VIFF ’10: Day Five

The Sleeping Beauty – A kind of companion piece to the wife’s favorite film from last year’s festival, Blue Beard, Catherine Brelliat again adapts a Charles Perrault fairy tale, giving it a distinctively modern kink.  Unlike last year’s film, which had a framing story in which two girls read the fairy tale that provided both the best and worst parts of the film, this one plays the tale straight through.  The difference from the familiar Disney version of the story is mainly that instead of falling asleep at 16 and waking 100 years later, the good fairies (who are also much hotter in this version) fix things such that the princess falls asleep at age 6 and wakes up 100 years later at 16, having experienced a wild dream adventure in the interim.  This dream takes up the bulk of the film, as the princess embarks on a quirky quest (a boil-covered ogre, a handsome pubescent prince, a snow queen, a lesbian gypsy queen and a few, but less than seven, dwarfs).  When she wakes up, she meets her prince and learns that the fantasies we have in childhood don’t quite work out the way we thought they would.  It’s not an especially profound message, but it’s a fun ride getting us there.
Rumination – Part of the new filmmakers competition this year is this story of the Cultural Revolution, split into ten sections, one for each year from 1966-1976.  The early years move by pretty quickly, as a group of young Red Guards talk about how great Mao is and what have you.  In later years they attempt to march to Beijing, but end up apparently living in a seemingly abandoned town where they torment both the local crazy homeless guy and their own boss, who demonstrates a counter-revolutionary attraction to a picture of a Hollywood starlet (couldn’t tell if it was Joan Fontaine or Ingrid Bergman or someone else entirely, regardless that makes it certainly not a revolution I’d ever want to be part of).  The film has some striking imagery, notably repeated sequences in a kind of confessional, where people recite odes to Mao and the proletariat and that change color with the years.  These sequences have the kind of artificial frontally of Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates.  Most of the film though, with its almost total lack of character, plot or dialogue can be extremely frustrating.  It tries so hard to keep the audience at a distance that all it really ends up saying is “hey, the Cultural Revolution sure sucked!”  Which is certainly true, but don’t we already know that?
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Palme D’Or winner from this year is probably his most conventional film yet, though you can be sure it’s plenty weird enough.  Boonmee’s dying of kidney disease and his sister-in-law and nephew come to visit him.  Arriving shortly thereafter are the ghost of his dead wife and their Sasquatchian son, who disappeared years before when he married a Monkey Ghost and became one himself (“Son, why have you let your hair grow so long?” is the ghost mom’s deadpan question).  Boonmee tries to prepare himself and his family for his impending death, which leads to some creepy spelunking (a sequence reminiscent of Picnic at Hanging Rock as well as, musically if nothing else, Kubrick).  Somewhere in there as well as a period story about an ugly princess and her memorable encounter with a catfish that may be one of the past lives of the title.  Most of Weerasethakul’s films have a dual structure, and there’s a narrative split here as well, but it’s more of a coda than a second half.  Like both Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, but even more like Thomas Mao, which we saw a couple days earlier here at VIFF, the second part both undermines and expands the world of the first half, making us question everything that came before in a warmly constructive, humanist way (as opposed to the aggressively cynical deconstruction of many other puzzle films).  It’s ultimately not as mysterious or audacious as Tropical Malady, but it might be his best film yet.

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