Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 25 July: Summer Wars, Rinco's Restaurant, Vampires, Deliver Us from Evil, A Little Pond

Another long day at the festival, where the first movie starts at 11:30am and the last finishes at 11pm. Watching movies for eleven hours (with bits of standing in line between) doesn't seem like it's tiring, but as I've said before, it's using one specific part of your brain all day, and can be wearying.

And now some photos, for those who can't get enough "filmmakers with movie screen behind them and mikes in front of them" action!

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Left to right, we have festival director Pierre Corebeil (I think; it might be Simon Lapierre; I even after five years, I haven't learned all the names yet and have a hard time pulling them out of a barrage of French), a translator, and Rinco's Restaurant director Mai Tominaga.

I felt vaguely guilty that I munched on a box of Timbits throughout Ms. Tominaga's movie about a woman who makes delicious food. Normally, I'm one to advocate donuts and donut holes as movie snacks (they are quiet and tasty), but that's the sort of movie that asks that you raise your standards, you know? And though I'll probably get a bunch of Canadians coming after me for this, they were only Timbits, which aren't bad but aren't Munchkins.

(I had a slice of fast-food pizza for dinner, too. Multiple food movies this year, and I really didn't do much for myself in terms of dining out!)

By the way, the translator did a fine job. I think this is a new person handling the Japanese-translation duties (a good chunk of the staff probably turns over every few years as college kids graduate) - she didn't give the withering "why would you ask such a stupid question?" look after the questions that waste everybody's time during Q&A. Or maybe she's just learned to hide her disdain better.

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Left to right, Vampires director Vincent Lannoo and star Carlo Ferrante. M. Lannoo is not a dual amputee, by the way; my Droid's camera just isn't that great with motion. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to stick around for much of what was likely an entertaining Q&A, as Deliver Us From Evil was scheduled to start very soon and the first question and answer clinched that my terrible French was not going to be up to the task.

Not that I'm complaining; despite my only being able to understand fleeting bits when people talk slowly and use simple tenses (has it really been twenty years since I stopped taking French in high school?), I always find it kind of cool when the intros and stuff are in French, especially when it's something surreal, like a Japanese movie with English subtitles being introduced by a guy speaking French. You don't have to try and make my monolingual self feel at home; I like the reminder that I'm surrounded by a different culture.

But, yeah, I'm not always going to stick around and be confused. Sorry.

Samâ wôzu (Summer Wars)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

Mamoru Hosoda perhaps didn't make a huge name for himself with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but he made a very good animated film that told a fantastical science fiction story that was also very emotionally grounded. For his follow-up, he does something much the same, albeit on a larger scale.

Kenji Koiso (voice of Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a high-school math wihz, although his summer job is much more mundane, doing online troubleshooting for "OZ", a global virtual community (imagine Facebook as the interface to the entire internet). It's boring work, so when college-bound classmate Natsuki (voice of Nanami Sakuraba) offers him a chance to do something else for a couple weeks, he jumps at it: Come with her to a family reunion in Ueda coinciding with the 90th birthday of her great-grandmother Sakae Jinnouchi (voice of Sumiko Fuji), help set up and ride herd on the dozens of relatives, pretend to be the boyfriend she told Sakae about... Oh, did I not mention that last part back in Tokyo or on the train? Sorry. Anyway, Kenji soon has bigger concerns - a math puzzle he received in an email turns out the key to defeating OZ's supposedly-impregnable security, making Kenji a wanted man, although the Japanese authorities are much more concerned with the infrastructure collapses they soon face, as OZ accounts can serve as authentication to a number of official systems.

I wouldn't be surprised if the screenplay for Summer Wars has been kicking around for a while; while the timeframe is sometimes implied to be the 2010s, other things place the year at around 1998, and OZ does often seem like a very twentieth-century vision of the internet's future, in that it's anthropomorphic, complete with cute avatars navigating three-dimensional virtual space that functions as a very direct analog to the physical world, including avatar battles. Though bits of the underlying concept may have relevance (Facebook and Google have become so ubiquitous and integrated as to be a real security weakness), folks will likely find it a somewhat dated version of the future. Of course, to a certain extent, functionality takes a back seat to looking cool, and the great animators at Madhouse are certainly deliver on that account, giving a virtual world that hangs in white space like something astronomical, with avatars and outposts in orbit. It's a clearly CGI element in a generally cel-based movie, but one that looks like it might exist on the screens of that world.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Shokudo Katatsumuri (Rinco's Restaurant)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

So, here's my question: If you lived in this tiny Japanese village, what sort of evidence would you need to declare that Rinco's cooking has magical wish-granting powers? After all, in the sort of small town where everybody knows everybody else's business, coming to that conclusion would almost certainly require positing that she spent her whole life eating take-out.

Of course, it's been a while since they've seen Rinco (Kou Shibasaki); she ran away from home as a teenager, unable to bear the taunting that came from being the fatherless daughter of Ruri (Kimiko Yo), who has extended her party-girl lifestyle well into middle age. She wound up with her grandmother, who taught her to cook, and that's where Rinco found her calling; she mastered every cuisine she could, and had save almost enough to open a restaurant with her boyfriend when he left her and took everything. So devastated that she lost the power of speech, she made her way back home to find her mother more eccentric than ever - she dotes on her pet pig Hermes to an uncomfortable extent. She does open that restaurant, though; she and her childhood friend Yuma (Brother Tom) clean up a tiny shed on Ruri's property. It's off the beaten path, and only has one table, but Yuma swears that the carefully prepared dishes grant the diner his heart's desire.

As with most food movies, the pleasures of Rinco's Restaurant are sensual. Dish after mouth-watering dish is prepared, served, and consumed, and director Mai Tominaga makes certain that the audience is aware of the intimacy of the setting; this food, or at least the image of it, is a treat for them directly, just as much as it has been lovingly and individually prepared for the character. Ruri's house gives the impression of free-spirited chaos but is actually very tidy, with a cute little sty for Hermes. And though the mountains for which Bosom Village are named are mostly a goofy visual joke, they do make for some nice scenery.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Vampires

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

It's not that you can't make a scary, surprising vampire movie any more - my last two trips to this festival delivered Let the Right One In and Thirst, so it can be done. It's just hard; the bloodsuckers have grown so familiar that it's easy to slip into what movies like Vincent Lannoo's Vampires do, treating monsters like something commonplace and trying to be clever with the details.

Georges (Carlo Ferrante) is the head of a vampire family living in Belgium. He's got a regal air, even if his wife Bertha (Vera van Dooren) doesn't quite charm the television crew doing a documentary on them quite so much. They keep a relatively low profile, mostly feeding on a former prostitute they call "The Meat" and a pen of illegal immigrants in the backyard, with the local police helping with procurement and disposal. It's not a completely tranquil household - "son" Samson (Pierre Lognay) has been sneaking off with the local head vampire's girl, and "daughter" Grace (Fleur Lise Hevet) wishes she were human. And then there are "the neighbors", two vampires that they graciously allow to live in their basement because the vampire code says that vampires must children in order to rate a house of their own (Elizabeth and Bienvenu have their own individual self-control issues with kids).

Vampires straddles the line between parody and satire, spending most of its time on the broad, somewhat silly side of the line. It's still often mean-spirited humor - the opening bits about why a film crew might be unwilling to take on this assignment are as bloody as they are exercises in perfect set-up and delivery. A lot of it is relatively simple jokes, though they work - there's a visit to the funeral home to pick out new coffins; Georges finding himself just unable to understand his daughter, wearing all that pink and dyeing her hair blonde; a move to Montreal find Belgian Samson unable to understand a word that his Québeçoise girlfriend is saying; that sort of thing. A fair amount of fun is had mocking the sometimes torturous rules that vampires live by, both socially and biologically (is the way they are shown to mediate disputes here really that much more illogical than having to be invited into a room?).

Full review at eFilmCritic

Fri os fra det onde (Deliver Us from Evil)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

Ole Bornedal was never really away from filmmaking, but time spent trying to work Hollywood and then working Danish theater kept his film output very sparse in the ten years leading up to 2007. Since then, though, he's been back with a vengeance, each new movie better than the last, with the latest a thriller that is both narratively intriguing and laser-focused.

We start with brothers. Johannes (Lasse Rimmer) was a big-city lawyer who, with his wife Pernille (Lene Nystrøm), moved back to the small town - and family home - where he grew up a few years ago. Lars (Jens Andersen) is his exact opposite, an unkempt drunk of a truck driver with a foul mouth and a violent temper, although he realizes he needs to change, especially upon learning his girlfriend Scarlett (Pernille Vallentin) is pregnant. But just as he's about to turn over that new leaf, he runs over an old woman just out of town. Now, he's not stupid - he quickly finds a way to throw the blame on Alain (Bojan Navojec), a Bosnian refugee helping Johannes work on the family home. What Lars doesn't figure on is Ingvar (Mogens Pedersen), the dead woman's husband, who is as admired by all about town as he is completely dependent upon his wife for his mental stability.

Bornedal knows where he wants Deliver Us from Evil to go, and he is ruthlessly efficient in getting it there. Narration quickly supplies us with information about the characters and town, plots that were set up separately intertwine quickly but in a manner that doesn't smack of coincidence. Brief moments of comic relief plant a seed in the audience's head that the potential for ugly behavior lies within even the most gentle of souls. There is no time spent on hand-wringing: Characters are decisive, moving us inevitably toward confrontation.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Jageun yeonmot (A Little Pond)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

A Little Pond's goal is to educate its audience about the Nogunri massacre of 1950, and it succeeds: It presents a reconstruction of that shameful incident in the best detail that the filmmakers could extrapolate. It is almost not necessarily to say any more about it; writer/director Lee Sang-woo aims to depict this thing and does so, well enough that he does not squander the horror inherent in the facts.

The movie spends a little time building to its incident. In July of 1950, the Korean War was just starting, and the North was pushing south. A soldier visits the house of Mr. Moon (Moon Seong-geun), though it is not the middle-aged man with the young new wife that they are interested in, but his son-in-law (Lee Dong-kyu), who was originally from the north. Elsewhere, Moon's second daughter Hyun-i (Kim Ji-hyun) is taking her shift at the village school, supervising the chorus which is practicing for a regional competition. It is a tense atmosphere, but not yet one that is critical. The tension moves up a notch when American and ROK soldiers order the town evacuated, as a battle there is imminent. Many head for a nearby hill, where they had often holed up during the Japanese invasion. However, things change quickly in battle, and the American troops have orders to shoot anyone crossing the front line, which places many of the villagers in the line of fire, taking cover under a bridge, hoping for things to stop.

The facts in the Nogunri case are disputed; the best-known account was published fifty years after the actual incident, but almost as soon as it led President Clinton to issue an official apology, it was found to be based in part on fraudulent accounts. Everybody agrees that civilian refugees were killed; nobody agrees on the number (cited as anything from 5 to 400) or whether the U.S. Army attempted to cover it up. I would be interested to learn how much research Director Lee did in preparing this film; much of it is told from the perspective of the village's children, who sixty years later would be the best primary sources.

Full review at eFilmCritic

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Answer to you questions:
- It's not Pierre Corbeil, but Simon Laperrière who's introducing Rinco's Restaurant. Our festival president is a bit older than 25 years old ;)
- It's Serina Nishioka who was doing the translation, and she's been with the festival for the last 5 years.