Saturday, November 09, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.193: The Wild Goose Lake & The Truth

The Fall Focus seemed a bit more like a preview series this year, with most of the films having releases coming up pretty soon - some would begin their rollouts the very next weekend - but the ones I wound up seeing were those whose theatrical release is either somewhat far off or in question. That's part prioritization and part not really having a lot to do in Harvard Square between movies, or having things to do that would take a little longer - for example, between these two, I headed out to the Best Buy in the Cambridgeside Galleria to use a $5 reward certificate that was expiring that day, getting myself a 4K copy of The Great Wall for cheap enough that I won't feel I've spent too much on two copies if it shows up on the list of 3D Blu-rays that are on sale in Hong Kong next month, then heading back into Davis for The Lighthouse (which I'm torn between trying again and really not wanting to), and then back to the Brattle for the nightcap.

The Wild Goose Lake, I gather, is coming out in China in early December with a North American release planned for spring, and I kind of wonder whether this might be a case where it should just get two releases - one day-and-date for the expats and folks like me who just don't wait and one for the arthouse crowd. It's got the same sort of vibe as Ash Is Purest White and Long Day's Journey Into Night, to name a couple of movies that had a more traditional foreign-film release pattern and didn't have a whole lot of Asian folks in the audience when I saw them. Are these just films that were never going to be of mainstream interest even to folks who speak the language, built for export, or is it just a case of the two audiences being siloed and unaware or what is playing for the others? Someday, someone should try this strategy.

The Truth will probably get some local play, as there are dedicated fans of the director and the cast and together they might just add up to opening at the Kendall rather than three days at the Brattle. As I mention in the review, I wonder to what extent filmmakers whose appeal often lies outside their home territories are doing this for commercial reasons or if it's just being cinephiles who love movies from around the world and want to do something in that mode. Either way, I'm looking forward to Werner Herzog's Japanese film.

Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui (The Wild Goose Lake)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I may regularly gripe about how crime does not (and can not) pay in Chinese movies, but there are restrictions on what stories you can tell everywhere, and Diao Yi'nan is one of a number of filmmakers who are finding a way to tell a good story within those bounds. Sometimes you can build a nifty yarn out of who will ultimately benefit from the criminals' inevitable capture and how making justice pay can appeal to the criminal in us all.

The film opens on career criminal Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) waiting in the rain for wife Yang Shujun (Regina Wan Qian), only to be greeted by Liu Ai'ai (Kwei Lun-Mei) instead. Two days ago, he was in the middle of a scuffle as territory for the motorcycle-theft racket was handed out, and while his old friend Huahua (Qi Dao) tried to mediate, rival Cat's Eye (Huang Jue) saw a chance to get revenge, and in the aftermath, not only are the local police hunting Zenong down, but a 300,000 yuan reward (roughly $40,000) makes him a tempting target for everyone in an area where that sort of money can be life-changing.

Diao opens the film with a clever little dance as Zenong and Ai'ai creep around what little cover offered near a train station, telling the audience that they need to avoid prying eyes without getting into why yet. The introduction of Ai'ai is especially delicious, hiding her face behind a fogged-up bubble umbrella while still hinting at a femme fatal as she walks, a downward pan to her handbag hinting at secrets. It's a canny use of the tools of the genre that primes the audience and lets Zenong ease the audience into a flashback without it seeming hokey even as we're soon greeted by him hanging back in a crowded room, a doomed moment of cool confidence.

Full review on EFilmCritic

La vérité '19 (The Truth)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I don't really think that Hirokazu Kore-eda has made a French-language movie because his particular arthouse niche was getting kind of tight, but it's darkly amusing to imagine international film financiers imagining that the combination of his understated Japanese family dramas and French films where Catherine Deneuve makes a movie about being Catherine Deneuve might get screens and audiences that neither alone might find. Heck, there's a third element in play that might draw a different audience! Fortunately, even when the film feels like it is assembled out of different pieces, the craftsmanship that puts them together is as fine as one might hope, creating a work that should satisfy audiences no matter what drew them to it.

It revolves around Fabienne Dangeville (Deneuve) and her family; the famous actress has just published her memoirs in advance of starting work on a new movie where she plays the 73-year-old daughter of a twentysomething woman whose job in outer space keeps her unaging. The actress playing the role (Manon Clavel), naturally, is the daughter of an old friend and rival who was sometimes more of a mother to Fabienne's daughter than she was. Lumir (Juliette Binoche), now a screenwriter in America, has arrived with husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to be part of the book launch, noting many inaccuracies while Luc (Alain Libolt), the assistant who has been by her side for decades, quits upon noting that he is not mentioned at all, putting Lumir in charge of wrangling her mother.

Films like this, set within the world of cinema, art, and fame, can often be insular, built on experiences and metaphors that are meaningful for the closest and most dedicated audience but which often have others trying to figure out some sort of meta-narrative or left behind by not recognizing a meaningful reference. The Truth it does kind of feel hollow for a while, with every bit of Fabienne being insufferable coming across as an anecdote that those in the know will recognize rather than something that actually adds up to a person, although that is in a way her character: Fabienne is a performer before all else, and while many things can give a person tunnel-vision, dedication to this particular art can erase the self, leaving Deneuve playing an often amusing, though nearly as often horrible, woman with limited conception of how she affects others.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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