Thursday, September 01, 2022

Fantasia 2022.18: My Broken Mariko, One for the Road, Confession, Dobaaraa, and Seire.

You do not often get fourth chances to see a movie at a festival like Fantasia, but I got really lucky here - my first chance to see My Broken Mariko was opening night, and I probably would have caught it then if they hadn't opened the primary Opening Night. Its matinee encore was part of a bunch of staggered showtimes that overlapped both Baby Assassins and A Fish Tale (kind of uncool scheduling for folks who like the Japanese entries), so I said, ah, rats. It was, however, apparently received very well, and a press screening was announced for the morning of the 23rd and another screening for the 30th. Since the press screening would be at 9am, I opted for this one. It's not quite a record of time between first and final screening at this festival, but it's unusual and fortunate, because I liked it a lot.

And, for what it's worth, the folks who cut the trailer for the festival grabbed what is maybe it's most eye-widening moment from the movie, which is not always the case, and which also manages to be the moment from the trailer one is most likely to sit up and point like "that, right there!" during the movie. See if you can spot it.

After that, we had the funny case where I found myself looking at the schedule several times during the festival, kind of up in the air as to whether I wanted to see Hong Kong comedy Chili Laugh Story or One for the Road before looking the latter up and having my eyes open because it was from the director of Bad Genius - information I would forget by the time I was looking up "what should I do Sunday?" the next time.

Then came Confession, and you can tell the way the college-aged audience around the festival regularly turns over because of how the person introducing the film pointed out that it co-starred Kim Yun-jin from Lost to a wave of "uh, okay, I think I may have heard of that". I remember another thriller she starred in, either during a Lost hiatus or soon after the series ended where not only did she boost attendance, but the distributor was clearly hoping she'd help it open well in North America, spelling her name out in English, given name first, even if everyone else was listed in Korean.

Amusingly, where both Confession and Dobaaraa were concerned…


I basically got fooled twice in a row by mysteries that had true identities right out in plain sight. It made me wonder whether the way that it often seems there are maybe a half-dozen common family names in South Korea means you don't have to play cute with that sort of thing because people won't necessarily assume two people with the same family name are related. As to the Indian movie, I've got no idea whether that was a nickname Hindi-speaking people would have figured out belonged to someone or not.


(Looks them up on IMDB)

Wow - both of those moves are remakes of films by Spanish filmmaker Oriol Paulo - Contratiempo for Confession and Durante la tormenta for Dobaaraa - so maybe it's no wonder they both pull the same sort of trick. He has, I believe, written and directed four features which have spawned at least seven or eight local versions between them, and that's brought down by the fact that one hasn't even been released in Spain yet. That's kind of crazy.

After that, Seire, because its second screening would have overlapped a different Korean thriller I wanted to see on closing night and, besides, I figured Quentin Dupieux's Incredible But True would play Boston. It has, of course, for one night at the French Film Festival when I was stuck logged in to work.

Next up: The last Monday of the fest, with The Protector, Convenience Story, and the super-fun Alienoid

My Broken Mariko (Mai burôkun Mariko)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

My Broken Mariko is a solid, sympathetic story about a woman trying to come to terms with her best freind's suicide, and that's a harder target to hit than one might expect. It's a thing that could be too earnestly somber or too casual, but filmmaker Yuki Tanada instead comes from a place that could be horrifying but instead has a shred of optimism: Mariko may have been doomed from the start, but that doesn't make her friend's attempts to help, before or after Mariko's death, without value.

Tomoyo Shiino (Mei Nagano) hears about it on the news, reported as something between "what's wrong with the youth these days" and advice to avoid the area on your commute home. She immediately pulls out her phone and starts texting, hoping against hope that it's not her 26-year-old Mariko Ikegawa (Nao Honda), but getting no response. The coroner released the body to her father (Toshinori Omi) without even a proper funeral, and this stiffens her back, because Mariko's father abused and molested her. Maybe she originally only intends to say good-bye, but once she talks her way past Mariko's stepmother Kyoko (Yo Yoshida), Tomoyo grabs her friend's ashes and escapes through the window. She and Mariko had talked of visiting Hawaii in the past, but Tomoyo can't afford that, so she instead decides on another place they had been drawn by, Cape Marigaoka, which is still a long-enough ride from Tokyo for Tomyo to get herself into some trouble along the way.

The film is structured as a road trip, not wasting much time getting Tomoyo to that window before kicking things off and in earnest and putting her on just enough of a trek to have room for flashbacks but not so much as to feel completely lost in one time or another. It also handles the trope of the conversions with an imagined dead friend as well as it can be handled - it feels a bit like a cliche that never happens in real life but is good on film, yes, but then again, Mariko is there in most of those scenes, isn't she?

All of that works in large part because of its great central performance; Tomoyo is sharp and funny selling everyday bits of absurdity like how gross her backup shoes are (she left her good pair at the Ikegawas') but not self-centered, with both Tanada and star Mei Nagano able to show Tomoyo as grappling with her own doubts about her own worth as well, but maybe holding it in because Mariko has always been so much more desperate. When she is eventually paired with a guy (Masataka Kubota), there's chemistry but it's not sexual or romantic. Neither she nor the filmmakers ever lose track of what's foremost in her mind here, although it's impressive to see her own issues poke their way out of that determined shell over the course of the film until it's unmistakably clear that she's not just not alright on Mariko's behalf.

The heartbreaking thing, of course, is how she just couldn't do enough for her best friend even though she tried so hard, always there for Mariko even though there were clearly challenges in her own life and times she probably had to sacrifice because Mariko would talk about killing herself if Tomoyo ever got a boyfriend (but entered unhealthy relationships of her own). The young actresses do a terrific job of feeling like they could grow up into the characters Nagano and Nao Honda start playing as teenagers, establishing a bond that easily persists past the point when Honda leans into how Mariko can be a difficult friend to handle.

Tomoyo mourns over the course of this trip, and doesn't necessarily come to any pat answers, and certainly doesn't find the greater world changed much as a result. But that's the nature of losing people in this way, and the film brings the audience through how feelings of responsibility and guilt can overwhelm. It shows viewers the despair involved, but doesn't force the audience to surrender to it.

(And in a minor "just amuses me" thing, Shiino improvises a haiku! Like the only thing they taught us about Japanese culture when I was a kid, but I think it's the first time I've seen it come up in 25 years of watching Japanese movies.)

One for the Road

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

One for the Road Co-writer/director Nattawut "Baz" Poonpiriya is likely best known for Bad Genius, a deliciously clever mash-up of a movie, and while this film is something else entirely, it has some of the same sorts of surprises. I raised my eyebrows thinking "that scene took a turn" at one point midway through this, and by the end I had to admire how they played that, because the back half of the film spends a whole lot of time inverting itself, and I couldn't say they hadn't warned me.

As it opens, "Boss" (Thanapob Leeratanakajorn) is living the good life in New York City, operating a tony-looking bar with specialty drinks, many of which he gives away, and bedding a number of the pretty young things who stop in. One night, he gets a surprise call from Bangkok, his friend Aood (Ice Natara) telling him that he is dying of cancer and he needs Boss's help in settling some things. Their bond is enough that Boss flies out there, only to find out that he needs someone to drive him to return some things to his ex-girlfriends: Alice (Ploi Horwang), the dancer who brought Aood back to Thailand from New York; Noona (Chutimon Cheungcharoensuking), an actress shooting a film in Samut Songkram; and Roong (Siraphan Wattanajinda), a now-married photographer who asks that they arrive while her husband is out of town. And while they're on the road, they may as well head to Boss's hometown, to see his sister Tak (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) and Poum, Tak's husband's son. And maybe someone else.

It's a nifty flick on the way to its later upheaval, an almost cozy art-house road trip with classic (English-language) pop on mixtapes, courtesy of Aood's late father, a disc jockey fond of American music. There are some feel-good moments, some moments which undermine the whole idea of this being a feel-good movie, and some surprises. In a way, the director seems to be doing a sort of refresh on the indie crowd-pleaser in the way Bad Genius mashed together high school and heist pictures, almost funnier because Wong Kar-Wai is producing and you can see when the film is dipping into his particular sort of romanticism, before they spring a different sort of clockwork trap from Genius. It's seldom a comedy sending up its genre conventions - it is a frequently funny movie, and even an outrageous one, but one which doesn't undermine itself by winking at the audience too hard.

Along the way, the film offers up a nifty cast who prove impressively believable as they jump between different points of their lives, aided by makeup and wardrobe, certainly, but generally doing well to show that they've matured some in the gaps that the filmmakers leave but maybe have not become fully-realized adults yet. That's especially true of Ploi Horwang, Chutimon Cheungcharoensuking, and Siraphan Wattanajinda, who show up in relatively narrow windows but play well off Ice Natara's Aood, playing the inevitable breakups and sometimes less-than-fond reunions in a way that lets them remain sympathetic while leaving Aood as more complex, enough that the audience is ready for some of the less likable choices he makes. Natara does impressive work in never quite squandering the default sympathy someone dying of the same cancer that killed his father is given. I'm sure Poonpiriya, editor Chonlasit Upanigkit, and the rest of the team, but Natara gives them good raw material.

At a certain point, Poonpiriya cheekily has the cassette in the car's tape deck flip from A-for-Aood to B-for-Boss, and while that doesn't entirely put the film in Thanapob Leeratanakajorn's hands, it's a major shift, and Leeratanakajorn does quickly make a case for why the film has placed him at the center alongside Narata, with this final stop covering more of Boss's life and finding plenty of material that makes the playboy persona of present-day Boss more understandable even if there's a lot that denies him any sort of sympathy. Violette Wautier shows up for the last act as Prim, Boss's first love, and immediately becomes the film's MVP, selling a romance that begins with him as a teenager and her as a bartender and only gets a little more eyebrow-raising from there; she gets handed some of the clunkier bits of the suddenly more melodramatic dialogue and manages to make it work. She and Leeratanakajorn make for an interesting pairing in that Boss & Prim always seem very much drawn to each other but perfectly capable of self-destruction even a few years later when the expected difference in maturity isn't that vast. It's a fascinating mess and as in unravels, one can see how the bits with Aood's exes are, while important on their own, also a warm-up to trying to make this mess right.

On top of that, it's really delightfully put together, beautifully and occasionally whimsically shot with some knowingly over-sincere selections on the soundtrack. It's an interesting blend of Wong's cool romanticism and Poonpiriya's itchier impulses that are always ready to get the audience on their toes and knock things over, especially if there's a good joke to be had when the audience is expecting wistfulness. The last-act shift is handled a lot better than expected, not just for getting overheated, but for how it's a long flashback detour, but it sure pays off.

One for the Road isn't quite Bad Genius, but it's definitely what the folks who made that movie do when let loose on film-festival-ready indie dramas.

Jabaek (Confession)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I'm not sure that either the locked-room mystery or the more twisty thriller elements of Confession are exactly the best of their type, or that the film necessarily does a good a job as it could at playing like it's going to be one when in fact it's the other as the filmmakers would like, but it plays fair enough to give thrills both when the audience gets surprised or when they get there ahead of the movie.

Yoo Min-Ho (So Ji-Sub) has just been released on bail because there were apparently some irregularities in the murder case against him, despite it being virtually impossible that anyone else could have killed co-worker and lover Kim Se-Hee ("Nana" Im Jin-Ah). As he holes up in a snowy country cabin, some new evidence has come to light, and since his primary attorney cannot make the trip, another one, Yang Shin-Ae (Kim Yunjin) is dispatched. It turns out there Min-ho and Se-Hee may have been the last people to see college student Han Sun-Jae before he disappeared, with father Young-Seok (Choi Kwang-Il) has been seeking an explanation obsessively for the past year. He'd have motive and possibly means to kill Se-Hee, but it's obviously a risky defense strategy - Shin-Ae can't be surprised in court, and Min-Ho almost certainly has something to hide.

As mysteries go, Confession is tightly focused, sometimes to its apparent detriment - when a married man is accused of murdering his lover, one expects his wife to be something more of a factor, but Min-ho's barely registers long enough to be given a name. Similarly, the IT company where Min-Ho is an executive has an exceptionally capable fixer on retainer, good enough at his job that the audience won't go wrong presuming that certain lines of enquiry are such dead ends that it's not worth following up and loyal enough for that not to become a factor. Writer-director Yoon Jong-seok (adapting Spanish film Invisible Guest) for the most part handles hand-waving that material away adroitly, and that's fine; what he will inevitably wind up concentrating on is fine-grained enough that one wants it to matter, rather than zooming out and saying it has all been red herrings.

And the details do matter, with Yoon and the rest jumping into a flashback and then cutting it short by having Shin-Ae point out that, actually, she lied about something to see if Min-Ho would integrate that lie into his story, and then starting it again. It's the sort of thing that must have been fun for the actors, running through various different permutations of the same story, trying to make each feel both like the real deal but also playing up what the various unreliable narrators say. The filmmakers put it together in fine form, not establishing A so convincingly that the audience will automatically reject B. It fits together like clockwork, even if it maybe runs out a bit at the end. K-pop star Nana is particularly impressive here, tweaking her performance to reflect just how much blame Min-Ho and Shin-Ae want to place on her at a given moment but never making her quite a malleable cipher. Choi Kwang-Il does something similar as Han Young-Seok, whose on-screen swings from friendly mechanic looking to help out someone stranded to scheming seeker of vengeance reflect both the natural reaction to his loss and the stories being told.

Most of the action is in the cabin, though, with the general snowy weather setting up a sense of isolation (though Yoon quietly establishes some specific geography for when it might be needed) and it being just the right combination of a rich person's retreat and having rustic elements; it's never a bad thing for the camera in an otherwise talky movie to be able to linger over Chekhov's Chainsaw for a moment One generally can't go too far wrong doing something like putting actors as good as So Ji-Sub and Kim Yunjin in a room and letting them go, especially when they're playing a sort of variation on how these scenes are usually about getting the upper hand;they're trying not to do so in quite so obvious a way.

I'm not sure this entirely translates into a great mystery or a nifty acting exercise, but it generally works out well enough that one should be able to enjoy it either way. With enough clues dropped in plain sight early enough and the story and cast of characters lean enough that one can sort of guess where holes will be filled, it has to, and at the very least, Yoon and his cast never drop the ball.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

A funny thing about movies that mess with time is that while a new angle tends to feel exciting, it can aso quickly become shorthand for a lot of less-inspired movies, even when they may not necessarily deserve it. It's probably not entirely fair to tag Dobaaraa as falling into the "movies like Frequency" category, even if that's how it starts out - it certainly becomes its own mess, if a somewhat interesting one.

In 1996, sci-fi-loving kid Anay (Aarian Sawant) witnesses his neighbor (Saswata Chatterjee) apparently killing his wife, but when he tries to report it to the police in the middle of a monsoon, he is hit by a bus. Twenty-five years later, nurse Antara Awasthi (Taapsee Pannu), her husband Vikas (Rahul Bhatt), and daughter Avanti (Myra Rajpul) move into Anay's house and hear the story from her friend Abhisheik (Sukant Goel), who was Anay's best friend back then. Finding Anay's old television and VHS camera, they hook it up and, with a similar storm raging, somehow Antara is able to make contact with Anay, warning him about the danger he's in. She saves his life, but when she awakens the next morning, everything has changed - she's living in a different apartment, working at the same hospital but apparently a neurosurgeon rather than a nurse, and she never married Vikas. That means Avanti was never born, something Antara wants desperately to fix. But how? Her story sounds insane, and even the detective called in to handle the woman who seems to have suddenly gone insane (Puvail Gulati) seems to be humoring her as he says he believes her.

Amusingly, this was the second film of the festival in a row where I wound up thinking "ugh, it was sitting right there in front of me! " and I kind of think that makes me unobservant rather than making the filmmakers clever. Heck, it was right there in the exact same way! In my defense, the revelation of this thing kept ust out of direct view hits in a manner that is weird and uncomfortable rather than as a shocking reversal or a piece that satisfactorily makes other pieces click together, technically solving the mystery but overshadowing it at the same time. It's not entirely surprising that the movie winds up messy - where Frequency used its plot device as a way to amplify an existing connection that can exist across time, Dobaaraa has these three or four pockets of characters who don't start out with strong connections, and playing what has happened to Anay in the intervening 25 years as a mystery keeps writer Nihit Bhave (adapting a Spanish film by Oriol Paulo) and director Anurag Kashyap keeping most of what might resonate with the audience back until the end.

For those not kicking themselves or terribly inclined to worry about how it all fits together until the revelations, it makes for an enjoyable enough time twisting mystery, although one that can frequently become very frustrating: It's pretty clear early on that there's no clear way to save both kids without some sort of plot device mumbo jumbo that amounts to crossing one's fingers and hoping the never-specified rules are what one wants them to be, and that feels like something that should weigh on the characters more. Similarly, there are a lot of moments where it sure feels like the characters should be smarter than this - Antara in particular is carefully established as smart and empathetic early on, but huge chunks of the film seem to rely on her not putting two and two together or suddenly deciding that it equals five after ten minutes or so of her acting like she knows it's four. That's on top of how, for a movie that is all about playing with time, the timeframe always feels off, with no urgency for how the duration of the storm in both time periods should represent a ticking clock, rather than something brought up when it's convenient.

None of that is exactly fatal, in large part because Taapsee Pannu makes Antara appealing despite all that; she's not exactly subtle about how she's confused about this whole new-timeline thing and not exactly interested if it has erased her daughter, but she does a nice job of picking up the whole idea that she's got some unfulfilled potential and pride despite the ways in which her life in both has very messy parts. (She has apparently been in a lot of movies that looked interesting but maybe not worth risking the local theater running them unsubtitled over the past few years; maybe I'll go anyway next time.) It's kind of a shame that the filmmakers don't exactly give her a good on-screen partner; there looks to be something possible with Sukant Goel's Abhisheik in the original timeline, but he's sidelined in the new one, and for as much as the filmmakers seemingly want something to spark between her and Paviail Gulati's Inspector Anand, it just never happens.

Pannu's appeal and a commitment to the sort of time-twisty plotting that makes one's head spin just enough means that the film never fully collapses. It also never takes off, and there's a lot of time for the audience to feel like what they're seeing could and should be better for what it has to work with.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, digital)

Seire is the sort of horror movie that intrigues a foreigner such as myself but also maybe makes one wish for a tiny bit more cultural context, just to see how deeply embedded certain superstitions and traditions are - although, now that I think of it, maybe there's an interesting question to be examined here about what becomes a tradition and what becomes a superstition. That's not really this movie's thing, but it's maybe lurking just around the corner.

Being a new parent is stressful in the best of cases, and salesman Woo-jin (Seo Hyun-woo) not only doesn't seem to have been granted any parental leave, but wife Hae-mi (Shim Eun-woo) is as superstitious about observing seire, a set of rules meant to protect a newborn baby during the first three weeks of its life. It seems to be a bit unusual - Hae-mi's sister Hae-jin (Ko Eun-min), living next door and also pregnant, does not seem terribly concerned and is kind of annoyed at being considered an "outsider" during this period, although her husband Seong-tak (Ki Woo-kyum) mostly sees this as an eccentricity. Add to this the news that his college friend Se-yeong (Ryu Abel) has recently died, and things get more tense - Hae-mi doesn't want their son I-su exposed to any vibes that Woo-jin may back from the funeral. Also, Se-yeong was not just a "friend", but a longtime lover, and the fact that she has a twin, Ye-yeong, that Woo-jin never knew existed has him thrown even more.

Writer/director Park Kang does not explicitly state that Woo-jin left Se-yeong because he got Hae-mi pregnant, and that was a big factor in her downward spiral - or if he does, I missed it - but that would line a lot of offhand comments up and place what's going on in somewhat sharper relief: It is no longer just about Woo-jin being overwhelmed and Hae-mi seeming to go out of her way to make everything just a little harder, but how there is something toxic in the air, things pulling Woo-jin to the life he must leave behind and thus threatening the new life he is responsible for. It's sort of symbolically messy, but Woo-jin is meeting what seems like the reincarnation of his lover at her funeral, and how can that not be a mixed message?

And Ye-yeong does at times seem to be more than a twin, at least to Woo-jin, sometimes seeming to channel or even be possessed by her sister. Woo-jin is pretty clearly an unreliable narrator from the start, though, briefly seeming to see Se-yeong rather than Hae-mi, and whenever things threaten to get overtly supernatural, Park will throw in a reminder that Woo-jin may be imagining it, but that certainly doesn't make it any better, as it does mean he'll be putting his kid in danger. Park builds his biggest scare moments around things that are particular and relatable - nightmarish hospital visits, funerals, trying to raise a baby in a tight, cluttered apartment. The horror comes not from how a comfortable life can be disrupted, but from how close getting by can be to a nightmare, and how maybe something like Hae-mi's superstitions about seire come from that: It's a burden, but maybe every little bit helps, so why begrudge her that?

Seo Hyun-woo sits in the center as Woo-jin, and it's a nifty performance that I suspect will look even better on a second viewing. There's a big, clear base of "put-upon new dad" there, easily sympathetic, but scratch it and you can see that some of the exhaustion is disguised laziness or dismissal, just a little frustration under the frustration. There's no chemistry between him and Shim Eun-woo's Hae-mi, although it's often more indifference than hostility. Ryu Abel (aka Ryu Sun-young) is interesting as Ye-yeong; the audience never actually meets Se-yeong but still feels like her sister is intriguingly different; she also gives the audience a proper sense of how losing a twin is even more disorienting than losing other family while also hinting at a complex relationship between them. Park seems to have left a lot up to the audience's interpretation but given the cast specific backstories which they run with.

I'm curious how this plays for a lot of people - aside from not knowing just how common or central seire is to mainstream Koreans, I suspect it hits those who have had children differently as well. Even if those experiences are unknown, though, the film is impressively unnerving as the things one may not really believe in can still get under one's skin when things get stressful.

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