Asian Cinema


I recently watched Shohei Imamura’s The Insect Woman, Mark Cousins’ favourite film. I liked its style and musical interludes, Sachiko Hidari’s performance is strong and fearless. I also watched Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows which is based on a 1988 case of child abandonment in Tokyo. The film is as poetic as The 400 Blows and the true events are even more shocking. The first Asian film I saw was Takeshi Kitano’s Dolls, which showed me that love is best told slowly. Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and 2046 are hypnotic love letters to 1960s Hong Kong, with stunning visuals sometimes in slow motion by cinematographer Christopher Doyle. I’ve yet to see the first of the trilogy Days of Being Wild.

I watched Tokyo Story, Ozu is a master of time and space. I didn’t love Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town, I found to be like an Eric Rohmer film but less engaging to watch. I’ve seen three Apichatpong Weerasethakul films. I really struggled with the second half of Tropical Malady, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives drifted into surrealism, my heart wasn’t with it. Blissfully Yours is the strongest I’ve seen, it’s about four characters on a picnic, the opening credits don’t come until 45 minutes into the film! I’ve Syndromes and a Century is in my pile to watch, Mark Cousins said of the film,

“I’ve seen it only once, on DVD, after two glasses of wine. Maybe for this reason it is its shape more than individual images that come to my mind. I remember it like a Henry Moore sculpture, twisting and torquing. Perhaps this is because, in its second half, downstairs in the over-lit hospital, the camera drifts towards a funnel that leads to a pipe. Is it being sucked into that pipe? This seemed purely sculptural to me. As I think of this scene, the movies of David Lynch come to mind. If they are “black Lynch,” this one is “white Lynch.” The hospital is like a beast, and we are in its belly. We expect a Lynchian roar”.

There many wonders of Asian cinema I’ve yet to discover, I’ll conclude with this story Adrian Martin told in one his lectures. Abbas Kiarostami was contacted by a filmmaker whose name escapes me, he sent Kiarostami a video essay on why he loves cinema. Months and months pass before the filmmaker gets a response, Kiarostami sends him a video of a cow’s arse! It should be noted that Kiarostami is not a cinephile. The filmmaker responds by sending recorded footage of children from a local school in his country who delighted whilst watching Where is the Friend’s Home? It’s as if the filmmaker is saying look at these children who are joyful whilst watching your film, you can’t respond negatively to that Mr. Kiarostami. I forget if Kiarostami responded.

Note: I have yet seen the cinema of Tsui Hark, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Samira Makhmalbaf, Mania Akbari, Lav Diaz, Khavn, Forough Farrokhzad, Mani Kaul, Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Noriaki Tsuchimoto, Anand Patwardhan, Edward Yang, Chen Kaige, King-Hu, Xie Jin, Yhang Zimou and Tsai Ming-liang amongst many, many others.

Nordic Cinema

Andersson, Ullmann and Bergman

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) would have been 97 this week. He is amongst the most acclaimed Nordic filmmakers such as Carl Theodor Dreyer, Aki Kaurismaki, Roy Andersson and Lars von Trier. I was in Sweden for the first time last month. I also saw a bit of Rygge, Norway and Copenhagen. I’ve yet to see any films by Dreyer or Kaurismaki. I saw Colin Nutley’s House of Angels last week, it takes place where I was in the south of Sweden. It has a charming ensemble feel and reminded me of the community in Betty Blue. Roy Andersson has made only five feature films since 1970, his first A Swedish Love Story is about group of teenagers and their dysfunctional parents. Once again it was an element of charm, somewhat less so. Songs from the Second Floor and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence are full of charm, dark humour, and are precisely staged, Andersson’s own world of surrealism and intrigue.

The best Ingmar Bergman film I’ve seen is Scenes from a Marriage (TV version), it’s been several years since I’ve seen it, it a perfect masterwork to illustrate Bergman’s view of cinema as theatre and not literature which he opposed screen adaptations of. Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s Dogme 95 movement was experimental and avant-garde. Festen is masterpiece of family tension and tracking camera moves. The Hunt made by Vinterberg fourteen years later is another film that explodes, it made me so angry, Mads Mikkelsen was never been better. Von Trier’s E-Trilogy had me drained, Europa has some great moments of slow motion and black and white to colour, not to mention one of Eddie Constantine’s last films. The Element of Crime intrigued me at its beginning, Epidemic veered into madness by the end, it even had its own theme song. Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville and Melancholia are his masterpieces. They are all about a woman in trouble, von Trier’s alter-egos. The women are sometimes catholic, their worlds are Old Testament.

I haven’t seen enough films from Norway, Iceland and Finland. I found Sweden to be a world away from Ireland, full of trees, directness and national pride (many houses fly the Swedish flag).