plot a sort of revenge on behalf of her father. Her name is Myrto and she shoulders the debt of burden, she is a daughter of Greece.
The film is not subtle in its heavy handed use of metaphors concerning the bankruptcy. The majority of the film is shot in a shut-down wood plantation, Myrto is surrounded by dead trees of all types, cut down by Greek men and stored to now rot with the business out of commission - Myrto half maintains them and half entertains herself with a captor.
Her captor is an innocent young boy, his name is Angelos, why does she hold him? It is revealed soon enough. She reads dictionary definitions to him in the dark, about debt, responsibility and dissolution and this is how the film is told, with each part commenting on each word.
The location is vital, outside the fetid stillness of the wood mill is a city on the brink; people line-up forever for compensation, every adult demands something of Myrto that she cannot deliver as they assume she is responsible for her fathers problem.
Everyone around is unsure how to proceed, they all rely on bureaucracy and forms to fill out. She stands outside the bank of Greece as Molotov cocktails are thrown at it by angry protestors. This is not a place she wants to be, the calm uncertain darkness is a much more suitable living, it wafts with memories of her father and she constantly remembers them working in the mill together but these memories also unearth a betrayal; a wrong she must right.
The other main element is her interaction with Angelos, at first she pesters him, this slowly escalates to petty torture and then to something far more sinister and there is some thrilling moments the film makes the most of in this regard.
Despite all the clever allusions to the crisis The Daughter is not greatly plotted, it relies on these heavy handed metaphors too much and when it tries something different it just does not work, there is a bizarre noise rock montage of her father working in the mill that I failed to understand for example.
It sometimes feels stuck in one place and as a result feels a bit longer than its already short run-time. Regardless, it is one of the first post-bankrupt films to emerge and fascinating as a result of this.
Arvin Chen has greatly improved his directorial style with his sophomore feature Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. You know that it is a great achievement in second-time film making when you get reminders of Edward Yang's masterful Yi Yi. Taiwanese cinema is simply not waning and building on its already impressive style film by film.
Let me be frank though, I hated this film, well initially I did, maybe for about an hour. I found it saccharine, obsessively light and fluffy, overly pleasant and damn cloying. I hated every character who seemed to be in a cloud of their own individual worries and I found the plot on how these people meet to be utterly contrived.
However something happened, it was like the characters, and myself by extension, experienced a renaissance and something clicked; suddenly I loved the film. This has never really happened to me before so it was the strangest feeling, like a wave of inertia washed over me and then I was happy and fully engaged.
It arguably happened when the wife of the protagonist Feng (the wonderful Mavis Fan) was at her wits end after a revelation about her spouse and found herself with work colleagues in karaoke. She delivers a sublime and brief rendition of the titular song Will you still love me tomorrow? It is heart breaking and surpasses most emotion films of this type try to convey - the fever dream style of it also helped as it turned into a melancholy dance number.
The film itself lightly explores homosexuality in Taipei, through married couples and the pressures of society and role.
Arvin's auteur style is all over this and given the essentially dark subject matter, he manages to create a happy comedy fueled environment. Admittedly the crowd I saw this with must have taken something prior to the film as they were laughing at every second sentence, but I digress.
Arvin finds the right balance ultimately between suffocating niceness and social critique. This is bolstered by some damaged but lovely characters including the soft sad San-San, fiance to Mandy - she is scared of commitment and sister of Weichung. We come full circle as Weichung is the conflicted formerly gay - still is - husband of the aforementioned Feng. Other characters pepper the film, acting as support for the malaise that strikes these people.
Things are resolved but not how you would expect and the ending beautifully lingers on the possibility of what is next, as a married man it sort of broke me - despite your sexuality no relationship is simple and Chen's film wonderfully portrays this in a way that almost goes against his crowd-pleasing style. He has certainly matured and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow left me with an intensely bitter sweet feeling.
I conclude the night with Cannes action thriller Omar. I had no idea the film would be as intense and accessible as it was. It could be set anywhere as it moves with a brisk pace that contains not a dull moment. The charismatic lead constantly climbs the wall separating the Palestinian West Bank territory to see the love of his life, he plans to marry her but is caught up in a rebel force that strikes on the military occupiers. Things get complicated when he is caught and forced to become collaborator.
There are enough twists and turns in Omar that excite and intrigue in equal measure, it is not far removed from a Hollywood production in this regard but none of this detracts from its excellent energy and location, which sees Omar dodging bullets and pursuers by weaving his way through the twisted city, parkour style, in old-school on-foot chase scenes.
Between these, politics play out in the background and you can feel the collaborative nature the townsfolk have against the occupiers; an unspoken rule where they aid in any way they can.
Not much is said in this way and there is practically no exposition in this regard. Instead it funnels the troublesome situation into a romantic plot, that spawns betrayal and paranoia.
Completely engaging, breath taking and brutally efficient, Omar is the most exciting film I have seen at MIFF so far, a definite wake-up call amidst the heavy festival vibe, I highly recommend it.
Be sure to check the MIFF site for the next sessions of these amazing films.
Tomorrow: Kore-eda joint Like Father Like Son and polar opposite Agento Giallo Deep Red.
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