Sunday, December 19, 2010

DIFF 7 – Day 7 Roundup

18th December 2010 (Day #7)

The last day of the 7th Dubai International Film Festival included a disappointingly bad movie from a director who had impressed at DIFF earlier. It also included a generic drama that tried to be stylish. But thankfully the first and last movies of the last day made up for the middle two, and provided for a nice closing mixed bag.

Poetry (Shi)
Chang-dong Lee | South Korea | 2010
139 min

Chang-dong Lee's Poetry is a strong and mature drama. It focuses on the life of Mija (Jeong-hie Yun), an old woman and guardian of her grandson, who works as a maid but yearns to write poetry. A happy woman who loves to chatter, she changes and becomes reclusive when she is told about her young grandson’s involvement in a violent crime. Unable to quite live with the shame, Mija withdraws into observing the world around her for her first poem that she will one day write. Poetry gives us a poignant view of life, built around an exceptionally well-written character and a fantastic performance by Jeong-hie Yun. Acting of this caliber perhaps comes with age and experience. Yun becomes Mija, and ensures to keep her distinct from Hye-ja Kim’ titular Mother (2009). Mija never goes to extremes with emotions, whether it be anger, sorrow or happiness. She stays composed through the situations we see here face, distracting herself with her poetic view of the world around her. Poetry is a movie to be sucked into, to take you on a bittersweet trip with a sad but sweet old lady for company.

Emre Sahin | Turkey | 2009
89 min

Three separate lives collide in 40, a theme that has grown increasingly popular in recent years. The first character is a taxi driver who also does odd-jobs of the wrong kind. The second is an illegal African immigrant who yearns to reach France. The third is a nurse who wants to take her daughter and leave her miserable husband. Shot hand-held, and seemingly deliberately made more shaky, the movie over-uses style without purpose. The style itself is not extraordinary, or even fresh. It seems thrown into he mix to make the movie more "cool", which it fails at. The writing is shoddy, no explanation is given for the twists that push the story forward and character behavior id molded to the need of the story. 40 is, for its most part, a failure.

The Hunter (Shekarchi)
Rafi Pitts | Iran | 2010
90 min

After making the fantastic It's Winter in 2006, Rafi Pitts takes a mis-step with The Hunter. A silent, brooding movie, the plot centers on a man who has lost his wife and daughter in a cross-fire between the police and insurgents. In vengeance, he kills a random cop and escapes into the jungle, pursued by two policemen. Although this may read as an action-thriller, the movie is neither. It observes the mostly silent man, played by the director himself, but does not make clear why we are observing him. Pitts performance does not let on anything, the story does not suggest anything either. The Hunter ends up becoming a string of sequences that, for all the beauty they are presented in, are detached and ineffective. The movie required a faster pace with more action/thrill sequence, or a more accomplished actor - one with a strong screen presence - to carry it off.

Corridor (Isolerad)
Johan Lundborg & Johan Storm | Denmark | 2009
80 min

A wonderful debut by directors Johan Lundborg & Johan Storm, Corridor would be at home in the "Alfred Hitchcok Presetnts" TV series. It is a suspense thriller that works right from the moment it opens until its last scene. Frank (Emil Johnsen) is a medical student who stays alone in an apartment block. When a new tenant moves in upstairs, Frank is kept awake at nights by the strange sounds from the apartment above - sounds that make him suspicious & nervous. At 80 minutes, the movie is short enough for the directors to hold the suspense. Unexpected close-ups and fast-cuts keep the thrills coming. But their trump-card is the lead-actor: Emil Johnsen. As the nervous student on the brink of paranoia, Johnsen's Frank is a next-door neighbor or classmate that we have seen, and thus easy to identify with. His suspicions and fears, therefore, ring true. While evoking classic Hitchcockian themes: alone everyday guy, mistaken identities, set in and mostly experienced from within a room, etc., the movie does not burden itself by trying to emulate the master or recreate his work. The stakes get higher and Frank falls deeper into the plot, until the directors deliver a fitting, though expected, climax. It would be very interesting to have the directors and the actor re-visit this Frank for another chapter of his life.

7 Days and 22 movies later, the 7th Dubai International Film Festival has come to a close. As with each of the last festivals, it provided for some of the best movies I have watched this year - Honey, The King's Speech, Confessions and many more. 51 weeks to go for the DIFF '11. Let the countdown begin.

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